EBM and its derivate genres are dominating the club scene these days, So much so that it is no wonder why 24.2. turned out to be a thing, a day to shine your boots, don a bomber jacket, and stomp to the beat of sequenced Korg MS 20.
Here we pay tribute to Arbeit, Schweiß and Muskelkraft—work, sweat and physical strength, a topical canon pretty much established by DAF and Die Krupps. Not having much of an idea how these machines work, they utilized affordable synthesizers and programmed blunt sequences and shouted along, driving Punk’s minimalism to an extreme. The attitude of Punks of that time, fighting the more and more bombastic rock that dominated the early 70s, was in a way formulated to an extreme by them.
But not just DAF and Die Krupps, though as they can be coined as the first EBM bands, have an influence. Belgium, at the forefront of that new genre that would soon be called EBM, took up influences from England and Germany—Throbbing Gristle and Kraftwerk shaped the sound of Front 242, a band that can certainly be called the first “proper” EBM band, whereas DAF and Die Krupps could be, arguably, ascribed to Germany’s interpretation of Post Punk, the NDW movement (Neue Deutsche Welle/German New Wave).
But as Die Krupps called their best of compilation in 2007, that’s Too Much History. If you started the day opening a bottle of beer and shouting random Nitzer Ebb lines into the faces of unsuspecting pedestrians on the street (their faces are hilarious), you might be already in the mood to go through this somewhat chronological historical wrap-up of EBM’s history in song form. Let’s go through, pretty precisely, 35 years of EBM, if we start at this point…
Front 242 – Body To Body [New Body, 1981]
Okay, that’s a very obvious pick, I get it—but how can a list of great EBM songs not start with Front 242’s first single? This very band is an absolute necessity and the genre would not be the same if they would never have existed, but indeed, they did and the echoes of 1981’s Principles/Body To Body single are still resounding, taken up by EBM-, Industrial- and Techno musicians alike. A matter of pure relevance and greatness, and arguably, they might have been the first using the phrase “Electronic Body Music”, in English at least. Additionally, the inclusion of Front 242 should solve the riddle why 24.2. was coined the International EBM Day, eh?
Nitzer Ebb – Murderous [Power Of Voice Communications, 1986]
Actually, there’s two ways to EBM that actually exist very peaceful next to each other. As I’ve already presented Front 242, taking up influences of experimental, some might say Industrial, outfits from the UK and Kraftwerk, Nitzer Ebb‘s approach is way more violent and primitive, way less playful. Directly referencing to German influences like DAF and Die Krupps, as well as to Killing Joke‘s early Hardcore Punk records, Synthesizers were seen as a practical way to create the same energetic outbursts without learning how to play instruments. That the results are absolutely great is not a matter of debate. To date, Nitzer Ebb and Front 242, as well as DAF and Die Krupps, two acts I would not necessarily call EBM (see above), are primary influences, and every band somehow references to these four acts.
The Invincible Spirit – Provoke You [Techno Drome International, 1987]
You can’t spell EBM without Germany, but I still have to figure out how phrase this out properly. Either way, the formative phase set the tone how to EBM, and The Invincible Spirit‘s debut album Current News is EBMing hard. Dropping off club hits like Push!, Make A Device or Provoke You (with a gross grammatical error that, somehow, established cult status), it’s still awesome and should not be missing in any EBM collection. The Invincible Spirit, by the way, just ended their recording hiatus with a new album called Anyway, which is worth one or two listens as well.
Skinny Puppy – Testure [Nettwerk, 1988]
As EBM slowly moved over to the US and Canada and influenced some electronic musicians to body a bit harder than they did before, acts like Ministry shook of their Synth Wave roots in favor of EBM (even collaborating with Front 242‘s Richard23, as Revolting Cocks), and Skinny Puppy started to get harder gradually, integrating influences from steel-bathed and ripped Europeans to create some serious club hits (not to mention the influence of drugs which eventually ended the band for the first time in 1995, after Dwayne Goettel‘s death). Not just that they created a good quantity of amazing albums, they also broadened EBM’s stylistic range, and that is actually very important, as much as Front Line Assembly.
Cat Rapes Dog – Schizophrenia [KK Recordings, 1989]
Sweden is, these days, one of the key players in the EBM biz, and the swedes started to contribute massively with Cat Rapes Dog, Pouppée Fabrikk or Scapa Flow at the end of EBM’s formative phase. Certainly there is something in the water that makes mechanized beats such a huge thing in Scandinavia—I do not complain, as long as the stream of great releases doesn’t end. Cat Rapes Dog’s Maximum Overdrive is a masterpiece in brutal minimalism and influenced a good deal of bands, e.g. the Belgian EBM revivalists Ionic Vision, who even exceeded CRD’s sheer guttural brutality at some points. Unsurprisingly, they appeared to be massive Motörhead fans. If Front 242 are EBM’s Iron Maiden, Cat Rapes Dog is EBM’s Motörhead, for sure. Utterly bastard groovy.
Front Line Assembly – Iceolate [Wax Trax!, 1990]
More openly referencing to Europe, Bill Leeb‘s Front Line Assembly is a follow-up project of his activities with Skinny Puppy. Leaving the band in 1986 to materialize his own idea of electronic music, he formed FLA with Rhys Fulber and Michael Balch and the first efforts made massive call backs to Front 242. Eventually moving on to more Metal-influenced music, contributing largely to the crossover of Industrial and Guitar music with 1994’s Millennium or the follow-up Hard Wired—albums standing next to Nine Inch Nails‘ debut album and Ministry‘s Psalm 69 in its importance. But also when they were an EBM band, they were, and still are, just great.
