What became apparent as far back as 1976 with Industrial Records was that electronic music was a viable mode of musical rebellion and creative expression with unlimited potential for growth. During the 1980-1985 period, labels such as Some Bizarre, Factory, Mute, Rough Trade, 4AD, Play It Again Sam, Nettwerk, Wax Trax!, and Third Mind were all protagonists for the development of cutting edge electronic music. These were formative years for what later emerged as EBM, as electronic music began to evolve from disparate origins such as synthpop, experimental, and goth. Belgium began to assert itself as the musical capital of Europe, as a tremendous amount of influential music began pouring out of the country.
I decided the best way to approach this particular EBM installment was to compile a list of 39 bands that shaped electronic music during the specified time period. Though I think I managed to keep the redundancy factor from infiltrating this article, some of these bands were highlighted in ‘Discarded Gems and The Hype Revisited.’ Once again, the process for choosing the bands listed here was not an easy one. If you anticipate finding a certain band and it is not listed here, chances are it will be found in the next installment, which will cover the years 1986-1990. Source links have been provided for each band. Being that some of these bands are no longer active, official Websites are, in some cases, not in existence. In this instance I have provided either a well-conceived unofficial site, or deferred to AMG.
The later emergence of electronic dance music can certainly be traced directly from the early synthpop movement primarily coming from the U.K. These bands, without question, influenced what was later to become known as EBM.
1. Adam and the Ants - 1980’s ‘Kings of the Wild Frontier’ was enormously influential. Adam Ant’s detailed attention to image brought the band gobs of attention, albeit brief in nature. The band’s 1979 release, ‘Dirk Wears White Sox’ was actually more commercially successful once it was remixed and re-released in 1983. By that time, the Ants were done. But they did leave their mark. Link: http://www.allmusic.com
2. B.E.F./Heaven 17 - Upon leaving the Human League, Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh formed B.E.F. and Heaven 17. B.E.F. (British Electric Foundation) was initially conceived as a production team that breathed life into Heaven 17. Ware and Marsh left Human League to pursue a musical avenue that was less prone to the pure commercialism that was starting to emerge from the Human League camp. If you can manage it, I recommend trying to obtain the original (1983) vinyl release of ‘The Luxury Gap.’ The later CD reissue is a bit inferior. Also recommended is Heaven 17’s 1981 release ‘Penthouse and Pavement.’
3. Danse Society - In an attempt to resurrect the energy from their early EP, LP, and single recordings, Danse Society released, in 2001, the compilation CD ’Seduction: The Society Collection.’ What this CD did was confirm the criticism that the band always faced: massive potential that never seemed to fully emerge. Danse Society was still a great band. Link: http://personal.iddeo.es/blancinegre/DanseSociety.html (Unofficial site, but very well done)
4. Depeche Mode - As you probably noticed, I like Depeche Mode. Yes, I have my criticisms of the band. No, I am not one to follow blindly and ooh! and ah! at everything they have released. Yes, they should be collecting royalty checks from nearly every synthpop band making music today. Nevertheless, they are undoubtedly the one band that popularized electronic music beyond all critical expectations. Martin Gore’s songwriting ability, in my opinion, is unparalleled from that era, although I hear the groans already emanating from the Morrissey contingent. I have nothing against Vince Clarke, but I will always swear by the greatness of ‘Some Great Reward’ (1984) era. Other later favorites: Black Celebration (1986); Violator (1990); Songs Of Faith and Devotion (1993). Link: http://www.depechemode.com
5. Human League - I was a bit hard on the Human League in ’Discarded Gems and the Hype Revisited.’ I will always profess the greatness of ’Reproduction’ (1979) and ’Travelogue’ (1980). ’Dare’ (1981) presented a new direction for the band (see BEF/Heaven 17). It is at this point where I find it necessary to bite my tongue. Link: http://www.allmusic.com
6. Fad Gadget - Frank Tovey‘s death in 2002 ended a long musical career that creatively tested the boundaries of electronic sound. Despite touring often in the early days with label mates Depeche Mode, Fad Gadget’s music has unfairly remained in relative obscurity. A’ Best of’ compilation was released by Mute in 2002, but I recommend all four LP releases from 1980-1984: ’Fireside Favorites;’ ‘Incontinent;’ ’Under The Flag;’ ’Gag.’
