When pioneering industrial band Einstürzende Neubauten first hit West Berlin in 1980, the fate of Germany was up in the air. The future collapse of the Berlin Wall, still a decade away, was unthinkable at the time, and East Berlin was literally a different country. Kollaps, the band’s debut album, reflects the uncertainty of those times with brazen experimentation and a cacophony-of-sound: it contains actual power drills — the band was known for hammering the stages they performed on — found objects, like scrap metal, as percussion. Even when the band used traditional instruments, such as the electric guitar, it sounded visceral, like a car being crushed in a junkyard. Tied together by the roaring vocals of founding member, Blixa Bargeld, the album is an important landmark for industrial music and a time capsule of life in 80s Berlin.
Looking back, their radical sound was part experimentation and part necessity: “We didn’t have anything, so I didn’t really have the choice to say ‘I am doing this, I am doing that’,” said Blixa in a 2010 interview with The Quietus. “I could not afford any of these things, and neither could anybody else in the group. It was more of the logical consequence of what can we obtain.”
Einstürzende Neubauten‘s impact reaches well beyond the borders of Germany — Pitchfork named Kollaps one of the best industrial albums of all time, and legendary punk/hardcore vocalist, Henry Rollins, has their logo tattooed on his shoulder. But the band isn’t just revered for being on the forefront of music and experimentation — they also paved the way for musicians to connect directly with fans through the web, skipping the traditional music oligarchy.
“In the mid-eighties, or the beginning of the eighties, the record and the music industry was a completely different one,” Blixa tells us. “We obviously started as independent musicians, free musicians — it’s a very hollowed out kind of term terminology there. Independent in connection with music is usually referring to a particular style. If I use the term independent, especially in connection with this band, then I’m not talking about a musical style — I’m talking about the fact that we are creating without the help of a record company.”
Through Patreon, Einstürzende Neubauten is continuing their career-long trend of being independent, so they can put creativity over everything and connect with fans directly. But how were they on the forefront of artistic independence previously? By trailblazing a then little-known business model called crowdfunding.
Here’s how it happened: Back in 2002, after eight studio albums and multiple world tours, with help from the band’s tech whiz, Erin Zhu, they came up with a plan to bypass the declining recording industry, and, instead, release their albums to their fans directly. Like shareholders in a company, fans invested money in the group through donations, and in exchange, received “dividends,” such as albums, EPs, and insider access to their creative process, such as live studio session broadcasts. Not the first band to leverage modern-day, online crowdfunding — that was British rock band Marillion in 1997 — but they’re undoubtedly an early example of it being used on such a large scale.
Nearly twenty years since that forward-thinking campaign, Einstürzende Neubauten is still circumventing the powers that be, this time with Patreon. And since the band first explored crowdfunding in 2002, technology in how we communicate online has improved in virtually every way, making it easier than ever to let fans in on their creative journey.
“We can show how we work, we can do all kinds of things that were not possible in 2002,” says Blixa.
In exchange for supporting the band in releasing their first major studio album in over 12 years, patrons can interact with them through an exclusive online forum, live webcasts, Q&A sessions, and also gain access to archival work. The band also stages online performances, and offers member-only merch like limited-edition vinyl. They even revived their old tradition of dumpster diving for new instrument material to celebrate reaching 500 patrons.
“Working in this kind of environment has nothing to do with control, says Blixa. “Nobody is controlling us.”
By recording their new album — it’s slated to be finished before April ’20 — with their patrons as backers and collaborators, the band has the freedom to make exactly the kind of album they want to hear and form a deeper connection with their fans along the way.
“In these many years we certainly met quite a few people who started out as fans, became supporters, and many of them have become friends in the meanwhile,” says bassist Alexander Hacke. “It’s great to be in touch with the community of your listeners in a way that you can see how they are affected by your work, by our work.”