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April 30, 2004

Lifelong German industrial-rock devotee anticipates tonight's consummation

Tonight I am going to see my sexception.

One's sexception is the man (or woman) with which one would, nay, will have sex if given the chance, no matter the circumstances of one's life. If one is in a committed relationship and the sexception walks by, the other half of that committed relationship is out of luck that night.

His name is Blixa Bargeld and he is the lead singer of Einsturzende Neubauten. His name need not be laminated. One need only look at the number of albums I have (all of them), the number of pages I have torn out of liner notes in order to put them on the wall gaze upon his face (many), the number of people I have dated because they sort of look like him (again, all of them).

I grant that Blixa is many things to many people. I also grant that music snobs see Neubauten as a very important band for German Industrial and, the early 1980s, Dadaistic music.

Neubauten formed in Berlin in 1980 at the "Moon Club," when a few members of the Dadaistic musical movement "Genialen Dilettanten," including Blixa (né Christian Emmerlich), N.U. Unruh (Andrew Chudy) and two others who were later not to become permanent band members played "music" with a few household implements and construction materials. In 1981 their first EP Schwarz was released.

Neubauten's albums and live shows for their rest of their career were defined by their activities in the first half of the eighties: appearing in art house films and releasing albums dominated by music machines of the band's own making, Blixa hurting his pretty little voice by screaming a lot, a few electronic sounds, atonal vocals, and random pops and bangs. Neubauten performed at a ballet in which earplugs were passed out.

In 1985 Neubauten released the LP 1/2 Mensch, a more listenable album with clearer compositional integrity and an arching structure. The first and title track is a lush, atonal vocal arrangement sung by a choir that is joined by Blixa halfway through the song, in perhaps his singing (rather than screaming) debut with the band. Yu Gung, the next track and an extreme contrast, is a dance hit that features the sound of razors falling like rain onto mirrors. Eventually the album devolves into chainsaws and moaning.

The next year saw Feunf auf der Nach Oben Offenen Richterskala (Five on the Open-Ended Richter Scale) with softer vocals, even whispering in some songs, as a contrast with their previous work. The earlier screams and shouts are replaced with actual melodies and hums, as if Blixa finally learned how to sing. The subtlety of Blixa's deep voice, which he was just beginning to use with Nick Cave in The Bad Seeds, and the quietly tense atmosphere makes this my favorite album. It enjoyed huge popularity (for Dada/Industrial) in the US and Japan.

The middle to late eighties were what I would call Middle Neubauten, anticipating another shift in the late nineties. Haus der Luge (House of Lies) was released in 1989 and contains dance hits still played in gothic and industrial clubs around the US. Structurally, the band began to examine the possibilities of longer songs and movements within albums. Evidenced of this is Fiat Lux (Let there be light, in Latin), a love song that morphs after seven minutes into an audio recording of a tear-gassing during Maifestspeil, and finally the movement Hirnlego (Brainlego), which features half-words and a spastically dancy beat.

In 1993, Tabula Rasa was released with its closing magnum opus Headcleaner. Proving that the band is more influenced by music they hate than music they like (see Sand), they bastardize Beatles lyrics during parts of this fifteen-minute-long song on brainwashing. Wuste is a lush orchestral piece, while 12305(te) Nacht is a tight though methodical electronic composition.

Ende Neu came out in 1996, but has little to do with the rest of the band's corpus. There is little about this album that is memorable. Stella Maris is beautiful I guess. Silence is sexy came out in the middle of 2000 and is a cleaned-up rendition of much that the band has been through since its inception. There are random booms and bangs, silky strings, of course a long period of silence, and quite a bit of old fashioned rocking out.

Neubauten has since released Perpetuum Mobile in 2004, which I have not yet heard. Any songs played from that album tonight will be like doing it with someone new for the first time, except that I've seen Mr. Bargeld before.

Blixa is entirely entrancing as an onstage performer. I saw Blixa during Nick Cave's tour for No More Shall We Part in Chicago. Of course he's gorgeous, but the way that he moved contrasted perfectly with Nick Cave's jerky dancing around, connoting suavity and self-assurance. He moved like a machine. When playing a simple guitar line, he would move his elbows and shoulders such that his entire body and instrument were part of a momentous production, all in order to produce this one note over and over. The rest of the band didn't seem to get his machine metaphor, in fact the violinist refused to look at the stage and often rocked back and forth on his heels, but that's ok.

One can realize this from the albums, but his performance with Nick Cave also drew attention to the astonishingly precise command Blixa has over his voice. I guess if you're in a former Dada band that has to survive for twenty years, you have to be able to change your voice's genre every few years. There was some rockin' song, probably The Mercy Seat, where Blixa just grabbed the microphone, opened his mouth, and let out the most amazing howl. He moved his arms around in spirals as if he was pumping it out of his body, but his face was unmoved and the whole actions seemed to be effortless. Contrast this with his tone in Weeping Song, a slow duet with Nick Cave, who already has a pretty soothing voice. Blixa barely enunciates the words, drawing attention to his raspy bass. Compared to his earthy, melodic chant, Nick Cave sounds like a schoolgirl fussing over a broken nail.

So what do I expect tonight? I expect that there will be a blue trash bin that will be played during Ich Bins, a song written by Blixa about the police finding him naked in front of his oven, soaring on heroin. I expect the many and sundry band members (who except for Blixa and N.U. have changed many times) to be tight in their meshing of guitar, synth, and drums with bottle-tapping-machines, frayed electrical cords, and scissors. I expect Blixa's voice to wrap effortlessly around twenty years of his band's music like an industrial-strength blanket.

But what do I want? I want a timely reminder that this is my favorite band and Blixa Bargeld is my favorite person. A favorite band is when you like every single phase they've gone through, all 24 years. I like Zeichnungen des Patienten O.T. from 1983. I remembered getting wide-eyed at all those weird voices at 2 a.m. on a bus to New York City while listening to Halber Mensch. I like how he tries to sing with laryngitis in Seele Brennt on Halber Mensch and his voice cracks. I like the way Blixa's voice rises as if he were posing a question in the last few seconds of Richterskala. I like the way the band sighs collectively in Der Kuss on Haus Der Luge. I like the way Blixa's voice punctuates the beat so precisely in 12305(te) Nacht. I like the way that a bunch of people start laughing and chanting "Silence is sexy!" on that album at the end of its title track.

Neubauten to me is early high school. I was dating the goth guy. He was three years older than me. Though I don't fall asleep every night with headphones on anymore, Neubauten is a band that I will never be embarrassed about. This concert may be occurring five years too late for me, but I hope it will be a reminder that I at one point was obsessed with my perfect musical match.