Let's take it back to 1980 shall we..... well it was 81 for me... as I was sitting in my bedroom (like many others at the time) listening to Peel and on comes the most amazing, ground breaking, life changing (for me anyway) piece of music I had ever heard. It was the bass.... a sequence, so heavy and in your face combined with such gutaral Germanic vocals, the rest was rhythmic.... drums and space and nothing else... no pads, chords, guitars.. just vocals, sequenced bass and drums... this was funk, this was energy, this was pure sex in orgasmic music.
That piece of music was ofcourse Deutsch Amerikanisch Freundschaft's Der Mussolini. Iconic beyond the realms of iconography. DAF had been going for a few years prior to this release as a more industrial punk outfit, they had split into a duo and signed with Virgin Records and were about to embark on creating the most influential trio of albums..... Alles Ist Gut, Gold Und Liebe and Fur Immer. Now this was an early part of my musical shaping (and highly influential).
I had been listening to a lot of music on cassette and whilst collecting vinyl for the past couple of years, my record player was basic to say the least. I had saved enough money to buy a decent Record Deck (Technics SLD202 which I still have) and a pair of Akai SWXXX speakers which I went out and bought the next day from Capital Cameras (which had a massive HiFi section).
Next door to Capital Cameras was the one and only independent record shop where I lived.... Cloakes. I went in there and bought DAF's Alles Ist Gut to be the first album I played on my new system.... and Holy Fucking Hell... those Akai's and that bass from that DAF album... I'm surprised my mum never got any complaints... the whole flat was shaking like the basement of a Dusseldorf nightclub.
What got me about DAF, was predominantly that bass sound, the fact that their albums were recorded at Conny Plank's Synthesizer Studio made me fantasize about the most amazing studio with the most amazing collection on synth's ever. What the hell was that synth doing to create that most powerful sound.
A Blissful selection of Bass, Synth, Homoerotic imagery, Punk, Politics, Germanics, Rhythm, Space and Sex.... and at this point.. there was nothing else like this. Nobody had created a sound like this... a sound that was to become Electronic Body Music.... DAF were the first, the originators, the godfathers of EBM.
Now, whilst DAF were the rich boys and had moved from their German Ata-Tak routes, to Mute and then Virgin, they also used that to their advantage by having a pretty good arsenal of bass sequencing, that's why that sound is so powerful. I recall a comment in Rudi Esch's Electric City book asking about "that" sound. Disappointingly, the answer is simple, apparently it was the easiest and done thing to do and other German artists were to do the same thing, but not with the power of DAF.
Nevertheless, some other Dusseldorfians do deserve some equal credit, Die Krupps were utilising that 16 step sequenced bass sound along with metal percussion on their own "Stahlophon" within their first releases. They moved away from that sound on Volle Kraft Voraus with a more sequenced sound thanks to Werner Lambertz and his Brontologic computer system. Die Krupps went from Industrial to EBM to Pop to Metal and continue to mix their industrial, EBM and metal roots with ultimate Teutonic precision. Check out 2013's The Machinists of Joy and 2015's V-Metal Machine Music
The remnants of the original Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft line up had formed Liasons Dangereuses and released one highly iconic single - Los Ninos Del los parque using that almost predictable 16 step Korg MS20 bass line, they were short lived and released one excellent self titled album.
Ofcourse, I could go off on a tangent about other Neue Deutsche Welle bands of the time, but this is specifically about was to become known as Electronic Body Music. You will need to check out my forthcoming NDW Blog post here on Ring Modulator. (Deutschland 81 Uber Alles) Ofcourse, DAF went off, did some solo work (which they both still do and is worth checking out) and released a dubious HiNRG album in 86. Post Virgin trilogy, it was becoming clear that DAF's EBM was highly influential to what was going to become Techno orientated dance music. Keeping it German and with the originators there is a distinct difference between all three bands... DAF - Sex and Space, Die Krupps - Angry and Industrial, Liasons Dangereuses - a more free flowing experimental groove evolving from DAF ethics.
Over in Belgium, Front 242 were pumping out their own form of EBM along with quite a few other Electronic Belgian Musicians..... Black Leather/Industrial/Camouflage/Body Armour/Sunglasses, Shouty lyrics and a thumping throbbing electronic bassline. Front 242 were the Belgian equivalent of DAF, although like in Germany, there were many other imitators and those influenced. This was going on way before the North American Wax Trax industrial revolution and Front 242 were going years before the short lived Belgian New Beat genre, infact, Belgium should have a blog post of it's own within Ring Modulator....and probably will!!... (how about Mussels and Hate ????)
