Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Event:Einsturzende Neubauten @ Nuits Sonores
Venue: Le Transbordeur, Lyon, 11th May 2008

I visited Lyon for the 6th annual Nuits Sonores festival, a festival which started out as being electronic and now describes itself as being electronic and indie. Its origins appear to have been more experimental in nature than they are now, most of the bands playing tending towards being dance music. Though the last night's special concert stands out as being an enigma in their midst, as well as the main draw for why I was there - Einsturzende Neubauten.

Around the rest of the festival, turning corners to find banging street parties - in little squares, courtyards, swimming pools, or station roof tops - there were a few events dedicated to the idea of Berlin and Neubauten. The first of these was on the 9th of May, a series of "relevant" films. The first of the films was a piece called Berlin Babylon, a documentary about building in Berlin after the wall came down, with an opening quote about building towers in Babylon. The film had a soundtrack by Neubauten, hence its relevance. However, after a couple of false starts and delays that threw the rest of the program out of synch, it was clear that this wasn't really the most exciting documentary ever. We witnessed various stages of construction projects - theatre conversions, old buildings used by Nazis transformed, the building of the new Reichstag and the Sony Centre at Potsdammer. To a degree, having been to Berlin, I had a certain interest in seeing spaces become buildings I had visited. But there was no overall narration to bring the film to coherence, and instead it becomes quite a random collection of meetings, buildings, and nothing to link it all together.

With the disorganisation behind the festival, several people then had to wander around to trying to find someone to start the next film, no one from the event having volunteered their presence. In the meantime, people came and went, didn't find the film they expected to be showing and made other plans. Eventually we got the next piece, Palace Der Republik, a live film of Neubauten playing in Berlin's Palace of the Republic building before it was torn down. The building was a massive concrete thing, with shiny coloured glass windows, in the Berlin Babylon piece they described it as an "eyesore" that should be torn down. It may have taken longer than they wanted, but it was in fact torn down. The gig was pretty representative of recent performances by the band - like the one they played in Glasgow last year, or this weekend's one in Lyon - with a few site specific pieces added. As a live recording its a pretty impressive film, though its obviously been edited to remove conversation with the audience and audience reaction, which removes a little of the atmosphere one gets from the real thing.

The last piece was a short film called Neubauten.org, again the disorganisation caused problems with this piece, as again they were not present to change films. When they did turn up we were told they weren't going to show it, because they had run too late. Then they decided that they were going to show it. So we started to watch it, probably getting 3/4 through it, before someone else turned up and made a half hearted apology and stopped the film - such that you would never guess that these were people who had been running a festival for six years now. This piece, what we saw of it, was probably of mixed interest, personally I actually found it fascinating on a number of levels. Primarily it discusses how a band that have been going for something like 25 years changed completely the paradigm of how they work, and did it in such a way that they appear to be doing quite well in a climate where the music "industry" is struggling. Secondarily it discusses the apparatus that enables that paradigm shift, the subscribers, and the way its created a community for them that is particularly modern and internet based/inspired.

When their existing record deal came to an end this old band were faced with a question - what are Einsturzende Neubauten? Are they a band with a future? Or is that it, no contracted reason to exist, so do they keep going, and if so in what form? Around then their webmaster suggested neubauten.org, engage the people that actually listen to the band and set up a subscription base. Various bands have done this before, said to fans, you send us money now, it'll fund the album and you'll get first/cheaper/exclusive access to the result. Neubauten.org approaches the idea on a scale greater than that which I have encountered previously. Subscribers get access to subscriber only releases, online streaming rehearsal/recording sessions where the band works through the new material, and exclusive forums/chat functions where they can form a community and communicate with each other. Which has transformed relationships between the band and the subscribers, and the subscribers relationships with each other. Something which is all covered in the film about Neubauten.org and gets to the heart of who the band have become so that the Einsturzende Neubauten of today are re-energized and re-imagined.

