Formed in 1980 out of the Berlin Arts Conglomerate Geniale Dilletanten by vocalist Blixa Bargeld (real name Christian Emmerich) and American-born percussionist Andrew Chudy (performing as N.U. Unruh), Einstürzende Neubauten (German for “Collapsing New Buildings”) picked up the gauntlet laid down by fellow sonic terrorists Throbbing Gristle and Faust.
They explored their obsession with destruction using scrap materials and power tools alongside Bargeld’s heavily distorted guitar (their early recordings were conceived in a service hatch beneath a Berlin Autobahn!).
Recruiting Stuart “FM” Einheit (real name Frank Strauß) from Hamburg band Abwarts, they set out to record “the most unlistenable album ever” with their 1981 LP Kollaps.
Opening with the sound of a broken record player, the mutant funk of Tanz Debil utilises innovative percussion made from metal pipes, while Steh Auf Berlin‘s devastation of drills, breaking glass over metal sheeting conjures images of some post-apocalyptic street carnival.
The nightmarish vision continues with Bargeld’s tortured scream interrupting the calm water and plucked guitar of Negativ Nein and the cruel machine ambience of U-Haft Muzak. Hören Mit Schmerzen (“Listen With Pain”) makes the band’s ideology crystal clear.
The album’s grandest moment is its title track, though, with the slow ominous rhythm and explosive effects painting an horrific vision of the end of the world.
Their 1982 12-inch single Durstiges Tier involved contributions from the Birthday Party‘s Rowland S Howard and Lydia Lunch, at which point Alexander Von Borsig (aka Alex Hacke) joined the band permanently as sound technician alongside new bass player Mark Chung (also from Abwarts).
A British tour with the Birthday Party introduced them to Some Bizarre Records which released Zeichnungen des Patienten O.T. (“Drawings of patient O.T”).
In 1987, Einstürzende Neubauten performed the soundtrack for Andi, a play at the Hamburg Schauspielhaus, and also released Fünf auf der nach oben offenen Richterskala (“Five on the open-ended Richter Scale”). This was intended as a farewell album but the band continued after its release.
Bargeld’s part-time career with the Bad Seeds continued, and in 1988 he featured alongside them in Wim Wenders’ film Wings of Desire.
The album Tabula Rasa (1993) was an important turning point, with the group’s music becoming softer and containing more electronic sounds. In the same year, the band was booked to support U2 during the European leg of the ‘Zoo TV’ tour, but were thrown off the stage and off the tour when a band member threw an iron bar into the booing crowd.
Mark Chung left the band in 1994 after the recording of Faustmusik. FM Einheit left a short time later during the recording of the Ende Neu album in 1995, at least partially because of a conflict with Bargeld.
Roland Wolf replaced them on bass guitar and keyboards only a short time before dying in a car accident in 1995. Jochen Arbeit (guitar) and Rudolph Moser (drums) then joined the band.
Blixa Bargeld (Christian Emmerich)
Vocals, guitar, keyboards
FM Einheit (Frank Martin Strauß)
N.U. Unruh (Andrew Chudy)
Alexander Von Borsig (Alex Hacke)
Bass, guitar, vibraphone, vocals