No Lights, No Stage - Blixa Bargeld Photo: Mote Sinabel

No Lights, No Stage - Blixa Bargeld

October 22, 2020

Written by:

Miron Ghiu

Edited by:

Dragoș Rusu

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Blixa Bargeld may be best-known as one of the founders and the front man of the legendary proto-industrial/experimental band Einstürzende Neubauten – “Collapsing New Buildings” in English – and also a member of Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds.

We had a talk via Zoom earlier this year about Einstürzende Neubauten’s latest album, Alles in Allem, and his early influences and dada-esque composing techniques. Inevitably, we also reached topics such as the community he has built among the band’s fans and the ways he keeps making engaging content during these times of social distress.

The way Bargeld describes himself in just a few lines on his official site may indicate a glimpse of his diversified creative output. He “appears in changing roles and functions in films, radio plays and audio books, theater productions, performances and installations. He is a singer, narrator, actor, director and author, musician, poet and experimenter. His main instrument remains his voice, and language is his distinctive medium. The works he creates should be understood as experimental designs. He devises a game where rules are discovered and broken in perpetual transformations. What exists is variable”.
I can live without making a record, but I can't live without performing onstage.
Einstürzende Neubauten. Photo: Mote Sinabel
Einstürzende Neubauten. Photo: Mote Sinabel
Bargeld's work and self-aesthetic recalls a Renaissance man who touches almost every kind of art, being transgressive and reinventing everything he tads with his ideas or voice.

Blixa Bargeld’s projects include for many years the “Solo Vocal Performance”, in which he uses as instrument his own voice, altered in real-time by effects pedals. It’s a self-exploratory kind of performance or, as Blixa puts it, an “acoustic architecture, sonorous spheres and cacophonous creatures out of the perceived ‘non-musical’ building blocks of sentences, words and syllables”. Since 2013 he has released four albums with Teho Deardo, experimenting with all kinds of sonic textures. He has performed all around the world, with or without Einstürzende Neubauten.

Speaking on the weird performances and brilliant sound experimentations of Blixa Bargeld alongside Einstürzende through the years, I must note their 1984 performance in the Mojave Desert, where the band can be found in a full-bloom punk attitude, or destroying an array of power tools in their brilliant 1985 “Halber Mensch” release. In their symbolic exorcism of the “Palast der Republik”, the former home to East Germany's parliament, they played using discarded industrial waste and the air compressors, pipes and structure of the building as percussive instruments.

The use of custom-built or heavily modified instruments make their style very unique and hard to pin-down even for critics. It's impossible to add or comment but tags on Neubauten's music. During the 80s they were famous for destructing their own gear and banging scraps of metal or electronics while on stage, or bringing drills and jackhammers with them on every concert; just for improvising, in a punk-dada way, just like Bargeld describes his vision on performing. As a band, they also played with punk-dada elements, improvising a lot and building songs from actual scratches of metal or wood on metal. For this they used chainsaws and various power tools which formed a very abrasive layer of industrial music which, at the core, is about noise, distortion and collapsing new buildings, as stated from their name.

“Alles in Allem” (“All Open Again”) was released on May 15 this year, as a 40-years anniversary gift from Einstürzende Neubauten. The album is melodic yet harsh as a message “to Berlin”. They picked from many more songs, some of them already released via the Supporters’s program and they rehearsed like in the old days, even if they had along “standard” and also non-modified gear like a Kaoss Pad, for sampling and adding live effects live.

The first two videos released for this anniversary album focus, as many others, on Blixa’s charisma: their soulful yet critical of the present times. It’s hard to choose a favourite from this album, as it switches around through many layers of sound and emotions. Every member of the band laid down his ideas in this album, even if all Neubauten members, current or past, have numerous side-projects. If you need a real reason to explore, search, for example, for FM Einheit’s Inferno, a radio play following Dante Alighieri’s writings from the famous “Divine Comedy”, or for the collaboration with Carsten Nicolai (as Alva Noto), ANBB.
Blixa Bargeld. Photo: Mote Sinabel
Blixa Bargeld. Photo: Mote Sinabel
Neubauten's own guitarist Alexander Hacke is also involved in many projects with his wife, Danielle De Picciotto, and along the way he performed in more than 10 bands, both as a bass player and as an electronic/experimental musician. N.U. Unruh, also a co-founder of Neubauten, recognised as a piano-restorer and instruments inventor who also builds mechanical stage-props theatre plays, seems to have some spare time to develop his latest percussive instrument called Beating The Drum, apart from spending days and nights in the studio with Neubauten, rehearsing and recording.

