On a darkened soundstage South of Market, Einstürzende Neubauten lead singer Blixa Bargeld is ready for his close-up. Well, almost. First, the lighting crew needs to get the pink tint out of his face.
"People just want to see me pale, white, and Halloweenish," jokes the towering, black-clad godfather of industrial music. "I am not a lobster."
Bargeld is spending a recent Sunday at multimedia studio Recombinant Media Labs to shoot the video for the song "Nagorny Karabach" from the new Neubauten CD, Alles Wieder Offen (Everything Open Again). It's a lovely, melancholy tune, with Bargeld's baritone croon sounding like a Germanic Leonard Cohen. For this visual clip, Bargeld is lip-synching as film of the band performing at Germany's Palast der Republik is projected on huge screens behind him. The juxtaposition of the recorded footage and the live singer makes for a disorienting effect.
The music video, which will be posted on YouTube and www.neubauten.org, represents the quintet's progressive approach to marketing its music. Alles Wieder Offen is also the third record the group has offered in subscription format, where fans paid 35 euros (or the U.S. dollar equivalent) for the deluxe version of the CD, or 65 euros for a CD/DVD combo — they also get exclusive digital downloads. A conventional version of the album is available in stores. "People pay upfront for the making of the record," Bargeld says. "But it's the first one that's completely released through the Neubauten record company. We don't know the outcome of this, but we at least want to try it. I didn't want to find myself in 2020 thinking I should have done this by myself."
Musically, Alles Wieder Offen is another novel development in the German industrial band's influential 27-year career. For one thing, the disc is Einstürzende Neubauten's most cohesively orchestrated and darkly beautiful work to date. The unconventional, percussive instrumentation is still there, with such apparatus as a jet turbine and the "electric drill record player" making appearances, but there are also plenty of strings, piano, and Hammond organ on these songs. Bargeld says it's the first time the band has chosen to refine its use of the tools on hand. "It forced me into a position where I had to concentrate a lot on singing and lyrics," says the former guitarist of Nick Cave's Bad Seeds. "This time the vocals are more important, and the voice is mixed more up front." The impressionistic lyrics are all in German, of course, but the album comes with a booklet of English translations.
A well-traveled Berlin native, Bargeld has been living in Beijing for the last couple of years; he currently owns a house in the Castro and calls our little Euro-"exclave" home. "San Francisco is the smallest place I ever lived in," he says. "Beijing has about 60 million people, and somebody asked me the other day if it wasn't a big cultural shock moving to China. Before I found a house in San Francisco, I actually lived for six months in Menlo Park. That was a cultural shock!"
Neubauten may never tour the U.S. again, due in part to the collapsing dollar and the ridiculously high cost and Customs hassles of transporting unwieldy industrial noisemakers. But Bargeld will be doing a local residency of sorts. Last September, he collaborated with East German minimal techno electronic pioneer Alva Noto, who projected visual interpretations of Bargeld's vocalizations onto the walls of Recombinant Media Labs. And there are more partnerships in the pipeline. "I'm very excited and motivated by the opportunity to work with Blixa locally," says Recombinant curator Naut Humon, whose Rhythm and Noise project opened for Neubauten in the early '80s. "He's a tremendously creative and thoughtful individual who knows what he wants and knows how to manifest it."
Indeed, during the video shoot's many takes, Bargeld comes off as sharp and indefatigable. He also has a wonderfully droll sense of humor. "That's people's biggest misconception about industrial music," he says, after joking that the video might work better if he were wearing a Kermit the Frog suit. "They don't realize that it can be a lot of fun."