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A Beginner’s Guide to EBM

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  • Synthesizers 'n leather: Front 242's Daniel B on 10 records that defined Electronic Body Music.
  • published
    24 May 2012
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    Front 242
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Words: Daniel B (Nothing But Noise / Front 242)

The term EBM – Electronic Body Music – had already been around for a few years before we, Front 242, co-opted it to describe the sound of our second album, 1984’s No Comment. From then on it became a catch all term for the heavily synthesized, post-punk sounds that emerged from Belgium at the start of the 80s and eventually found their way around the world.

In the 70s synthesizers had started to become more accessible to musicians and we were listening to everything from Klaus Schulze and Tangerine Dream to Kraftwerk, and you also had the likes of Throbbing Gristle’s Chris Carter doing interesting things. Front 242 came out of all of that, plus the extended rhythmic disco of [Giorgio] Moroder and of course the ‘No Future’ punk scene. At the time the big thing for us was that our sound was all completely synth-based – there wasn’t really anyone else doing that at the time, there was always something else involved. We were amongst the first to go completely electronic.

For Patrick [Codenys] it was really important for us to not use traditional instruments; we had a very anti-rock attitude. It was a way for us to be different – if you wanted to achieve anything, you had to stand out, and being a Belgian band we knew that using guitars and drums would get us nowhere. Plus we didn’t know how to play any instruments anyway!

What’s interesting is that at that time, of course, communication wasn’t as fast. We never communicated a lot with other people, we were never friendly, never felt like going to jam with other people – so without the internet around to spread ideas instantly you could be working on something, thinking “this is different”, only to find out later that people elsewhere were doing very similar things.

It took more than a year to produce our first single, but once it was out we were soon being contacted by other people telling us that we should listen to this or that. So around ’81 there was this explosion all over Belgium of groups that were the same, or trying to do similar things.

It was really important for us to not use traditional instruments; we had a very anti-rock attitude.

Funnily enough, although there were a lot of like-minded acts from Belgium, reactions there to our music were nil, or worse. But we’d always played with touring English bands, often blowing them away, so we knew there was interest out there – still, we were surprised when Chicago’s Wax Trax picked us up, and even more surprised that our we went down so well in the States.

After Wax Trax, things really started rolling and that changed the scene completely. The EBM sound really took off and could be heard in lots more places. I remember the first time we supported Ministry in the States: at the time they were very poppy, but we did the tour together and after that Al Jorgensen changed completely, started getting interested in the likes of Cabaret Voltaire. Front 242 had Richard Jonckheere, who was really a beast on stage, and by the end of the tour Jorgenson was completely mimicking some of the things that Richard did.

We were lucky to exist at the time when we did; every year we seemed to be there at the right time. It would be impossible today to do what we did with the same music. So, anyway… here are my ten favourite EBM records as of this very second. Some old, some newer – to be honest it’s an ever-changing selection that depends on how I’m feeling. But this is as good a place to start as any.

Not Bleeding Red, the debut album by Nothing But Noise – Daniel B and Dirk Bergen – is out now. More information here.



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