7. Miller, Daniel - If one man’s importance to the EBM tradition cannot be overstated, it is Daniel Miller. He was the founder of Mute Records. He nurtured and produced talent such as Depeche Mode, Fad Gadget, and Yaz. The Mute label has kept alive the experimental legacy of the Can and Cabaret Voltaire catalogues. Daniel Miller secured a creative refuge for controversial artists like Boyd Rice and, after the demise of Industrial Records, Throbbing Gristle. He released, under the Normal moniker, cutting-edge prophetic electronic songs (’TVOD’ and ’Warm Leatherette’), espousing the literary worlds of luminaries William S. Burroughs and J.G. Ballard respectively. Tremendous. Link: http://www.mute.com
8. New Order - The remarkable manner in which New Order reinvented itself after the death of Ian Curtis/Joy Division is still mind boggling to me. To switch gears is one thing, but New Order managed to practically invent a genre of music on their own, taking post-punk gloom and mixing it with “catchy hooks” and dance beats. Listen to: ’Movement’ (1981); ’Power, Corruption & Lies’ (1983); ’Low Life’ (1985); ’Brotherhood’ (1986); ’Substance’ (1987); ’Technique’ (1989) Link: http://www.allmusic.com (Official site was down at the time this was written)
9. Wire/Colin Newman/Dome - One of the most influential bands listed here, the original Wire called it quits in 1980, as Colin Newman pursued a solo career and Bruce Gilbert and Graham Lewis continued their electronic experimentation with the band Dome. Eventually, Wire reunited, but it was their early work that has secured its place in electronic music history. Recommended releases: Wire - ’Pink Flag’ (1977); ’Chairs Missing’ (1978); ’154’ (1979); Colin Newman - ’A-Z’ (1980); Dome - ‘Dome1’ (1980); ’Dome2’ (1981); ’Dome3’ (1981);
‘Will You Speak This Word’ (1983) Link: http://www.brainwashed.com/wire (Unofficial)
10. Yaz - Yaz was the combined efforts of Vince Clarke, Alison Moyet, and Daniel Miller. Vince Clarke‘s other hugely successful musical ventures include the very beginnings of Depeche Mode, and the post-Yaz synthpop of Erasure. Releases include ‘Upstairs at Eric’s’ (1982) and ‘You and Me Both’ (1983). Link: http://www.allmusic.com
11. Yello - Arty Swiss synth charmers Yello were innovative creators of pure experimental synthpop. Never too concerned about musical trends, they did manage to anticipate those trends and were extremely influential. Check out: ’Solid Pleasure’ (1980); ’Claro Que Si’ (1981); ’You Gotta Say Yes To Another Excess’ (1983); ’Stella’ (1985). Link: http://www.yello.ch
The goth scene influenced EBM in an odd way. For one, goth primarily relied on guitars and drums, as opposed to more electronic means of conveyance. The bands chosen here either, eventually, incorporated synths into their sound, or produced highly danceable club music. Either way, these bands pushed the envelope and injected energy into the music.
12. Alien Sex Fiend - Probably the most closely allied band, listed in the goth section, to the industrial scene, Alien Sex Fiend’s early cavernous pod people presence in London’s Batcave sparked a career that inexplicably has defied all odds of survival. The secret to ASF’s success was, and is, their ability to take chances, defy expectations, and remain close to their vision. Perhaps even more importantly was their ability to modify that vision, providing them with unlimited musical territory in which to explore. Early recordings: ’Who’s Been Sleeping In My Brain?’ (1983); ’Acid Bath’ (1984); ’Bat Cave Masters’ (1998) - a decent compilation from Cleopatra Records. Link: http://www.asf-13thmoon.demon.co.uk
13. Attrition - Martin Bowes has been the center of the Attrition universe since the early 80s. Always interested in electronic experimentation, Attrition has been one of the most independently minded bands to come out of the post-punk era. They released their first LP in 1984 with ‘Attrition For Reason’ on Third Mind Records. An excellent compilation that spans their early work is the Projekt Records’ 1990 release, ‘Recollection.’ Link: http://www.attrition.co.uk
14. Bauhaus/Tones on Tail - Bauhaus was a great band that, according to legend, unwittingly started the whole Batcave/goth scene with their song “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” which they claimed they did as a joke. After Peter Murphy and David J left to pursue solo interests, Daniel Ash picked up Bauhaus roadie Glenn Campling on bass, with Kevin Haskins on drums. Both bands undoubtedly influenced the later emerging goth and EBM scenes. Releases of note: Bauhaus - ’In The Flat Field’ (1980); ’Mask’ (1981); ’The Sky’s Gone Out’ (1982); ’Burning From The Inside’ (1983). Tones On Tail - ’Everything’ (1998) - compilation of the band’s releases.
