As the front man of Einstürzende Neubauten and co-founder of renowned indie band Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Blixa Bargeld is among the major icons of Germany's underground music scene.
Nihilistic, uncompromising and morbid - that was long the musical credo of Blixa Bargeld, lead singer for the legendary post-punk and indie rock band Einstürzende Neubauten. As a young artist, squatter and member of West Berlin's counterculture in the 1980s, Bargeld and a handful of friends were looking for new and experimental ways to express themselves musically.
They found what they were looking for, using metal scraps, drilling machines, sledgehammers, trash cans and washing machines to make music. As they put it in the title of one song: "Hör mit Schmerzen!" (Listen with Pain!).
Formed officially in 1980, Einstürzende Neubauten's music marked a break with convention and easily digestible genres. Their songs were anti-pop, indie in the truest sense of being independent from the major record labels and their commercial interests.
For many newcomers and initiates into West Berlin's underground rock scene, the band quickly became a source of inspiration - one could even say role models. That was thanks in no small part to their brutal, ear-deafening performances and Bargeld's apocalyptic-sarcastic plays on words.
But the band took things further than that. Their daring mix of instruments and sounds helped lay the foundation for a new approach to music that went on to influence not just German but also countless international indie bands like Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails or Marilyn Manson.
Art-noise courtesy of jackhammers and steel pipe drums
The Neubauten noise aesthetic had parallels with experimental and avant-garde industrial music from the 1970s. Of perpetual importance to Blixa Bargeld and many others in West Berlin's independent scene was the idea of being set apart from the musical mainstream.
Open to accidents
Einstürzende Neubauten (the name translates to "Collapsing New Buildings") often showed up to play at construction sites or under highway bridges - performance sites just as bizarre and idiosyncratic as their instruments and the band's musical concept more generally. Losing control and letting the unexpected happen were key elements during their excessive live shows, in which things had a way of getting broken.
"Destruction was, for us, never destruction in the sense of an act of violence. It was always about making room," says the now 54-year-old Blixa Bargeld of those times, adding, "Even if many things got destroyed on stage and I've come away with various wounds and broken bones over the years."
Bargeld managed to make a name for himself and the band well beyond Berlin in 1985 with the album "Halber Mensch" (Half Human). As a guitarist for indie rock band Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, the outsider musician found international renown.
As years passed, established cultural purveyors began taking note of the German avant-garde rock scene's enfant terrible. Stage director Peter Zadek commissioned Blixa Bargeld and his band to provide accompaniment to the work "Andi" in Hamburg's Deutsches Schauspielhaus. Due to the band's incredibly noisy performance, theater staff handed out earplugs to the audience in advance of the show.
In 1991, Einstürzende Neubauten wrote the music for a performance of dramatist Heiner Müller's piece "Hamletmaschine" (Hamlet Machine). Further theater commissions followed.
The legend lives
The 1990s brought a break in Blixa Bargeld's work: the aggressive stage shows with sledgehammers and drums made of steel increasingly became a thing of the past. The band's repertoire became more melodic and harmonic. In 2000, their album titled "Silence Is Sexy" summed up the band's new sensibility - away from the brutal, toward the delicate.
On his current album, "Still Smiling," Bargeld is back with more softer sounds co-produced by his friend Teho Teardo in a style the singer dubs "small chamber music." The Neubauten frontman sings in Italian, much in the style of musician Paolo Conte.
"Others are famous; I'm legendary!" Bargeld once said. And even if things have grown quieter for the band, their mythos continues to influence young indie and experimental bands both in Germany and well beyond.