This week’s Ten has been long-planned to have this subject, but how it was going to work was the bit I didn’t really know. So, I chose to open it up.
Tuesday Ten: 242: Front 242
Tuesday Tens about single acts
Let’s be clear here – without Front 242, industrial music would sound very different, I suspect. They are one of the primary influences for many, many bands in-and-out of industrial, and to this day remain one of the single greatest live acts of all in the scene. So, here are mine and some friends’ favourite 242 songs.
Front By Front
Circling Overland is the best Front 242 song for a lot of reasons, it has great imagery, a terrifically portentuous instrumental and plays off an ongoing theme in 242’s work, that of a cyclical and neverending cold war. If that last point seems a touch dated in 2015, then consider the nature of unmanned drones and the bombing and spying missions we accept that they carry out literally every single day. If anything Front 242 overestimated how long it would take these intruders to reach our skies.
Alex Kennedy writes at I Die: You Die
Trying to pick my own favourite 242 song could have me here all day. I did consider Commando Mix – particularly in it’s epic live version that is the centrepiece of their shows nowadays – but thinking about it more, this track kept on coming up. An earlier song of theirs that was perhaps long forgotten – an obscure single that ended up on Back Catalogue, but perhaps with the first of their iconic, stylistic videos – that suddenly reappeared in their live sets when they went for the “vintage” approach a few years back, and the results were amazing. It got something of a power-up, with a slightly faster pace, harder-edged rhythms, and those synths for the chorus given greater prominence – and too right, too, as it’s a fantastic hook.
Adam W writes here at amodelofcontrol.com
Tragedy >For You<
Tyranny (For You)
I first heard Tragedy >For You< in it’s Punish Your Machine version. It was a soundtracker version accompanying an Atari ST demo (called ‘Grotesque’, should you wish to track it down). At the time, I didn’t clock the fact that this was a tune from a real-world band. The pieces didn’t come together until I picked up the CD single in 1999, and I finally heard the original song. And I mean ‘song’. Not ‘track’. Because whilst it has all the rhythmic and textural elements common to all the great 242 tracks, it’s also very distinctive lyrically. In a genre reliant on multiple repeated phrases, that’s pretty special.
The growth of YouTube finally allowed me to see the Anton Corbijn video, itself a work of art that avoids the obvious. For some reason, though, the track rarely received DJ play in London, so when I started playing as Terminates Here in the late 00s, I adopted it as one of my select few ‘signature tracks’. A multi-genre DJ I may be, but I do have a few tracks I like to play again and again, and this is one of them. When I ran my own old-school EBM event earlier this year, I adapted the title to give the event title Tragedy >For Us<. And on a personal level, this song is also symbolic of a relationship that started over three years ago and is going strong today. On every possible level, this is my 242 song of choice.
Jonny Hall is DJ: Terminates Here
Tyranny (For You)
Tyranny >For You< was the first Front 242 album I ever owned, and the first time I ever heard them. I was something of a latecomer to the genre, and received this album second-hand from a friend who’d heard I was into “that industrial shit”. The album spent a good amount of time in my silver discman, a raw sound I was heretofore unfamiliar with. The whole of the album caught me, and remains a favorite to this day, but Neurobashing, one of the final tracks, truly captured my imagination.
The song itself is an instrumental re-tread of the earlier track “Moldavia”, with the already stark electronics stripped further down, and punched up with samples of a fired-up orator. It comes as both a motivator and a cleansing fire, especially following the somber offerings of “The Untold” and the heartache of “Tragedy For You”. From the opening call and response (which they’ve deftly integrated into their live version of “Moldavia”) to the final repeating chant of “I’m gonna be ready”, Neurobashing is not only one of my favorite Front 242 songs, but one of my first glimpses into everything Industrial had to offer.