On the 10th of May we had the second of the series of events put on by the disorganisation - Ship Of Fools. A collaboration between Danielle de Picciotto and Alexander Hacke, Hacke being one of the core members of Neubauten. Hacke also made the documentary Crossing The Bridge: The Music of Istanbul, a music documentary about his exploration of music of all kinds in the Turkish city of Istanbul, which I saw a couple of years ago. According to the ticket the gig starts at five on the Saturday afternoon, according to the festival brochure it starts at five thirty, turning up on the day at five we are told six. When we query the disorganisation about this we are told it was always six and we are clearly wrong and liars if we were to suggest anything else. Charming. Surprisingly, a lot of people turn up at five, and wait around till we are let in at six. The venue is a basement auditorium in the refurbished Opera building in Lyon. We are sat in a circle, at the centre of which the pair perform with an assortment of laptops, samplers, chaos pads, electronics, guitar and accordion. While for each track a series of images, jerky animations, or film play with the theme of the collected material. The result is a kind of punky country and western lounge music, with perhaps a dash of burlesque. There is a certain tongue in cheek approach to the performance, and there are a couple of pieces I kind of enjoy, but for the most part it isn't entirely my cup of tea.

Sunday, May the 11th, the main event of the weekend, Einsturzende Neubauten live at Le Transbordeur in Lyon. Arriving outside there is an immediate buzz, people climbing out of cars, meeting friends, joining the line along the fence that leads to the entrance to Le Transbordeur. Everyone is in a good mood, filled with anticipation. As we get inside the buzz steps up a notch - to the side of the entrance is the merchandise, with people eagerly buying CDs and t-shirts, in front there is an industrial, internal crane, which hangs over the bar which is below, where a DJ plays loud and enthusiastic music. We ignore the DJ, and enter the main hall. The hall is a pretty big room, perhaps comparable overall to the Tramway in Glasgow where I saw the band 13 months before. Though here the second part of the hall is a stepped slope leading down to the main body of the room. When I saw them last time I was right down the front, this time I am content to sit with friends on the steps, directly behind the sound and light desk.

One of the things that the new Neubauten do is that they record every gig, as it happens, live. Then sell it as a 2 disc set at the end of the show. In Glasgow there was a glitch, and they didn't get the first half of the set, so just burnt copies from the previous night's gig - I didn't buy it, now I probably wish I had. Sat where we were gave the event a curious edge, because we could see the "CD factory" at work, the stacks of card sleeves, the stacks of Neubauten branded discs waiting to be burnt. Obviously, the way it works, to be possible, means you don't get the entire gig, but its still a fascinating thing to watch. This time we certainly bought copies of the gig at the end.

Neubauten played for nearly 2 hours by my reckoning, certainly something like that, with no support band. Playing 18 tracks, across that time, a break for an encore and a couple of advertising breaks - the advertising promoting the subscription idea, the live recording idea, and providing the gaps to change discs in the recording process. When I saw them last year they were taking a break from recording, a mini-mid-album-tour. As such they played more material from Perpetuum Mobile, which was the result of Phase I of the subscription material. This time the album is finished, Phase II is complete, and while there were a few tracks from the unreleased Alles Wieder Offen, now that the album is out it makes up a bigger chunk of this performance. Though there are a few tracks from other recent releases, including a subscriber album, the last copies of which are on sale on the tour.

The set up for the six piece band is the same as the film for Palace Der Republik and from last time I saw them. Though this time there is a dedicated backdrop for Alles Wieder Offen, which shifts with the changes in the lights through the various tracks. Percussionist N.U. Unruh at the left of the stage on the raised platform, with his assortment of tubes, metal blocks and sheets. Rudi Moser in centre of the platform with his drum kit, made up of more slabs of metal and springs as well as more traditional components. Then Ash Wednesday to the right of the platform, with keyboards and laptop. In front of him on the stage is guitarist Jochen Arbeit, then Blixa Bargeld on vocals in the centre, with Alexander Hacke finally on bass back on the left of the stage. Though of course, throughout, the members move around, playing various pieces of percussion and home made instrumentation, depending on the particular track. Especially in the piece of improvisation they play as a second last track of the night - instructions drawn blind from a bag determining the instruments the member is to play and the manner in which they were to be played.

Who were Neubauten? How have Neubauten changed? There is a perception that they were a noise industrial band, stacks of crashing metal percussion and howling vocals. And that’s all there, Blixa howls like a demon, between singing songs, while between Unruh and Moser there is plenty of crashing metal. But the band have evolved, the still have the feeling of being the same band, now there is more density and layers of sensation. The result live is almost absurdly too good. The sound intensely crisp, and clean, and bristling with life, the performers engaging with the music and the audience. So that in the end we barely notice that it has been two hours and 18 tracks since the band Einsturzende Neubauten took to the stage.

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