Link: http://www.waste.org/bauhaus (Unofficial)
15. Clan Of Xymox - Dutch band Clan Of Xymox, with the release of their 1985 album ‘Clan Of Xymox,’ tapped right into the 4AD ethereal goth sound at the time. Since then, they have been trying to get away from the torrent of Cure comparisons thrust upon them by the music media. I do not understand the comparison. I am sure Ronny Moorings did not either. So, by virtue of no other choice presented, Clan Of Xymox became Xymox. The ‘Twist Of Shadows’ album, released under the Xymox moniker, was a bit more accessible and commercially successful as the band lightened their sound a bit. ‘Twist Of Shadows’ happens to be one of my favorite releases of 1989. Around 1997, the band changed their name back to Clan Of Xymox, and delved back into their old sound. Link: http://www.clanofxymox.com
16. Joy Division - Undoubtedly one of the most influential, oft imitated, misunderstood, romanticized, and thought provoking bands ever, Joy Division has left an indelible mark on the music scene. To describe them as a mere seed from whence the giant oak, that is New Order, originated is not an accurate description. Ian Curtis, who suffered from epilepsy, was the least likely person to front a band that managed jettisoned itself from the blood and saliva of the Manchester punk scene and into legendary status. He was shy, prone to reading books, and obsessed with the Velvet Underground. His singing voice was reminiscent of Jim Morrison. He
was a fan of Throbbing Gristle’s sonic experimentation, especially found on ‘DOA‘ (1978). The darker side of his personality was evident in his lyrics, where he explored modes of alienation, despair, unrequited love. It is a shame that suicide ended his life, but it did. Ian lives on in his sound and words. His fans will love him forever. Recommended: ‘Unknown Pleasures’ (1979); ‘Closer’ (1980); ‘Still’ (1981); ‘Substance’ (1988). Link: http://members.aol.com/lwtua/joydiv.htm (Unofficial)
17. Killing Joke - If you are not familiar with the Killing Joke, imagine the alchemy of obscure Crowley references, provocative album covers, an intense display of post-punk angst, and percussive beats that commanded you to dance. Imagine all of this mixed with the grind of guitar and bass, and Jaz Coleman‘s never-ending search for the Holy Grail stare. This band was nasty, but not in a Marquis de Sade manner. Nastiness like this occurs in those life-changing moments: like the first time you had sex, or tried Pop Rocks, or realized that the rules, indeed, did not apply to you, even if it was for a split second. Recommended: ‘Killing Joke’ (1981); ‘What’s THIS for…!’ (1981); ‘Revelations’ (1982); ‘Fire Dances’ (1983); ‘Night Time’ (1985). Link: http://music.dartmouth.edu/~dupras/kj/ (Unofficial, but thorough)
18. Of A Mesh - Of A Mesh is an obscure, albeit then-popular, New York City danceable goth band, along the Red Lorry Yellow Lorry line. Of A Mesh began their vinyl life with demo releases as far back as 1984. Recommended: ‘Broken’ EP (1987) The ‘Broken’ Ep was released by 109 Records, The record label derived its name from its address: 109 St. Mark’s Place, NYC. Link: http://www.deathrock.com/ofamesh/ (The official unofficial site)
19. Red Lorry Yellow Lorry - Often tagged as mere Joy Division copycats, Red Lorry Yellow Lorry was an entirely different breed of band. They were certainly more danceable than Joy Division. The only comparison that could be derived is Chris Reed’s voice to Ian Curtis’, but even then I would lean towards Andrew Eldritch as perhaps a better choice for comparison. If you can imagine the Sisters of Mercy mixed with a bit of the Cramps and, ok, a little Joy Division thrown in, then you can approximate the band’s sound. Recommended: ‘Talk About The Weather’ (1985); ‘Paint Your Wagon’ (1986); ‘Generation; The Best Of …’ (1994)
Link: http://membres.lycos.fr/goth/lorry.htm (Unofficial. Discography section is pretty good, but no bio info).