Nick can be found at Mindjacket.com
Welcome to Paradise
Front By Front
For me, ‘Welcome to Paradise’ was one of those situations where you hear a track you like, and realise you own a copy already. Okay, two copies. I owned ‘Front by Front’ and the ‘Headhunter’ 12” on vinyl but had no decks. Also for some reason the tape-of-a-tape of the former I had missed the last track or two. I finally heard it somewhere, went home and played it an awful lot. It has tended to be my go-to 242 track to DJ ever since.
It’s a rather unusual track for Front 242 in that it’s stitched together purely from samples of US televangelists. Few of their other songs are remotely this sample-heavy, presumably to make them easier to perform on stage (indeed the band sing nearly all of ‘Welcome to Paradise’ when they play live). It’s also one of the best lessons in how to create a narrative largely from samples this side of Ministry and PWEI, in this case about the hypocrisy and false promises of orange-skinned, polyester-suited snake-oil salesmen. All that and it finishes with a superbly edited kicker, worthy of Cassetteboy… “Hey poor, you don’t have to be Jesus!”
Mark Chapman runs Monster Truck in London (on this Friday, folks!)
What’s not to like? The gradual build-up to the main synths, then the raw vocals kicking in… divine! And the lyrics, so full of hate and bile.
The live version has one of the most recognisable chord progressions in industrial music, one guaranteed to make your feet move! I particularly adore this song because, despite it not being one of the more obvious of Front 242’s dance floor hits, it’s a stalwart of Glasgow’s Asylum club, where I’ve spent several great nights. So Modern Angel holds many great memories for me.
So, what can I say about Lovely Day? The lyrics appear to be about a particular nasty breakup describing the joy and relief of a woman escaping a violent partner and the vengeance she’d like karma or life to inflict on him. The lyrics are both light and dark; positive and rage filled at the same time. The music reflects this with the unmistakable Front 242 hard angry percussion sounds from the get go, then the intricate sweeping synth sounds chime into the chorus. This is why this song works so well and the reason it is my favorite track by Front 242. Don’t get me wrong Happiness, Melt and Welcome to Paradise are also amazing tracks; but they don’t quite send the chill up my spine as this song does.
Stefan Davey DJs in Bradford and Leeds
Im Rhythmus Bleiben
Front By Front
Sometimes you hear a song and it just clicks with you. Like you were born to hear it. Then, if you’re *really* lucky, fate will keep giving you reasons to love it more… So it is with im rhythmus bleiben for me. I’ve always loved the ‘machines good, people bad’ ethos with music. From the start, the percussive beats, noises and sparse vocals combine to form a song with the perfect amount of implied threat and energy. And the fact it hasn’t dated stands testament to just how far ahead of their time Front 242 were. And remain.
But that’s really just the start. Reason 2(42) – Eurorock 2000. Fields of the Nephilim played the main stage – I remember things how small they looked. The stage was enormous. Stupidly big, and I remember thinking that if a five piece looked as small, the 4 piece 242 would disappear. Instead? With the movement and energy, they made the stage look like they were performing in a phone box. They owned that stage. 2000 was also the year when the ‘nazi’ and ‘fascist’ allegations against 242 peaked. Nothing could be further from the truth, but mud sticks. Im Rhythmus Bleiben started, and as I started jumping about, my heart sank – a swastika flag was raised by some of the bionics (the 242 hardcore fans). My heart sank. Thankfully not for long – as soon as it was aloft, a lighter was sparked underneath – the swastika flag was set alight. An unequivocal message to the boneheads, I danced my heart out to my favourite song, by my favourite band, while my (now) favourite fans were burning swastikas. That image is evoked every time I hear the song. Love it!
