Ich Bin Ein Berliner

Q: Are we not men? A: "We are Neubauten and only Neubauten."

LONG BEFORE BEDROOM techheads like Al Jourgensen and Trent Reznor donned goth gear and tweaked their samplers to evoke postindustrial gloom, Einstürzende Neubauten made urban noise by clanging on the urban debris of their native West Berlin. The first Einstürzende Neubauten LP (1981's Kollaps) came with the one-sentence press release: "You'll never listen to this," and, true to that fiat, the album resembled sonic waste--metal machine-music in the truest sense of the word. Yet it also coursed with snippets of deconstructed Krautrock, dublike sound collage, and a barely discernable Hank Williams reference, suggesting the roots of a great deal of '90s sampledelia.

Nearly 20 years down the autobahn, Neubauten's music has been called many things: industrial, goth, proto-techno, neofuturist. Blixa Bargeld, the collective's founder and "lead man," doesn't trouble or flatter himself with such distinctions. Though he does flatter himself: "There's a lot of legend about what we're doing," he says. "We have been connected to millions of different short-lived styles."

Encamped in the New York offices of his new label, Interscope, with a gaggle of media wonks, Bargeld discusses the band's history on the eve of its first North American tour in more than six years. "You find that people seem to come for the legend of what we are without knowing what to expect. Then they realize that we actually never really have been the fulfillers of these ideas. We actually haven't got anything to do with Bauhaus. We are not the simpler version of Rammstein. We are Neubauten and only Neubauten." In summary: Neubauten sind Neubauten.

That said, some longtime fans will be surprised to hear that the latest offering from the Titans of the Teutons, Ende Neu (Interscope/Nothing) is a bit of a departure from past work. The drills and jackhammers of old have been left in the toolshed for samples of a pen violently scratching at paper and the like. Shrieks and fits have disappeared in favor of sparse melodies, choirs, and subtle orchestration. It's a gentle, even sexy record.

In contrast, Neubauten's live show will be a bit more, uh, challenging. Bargeld describes it, honestly enough, as "very long." And with Mark Pauline of San Francisco's Survival Research Laboratories helping out with the "obtainium" ("found" objects), the instrumentation won't disappoint. The only possible occupational hazard, says Bargeld, will be fitting their massive store of instruments on the First Avenue stage.

"We're working with some unusual materials. Often particular objects are only used for one song, so you kind of accumulate more and more in order to play." Of course, using found objects for instruments does have its advantages. Once you decide not to play a particular song anymore, the objects "are thrown back into the oblivion where they came from. Just leave them somewhere, and they're suddenly rubble again."

Yet if the idea of taking home a hunk of discarded Kraut-rock history isn't enough, consider the exciting fact that Neubauten's stage shows have involved fires, flying pieces of metal, and plenty of wreckage. Which, Bargeld maintains, is all part of the process of being the world's most dangerous band.

"I don't think we ever willfully destroyed anything," he says. "Everything that ever happened onstage that may have been harmful or destructive was just like a force of nature. It wasn't there to show brute force or anything like that. It was due to the fact that you were alive or you have some power within you, and that sometimes destroys something. Like weather. I'm sure we've played really bad sometimes, but we didn't really play anything to show masculinity or what you can do with a hammer."

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