The Klinik – Black Leather [Antler-Subway, 1990]
But crossing over certain styles of Electronic Music and fusing them with EBM’s idea of physicality wasn’t just an american approach. The Klinik, e.g., are undeniably one of the most important acts ever to emerge from EBM and its outer realms. Formed by Dirk Ivens, Marc Verhaeghen and Eric Van Wonterghem under the somewhat bulky name Absolute Controlled Clinical Maniacs, their approach was more noisy and more Industrial-influenced, but nevertheless, besides dropping off some serious club hits, they left a distinct trace in EBM.
Armageddon Dildos – In My Mind (Like A Knife) [Zoth Ommong, 1990]
If there’s one thing I can say about the German EBM duo Armageddon Dildos, it is that their name is unforgettable, leaving (a bit too much) room for imagination. Being actually named after a nickname for nuclear bombs (you probably had something dirty in your mind though), they played (and still play) a very minimal version of EBM that was largely popular in Germany, and everywhere else where they spun EBM in clubs. By the beginning of the 90s, it became a serious thing in clubs while not being adaptable to the infamous mainstream, something Front 242 or Nitzer Ebb tried to achieve in the mid-90s, and Nitzer Ebb’s big failure that eventually led to their split was ironically enough called Big Hit. Nevertheless, the torch of EBM got carried on by fans of these bands, and digging deep in the 90s, a good number of club hits can be found—predominantly in the roster of labels like Wax Trax!, who licensed lots of electronic music for the US market, or the German Zoth Ommong label, which still has a cult status. Releases like this one, X Marks The Pedwalk‘s early releases, Leæther Strip or Bigod 20 largely contributed to that.
Leæther Strip – Don’t Tame Your Soul [Zoth Ommong, Zoth Ommong, 1993]
Claus Larsen, the man behind Leæther Strip, certainly has a talent for all killer no filler bass lines and effective leads, with a certain pop appeal. Being an outspoken fan of Soft Cell and Depeche Mode, integrating these influences didn’t make his efforts less banging, though. Influencing the Dark Electro scene massively, with :wumpscut: as its most prominent and quality wise still unchallenged act, his musical effort is actually quite devoid of innovation, but nevertheless—Leæther Strip’s early material still is an important reference point in EBM’s musical map, despite it somehow shows EBM’s fatal flaw—it did not leave much room for innovation.
Spetsnaz – To The Core [SubSpace Communications, 2003]
So, EBM became a wasteland in the mid 90s. With its pioneers unsuccessfully broadening their styles—Front 242’s and Nitzer Ebb’s mid 90s efforts did not exactly cause euphoria, while Front Line Assembly, Skinny Puppy or Nine Inch Nails paved the way for Metal/EBM/Industrial crossovers—, many bands changed their style towards more Industrial Rock or Metal influenced directions, and I do not necessarily want to utter a word about Hellectro/Aggrotech, which led to disgusting results that unfortunately led to the mislabeling of Trance acts that discovered distortion pedals as Industrial/EBM. Unacceptable for a small community of musicians, some predominantly swedish and german acts started to dig out classic EBM records, and at its very forefront, there was Spetsnaz. The two Swedes, along with the German outfits Jäger 90 or Tyske Ludder, brought EBM back into the public eye and kicked off an EBM revival that is lasting until today.
Jäger 90 – Stiefelblitz [Electric Tremor, 2007]
The Oldschool EBM scene is acting on a way smaller scale than in the late 80s/early 90s, as EBM reached its peak. Acts like Jäger 90 contributed to the formation of a scene in Germany, with labels like Electric Tremor at its forefront. Hosting the Familientreffen (family gathering) in Sandersleben/Germany, the label also established an important meeting point for EBM fans worldwide, largely to get pissed and pogo. Massively influenced by DAF—singer Thoralf Dietrich collaborated with DAF’s Robert Görl for a revial band called DAF.Partei—Jäger 90 are one of EBM revival’s forerunners.
Dupont – Run For Protection [Progress Productions, 2009]
EBM-wise, Germany and Sweden established close bonds—with frequent swedish visitors at German festivals featuring Electronic Music, which might or might not be influenced by the very low costs for beer in Germany. Dupont, nevertheless, were one of the most charismatic acts out there to raise the flag of EBM in Scandinavia. Of course we have reached a point in which innovation is not a criteria anymore (or are we? Just continue reading…), but certainly, they are a great example for an excellent swedish EBM band, unless I do not want to leave Container 90 unmentioned, with their beer-fueled OiBM.
Youth Code – Consuming Guilt [Dais Records, 2014]
Whoever finds an aesthetic resemblance to Skinny Puppy in this video is absolutely right, Youth Code are massive fans of the Canadian EBM/Industrial heroes, and on their way to become heroes themselves, the Los Angeles-based duo gained massive, massive popularity which I did not expect for an EBM band. Abrasive aggression is their trademark, and largely influenced by Hardcore Punk, they add an interesting new facet to a genre that didn’t undergo much change since its formative days, but certainly, they made it, and made their way into my heart as an amazing, amazing outfit.
Welcome to the now. EBM is alive and kicking, and pioneers like Nitzer Ebb and Front 242 reunited and their comeback shows are extremely well received. At the beginning of this millennium, Techno musicians openly celebrated EBM with massive call backs, and Douglas McCarthy’s and Terence Fixmer’s Fixmer/McCarthy as a very pleasurable result, among many. There is still a large audience for EBM, and in a way, like Industrial, it massively gains popularity through a back door.
Leaving you with this, have a happy international EBM day!