Two years ago, Swedish indie rockers Bob Hund sold their instruments at an auction. That didn’t stop them from signing up for a set at Roskilde. We spoke to singer Thomas Öberg before the band’s Roskilde performance about where they got their instruments for the set and what kind of mischief Bob Hund is getting into after all these years.
Photos by Morten Aagaard Krogh (mortenkrogh.com)
Once known for drilling holes through the floors of venues with their power tools/instruments, it is at first an odd notion to encounter Einstürzende Neubauten in the wood-panelled pomp of DR’s Koncerthuset. Yet the acoustical properties boasted by the venue, as well as the circular seating plan, make it the perfect place to experience the performance of a piece as singular and theatrical as Lament.
During the first year of the centenary of the First World War we all witnessed various attempts to commemorate events that remain baffling despite their continued influence throughout history. Last year saw two Flemish towns commission ambitious musical pieces from left-field bands. The In Flanders Fields Museum in Ypres sought Tindersticks to create a brooding string piece pockmarked with dolorous bells. With Ypres the band evoked the huge, blank austerity of memory, a musical equivalent to architectural pieces like the Cenotaph in London. The town of Diksmuide, on the other hand, decided upon a very different course, opting for these German industrial heroes, Neubauten (it bares reminding that their name translates to “Collapsing New Buildings”, though perhaps on this occasion Old Buildings might be more appropriate).
The resulting performance piece, which was then recorded as an album, draws heavily both on historical research and the band’s own musical influences in the 20th century avant-garde. The stage of Koncerthuset is dominated by large sheets of metal, piping and chains. A barbed-wire harp lurks in the back. Backstage are instruments made out of empty artillery shells and period crutches. The orchestra is penned in the middle of the stage, as if to say: “there is a space for conventional pathos, but only when confronted with something more alien.”
The opening piece, “Kriegsmaschinerie”, lives up to its title, a drawn out wail of metal scraping against metal, chains falling and drills boring into sheets of steel. Frontman Blixa Bargeld stands in the centre, conveying his lyrics not in song but with the means of large placards: “War does not break out. It waits/For a singular but thousandfold:/Hurrah.” This is at once the absolute essence of Neubauten, the punk musique concrète they are famous for, but also a clear reference to one of the defining artistic movements during that war, Futurism. The ad-hoc instruments evoke Luigi Russolo’s “Intonarumori” sonic sculptures, whereas the placards evoke the tone, if not exactly the content, of the belligerent poems of F.T. Marinetti. But even with eyes closed the cacophony is startling, dramatic, strangely pleasurable. The apex of metal screeching, accompanied by the rising wails of strings, is less oppressive than invigorating, a reminder that to some war embodied the possibility of sublime aesthetic overload (they would, to paraphrase Ezra Pound, learn later).
As a whole Lament succeeds as a piece that uses the First World War not only for its subject but for its materials. Its methods are those of Dada, Futurism, artistic currents born precisely in those years. The second piece, “Hymnen” exemplifies this: the melody is that of the British Anthem, which, it turns out, was the same used for the anthem of the German Empire, “Heil dir im Siegerkranz”, while the text is a mashup of the two anthems, interspersed with satirical lyrics by Heinrich Hoffman. One often hears in documentaries about how before WWI Britain and Germany thought of themselves as similar, but here this becomes immediately, absurdly, apparent.
In spite of such bleak subject matter, there is a subversive humour to Neubaten’s work that manages to appeal both to the senses and intellect of its audience. “The Willy – Nicky Telegrams” sees bassist Alex Hacke impersonate Tzar Nicholas of Russia, with Bargeld playing the part of Kaiser Wilhelm, singing (with autotune) the telegrams between the two cousin-monarchs. The autotune lends a further ridiculousness to their nicknames for one another, a sense of farce that two such people should be in charge of nations, and a note of insincerity in their professions of affection. Announcing the beginning of “Der 1.Weltkrieg (Percussion Version)”, Bargeld explains that every beat in the piece represents one day of the war. A hushed silence of anticipation is then broken when he remarks “You should be thankful we didn’t write this about the 30 Years’ War.” It’s a funny aside, but it also reveals the depth to which Bargeld and his bandmates have steeped themselves in research, to remind us that although the conflict of 1914-18 might have been the first of the World Wars, it was just one of many enormous European wars.
In the introduction to his unparalleled prose-poem on the First World War, In Parenthesis, David Jones speaks of his work as an attempt to “make a shape in words, using as data the complex of sights, sounds, fears, hopes, apprehensions, smells, things exterior and interior, the landscape and paraphernalia of that singular time and of those particular men.” That text itself is a collage of the trench songs, jokes, army drills and ancient Welsh epics, that manage to capture the pity, absurdity, boredom and even the strange and terrible beauty of the experience of war. “At no other time,” Jones claims, “did one so much live with a consciousness of the past, both superficially and more subtly.”
