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Die Haut and Nick Cave: Burnin’ The Ice

August 18, 2011

nick cave die hautRoll: 1-6-8
Album: Die Haut and Nick Cave, Burnin’ The Ice

There was a period I sought out every recording I could that featured Nick Cave. I even ended up with that rare Tuff Monks 7″ — a collaboration between The Birthday Party and The Go-Betweens in 1982. I don’t think I’ve ever listened to it. I probably should.

Especially since these sessions with German instrumental post-punk band Die Haut, also recorded in 1982, are so amazing.

For some reason I purchased the CD/DVD reissue, listened to it once or twice, was relatively unimpressed, and shelved it. I’m not sure what failed to captured my attention at the time. It could have been Nick Cave overload. Set next to Birthday Party albums I was probably still ingesting, Cave’s vocal performances are nowhere near as engaging. Both in terms of intensity and what passed as pop hooks for Cave in the early ’80s. He also only appears on four our of the seven songs.

Still, set against almost any other vocalist, his attack is downright feral. And the music is equally vicious.

Not an unexpected revelation since Die Haut were part of the same anarchistic scene that gave birth to Einstürzende Neubauten. Members of Die Haut eventually went on to work with both Neubauten and Nick Cave’s The Bad Seeds, which in turn featured members of Naubauten. Later, Cave’s girlfriend Anita Lane would sing on a few Die Haut tracks. They were almost a social club for the Berlin avant garde punk scene. Not having a vocalist in their own ranks, over the years Die Haut worked with Lydia Lunch, Kid Congo Powers, Kim Gordon, Alan Vega, Mick Harvey, and others. Though their music became more refined and less chaotic (and therefore less interesting), it was always befitting the uncompromizing nature of the vocalists they chose to work with.

The first proper full-length (though only 30 minutes long), Burnin’ The Ice, probably remains their most compelling offering. Minimal, angular, fractured, violent and, though more precise and less ramshackle than The Birthday Party, the album displays the same red-lined intensity that made Cave’s band so enthralling.

The DVD contains footage of Die Haut on tour with The Birthday Party from earlier in 1982. Though the clips, set in what look like abandoned factories, don’t feature performances by Cave, the music is actually better than on the album. Made up mostly of tracks from their hard-to-find early EPs, the band plays more ferociously and, without leaving room for a vocalist, manage fill the dark, concrete corners more completely. It’s sort of like surf-rock played by a gravel-crushing machine.

For fans of bands like Neubauten—or primal, nihilistic post-punk in general—the price of the package should be worth it for the DVD alone. Utterly fantastic.

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