What could be more appropriate, at the end of the most surreal week in UK history, than to spend an evening having my mind expanded by people banging on dustbin lids?
This gig stands out as one of the more unusual in my gigging history. Taking a break from my pop and indie obsessions, I strode out this Sunday night for an evening of German industrial noise. I’d discovered Einstürzende Neubauten in 1993, when the video for “Die Interimsliebenden” appeared on an Aussie alternative music show. I bought their latest album “Tabula Rasa” and all its related EPs that year, and loved the combination of Blixa’s husky vocals, strange clanking atmospherics and outright banging noise. Although I never really ventured far from this particular era of EN, they did have one quite prominent impact on my life. When choosing subjects for my BA which I started the following year, I opted for German, and ended up majoring in it. I still clearly remember this exchange in my very first German class in 1994:
Teacher: So, does anyone know any German words?
Me: Einstürzende Neubauten!
(Teacher looks taken aback)
Fellow student: Is that a swear word?
However, this gig was memorable for another reason, which is the nature of the London I strode out into that evening. It was exactly one week since Princess Diana had been killed in a car crash, and the world had been a very strange place over the previous seven days. I certainly found the event very sad – who would not be saddened when a young woman is killed just as her life was getting back on track after a nasty divorce, and leaving two young boys without their mum? However, I was very far from a royalist, and to suddenly find myself in a new world of compulsory grief, and of an anomalous outburst of emotion that I myself was not particularly feeling, made the previous week an odd and uncomfortable one. So it was with some relief that I made my way to the Astoria to escape the mourning mood with some cerebral noise.
Unusually for me, I wasn’t particularly bothered about getting down the front, so I didn’t turn up at the Astoria ’til 7pm. As I surveyed the length of the queue I realised that the band’s fans were more enthusiastic than I expected. From my diary: “At this point the queue went right back not just to the back of the building but to the back of the one behind as well.” I was also a little unprepared for finding myself suddenly in Goth World. “I had no idea that EN’s audience would be so goth-heavy! Crusty goths at that. I expected a lot of black clothes, but not the entire spectacle. In my outrageously inappropriate white blouse I joined the queue, and got in around 7.30.”
I’d had a little experience with the goth scene in Perth two years earlier, and they were not memories filled with joy, centred as they were around a monumentally ill-advised (though thankfully brief) relationship with a goth-inclined guy in 1995. So I was a tad apprehensive to find myself in such surroundings again, but happily, it didn’t deter me from my enjoyment of the night.
I never caught the name of the first band on, but they are immortalised in my memory as Dustbin Bin. “They were so avant garde I didn’t even realise they were on stage ’til halfway through their ‘set’! Two blokes with blue dustbins that had various electronic bits connected, allowing them to create the sound of thunder for 25 minutes. For obvious reasons, they seemed stunned to find themselves playing to more than three people. They took pictures of the crowd as they performed and seemed genuinely moved at the applause at the end.”
After that, even the next band resembled Boyzone, despite being “a goth / death / thrash / dustbin fusion, and not half bad with it.” They were certainly entertaining, despite there being little to tell apart between their songs, “though the first one began amusingly as the bald guitarist repeatedly whispered something like “hello little children don’t be afraid” as if they had the remotest chance of scaring anything. The best moment was when they got out the first band’s dustbins and thrashed out some tribal rhythms for several minutes. The most amusing moment was when they left, and the singer informed us “we’re called Evil Mothers!” Well it was either that or Evil Nutters. Which is perhaps more appropriate.”
So it was nearly time for Einstürzende Neubauten and I found myself quite excited. “Not as excited as those in white face paint and green dreadlocks, perhaps, but excited nonetheless.” EN came on to a “rousing goth cheer” and began with “Ende Neu”, the title track of their recent album, which I had not yet listened to. “I only knew it was “Ende Neu” because Blixa shrieked that phrase over and over. He was in a black suit with a black bowleresque hat and looked very dark and sinister.” I stood well and truly out of what would normally be the mosh, but I needn’t have been so cautious, as there was no actual moshing this evening. “No, and this was well beyond the realm of little new grave dances as well, this was Full On Goth Dancing of a sort I haven’t witnessed since precisely two years ago. The flashbacks! The horror! The strange hand formations!”
As I was only really familiar with “Tabula Rasa” and the later single “Stella Maris”, there were a lot of unfamiliar songs for me that night, but I enjoyed myself nonetheless. Three songs in came a song I recognised, “Insallation no 1” from the “Stella Maris” single. “A relentless unchanging electronic throb assaults us as Blixa compels us to “disobey! disobey! disobey!” ad infinitum. Because “it’s the law”. It was very mesmeric, you feel rooted to the spot (unless of course you’re engaged in Full On Goth Dancing at the time) but strangely very enjoyable.” My favourite moments, though, were inevitably when they played songs from the mighty “Tabula Rasa”, an album I’d listened to a great deal during 1993. “They did “Zebulon” which most people talked through until the “schneeeee SCHMELZE!!!” crashed the whole thing into chaos and the crowd very nearly moshed. “Die Interimsliebenden”, though, was profoundly brilliant. You really felt you’d entered some strange netherworld with this song rolling about the room in sinister perpetual motion, Blixa stalking the stage like a caged wild animal.”
I broke off my report here to have a moment of Blixa appreciation. “Blixa Bargeld! The name! The charisma! The restrained fury! The middle aged spread! Ahem.” Careful, Scruffy. The middle aged spread will get to you too one day, you know.
The highlight for me was the monster of noise and mayhem “Headcleaner”. “The band seemed transformed into a totally integrated machine, an absolute monster of a machine to be sure, led by the terminal clanking (feeble word to describe the cacophony!) of a huge metal sheet, and Blixa’s purposefully shouted vocals. It was an absolute monster, that’s the only way to describe it. It took hold of your head and seeped through every pore of your body, so that when the crashings were replaced by a minute’s intense reverberating high pitched hum it seemed to be coming from within as well as without. When this unrelenting attack of pummelling pounding NOISE from all directions finally collapsed into the beautiful, frightening calm of the coda and everyone in the Astoria could breathe again, you felt like you’d been shaken about the place as though God had decided to use the Astoria and all of us inside as some celestial rattle.”
Following it was another unfamiliar yet striking song, which “seemed to consist entirely of the line “you can find me if you want me in the garden unless it’s pouring down with rain” which was mildly amusing at first ’til an icy cascade of beautifully degenerate strings descended around us and it was all a bit moving.” The main set ended here, and they were off after a bow at the front of the stage. “Of course the industrogoths were having none of it and kicked up a stomping fuss ’til the band came back. The first song of the encore was “Wüste” from “Tabula Rasa”. Buckets of sand were being poured into metal sheets, a great stick of burning wax melting onto something else, and the noise they created was the soundtrack to the end of the universe. Powerful is something of an understatement.”
The gig ended with two more songs I didn’t recognise, and while there was nothing wrong with them, I was beginning to think of the last tube, what with it being a Sunday night, so didn’t pay as much attention as I’d have liked. But my overall verdict on the gig was a positive one. “All in all, it felt like it was the first grown-up concert I’d attended, not just screaming and jumping about but actually engaging some thought in what was going on. Not that Einstürzende Neubauten were 100% cerebral, in fact the whole evening was quite hugely entertaining.”
This was the one and only Einstürzende Neubauten gig I have yet attended. I admit, I haven’t really kept up with their music since this time. I was to see Blixa live one more time though, at my next Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds gig, but not until 2001. Perhaps one day I’ll venture back into that world of atmospheric noise and dustbin lids again, but until then, this gig remains a curious yet fondly-remembered anomaly in my gigging life.