Meet: The Avant-Garde entertainer – Blixa Bargeld from Einstürzende Neubauten talks about rocket ramps, the future for the band, writing the new album and creating a whole new genre of pop music.

Feature Photograph: Arun Kendall

It was nearly four years ago to the day that I spoke to Blixa Bargeld from Einstürzende Neubauten on the eve of the release of their album ‘Alles In Allem’. It was a strange time given we were both just entering lockdown and it was an interview interrupted by food delivery services, which symbolised, in a way, that strange era.

During that time, Bargeld was famously running synchronised cooking sessions on video from his kitchen for his fans, which he says was entertaining for me and some people for quite a while until it fell asleep. Bargeld recounts that he fled Berlin soon after this with his family and lived in isolation for a year in Portugal, near Madonna’s house. I mentioned that Portugal seems a popular refuge for musicians and Bargeld laughs, noting there’s no tax on royalties for musicians there.

Now, four years later, Bargeld recalls it was a pretty awful time because the band was trying to maintain the momentum of their first release in 12 years. He recalls the massive devastation at having to cancel tours at that time including a tour to the US. The promoters in the US were upset:

…they didn’t believe there was a pandemic and wondered why we were doing such a thing, and then a couple of weeks later they understood.

As a musician, he notes that the way promotions are done has changed significantly:

I can tell you that from my perspective during COVID every second journalist didn’t know how to do interviews on the computer and how to use technology such as Zoom but now ninety per cent of all interviews are Zoom interviews and they don’t come for face to face interviews and they don’t get travel expenses paid any more (laughs) I just sit around all day doing ten zoom interviews…and suddenly everyone know how it all works.

Bargeld rues the reduction in face to face interviews, noting he enjoys getting out of the home and going to his office to do face to face interviews once a week.

We turn to the new album and I asked how it was written and developed. Bargeld recalls that when the tour finally happened in 2022,

…we were touring under great security measures we did most of the distances by bus, we had bacteria filters in the bus and we were tested every day and we were able to do about two thirds of the tour and then we had to cancel the rest of it. In that tour bus we thought about whether we would do another record and how we would do that.

It was clear that Alexander Hacke the bass player and a key player in the musical development wouldn’t have much time so we had to find a pragmatic solution to make a record, but doing it in less time. Normally we take a year to do a record – not every day but a week here, a week there, but we were able to do all the basic track recordings within three months. We decided to use the improvisations that we do on stage.

In Neubauten lingo the improvisations are called ‘Rampen’ – ‘rocket ramps’ – and that means automatically they are all played on the same instruments we had with us on the tour. I know this sounds normal for most bands but for us it was unusual. This meant we could take the same instruments to the studio and record using them.

This meant the recording were able to follow very closely the improvisations done on stage, editing and changing those pieces in the studio (shortening, adding verses). Once the framework for the songs were established, Bargeld then worked on the lyrics – adapting some from fragments from the improvisations on stage, writing new material – he calls it hanging some more meat on the bones.

It was possible to do all of this in a relatively short time over three months at the studios at the Flughaven Templhof and then I took the rest of Neubauten to our own studio and we finished off the record.

I explored more about the use of instruments, wondering if there were any additional sounds used in the recording – usually a particular feature of Neubauten recordings.

There were some – once we agreed to do this record, Jochen (Arbeit) said ‘I don’t want to play guitar on every track’. He did bring a whole assortment of self-built instruments – a disc harp, some kind of giant electric marimba, electric kalimbas. So he started a couple of songs on these self-built instruments – these were possibly the colours that were not there before.

We returned to the title ‘Rampen’ as I was curious about this term. Bargeld made it clear that in German, there are several possible meanings to this word. The idea in this case is a rocket launching pad. I wondered why the term ‘alien pop music’ was added to the title and Bargeld discloses that he wasn’t initially very happy with ‘Rampen’ as a title.

I thought it would open the door to many misunderstandings and jokes (laughs). I was looking for a different title and came up with the idea of creating a new genre again. I created a genre in the eighties called ingenious diligence so I thought maybe I would create another genre and it ended up being the title of the album. I saw two different strains of thought.

One was to say I had created a new genre and to make it another ‘stream’ as there is no mainstream anymore, and we make another popular music stream other than the one that borders on populism. We created one for the aliens living on the planet, the ones who are not part of anything else. They are entitled to have their own pop music (laughs). The other strain, we are the Beatles in another parallel universe (laughs). I just thought it funny to put Einstürzende Neubauten in the context of pop music, because nobody does that.

One thing that is usually overlooked in Neubauten is that there is a lot of humour in our music. You are not meant to take everything dead seriously.

We then diverted into a discussion on what pop music is, with me referencing Colin Moulder from XTC saying all pop music has an element of melancholy in it. Bargeld remembered with fondness seeing XTC play early in their career. He pondered on the element of melancholy, not necessarily agreeing with the required presence of melancholy in pop, but accepting his own interpretation of melancholy was possibly a lot darker, referencing his use of melancholy in one of his songs (Die Befindlichkeit des Landes). He starts singing the lines:

Mela, mela, mela, mela, melancholia
Melancholia, mon cher

He joked that, ultimately, it’s probably not worth talking about pop with him:

Famously I am the one in the band that doesn’t know anything about pop music. You can throw any kind of a name at me and I’ll probably admit ‘yep, I’ve heard of that name but I’ve never heard their music’. I don’t know any song by Taylor Swift but I do know she has re-recorded one of her records to get out of the fangs of the record company and I’m full of admiration for that – I really like that idea – but I don’t know any of her songs. I know Billy Eilish! My son likes Billy Eilish – that has reached me!

