EN's Blixa Bargeld

Drum Media, June 1991

Interview by Rob Miller

Collected by Katherine B.

We're probably all familiar with Blixa Bargeld, the spectacularly wasted, tendon dandy in leather pants, who plays at playing guitar in that very distinguished international line-up of reformed rogues and wastrels known as Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Most have probably also heard of Bargeld's own band, Einsturzende Neubauten (literally, Collapsing New Buildings.) Tales of their dangerous explorations of industrial noise and crashing metal intertwined with the darker side of the human psyche using Nietzsche and Kafka as conceptual signposts, won them a huge reputation as a bunch of notorious, half-crazed Germans back in the mid-80s.

Yet with the band's first ever tour of Australia imminent, most would probably know Neubauten more by reputation than anything else. In a famous performance at London's ICA, the band used concrete punders, chainsaws, and pneumatic drills on stage. Spontaneously deciding, mid-performance, to investigate rumors of tunnels from Whithhall to Buckingham Palace, they began drilling through the stage, and just about caused a riot! Needless to say, the concert came to a premature conclusion but at the same instant, the Neubauten legend was created!

Still, it's impossible to sustain an 11 year career on the strength of one legendary performance. Those tempted to dismiss Neubauten as an empty vessel should check out Strategies Against Architecture II which brings together tracks from all of their musical excursions - The Drawings of Patient O.T., Haber Mensch and Nine On The Open-Ended Richter Scale. Here they will find a band obsessed, as one observer noted, with drawing beauty out of chaos, long before 'Chaos' theory legitimised such endeavours!

The spectacle of the disaster is indeed beautiful. Strategies is hard proof that, as a band, Neubauten have cold-chiseled a genuine artistic development out of 11 chaotic years of excess, indulgence, and what may seem surprising, hard work.

Talking down the line from his Berlin apartment, a relaxed Blixa Bargeld is expansive in talking about Neubauten's potted evolution, despite being in the middle of a hectic European tour that has taken the group through Eastern Europe. Neubauten were especially well-received in Prague as their two previous attempts to play there under the old communist regime had seen them ingloriously ejected from Czechoslovakia. This time, they returned as conquering Napolean's, the celebrated hero's of Perestroika!

The group are famous for collecting their instruments from junkpiles in each place that they visit. "We do find places very much from a working point of view," laughs Blixa. "In fact, junkyards around the world are very similar-except for the Japanese. They have the most clean junkyards I've ever seen! A little hill of screws here, a little hill of bolts there and next to that, a hill of car parts. Very strict, very clean, and between the hills, the broom! For this tour of Europe it's much easier for us to transport it around, but going to Australia we'll have two days in which to collect whatever we need."

A band as much concerned with process as the finished product, Neubauten have learned to use a bewildering array of junk, machinery, metal and technology to create a whole new palette of musical possibilities. Was there a distinct point at which Neubauten began to shift away from basic noise towards song structures and melody?

"In about 1984. We had to sign on the dotted line (with Some Bizarre) just to finish The Drawing of Patient O.T., just to able to pay the studio bills. We had everything that you can think of - polystyrene, ashes, dogs, fire, meat, metal, plastic, machines, you name it, we tried it out - and we'd tickle it very hard to find out if there were any musical possibilities. It was very important for us because we could build on that. In that moment we started working with structures, we could relate everything to what we'd discovered before. We could say lets do this and that, as we tried on O.T and see how it works in this context.

"I think The Drawings of Patient O.T was a very important record and a very great record. Afterwards, there wasn't anything left for us to try out, in terms of instrumentation. That's where the logical shift happened to work within structures, like the whole interest was suddenly going to be dissolving structures or finding bizarre song structures. That's when Sand was done too, the Lee Hazelwood cover."

You were 21 when you formed Neubauten, you're around 31 now. Has the music changed as you've changed?

"My aims, what I'm trying to do, hasn't changed at all. Yet I would be admitting to creative poverty if I said it hadn't changed at all. What I'm aiming for has nothing to do with an artistic concept, it's intensity, to create the feeling of being alive. That much hasn't changed.

Does the name Einsturzende Neubauten signify a political position or does it just sum up your approach to making music?

"It was actually a random concept when I chose it. I could find millions of interpretations of what it could mean. Neubauten is a term in law, which refers to buildings raised since WWII. In fact, the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) is probably the most famous collapsed new buildings that have been raised since the second world war."

Speaking of which, Blixa hasn't had time to explore the greater city of Berlin, having been very busy in the studio or on tour. He's even formed his own company which produces music for film and theatre commissions. Nothing too major, but Blixa finds it important to keep working and to make productive use of his time. Certainly this new view of Blixa as someone who's organized and happening-almost a businessman!-is at odds with his reputation as a wastrel, who - according to legend - once survived a tour of Australia on a diet of speed and ice-cream. "Actually, I'm a terrible businessman, I was pretty wasted and somehow I'm not wasted anymore. I've even got my own flat!"

I can't resist asking Blixa whether he has plans to emulate Nick Cave, who's just had a (good) son, and achieve fatherhood?

"I know one Blixa in Oz already. I'm not the father, but the mother came to my hotel and wanted to make a photo with the baby! Actually, I know a couple of baby Blixa's, and maybe that's my way to have kids! Not a bad way to go!"

What plans for the Bad Seeds?

"As far as I'm informed, we're going to record in September. We've recorded a cover of Leonard Cohen's Tower of Song for a Leonard Cohen tribute album. Our version is hilarious! Reprinted with permission. Copyright by Rob Miller, 1991. Wholesale publication requires the written consent of the author. Contact site administrator for details.


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