And finally? Re:Boot. The reworking of the song is immense. Endowed with more energy, and with Richard 23 taking centre stage on vocals, it’s a masterclass in celebrating the past without getting bogged down it. And with it comes the other emotional link. I followed Front242 over Europe for live shows. At one show in Switzerland, Richard 23 noticed my Holy Gang t-shirt pre-show and came out for a chat. That would have made the gig, but…. 242 don’t do things by half. I’m up at the front of the crowd bouncing around. Im Rhythmus Bleiben begins. “Stay in the rhythm” lyric starts. Richard spies me in the crowd… And – in Switzerland – shouts out “Come on Glasgow!!! You stay in the rhythm!” (To explain, I’m from Glasgow, Scotland). Having made my night, the band then make everyone else’s by being immense.
Im Rhythmus Bleiben – sound, emotion, memory. Sometimes it’s about more than the music.
Paddy Dougan is the frontman of Je$us Loves Amerika
Front By Front
When Adam asked me if I’d be interested in writing some words on my favorite Front 242 song – I was hesitant. Front 242 remains one of my all-time favorite electronic body music acts. Have seen them countless times, met them on more than one occasion, booked them once as a promoter, and continue to collect their vast discography on vinyl, CD and cassette (which includes a Wax Trax cassette of “Back Catalog”). The hesitation came in what track to choose; “Im Rhythmus Bleiben”, “Quite Unusual”, “Flag”, “U-Men”, etc.??? Their catalog holds so many gems.
Then it hit me, decided to pick “Headhunter”. Yes, “Headhunter” the most easily recognizable of all the 242 songs. Their big hit. THAT song. The song that even if you’re just a little bit into industrial you certainly know. THE song that came in #1 on David Shocks (WTII Records) curated list of 101 Greatest Industrial Songs Project which people voted on.
“Headhunter” deserves all it’s recognition and accolades. 27 years on it STILL holds it’s significance and importance. Plus it still has many addictive elements.
1 – Lock the Target
The bass line – the first addictive element
Little known fact – the song almost never happened. The song’s quirky production detailing was initially a serendipitous accident: the band loaded the wrong sound diskette into their sampler, and suddenly the sequence they had designed for a punchy bass sound took on a strange new character. It’s that distinctive bass line that’s one of the first addictive elements of “Headhunter”. Built from a sample of a scrape and then layered heavily with a Yamaha DX-7 synth – the bass line is simplistic in essence, drenched in reverb, yet immediately recognizable as Front 242. It’s a standout. Was just a teenager in 1988 upon the songs release, but totally in awe of that sound. Fast-forward to now, nearly three-decades later, whenever that bass line comes nervously (and at the same time aggressively) chugging, my feet want to dance no matter what. It’s a bass line that just works, so much so that it’s been ripped off by the likes of New Scene “Out of Control”, Utah Saints “Ohio” and Bonde do TigrÃ£o who sampled the instrumental in “Cerol na MÃ£o”, resulting in a lawsuit by Front 242 against Bonde do TigrÃ£o due to musical plagiarism.
2 – Bait the Line
The second addictive element of “Headhunter” is it’s lyrics. “Headhunter” is sung from the perspective of a bounty hunter. When asked during an interview about the concept for the song, 242’s Jean-Luc DeMeyer replied, “I had the chance to work in an insurance company before, and I worked in the department of human resources and I saw the way that this company was trying to hire people. It was very polite and very nice with men in suits, but at the same time it was very cut-throat. I wanted to make a parallel between tribal warfare and these activities. The song means both of these activities.”. It’s DeMeyer’s and Richard 23’s astonishing vocal arrangements that serve up the step-by-step countdown chorus in perfect balance, the latter delivering each step like an order from on high while 23’s singing adds on even more frenetic energy. That chorus has become so ingrained into every rivet head, there are even parodies of it “One you SHOP at Target, Two, you WAIT in line, Three, you slowly spread the WALLET, and four, you PAY THE MAN.”