We then discussed the themes and tones found in the new album

I can definitely see that my preferred themes or metaphors are vested here once again. I use a lot of scientific language, a lot of scientific metaphors especially from biology and astronomy, geology too. There is a lot about identity, distance and there is a lot about language and linguistics and there is of course mythology as a means of transportation of ideas that have no language. If you combine these you automatically end up with the Bargeld. It is not boring – on the other hand, I believe I am one of the few examples of an avant-garde entertainer.

I do not want to put anything into the world that is boring. There is a difference between being avant-garde and an avant-garde entertainer. I do see myself as an entertainer. I use very strange things that are combined to juxtapose as well as to come to some new conclusions, new meanings and new thoughts. But I still want to be entertaining.

I referred to the methods Bargeld used in the last album where he used a card system called Dave as well as interactions with his Patreon followers to help formulate lyrics. Has this changed? Bargeld says he never wants to follow formulaic methods, to repeat himself. He notes that the use of words in improvisations is already a way of avoiding routine in songs – you never know what the others will be doing and it didn’t need another layer of writing on top of it.

Referencing the element of humour in the album, I noted that the track ‘Pestalozzi’ seemed to combine cooking with philosophy and ethics and that taken with the track ‘Besser Isses’ (It’s Better) there seemed to be a link between appetite and deep thinking. Bargeld agreed saying this was true. He then recounted how ‘Besser Isses’ was written and became an improvisation in Paris.

Around the time we last spoke, Patricia Kaas contacted me – I don’t know if you know her in Australia but she is a French chanteuse, and she decided to do an album in German, so she contacted me and asked if I could write a duet. I did. And then she contacted me again and asked if I could write a ‘rocker’. So I thought now that I had written something really modern like a duet I could write a break up song. So I took the most minimalistic concept for a break up song which I will freely translate for you as being ‘me without you, you without me, that’s better’ (laughs). So: that was my break up song.

When we were improvising in Paris, I thought maybe Patricia Kaas was in the audience and I would play her that track, improvise around it and see what happens. Well…I don’t think she was in the audience in the end and she still hasn’t recorded any of the two songs I gave her so I ended up just using it for myself. I played around with it and it ended up as about me breaking up with God and the universe. But that’s fine (laughs).

I asked whether there was any one track off the album he was looking forward to playing live, and without hesitation he nominated the final track ‘Gesundbrunnen’ and ‘Everything Will Be Fine’. The last one is so cynical… (laughs evilly). Bargeld adds that he enjoys everything they play live from their whole catalogue.

There’s always one piece that everybody is afraid of because there are so many doors that can go wrong – one object failing or piece is missed and the whole thing falls apart.

Just look at this incarnation of the band that has played together for 25 years – I can look at so many records and songs that I could make two or three different (set lists) out of that.

Bargeld then reminisces about how the band has existed for 44 years and recounts on the band’s development of the world’s first ever crowd-funding mechanism twenty-two years ago. He then makes the stunning announcement that the band is ending this crowd-funding project with this album.

I asked for clarification.

We invented crowdfunding in 2002 – or to be precise, my wife invented the practice. We divided it into phases. Phase 1 we did ‘Perpetuum Mobile’, and on the last one phase 4 – when we last talked to each other – we did ‘Allem in Allem’ and now phase 5 is the production of this record. When we started this in 2002 there was no social media, there was no Facebook, there was no Instagram. Now days, you expect artists to have their breakfast on Instagram and everything else in the daytime too (laughs). It’s the most normal thing now in the world, whereas when we started (without the breakfast of course) it was completely new. The term webcast didn’t exist. We were showing how we worked in the studio, how we did this and did that and it was brand new.

Now, there’s nothing brand new about this any longer, and we are in danger of becoming just one particle in an Instagrammable world and we are in danger of becoming banal. So we decided before we turn this into an elitarian fan circle, we would rather stop it here and look for another revolutionary method of how we can continue working.

My wife is in the next room working on it now. I can tell you that once we’ve done it, there will be a couple of others who will do the same. It’s inevitable. How many bands have taken up crowdfunding? It’s a common method.

I’m not giving away what we do next (laughs). There will be something else!

I refer to the upcoming European tour and ask if it will be extended to other parts of the world.

There are no plans yet but we are absolutely open for it. You might know that before the pandemic I used to come every year to Dark Mofo (in Hobart, Australia). I still have a standing invitation to come to Dark Mofo for whenever I want to present anything and I’m pretty sure I will do that at some point. I don’t know if it’s going to be Neubauten or something else, but we have not forsaken Australia so to speak.

I mentioned that Dark Mofo is reduced in scope this year but perhaps he could come next year and I promised to let the organisers know of his interest, and he enthused that this would be great and expressed a hope that the festival returns back to normal.

Finally I mentioned that Kid Congo Powers was in Hobart next month and we talked about the classic (and arguably the most exciting) line up of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds with Bargels, Mick Harvey, Kid Congo, and Thomas Wydler, and I swear there was a hint of nostalgia in Bargeld’s eye. I promised to pass on his regards to Kid Congo and looked forward to see Bargeld back in Hobart soon.

The band recently took some lucky supporters (some from as far away as Australia) on a tour of Berlin over the Easter weekend, providing a listening party for the new album and in the process underlining the fact that Einstürzende Neubauten remain committed to being accessible and full of innovative fun for their fans. It will be fascinating to follow their new direction.

‘Rampen (apm: Alien Pop Music)’ is out on 5 April 2024 and you can pre-order the new album here. It’s Einstürzende Neubauten at their very best – keep an eye out for Backseat Mafia’s track by track review.

In the meantime, details of the forthcoming tour can be found below.

Feature Photograph: Arun Kendall

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  1. […] by the band about recording again following 2020’s ‘Alles In Allem’. In my recent interview with Blixa Bargeld, he […]

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