20. Sisters Of Mercy - The Sisters have influenced a multitude of 90s dance-oriented goth acts: Rosetta Stone is the first band that comes to mind. The band was formed in Leeds, back in 1980. Andrew Eldritch’s dark bellowing voice became the prototypical male goth vocal, and was often imitated. Albums such as ’First And Last Always’ (1985) and ’Floodland’ (1987) are classic. They also released ‘Gift’ in 1986 under the name the Sisterhood. Link: http://www.thesistersofmercy.com
21. Xmal Deutschland - Formed in Hamburg, Germany in 1980, Xmal Deutschland took over the territory left abandoned by Siouxsie and the Banshees. As far as female led goth bands go, the Banshees were the prototype. As the Banshees decided to go in a hippy goth direction, the icy cold metallic-dance music they once dabbled in soon became Xmal’s calling card. Their 1982 single “Incubus Succubus” caught the attention of 4AD Records. In 1983, 4AD released Xmal’s ‘Fetisch’ album. 1984 saw the release of their massively influential ‘Tocsin’ album. Link: http://personal.iddeo.es/blancinegre/xmal_discography.html (Unofficial, but detailed discography).
These are just some of the bands that were more experimental in nature, but did influence the emerging EBM scene.
22. Cabaret Voltaire - Where do you even begin? I can start by establishing that the band had (has) a prolific career that spanned many genres such as experimental, funk, dub, industrial, techno, and acid house. I can also assert that by attempting to encompass such a brilliant career in such a small amount of space/time is an act of futility. For the sake of argument, and pertinence to this article, I will highlight the Cabs’ great albums produced between 1981-1984. During that period, the band released four incredible albums: ’Red Mecca’ 1981; ‘2x45’ (1982); ’The Crackdown’ (1983); Micro-phonies (1984). All of these albums had a tremendous impact on the development of electronic dance music. Some might even argue that EBM started with Cabaret Voltaire. Another interesting album of note is ‘Listen Up With Cabaret Voltaire’ (1990). This album is a compilation of early Cabaret Voltaire releases. It is a great way to experience the early power and bravery of the band, and best illustrates how far ahead of their time they were. Link: http://www.brainwashed.com/cv/ (Incredibly devoted and detailed site).
23. Chris and Cosey - Though more synthpop than experimental, Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti did manage to further develop the early abrasive electronics of their earlier band, Throbbing Gristle, and pursue a more tuneful approach. In the context of the developing electronic dance scene, the band’s earlier releases are recommended: ’Heartbeat’ (1981); ’Trance’ (1982); ‘Songs Of Love and Lust’ (1984). Link: http://www.chrisandcosey.com
24. Kraftwerk - Formed in Germany in 1970, Kraftwerk put together a career that influenced so many dance-oriented electronic bands. Unlike other German experimental, and influential, bands such as Faust and Neu!, Kraftwerk’s influence almost seemed unlimited. Early experimental albums such as ‘Autobahn’ (1974), ‘Radio-Activity’ (1975), and ’Trans-Europe Express’ (1977), paved the way for later dance-oriented albums like ’The Man-Machine’ (1978) and ’Computer World’ (1981). By the time ’Electric Café’ (1986) was released, it was apparent that Kraftwerk’s influential past would outweigh any future releases. Link: http://www.kraftwerk.com
25. Portion Control - Portion Control was an early electronic experimental band that provided inspiration and musical direction for the likes of Skinny Puppy, Front 242, and Front Line Assembly. For an excellent discography, I defer to the link provided. Link: http://welcome.to/319 (No bio info to speak of, but the discography is amazing. The pop-ups are seriously annoying, though).