3 – Spread the Net
Third addictive element – the video
The video for “Headhunter” – a weird, funny and almost erotic paean to the city of Brussels, Belgium, was shot and directed by Anton Corbijn (Control / Joy Division / Depeche Mode / Etc…). The group had sent him the music but hadn’t read the script in advance. When they were taking the clip, they started to get worried and asked him: “You do know that the title of the song is ‘Headhunter’, do you?” Nevertheless, they liked it and decided to go along with it for the video. Rumor has it that the director misheard the track title as ‘Egghunter’. which explains the grainy footage of a fruity lady being chased around wearing an egg on her head, eggs falling, cracked, swallowed and so on. Mix this with images of the more unambiguous globes of the female buttocks, and the band, in bomber jackets, striking paramilitary poses – Like the track itself, it’s thrilling, silly and scintillatingly modern. Normally, I hate music videos but with “Headhunter” those images stand out just as much as the music. Should be noted that at 1:30 in on Haujobb’s We Must Wait (feat. Jean-Luc De Meyer) there’s a homage to the egg of “Headhunter”.
4 – Catch the Man
Fourth addictive element – THE NUMEROUS VERSIONS (including remixes and live versions)
“Headhunter” was released in 1988 on the album “Front By Front”, in two versions (Version 1.0 and Version 3.0). Version 1.0 was then released as a single, with Version 2.0 as one of the b-sides. There are 23 (fitting huh?) different catalog versions from 12″ to 7″ to CD single and even a 3″ CD single of “Headhunter” released in countries such as Belgium, France, Canada, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Spain and even one unofficial release in the Ukraine.
After a long hiatus from 1993 onwards, Front 242 regrouped to re-record the song in late 1998, releasing it with multiple remixes on the dual-CD single “Headhunter 2000” and also split across 4 CD maxi’s. 10 years after the initial release you had industrial bands like; Front Line Assembly, Haujobb, Apoptygma Berzerk, Leaetherstrip and Funker Vogt, along with noise artist Xingu Hill and Noisex, as well as more straight forward techno artist like Emperion, Talla 2XLC, and Aqualite amongst others revamping the track into new territories.
DJ Services Hot Tracks and Razormaid! released remixes of the song to DJs. In addition, Danny Tenaglia, Eskimos & Egypt, DBS, Project 12:01 and Icon of Coil made cover versions. Aghast View also did a remix, and ThouShaltNot produced a parody version in a relaxed jazz/lounge style (in contrast to the pounding industrial dance beat of the original).
Then there’s all the fan made bedroom producer remixes floating around. Check out these three killer mixes. Edobot’s remix, Ivo Draganac’s Headhunter (The Experiment), and Exzakt Headhunter – Exzakts Vicennial Mix.
Have a listen and you see the significance this track has influencing a wide array of artist across a spectrum of electronic genres. Autechre even cites 242 heavily. There’s incredible dynamics within the song. It’s those dynamics that still make “Headhunter” a killer live track in 242’s performances. My first time catching the men (see what I did there?) live was in 1989 on the “Front by Front” tour. I snuck into the show as an under-aged teen. I recall “Headhunter” (and the whole show) being this powerful epiphany. My young eyes witnessed a whole new vision and had whole new inspiration. Take a listen to the live versions of “Headhunter” starting with 2008’s “Moments” to 1998’s “Reboot” to 1994’s “Live Code” or watch any of the live videos on YouTube from a 1990 USA performance to a 2013 outing and it’s verified how energetic the song is. How much it’s morphed into multifarious constructions. Daniel B. (at the soundboard) likes to screw around with the songs a bit. You can hear him always fiddling around with the vocal sampler and adding samples/sequences and deleting them. Last year I saw 242 at Chicago’s Cold Waves festival and in exactly a week (9-25-15) I’m off to California to see 242 yet again. I look forward to hearing “Headhunter” in the set again, raising my fist with others, stomping to that bass line and singing that familiar chorus yet again with a crowd of enthusiastic fans.
“Headhunter” will ALWAYS remain progressive and vitalizing.
Finally, if you ever think you’re too old to enjoy “Headhunter” or the track is past it’s prime (NEVER) – watch this.
Marc Church DJs in Ann Arbor/Detroit