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Douglas McCarthy (Nitzer Ebb, Fixmer/McCarthy) on the Chemistry of a Perfect EBM Track

Fixmer McCarthy

Douglas McCarthy thought he was done with the music business in the mid ’90s. Downtrodden from the endless cycles of studio recording and worldwide tours, McCarthy decided to leave music and pursue his teenage dreams of becoming a graphic designer and filmmaker. It was, after all, the career choice he would have pursued had he not formed one of the most significant EBM bands of all time: Nitzer Ebb.

Electronic Body Music (EBM)—driven by an often erratic and staccato bassline, a tight, intrusive snare, and an irrefutable dance beat—was a genre that never quite seemed to depart from the stigma of the 1980s. Until recently. “EBM was a really dirty word for a long time,” says McCarthy. “It was synonymous with people stuck in the past and not being able to appreciate anything new.” And now, 30 years after Nitzer Ebb’s 1987 breakthrough LP, That Total Age, everyone seems to be catching on.

Contrary to its former unpopular perimeters, EBM has become a common descriptor in dance music vocabulary. “With the development of genres, they need to go through a few generational cycles for people to look back and appreciate or distill what they want from them,” says McCarthy. Alongside fellow EBM trailblazers Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft (DAF) and Front 242, Nitzer Ebb’s 1983 self-released cassette Basic Pain Procedure helped establish the genre’s conventions—McCarthy’s riotous roars, low growls, and call-to-arms chants have been oft imitated over the years.

It wasn’t until 2003, after meeting the French techno producer Terence Fixmer, that McCarthy left his newfound occupation of film and design to return to music. Fixmer’s distinct blend of dark, intrusive techno and EBM bassline patterns resurrected McCarthy’s interest in music once again. Their relationship began when Fixmer had agreed to remix Nitzer Ebb for NovaMute (a subsidiary of Mute Records) and, in return, asked that McCarthy do vocals for a few of Fixmer’s own tracks. Their meeting and studio session sparked an entire slew of demos that suited an album’s length of music and the collaborative project of Fixmer/McCarthy formed soon thereafter.

Fixmer/McCarthy’s new EP, Chemicals, on the Berlin-based label Sonic Groove, is a true continuation of the sound the duo has developed over the past fifteen years. The title track is forceful—its driving bassline conspires with a heavy techno-influenced beat underneath McCarthy’s nakedly raw and severe vocals. It, alongside “Wrong Planet,” is undoubtedly meant for the club floor, to be heard in the anticipatory section of an vigorous DJ set. The new EP revels in the familiarity of classic EBM and is inseparable from the lineage McCarthy cultivated long ago without being propped up by the ruse of a throwback album.

We talked to McCarthy about the drug-induced inspiration behind Chemicals, what makes a perfect EBM track, and the genre’s inarguable comeback.

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