26. Psyche - The band’s history started in Edmonton, Alberta in 1982. The band started mixing horror film aesthetics with aggressively minded synthesizers, and accessible synthpop. The band’s popularity soon soared in Europe. Psyche epitomized the power of dance-oriented electronic music of the mid 80s and was one of the initial EBM bands to emerge into prominence. Recommended: ’Insomnia Theatre’ (1985); ’Unveiling The Secret’ (1986); ’Mystery Hotel’ (1988). Link: http://www.psyche-hq.de/
27. Psychic TV - Genesis P-Orridge and Peter Christopherson formed Psychic TV to continue what they had started with Throbbing Gristle. Drawing ideas from writer William S. Burroughs and artist Brion Gysin, they incorporated collage cut-up methods, as well as Burroughs‘ ideas concerning technology. Psychic TV released ’Force The Hand Of Chance’ in 1982 and ’Dreams Less Sweet’ in 1983. Genesis’ impact on the dance scene was finally realized when he began to experiment with what he termed “acid house.” Acid house was really Chicago house music that later emerged in the British rave scene, albeit with a lysergic hue. Psychic TV, over the years, became more of a collective musical project, as members came and went. Genesis’ obsession with the availability, conveyance, and processing of information led to the formation of the Temple Ov Psychik Youth, which the British press dubbed as an evil cult with an agenda to destroy the wholesome values present in British society. For a quick info fix, I recommend that you read Steve Huey’s concisely written bio on AMG. Link: http://www.allmusic.com
28. Severed Heads - Australian band Severed Heads has managed to carve out a niche in the world of electronic music. They are probably the most successful band when it came to walking the fine line between pure electronic dance music and innovative experimentation. Sometimes this confrontational duality took place within a song, or over the course of an album. Nobody can ever accuse them of being boring. 1984-1986 represents some of the band’s finer recordings: ’City Slab Horror’ (1985); ’Dead Eyes Opened’ (1985); ’Come Visit The Big Bigot’ (1986). Link: http://www.allmusic.com
29. Adrian Sherwood - Dub master Adrian Sherwood has worked as a producer, mixer, and engineer for some of the biggest names in the industrial scene, despite his primary devotion being reggae. It is not a coincidence that his services were sought out by bands associated with the harsh electronic experimentation of the industrial scene. Some of these bands were: Cabaret Voltaire, KMFDM, Ministry, Nine Inch Nails, Skinny Puppy, Mark Stewart, and Tackhead. Dub has had a profound influence on many bands, especially Public Image Ltd. and the Pop Group. Adrian Sherwood’s efforts and the impact dub had on electronic dance music cannot be overlooked. Link: http://www.jahsonic.com/AdrianSherwood.html
30. SPK - A culmination of the band’s early experimental forays led to the 1984 release of ‘Machine Age Voodoo,’ which featured new member Graeme Revell. SPK’s early affiliation with Industrial Records, combined with the band’s interest in the psychological effects of torture and incarceration, social experiments, medical procedures, and media manipulation, afforded critics the opportunity to cast them aside as shock hounds. The truth of the matter is that SPK, along with Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire, are the most important experimental bands to come from the 70s electronic scene. Their efforts represent the framework from which all future industrial/EBM endeavors have been built. Link: http://home.pi.be/~spk (Excellent and informative site, with an in-depth discography and inclusion of the band’s “liner notes.”).
31. Suicide - Suicide was the New York punk scene’s electronic ambassadors. Legendary chaotic shows, often culminating in violence, were rarely associated with a synth band. Suicide’s influence cannot be overestimated in the industrial scene, as the confrontational manner in which they conveyed their music was a blueprint for others to follow. Essential recordings: ’Suicide’ (1977); ’23 Minutes Over Brussels’ (1978); ’Suicide’ (1980); ’Half Alive’ (1981). Link: http://www.allmusic.com
THE EMERGENCE OF EBM
These bands began the whole EBM phenomenon, as electronic dance music acquired a more sinister and aggressive edge.
