Between U- and S-Bahn returning home, Dy said, “Why don’t you write about this? After all, it’s a performance and you write about performances.” I replied, somewhat evasively, “errr…”, something about it not really being my field of knowledge, and also blogging is a particular, spontaneous occurrence, and when I’m reviewing, I’m thinking during the performance what I’ll write. So finding the thought shoved in and having 45 minutes to kill, here is something of a review.
Not in any particular order.
It occurred to me now, Einstürzende Neubauten are one of very few groups from my teens that haven’t disappointed me when I’ve seen them years later. Perhaps because they’re not doing reunion tours for the money (though the merchandise sales of the first night of their 30th anniversary tour at Columbiadamm probably paid for half the tour), nor for some asinine ‘love of the music and performing’ vapidity which is either dissembling on the first or an excuse for moronic 12-bar riffing that tries to capture what worked for earlier ‘hits’. Not an exersise in sentimental nostalgia in other words.
The 16 year old punk-goth wannabe Psychik (Temple of ~ Youth) TV-erin would have slid over in uncontrollable rapture; I was thinking, “I’m in Berlin! … At Einstürzende Neubauten!! … With an after-party pass!!!” Had it been when I was 16, I suppose the party would have been slightly less sedentary, home-before-babysitter-charges-for-overtime, but I think much of the audience was experiencing bewilderment at how they came to be almost middle-aged anyway, and how Neubauten went from punk holocaust at the forefront of industrial music to avante-garde chamber orchestra sextet.
I wasn’t quite convinced by the first piece, only three on stage in dark suits, Blixa singing, “You will find me if you want me in the garden … unless it’s pouring down with rain”, looking much like a Vegas crooner, tumbler of something strong and neat in his right hand, (Dy said his glasses) and wow, didn’t he used to be skinny bones in a heroin habit kinda way?, Alexander Hacke in white singlet (the only not in a suit), tattoos and handlebar mustache, possibly Lemmy and Peter Hooke’s lovechild … and then …
Uh! Brilliant! Moments of fucking brilliance. I should have been up the front having my eardrums savaged. I’ve never seen such a carefully orchestrated performance from a group that nominally falls under the experimental music genus outside of classical. So well-rehearsed, and not in a ‘tight’ sense of technical accuracy, though there was that also; rather the sense of timing and coherence present as a sextet is something I’m more used to seeing in chamber music.
Blixa, not so much band leader as principal of the group and all so clearly paying attention to each other even in moments of catastrophic noise; an unconscious familiarity that comes from being together for so long. The control also – this is perhaps what the rawness of thirty years ago was exchanged for: a depth, sophistication and subtlety; understanding the effectiveness of an explosive staccato bar amidst tense restraint. Music that breathes.
The last record I remember having I think was the one with the horse pissing. In the meantime, Blixa (and others) got married and had a child, whom Dy tells me he sings about. Yes, Neubauten on the joys of parenthood. I kept thinking back to the video I saw of them, somehow it made its way from the north to New Zealand, me not really understanding what they were or what Berlin was, them with a Butoh group DaiRakudokan, Halber Mench, … one of my proto-influences in how I thought of making art and performance, and now, unlike most groups they haven’t gone too far into making ‘songs’ with recognisable verse-chorus-bridge structure, melody shortcut to boredom – for that alone, that their attention has stayed so close to what they were doing thirty years ago… I wonder also about seeing Throbbing Gristle, that other monster from my youth, that wave of industrial music which pushed the idea of avante-garde contemporary music so far and which for me is the descendant of Musique Concrète, Ligeti, Stockhausen and the other classical troublemakers.
The lighting – on a different thing now – was beautiful. A flat backdrop tinged with muted secondary and tertiary tones, winter light where the intensity of colour comes from the near-empty palette – how saturated in hue icefields can be be … and cut by stark, hard white spots, shafting across the stage to draw focus, and at times … a half-cut drum full of shining blunt metal tubes. The attention brought to it by removing the light, the backdrop darkly bare until in its absence focus could only accrue there. Then lit by a single source as the metal fell like snow, like hail.
Maybe in the third or fourth piece, a noise, so out of place, cutting through, snagging and tearing as it ascended, losing the ragged mess it dragged until becoming a sharp, hard scream. Blixa. I can’t convey its unhumanness, it should be something that strips flesh and it gives me goosebumps to remember. Like Diamanda Galas and her voice, I think if anything Blixa has gone far beyond what he had thirty years ago.
In their entirety I thought this also. While somewhat subdued – or maybe it’s just a memory of the suffering loudness of so many industrial shams who confused volume with composition, I’ve falsely attached to Neubauten – it’s obvious they’re not simply uncritically trawling through their old stuff. Met with their own artistic growth is that of the technology they’re working with … ah moments of utter, overpowering awe … sublime, intoxicating percussion (and synchronised dancing) … I thought, “If only dance could be this good”.
(I’m not sure if it’s just I’ve ruined my ears, or being far up the back, but the left side sounded a touch murky at times, particularly when the bass melody fell into the same rhythm as the bass percussion, it became difficult to separate the two. But that if it was really there and other mixing issues will probably have been sorted out by the second show.)
Anyway … Disobey Disobey Disobey It’s the Law (I heard ‘Break the Law”, Dy heard, ‘Discipline’.)