’War is something that is always there. It sometimes moves and it sometimes doesn’t move. It is also not something that breaks out, the way people often say, ‘There’s a war breaking outside’. It doesn’t break out like the plague. It’s there. It sometimes moves.’
There was no way I was going to miss Einsturzende Neubauten's show at Koko in Camden. And how glad I am I went. It was a unique and thrilling show, full of noise and silence, emotion, dread, anger and, yes, humour. A stunning and unforgettable feast for the eyes and ears; an original and rich reflection on a terrifying war.
As I stood in front of the stage in an elated state, I felt stupidly smug: I was one of the lucky individuals voluntarily trapped in this multi-faceted time capsule - past, present and future were all involved in some way, I feel - leaving behind the frenetic metropolis outside to go on a sonic and historical journey.
Lament, the iconic band's latest release, is the ultimate concept album. It is not a studio album per se, but rather "a studio reconstruction of a work primarily designed to be performed live".
It also needs to be listened to whilst reading the brilliant CD booklet, which contains lyrics, translations, pictures, notes, extra information and credits for each track. We also purchased one of the excellent live performance programmes available on the day as a souvenir.
It is when you start reading the two booklets that you really catch a glimpse of the band's creative tour de force: the amount of research and work involved in Lament is simply staggering, and every song has a background story.
This especially commissioned work, a "requiem for the First World War" according to Louder Than War's John Robb, "came into existence from the eponymous performance on November 8th 2014 in Diksmuide, Belgium, composed as a contribution to the series of events Against the neglection: Gone West - the fall of Diksmuide 1914-2014." (from the CD booklet)
And what a brilliant show it was: the stage was busy with people and EN's familiar strange contraptions as well as a string quartet. There was always movement, something vaguely surrealistic happening in a corner; it was an incredibly dynamic set.
Blixa Bargeld cuts an imposing and authoritative figure in the midst of the organised chaos of the stage, whilst his colleagues Alexander Hacke, Jochen Arbeit, N.U Unruh and Rudolf Moser busy themselves with their weird and wonderful machines, their very own "Kriegsmaschinerie". (The following pictures are not in the correct order and I missed quite a few... The complete text appears in the CD booklet and live program!)
Picking a favourite moment in the show is virtually impossible.
I loved the hard-hitting barbed wire dulcimer on "In De Loopgraaf" (In The Trenches); I smiled and chuckled during "The Willy-Nicky Telegrams", superbly executed by Alexander and Blixa on cheeky form; and I was transported by the lyricism of the poignant "How Did I Die?". "Let's Do It a Dada", one of EN's original tracks, fitted perfectly with the theme of the evening - the avant-garde art movement was, after all, "born out of negative reactions to the horrors of WW1."
It is during "Der 1 Weltkrieg (World War 1 - percussion version)" (from the CD booklet: "each country is represented by one pipe, the pipes representing the colonial powers including their colonies and dependencies are represented by a whole set of pipes, starting along a time-line of entering the war until ending their military engagement. Each day is one beat within a bar.") that the following thought entered my head: this gig was UKIP's worst nightmare. Foreign languages were sung and spoken on stage; the audience spoke their own language or English with a multitude of different accents (British or not). The crowd seemed to be made of cultured, well-read (I spotted several guys actually reading BOOKS whilst waiting for the band to come on!) and attentive people of different nationalities, gathered in the English capital to watch a German band create music about an international conflict [oh and of course, Willy (Germany's Kaiser Wilhelm) and Nicky (Russia's Tsar Nicholas) - and George V - were all cousins with a German grandmother who had been the Queen of England... Victoria! The absurdity of it all hasn't escaped EN...]
I also liked the fact that said crowd was respectful of the artists, and was completely silent during the very quiet bits - which is quite something at gigs nowadays!
Lament is as much an intelligent reflection on a war as it is a tribute to the people who got caught in the gigantic Machinery of War and didn't have any other choice but fight at the time; it uses the human dimension of the past conflict to turn it into something of relevance today.
And the very fact that Koko on that night was sold out and full of people of so many nationalities really resonated with me; as politicians (and voters) spit their venom and entrench themselves behind poisoned rhetoric and as the media fan the flames of intolerance and paranoia, it was wonderful to see art and music bringing everyone under one roof.
This is what peace should be all about. Wishful thinking, I know.
Despite all the claims to the contrary, we will never learn. But we can still try and make great art...
More essential reading:
Lament review on The Quietus HERE.
Lament review on Louder Than War HERE.
Read the fascinating in-depth interview of Blixa Bargeld with John Robb on Louder Than War HERE.
if I find any live review of the Koko show, I will post links here.
I have no idea how people can record a whole gig at a venue, but the footage is amazing. Here's the gorgeous How Did I Die? at Koko.
I think therefore I write.
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