“There’s a brand new dance
But I don’t know its name
That people from bad homes
Do again and again…” David Bowie’s “Fashion” - 1980
With the resurgence of EBM, I thought it would be a good idea to briefly discuss the history of this music. For those who might not know, EBM is an acronym for Electronic Body Music. EBM essentially came out of the industrial scene, though there are those that find the terms “industrial” and “EBM” interchangeable and is, therefore, unnecessary to distinguish between the two. With the prior articles I wrote pertaining to the historical aspects of industrial music, I did neglect EBM other than a whisper or two of a key band here or there. Though I do not feel the need to go on some defensive diatribe against the odd detractor, I will admit that I was consumed with the idea of where industrial music all came from and not necessarily where it is going, or even where it went lately.
As was highlighted previously, the core of industrial music stemmed from years of art, literature, and, more importantly, years of electronic musical exploration (whether in an academic setting or in a basement unbeknown to anyone is irrelevant). As punk branched into hardcore and, eventually, new wave, its relevance to industrial music waned. Perhaps the long lasting influence of the punk phenomenon was the legacy of “doing it yourself.” If you wanted to be in a band, you just started one up. Whether you played an instrument or not was something you would worry about later and was certainly not a prerequisite. The synthpop movement adhered to this notion as the availability and affordability of synthesizers allowed those with a love for music, with no practice space for a drum kit or an amplified guitar, to bang on their instruments unfettered. Dance music would never be the same again.
Dance music in the seventies centered around Motown, glam (Brian Eno, Roxy Music, Bowie) and disco (Giorgio Moroder, Donna Summer, Chic). Before disco became massively popular for public consumption, it was primarily played in “gay” discos around the world and maintained somewhat of a cult appeal. The DJs in the these clubs were playing music before it hit the streets. There was an underground sensation that this music perpetuated, as it devoured the slumbering silent night in clubs that condoned sexual expressiveness, rampant drug and alcohol use, never ending parties, and caused nightmares for parents everywhere.
Then two things happened. One was the rebellion against the bland corporate disco that began to pollute radio stations and turntables everywhere. In major cities in the U.S., DJs began sampling and remixing funk (James Brown, Parliament/Funkadelic) and Motown songs. While incorporating influences as far ranging as African, Latino, and dub elements, the music stressed an emphasis on rhythmic structure. These early experimental excursions represented the emergence of hip hop culture. Simultaneously, in Europe (primarily Belgium, the U.K., and Germany) electronic music began to cater to the dance club scene. By tapping into the early electronic experimental music (Kraftwerk, Faust, Suicide, Wire, Throbbing Gristle, SPK, Portion Control) and incorporating dance beats, a more club friendly electronic music became apparent. While the emerging hip hop culture and the Euro-electronic scenes were quite different, both scenes reflected one another and often “borrowed” bass lines, vocals, melodies, and percussion tracks.
New wave was a corporate gimmick which allowed the music industry to tap into the angst and rebellion of punk without the negative elements attached. It was a brilliant marketing innovation. Soon, anyone with a certain fashion sense and musical relevancy was tagged as “new wave.” It was the independent music scene, not corporations, that saved synthpop from a similar fate which disco endured. Factory Records, for one, was able to salvage its credibility and relevance, despite the sudden demise of Joy Division, by releasing music that tapped into the growing electro-dance sensation. Bands like New Order, Orchestral Maneuvers In The Dark, the Stockholm Monsters, Crispy Ambulance, and Belgian band the Names are some examples of the early Factory and Factory Benelux/Crepuscule sound. Another record label was Mute Records. Founded in 1978 by Daniel Miller, Mute made available to the record buying public some of the most cutting edge synthpop and experimental acts of the early eighties: Depeche Mode, Non, Can, Yaz, Cabaret Voltaire, Throbbing Gristle, Fad Gadget, the Normal, and DAF are just some of these bands. EBM can then be described as a synthesis of synthpop and industrial music.
As always, the story will be continued in Part 2 (Front 242, et. al.)…
For those that may be interested and have not done so, you might want to check out my article on Electrogarden entitled ‘Discarded Gems and the Hype Revisited.’ It covers some of the old school synthpop (mostly from the U.K.) that influenced the EBM scene.
Unofficial Factory Record website: http://listen.to/factory
Unofficial Factory Benelux and Les Disques du Crepuscule historical site: http://home.wxs.nl/~frankbri/index.html
Mute Records: http://www.mute.com
BDAMD - Stefan’s excellent database for Belgian EBM: http://www.bdamd.com
Industrial Nation - An excellent magazine with superb band and label links: http://www.industrialnation.com
All Music Guide: http://www.allmusic.com
The Sentimentalist Magazine - Cool print magazine with large review section of electronic, goth, ethereal, and other obscure treats: http://www.asthetik.com/sentimentalist/senthome.html
Thanks goes to Bobby Lisi for his time. Thank you Stefan at BDAMD for replying to my e-mail. Also, thanks goes to Dave Thompson. Despite the abundantly tiresome criticism of his work, he was still one of the first writers that tried to make sense of industrial music while it was happening. Give the man a break! Thanks to all the bands out there that made the momentary intolerable aspects of life tolerable.
For Your Listening Pleasure:
Though rather hard to find, but certainly worth the effort, is The Elephant Table Album (Xtract Records, France 1983 LP, 1989 CD reissue). Totally devoid of any synthpop, this album concentrates on the more physical and aggressive side of the early experimental/ambient music emanating from the U.K. You will not find Psychic TV, 23 Skidoo, Test Department, Cabaret Voltaire, Throbbing Gristle, Zoviet France, Foetus, Clock DVA, or Current 93, but you will find Portion Control, Chris and Cosey, Coil, Nurse With Wound, 400 Blows, Lustmord, SPK, Nocturnal Emissions, Attrition, and the Legendary Pink Dots. The original 1983 version also included a track by Muslimgauze. What this album attempted to do was collect some of the most influential music that did anticipate the aggressive electronic elements included in the later emerging EBM scene. Compiler Dave Henderson admitted in the liner notes that “it could quite easily been a five album box set.” Although this album has limited appeal to synthpop fans, to aficionados of EBM it provides a good basis for where the music came from.
An excellent EBM compilation is the three volume, double CD, EBM Club Classics (SPV, Germany 2000-2001 CD). Included are many, many bands and 74 songs over the course of the three volumes. Some of the bands included are: Front 242, Front Line Assembly, Blok 57, And One, DAF, X Marks The Pedwalk, a;Grumh, Skinny Puppy, Funker Vogt, Covenant, Numb, Die Form, Nitzer Ebb, and the Klinik.
Copyright 2002, Michael Casano
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