German noise-rock pioneers Einstuerzende Neubauten and fanciful neo-folkie Billy Jonas go together like chainsaws and apple butter.
On paper, though, what they do is frighteningly similar. Asheville’s Jonas, a favorite with kids and folk-charmed adults, coaxes rhythms from the recycled remnants of society’s leftovers (plastic tubs, found objects, lovingly transformed metal scraps). Before him — almost a quarter-century ago, in fact — Einstuerzende Neubauten jump-started industrial music in a triumphant, atonal cacophony by “playing” stuff found at construction sites, along with more traditional instruments. (Their German name means “collapsing new buildings.”)
OK, so the Neubauten/Jonas connection is a bit of a stretch. In spite of the local troubadour’s industrial tie-ins, he will probably never be known for his contributions to avant-garde noise-rock — though Jonas did write a song boasting the abstract, post-industrial lyrics “Oop diddy oop diddy KUMBAYA!”
Still, Asheville has never known a shortage of experimental groups. Neubauten might be one of the founding proto-goth industrial bands, but can they match — weird-for-weird — our own heritage of bizarre sonic pioneers?
Take locally connected groups like The Melted Men, who spent a great deal of their live performances wearing masks and running around nude while making an awful racket — a worthy micro version of Neubauten’s famous half-naked stunt of beating out rhythms on the side of an Autobahn overpass.
Other local odd-rockers have also had their moments, most notably James Owen of Doom Ribbons and other projects. The only problem is they were only moments; few of these acts lasted very long: The much-missed chaotic percussion ensemble Lube Royale; discordant poets The Devil Punchers; the haunted, electronic mixes of groups like Discount Plastic Surgery and NZNSI. Are their noise symphonies not at least as exciting as Einstuerzende Neubauten’s?
Depends on whom you ask, of course — though Neubauten eclipses all its descendents in longevity.
Finding a band that’s managed a decent tenure playing disproportionately unlistenable music just isn’t that easy. In fact, most of those aforementioned acts, however long they lasted, owe a great debt to Einstuerzende Neubauten, whether they know it or not. With Neubauten’s unrelenting experimentation, they unlocked doors for local noise-heavy groups like Dig Shovel Dig and Doom Ribbons to be as strange as they want to be, wherever that takes them, and for however long.
And for that, we can all thank the intrepid, Berlin-born band — even if Neubauten’s first several albums were little more than wonderful rubbish.
— Steve Shanafelt