A Beginner’s Guide to EBM
Synthesizers ‘n leather: Front 242’s Daniel B on 10 records that defined Electronic Body Music.
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.
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.
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.
(from SABOTAGE, 3RIO RECORDS LP, 1985)
The Klinik were another Belgian band, led by Marc Verhaeghen, that formed soon after us. They went through various line-ups but by the release of their album Sabotage in 1987 consisted of Marc and Dirk Evans (previously of Absolute Body Control). ‘Braindamage’ is my favorite track off that album, but the whole thing is worth checking out – a wonderful mix of energy and ambience. They were always a great live band too with Dirk as this powerfully magnetic force on stage.
‘CONTROL I’M HERE’
(from BELIEF, MUTE LP, 1989)
Like Front 242, Nitzer Ebb were another act that saw the design and presentation of their releases as an integral part of the whole, and had a very strict aesthetic that was reflected in their artwork, posters and videos. Although they got together in 1982, Belief, released in 1989, was only Nitzer Ebb’s second album. After the good but less refined That Total Age, this was a pleasant surprise. Flood’s production on this is just incredible, it’s probably the main reason why I love this record so much, and they wisely went on to work with him for their next three albums.
(from VOLLE KRAFT VERAUS!, WEA LP, 1982)
Formed in 1980 in Germany, Die Krupps were a huge influence on the emerging EBM scene, although having started out purely electronic they did begin to incorporate guitars into their sound around the time of Volle Kraft Voraus!, their second album, which was released in 1982. Yet another act with a long list of extremely talented members past and present, they did some great stuff over the years. After this album their synthesizer player Ralf Dorper left to form Propaganda, who we played with us several times in the States.
(from MIX YOURSELF, SCARFACE LP, 1985)
Long before bands like Alt-J were messing around with symbols, EBM had SΔ3 Evets (aka Steve Natrix) and JΔ3 Seuqcaj (Jacques Meurrens) better known as á;GRUMH, from Charleroi in Belgium. Mix Yourself was their first album, which I actually produced. I have some great souvenirs from the interesting studio sessions with the crazy and sometimes very dirty guys from the band, and their friends.
‘THE COLOSSEUM CRASH’
(from …FROM THE INSIDE, ANTLER LP, 1988)
A Split-Second were another band from Belgium who formed in the mid-80s, consisting of Marc Ickx and Chrismar Chayell. From The Inside was their third album released in 1988 and saw them sign to Wax Trax in the US and collaborating with Jello Biafra. A Split-Second were an important band in the New Beat movement that ran parallel to EBM – their debut single ‘Flesh’ was one of the tracks that Marc Ghoiuls used to slow down when he DJ’d at the Boccaccio.
(PLAY IT AGAIN SAM 12″, 1988)
Two Belgian brothers, Jean-Marc Pauly and Pierre Pauly, Parade Ground were a mix of EBM and pop who both Patrick and I produced at various times (although I did not work on this one) and who collaborated with Front 242 many times over the years. They only released one album as Parade Ground in the end, but the Pauly brothers remain the nicest and strangest people I have ever worked with.
‘DEAD EYES OPENED’
(INK RECORDS 12″, 1984)
Unlike most of the bands mentioned here Severed Heads were not from Belgium – they weren’t even from Europe, having in fact formed in Australia in the late 70s. They started out using tape loops and synthesizers to create more industrial sounds, but soon began to incorporate drum machines and rhythmic elements into their music. I think this is the only 12” by the band that I have, but it’s a sequence to die for, there’s a real kick to the track and it was quite a big hit at the time.
NINE INCH NAILS
‘DOWN IN IT’
(from PRETTY HATE MACHINE, ISLAND LP, 1989)
Trent Reznor’s debut release as Nine Inch Nails, Pretty Hate Machine, mixed up EBM and industrial sounds and for me is the perfect combination of European and US influences. Another record that was produced by Flood, it of course went on to become a huge, platinum-selling record. After this I still enjoyed the band on some projects, but it was often for reasons other than the music.
‘MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE’ (FRONT 242 PURE REMIX)
(METROPOLIS CD SINGLE, 2001)
Juno Reactor was founded by Ben Watkins in the early 90s, and was another band that had a rotating door when it came to its line-up. Mixing up techno beats with more experimental and world music influences, they were eventually signed to Wax Trax, 242’s label in the states. ‘Masters of the Universe’ is from Shango, their fifth album, released in 2000. I’ve included it as Patrick and myself did a remix (the ‘Pure Remix’) that we are still proud of. I actually did another EBM style remix after that, but neither the label or Ben ever paid me – though of course they used it and you can still find it on iTunes.
‘AKTION MEKANIK THEME’
(from AKTION MEKANIK, MUSIC MAN 2xLP, 2003)
Aktion Mekanik is a compilation released on the visionary Belgian label Music Man Records, and put together by the French producer Terence Fixmer. Featuring many of the acts mentioned above alongside the likes of Skinny Puppy, Psyche, The Normal and lots more, including Fixmer’s own ‘Aktion Mekanik Theme’, this compilation really is a great intro/outro to EBM and early 80s electro music. If you’re interested in this music and want to hear more, it’s a must to own on vinyl.