Back to their latest and anniversary album, I find Alles in Allem a very Berlin-esque work, with references to Tempelhof, Grazer Damm and so on. “How do you react to Berlin these days, many years after the so-called gentrification of the city? Is it still close to your heart?”, I ask Bargeld. He kindly replies that the original name of the album was “Welcome to Berlin” but they gave up the idea because of the lack of references to actual parts of the city. Speaking of the concerts they held 15 years ago in the Palast der Republik, he says that “the first one, performed exclusively for our supporters, is one of my favourite concerts and one of the best we ever had: no light-show, no stage. We were actually playing the whole building.”

Gently touching these pandemic times, the subject of the day, he admits he hasn't “left the building” (like a twisted interpretation of Frank Zappa’s “Elvis has just left the building”) for 57 days (at the moment of interviewing him), so he really doesn’t know much about Berlin anymore. “For me it makes no difference, today if I'm in Berlin or New York or in Cambodia. The only space I know is the inside of my house at the moment”, he funnily admits. While in quarantine, he ordered some basic gear, like a microphone and a huge amplifier because he misses his studio.

Returning to their dada-esque aesthetic in randomising ideas, I ask Blixa Bargeld if they still use “Dave”, a 600-card system derived from his car-navigation. Yes, they do. “We had basically two different attempts in composing this album: one started from the songs I composed on the piano, even though there is no piano on Alles in Allem except from Seven Screws and the other is playing with Dave. We had 12 attempts with Dave, but only 4 or 5 songs are on the album. We didn't start working and saying that we're gonna make an album, we said we're gonna spend 100 days in the studio, for one year, while recording a lot.”

Einstürzende pioneered the idea that “supporters get more content” by becoming a member of the “Neubauten tribe”. They have exclusive content for their supporters and they use Patreon these days. Blixa held a “quarantine diary” in which he cooked. I tried to compare this approach to Radiohead’s exclusive giveaways and recording sessions for devoted fans, but Blixa abruptly cut my idea off: “I don't know everything about Radiohead. I can tell you just that we invented crowdfunding. We have reached, now, the fourth round of the "supporters phase". The best approach was on the third approach, when we released Alles wieder offen in 2007. Then we released a bonus album, with different content addressed especially to our supporters. For our fourth phase we moved to a dedicated platform, Patreon.”
Speaking of these Covid-19 times, which cancelled basically all the live shows, Blixa admits that they had to cancel all of their shows and postpone the anniversary tour even if they sold more than 500 tickets at the time of writing this. He concluded that “It’s very bitter and disastrous for both us and our supporters”. But they still think about their supporters: “I have a quarantine video blog for the supporters, I sometimes cook in real-time for them, while dancing and singing. Alexander Hacke has an online bass school, also on Patreon, while others are producing content, too, mostly performing at home. Obviously, this can't go on forever: right now, I'm working on a solution to play with the rest of the band together, while everybody is in self-isolation, on Zoom. But that is technically tricky because of the latency involved; anything rhythmically is out of the question. I haven't found a solution yet.”

I shifted to another subject and focused on the way he perceives himself both as a performer and as a recorded voice in his solo projects or in Neubauten. He gave me a short but very quotable phrase “I can live without making a record but I can't live without performing onstage.” Then we touched topics like his main influences along his musical path, bands that inspired him “back then”, meaning in the 70’s, and how he can never forget Iggy Pop. “My music socialization is somewhere in the 70's. I loved kraut-rock although I basically started with Pink Floyd, I liked their early albums such as "A saucerful of secrets". Then I started to listen to bands like Can, Neu, Kraftwerk. I am a huge fan of Kraftwerk's "Ralf und Florian" but I lost interest in Kraftwerk’s music after The Mensch Maschine. Tangerine Dream and Ash-Ra Temple were not that high on my list. I can tell you a funny story on how I met Iggy Pop at a gay bar, just after he had a recording session with Klaus Schulze on drums and Tangerine Dream. I would love to hear that recording, if anything was recorded back then. Years after, Iggy and I were living on the same street.”

I could not refrain myself from asking him a bit about how he perceives the punk aesthetic these days and he admits that he only refers to that when he speaks about the “means of production”, also quoted by the anarchist movement through the years. “Especially in early Neubauten albums and concerts it's very obvious that I really liked the aesthetic of doing things quickly, in a do-it-yourself style, not repeating or overworking them.”

With a very melodic and textured side, far-away from clichés and pure industrial (like they started), this anniversary album, Alles in Allem, is one of their best to date, in my opinion, even if I like more Einstürzende Neubauten’s early years, when their sound was harsher. As the Quietus puts it “this is one of the most compulsively listenable albums that Neubauten have ever produced.”

Speaking of their ever-evolving style, what they lost as industrial pioneers is recovered by their contemporary musical experiments where, in some parts, you can barely recognise the instrument being used, because there are many synthesizers used in the process that create lots of “alien” atmospheres and lots of do-it-yourself instruments. This album really has to be listened-to with the lyrics in front of you, because most of the words are in German.
About the Author

Miron Ghiu

Bucharest DJ, sound designer, musician, journalist and a vivid passionate of technology and music.

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