Neubauten do not presume to adopt the point of view of experience, but they do employ many of the techniques and concerns of a writer like Jones, one of the very few British Modernists to have taken active part in the war. In an effort to convey the diversity of the belligerents, Lament’s texts are in German, English, Flemish (“In de Loopgraf”), and though their music might evoke the real sounds of war, their perspective is one of detachment, looking at WWI in the context of past and future events. A piece like “Der 1.Weltkrieg” illustrates how distance can evoke a different kind of pathos, making us experience the time-scale of the war, as a endless list of painful days, whereas the cover of “Sag mir wo die Blumen sind”, the German version of Pete Seeger’s “Where Have All the Flowers Gone”, references both the symbol of the soldier as flower and the continuum between First and Second World Wars in the figure of Marlene Dietrich.
The most interesting covers, however, are to be found in the middle and end of Lament. “On Patrol in No Man’s Land” and “All of No Man’s Land Is Ours” by the The Harlem Hellfighters—a black US regiment forced to serve under the French because of racial segregation—are perfectly chosen examples of some of the great ironies and oddities of the First World War. Originally written and performed by the soldiers whose deeds they catalogue, the humour of these songs is both biting and a testament to their incomprehensible strength. The tracks are stripped back, with none of the swing of the originals, and replace the chanted booms and bangs with actual ones. Bassist Hacke sings the first with a bravado that gives a good sense of the original, whereas Bargeld’s performance of the second lends a sad irony to the words “at last I’m home”, conveying the relief of escaping the war interspersed with the sadness of returning to segregation.
The evening ends with a couple of recent Neubauten songs, the haunting “Ich Gehe Jeztz” and the bombastic “Let’s Do It A Dada”. The latter, with its references to Dada and the apocryphal story of the chess game in Zurich between Lenin and the poet Tristran Tzara, stands as proof that despite Bargeld’s protestations of not having thought about the First World War before composing Lament, the war has always been a part of the band, if only in the figures of the artists that survived and reacted to it.
Photos by Morten Aagaard Krogh (mortenkrogh.com)
It’s been a busy year for Copenhagen synth-pop duo First Hate, on the back of releasing their self-titled debut EP last September they’ve been on the road with two high profile names from the Danish music scene supporting both Trentemøller and Iceage. After several showcase concerts in the spring of 2015 they soon became one of the most hyped upcoming acts in the country and with fresh news today (September 15th) that the duo have just come out of the studio after recording their second EP, this will only add to the hype as we go into 2016. They’ve gave us a taste of things to come with new single “Trojan Horse” presumably from said EP, which is set for release spring 2016.
Along with the singles release comes live dates for a mini European tour this fall, where Soho Rezanejad will be supporting them on select dates. See the live dates below the audio.
Listen to “Trojan Horse” below:
Live tour dates:
2/10 – HELSINKI, Kuudes Linja ±
3/10 – STOCKHOLM, Solna HQ ±
7/10 – HAMBURG, Molotow
8/10 – BERLIN, Fluxbau
9/10 – PARIS, Under Club ±
11/10 – COPENHAGEN, Mayhem ±
± w/Soho Rezanejad
Jessica Pratt’s album Night Faces was a regular on my stereo in 2014. Spotify even claims that she was the artist I played the most during that whole year, though the fact that I often fell asleep with Night Faces on repeat might have messed with their stats. But this is just to say that I had really been looking forward to hearing her live. Yet as the show progresses I find it hard to enter the music, and it is only when I close my eyes that I find the Jessica Pratt that I have come to hear, her music at the same time intimate and distant.
I open my eyes again, gaze over the chairs – the concert is one of those where people are seated – and ask myself what the ideal concert with Jessica Pratt would look like. What comes to mind is an installation by Olafur Eliason, Your Atmospheric Colour Atlas (2009): a room filled with fog (like a Sunn O))) gig ) and lit in different colours, so that you get the feeling of being completely isolated and immersed in colour.
I close my eyes again and a new image appears. I imagine Jessica Pratt by a window in a rooftop apartment playing her guitar (something like this session with St. Vincent), and I realise that to me Jessica Pratt’s music lives on the extreme side of the distance/intimacy continuum – and that the setup at Jazzhouse doesn’t take me there. But let me be clear, Jessica Pratt and her guitarist perform the music to perfection, and Pratt’s dreamy voice and finger picked guitar come out crisp and beautifully accompanied by her second guitarist. The volume is low, very low, but it helps to bring her closer. Jessica Pratt addresses the audience with only a few words and doesn’t do much to boost the visual appearance of the show. That is not what bothers me either, I can’t image it would have suited the music if she had taken on the role of an stand-up comedian.
In the end it comes down to the rows of chairs lined up against each other, the plastic kind that are hard to sit on and easy to stack. I get the point about seated concerts: they help people shut up and keep their phones in their pockets. Looking over the rows of people sitting upright, backs straight, I see a woman leaning her head on the shoulder of a man. It looks as if they are having a magical moment – Jessica Pratt’s music has the potential to create those. This time it only happen to me as I shut out everything except the music. I guess I have to work on my attitude towards chairs.