So round about 82 in the unlikely county of Essex UK. Bon Harris and Doug McCarthy formed Nitzer Ebb having been influenced by European Bands pushing out hard angst ridden electronics. Nitzer Ebb (who's name means absolutely nothing, but conjures up exactly the sort of sound you would expect) eventually after going 5 years, got signed to Mute in 87. Without a doubt, their influence is DAF and to this very day, they still produce music that is still heavily influenced by that EBM sound. McCarthy's voice is suited to that throbbing sequenced bass and he has utilised it to great effect on a mass of Solo projects. McCarthy teamed up with Terence Fixmer (from Lille) in the early noughties for an ongoing project which saw them recreate elements of Nitzer Angst and many other soulful elements. The irony being that Fixmer's solo work does tend to sound like more tech orientated instrumental EBM. There is a wave of French artists such as Gessafelstein, Vitalic and The Hacker who whilst producing excellent electronic music of varying different genres, but are unashamedly heavily influenced by EBM.
I had the pleasure of seeing Nitzer Ebb at one of the last ever PopKomm festivals in Berlin. Fixmer also performed a disappointing set on an appalling flat speaker pa. But Nitzer outdid all my expectations. Such a frenzy of sweat, angst and pure rhythm and bass, I didn't last long in the mosh pit. The difference between DAF and Nitzer Ebb is a matter of Anger and Angst vs Sex. Both have energy and both should be considered the ultimate EBM bands, after all.... each have created the two ultimate EBM tracks of all time.... Der Mussolini and Murderous.
As I write this post, Bandcamp have compiled a piece listing 13 Contemporary EBM releases HERE
This brings me on to that which exists beyond DAF and Nitzer Ebb. Mid Eighties Industrial Electronic Acts European/North American/Canadian all dabbled in EBM to the point that they totally believe that they are the originators. Whilst it would be unfair to lump Absolute Body Control into the poor imitator category, you can't help but feel that taking your name from a influential DAF track and making EBM gives you a potential of that label. Yes, there were tons of these bands, some were good, some were passable and some were not even edible.
EBM is an easy way to start your industrial electronic band, after all, it was the simplicity that the early Dusseldorf Bands went for. But it can be the quickest way to die. Lack of space, weedy bass and a distinct obvious in your face amateurishness. Infact most Nu EBM has too much going on and therefore loses the important element of power. Check out both Electronic Body Matrix compilations on Electro-Industrial label ALFA MATRIX. Whilst dabbling in EBM, the majority fall into a neu industrial tech kitsch. Or whatever ****Wave you now want to call it. Don't get me wrong, a lot of this stuff works well on the dancefloor, but I'm old school enough to appreciate the subtlety of original EBM and that it's the simplicity and space that makes it more aggressive and powerful. Whilst I can be vaguely amused on the dancefloor of Slimelight by neon subversive pseudo gothettes trying to make me laugh out loud whilst they resemble cybergoth Kate Bushes waving lurid glo-sticks to Der Mussolini, I don't ignore evolution in music and perhaps this is the way to go, although I do prefer my 90's Rave Sounds to remain in that genre and not on top of a gut wrenching bassline whilst someone pretends to be German and shouts over the top!!
Don't let the immitators get you down with a weakness, you don't have to look far.... Motor took it right to the hilt in the early noughties
DAF have a longevity, despite having split up numerous times. A comeback album originally called Funfzehn Neu DAF Lieder appeared out of nowhere in 2003. This fantastic album had all you wanted from DAF and more and then we had more split up rumours only to be treated by live gigs 8 years later. We are about to have a DAF boxset to be released on Groenland in September. This will include versions and remixes. There are rumours of new material. Also new Solo material from both Robert and Gabi.
Doug McCarthy has released an album called Treason, Sedition, and Subversive Activities in an industrial supergroup project called Black Line HERE . This album is a cross section of styles, but immaculately produced and programmed. McCarthy's voice suitable placed. Not all EBM, but if you want that, then go for the two Fixmer/McCarthy albums.
Do yourself a favour... you want real Electronic Body Music... then immersive yourself in a DAF album.... play it loud..... dance.... have sex..... take a shower!!!!!....start again.
Or brush up on your German and buy this from HERE
Which if I had read before writing this, I probably wouldn't have done it!!!!
Disclaimer - Whilst writing this and trying to compile a mix that reflects true EBM, it occurred to me that since the release of Der Mussolini, the world isn't a better place. DAF had to justify their anti-icon iconic track for fear of immortalising War Hero's and Dictators.... (oh the irony is always going to be wasted on the narrow minded). However, I lost count of the amount of bands falling into Industrial territory who had to put anti-facism and anti-nazi stickers all over their work. Just because someone speaks German, doesn't make them a Nazi..... does it? But we are currently living in an extremely intolerant and fragile time where even this Blog post may get picked on for being political and promoting something that it isn't.