32. Controlled Bleeding - Controlled Bleeding is a prime example of the whole aggressive dance music phenomenon. Though Controlled Bleeding has become a more ambient obsessed entity, an excellent way to sample the power of the band’s early recordings would be to obtain a copy of Cleopatra Records’ 1999 release, ‘The Best of Controlled Bleeding.’ Finding the original recordings can be a bit daunting. Link: http://www.allmusic.com
33. D.A.F. - In my opinion, D.A.F. is the original EBM band, mixing dance heavy percussion with pure electronic noise and samples. Mute’s 1980 noisefest ’Die Kleinen und die Bosen’ anticipated the groundbreaking EBM of ’Alles Ist Gut’ and ’Gold und Liebe’ (1981). Link: http://www.allmusic.com
34. Front 242 - Belgian band Front 242 took the early electronic dance music to a higher level of production quality and creativity. Despite the flirtations with Depeche Mode-ness on their first LP, ‘Geography’ (1982), the band’s subsequent releases culled a huge following and assured themselves a secure spot in the history of industrial music. Absolutely recommended:
‘Official Version’ (1987); ’Front By Front’ (1988); ’Tyranny For You’ (1991) Link: http://www.angelfire.com/co/front242/ (Good unofficial site plagued by annoying gnat-like pop-ups).
35. The Klinik/Dirk Ivens - Another luminary from the Belgian scene, Dirk Ivens’ initial excursion into electronic music began in 1980 with the formation of Absolute Body Control. He formed Body Records in 1981. By 1985, Absolute Body Control had evolved into the influential band the Klinik, and released their first LP ’Sabotage.’ This album was followed by ’Melting Close’ (1986). In 1987, Antler Records re-released both albums, as well as ’Plague’ in 1988. Dirk Ivens would also later be involved in bands such as Dive and Blok 57. Link: http://www.dirkivens.com
36. The Neon Judgment - The influential gothic/EBM Belgian band Neon Judgment is another example of an early purveyor of aggressive electronic dance music. In 1985 the band released ’1981-1984’, a compilation of their early singles and EP, and ’MBIH!.’ Also recommended from this era is the 1986 release ’Mafu Cage.’ Link: http://neon.grmbl.com
37. Public Image Ltd. - Public Image Ltd.? EBM? Yes. In my opinion, Public Image Ltd. was the first punk era band that successfully explored many different musical styles. Think about it like this: imagine John Lydon shedding his Johnny Rotten image, turning his back on the shambles that was the Sex Pistols despite the omnipresent legal problems that ensued, and managing to venture successfully into uncharted territory, all the while with a rabid music press barking at his heels. I find it truly amazing. Even when he was with the Sex Pistols, he used to tell the press how much he hated punk and professed his appreciation of reggae and the music of Captain Beefheart and Peter Hammill. If you do not believe me about the whole PIL/EBM thing, just obtain a copy of ‘Second Edition’ (1979), preferably on vinyl, listen, and await conversion. Also recommended: ’The Flowers Of Romance’ (1981), which includes Martin Atkins on percussion. Link: http://www.publicimagelimited.co.uk
38. Skinny Puppy - Skinny Puppy was formed in Vancouver in 1982 by cEvin Key and Nivek Ogre. The band’s consistently excellent, awe-inspiring discography is unparalleled. Other members have included Bill Leeb, Dwayne Goettel, and producer David Oglivie. Recommended: ’Back and Forth’ (1984); ’Remission’ (1984); ’Bites’ (1985); ’Mind: The Perpetual Intercourse’ (1986); ’Cleanse, Fold and Manipulate’ (1987); ‘VIVIsectVI’ (1988); ’Rabies’ (1989); ’Too Dark Park’ (1990); ’Last Rights’ (1991); ’The Process’ (1996). Link: http://www.allmusic.com
39. Luc Van Acker - Belgian producer and musician Luc Van Acker has been affiliated with many electronic bands. He has been a member of Arbeid Adelt, Shriekback, RevCo, and Spine Grinder. His recruitment into RevCo is explained on his Website:
“…(Luc) met Richard 23 from Front 242 who put him on the phone with Al Jourgensen of Ministry, which resulted in his being on a plane to Chicago.”
Luc has guested on many albums as well, working with the likes of Ministry, TKK, Die Krupps, Dessau, Noise Unit, Force Dimension, and the Lords of Acid. He has also produced albums for Mussolini Headkick and Neon Judgment. In 1984 he released a solo album, ’The Ship.’ Link: http://www.ping.be/~ping3716/
EBM #3 will cover 1986-1990.
BDAMD - http://www.bdamd.com
obsolete - http://www.obsolete.com
SWerquin - http://www.swerquin.net
Thompson, Dave, Industrial Revolution, 2nd Edition,1994, Cleopatra
Until next time…
Copyright 2003, Michael Casano