A plastic suitcase booms like a crashing wave; a rusted spring howls up a gale; a dented car door roars like a pride of lions; and a smashed trash-can lid emits the screech of tortured tires. If you’ve never heard such noises, you obviously missed last month’s high-amp concert tour by the German band with the tongue-twisting moniker, Einstürzende Neubauten. Since 1980 these new lords of the junk pile have made their own special music by scraping and pounding all kinds of trash, even rancid meat, while amplifying the sounds to earsplitting levels. As a result, E.N.—the name literally means “collapsing new buildings”—has trained music lovers around the world to crave a lot of strange noises. “If you put a mike on a shopping basket,” says lead singer Blixa Bargeld, 26, “it has something of the quality of a harp.”
Though their nondulcet tones may have led to the earache that plagued Bargeld during E.N.’s May 17 concert in Denver, he wasn’t about to scratch the gig: It was the band’s first chance to perform in its most appropriate arena, a junkyard. Since E.N.’s junkstruments are too heavy to transport, they usually collect fresh garbage for every performance. In New York City they scavenged behind a concert hall. In L.A. they put out cash for trash. But at Denver’s One-Stop Recycling yard, E.N. was engulfed in opportunities.
The resultant din was close to mind-blowing. Before a top-capacity crowd of about 100, Bargeld shouted his rough-edged German poetry as one band member ran a gas-powered dirt compactor across the stage and another banged a drum pedal against a steel storage tank while rattling an aluminum awning. To round out the sound, the band added two blaring guitars, tapes of a 300-voice choir and occasionally the squeal of a subway. “Our music is too much alive to be quiet,” says Bargeld. “We do it to lose control, to get beyond set limitations. That’s what excitement is all about.”
Bargeld dropped out of his Berlin high school in tenth grade to play in punk bands, supporting himself as a bartender, cinema manager and grave digger. When he and a couple of pals began E.N. in 1980, they used typical electric instruments. But after being forced to sell their drum set to pay the rent, they switched to junk. “The life situation made the artistic decision,” says Bargeld.
As far back as 1913 junk music was performed by Italian composer Luigi Russolo, who hammered out industrial sounds on homemade machines. Such converted instruments as the washtub bass and musical saw go back at least that far. But E.N. is bringing trash bashing to the masses. They’re a hit throughout Europe and even behind the Iron Curtain, where one promoter in Prague was arrested for purveying their “decadent” art. U.S. fans—lured in part by E.N.’s 1984 video—packed concerts this year and last. They also dance to E.N.’s sound, after a fashion. “It’s a new kind of dance,” observes Bargeld. “I would say they find a way to move to it.”
At the Denver show, one high-schooler told her parents she was going to the movies, but instead she paid $25 for the black-painted dog bone that served as a ticket to E.N. “I want to be able to say I was here,” she explained. J.R. Rowe, the junkyard owner, was likewise impressed. “Look at all those refrigerators up there,” he exclaimed. “Look at that skinhead enjoying it. These guys can really play this stuff.”
Beware, though: Junk rock is not for everyone. E.N.’s album, Drawings of O.T (Ze/ PVC Records), has been on college radio charts for about a month, but it wasn’t Top 40 material for the sound engineer hired to record it. After hearing a few bars he told the band, “I have to go. You just press this button to record.” Says Bargeld with a chuckle, “I guess our sound was a bit too much for him.”