You can forget your sleigh bells, your innocent choirs of cherubic children and your saccharine-sweet Christmas tunes; your Ertha Kitts, Noddy Holders and definitely your Cliff Richards; your Michael Bublé and Rod Stewart festive cash-ins. You can forget all of these, because I want my Christmas music to be dominated by distorted guitar manipulations and clanging metallic percussion. Nothing says Christmas like an album of ugly sonic experimentations that straddle the noise and free improvisation worlds, right?
Einstürzende Neubauten‘s F.M. Einheit and Caspar Brötzmann collaborated on this album, which was released in Germany by Rough Trade and in the UK by Paul Smith‘s Blast First imprint (the UK edition is essentially the Rough Trade edition with a Blast First catalogue reference on a sticker). The pair would also work together on Brötzmann’s Home, released on Blast First the same year.
Featuring a painted tank on the sleeve, and with its title, I can’t help but think of the front line at Christmas during World War I, where opposing troops would temporarily put aside their own national interests in the far more humane gesture of playing football instead. I’m not a fan of football at all, but I’m a fan of conflict even less, and so it struck me as a beautiful notion to do that.
The concept of violence is clearly closely associated, either deliberately or inadvertently, with Caspar Brötzmann. Not just in the way he tortures his guitar and bass into anguished shapes and textures but also in the name of his group with Eduardo Delgado Lopez and Danny Arnold Lommen, Massaker. If ever the name of a band perfectly captured the dense racket they recorded, Massaker would be it.
There’s also the small detail of Brötzmann’s father, Peter, a giant figure in the realms of jazz, whose 1968 Machine Gun octet recording cemented the saxophonist / clarinetist’s reputation as a fearsome collaborator and threw down a new gauntlet for free jazz expressiveness. And as for Einheit, or Mufti as he was frequently known – any man who regards himself as a ‘street percussionist’ is no stranger to the brutal timbre of non-standard instrumentation, which is why his contribution to both Neubauten and Massaker was so aggressively essential. Oh, and Mufti is military slang for civilian clothes, so there’s another conflict connection. And that’s before we get to track titles like ‘Panzerkette’ (‘Tank Tracks’).
So, without even needing to listen to it, Merry Christmas was always going to have an aggressive sound. Even a tracks ‘Headhunter Song’ and ‘Stück Frau Das Uhr Spiel’, with their nods toward traditional blues riffs, find themselves punctured and infiltrated by clattering sounds and general noisy detritus. Elsewhere, any concession toward what naïve listeners might describe as ‘music’ is over-ridden instead by vague rhythms bashed out on goodness-knows-what piece of junk, guitars subjected to intense distress and duress occasionally at volumes that cause your teeth to vibrate in your skull, at others producing fuzzy scratches and squeals that start to make you itch all over after a while.
There are also moments, like those on ‘Panzerketten’, that sound almost ambient, almost muted, in comparison to other pieces, the effect on that piece being a restrained, reverberating soundfield littered with casual aural notions, until a loud guitar tone at about the five minute thirty second mark ushers in squalls of noise to close out the track. Other favourite subtleties of the noise guitarist are in abundant evidence here, including plucking strings just above the neck, the effect being crystalline structures that evoke icy textures.
Merry Christmas is presented as a single long piece, including three additional untitled pieces on the CD edition. The collaboration was recorded at Conny Plank’s legendary studio on the outskirts of Cologne in January 1993 and was mixed and released the following year.
First published 2012; edited and re-posted 2018.
(c) 2018 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence