Tag Archives: Industrial

13 Striking Contemporary EBM Releases

Unconscious

Unconscious

Electronic body music, aka EBM—a dancefloor-oriented style of industrial—requires the people who make to have a healthy obsession with mastering machines. It is a laborious task—forging a bassline, hammering out the intensity of a beat using metallic sounds. At its best, EBM feels like the heat from the furnace, causing blistered hands and battered feet, the rippling of muscles and dripping of sweat. It is about movement, about work—about, well, the body.

Thirty years ago, two albums were released that became the cornerstones of the EBM subgenre. Both boasted a cacophony of temperamental electronic sounds that writhed in uber-masculine aggression. Official Version, released in March of 1987 by the Belgian group Front 242, was a work of computer wizardry. It was built around themes of conflict and war that created an atmosphere of dreads, with basslines that fired hard, like machine guns.

Just two months later, U.K.’s Nitzer Ebb released That Total Age, a record that approached the genre as a locked target, attacking with forceful rhythms, chants and stalwart basslines. The complex sounds of these two albums were completely new at the time, driven by the technology of synthesizers, drum machines, samplers, and the sheer determination to push those machines to their extremes.

Recently, EBM has been slowly returning to favor: the word is now used as a descriptor for many forms of dark electronic music, while classic reissues are pressed on to attractive multicolor vinyl. That groundbreaking sound manifested on That Total Age and Official Version—the manipulation of violent synths, layered over a beat that is decidedly danceable—is what resonates with artists and fans today. And if the beat is the heart of the genre, the basslines are the veins, pumping urgently.

While some current EBM producers are traditionalists in their approach to sound, turning out records that could be shelved alongside the Wax Trax! catalogue, others embrace the sleek and polished approach of techno. Either way, EBM is impossible to escape, and even harder to wade through these days. We’ve gathered some of the most exciting new releases in the genre for the year so far. From silky production methods to thunderous metallic noise, each album on this list summons the flying sparks of hammer meeting anvil.

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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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Album of the Day: Stromboli, “Volume Uno”

Let’s just get it out of the way first: when most people in North America think of stromboli we imagine an inside-out pizza, a pocket of mozzarella cheese and meat and vegetables and a little bit of tomato sauce, lovingly enveloped in a shell of dough. It’s a magical meal sent from that little corner of heaven on earth that is your favorite local pizza shop. In our narrow world view (or mine, at least) Stromboli makes for a curious choice of names for a deadly serious, highly competent and fully realized techno-fused post-industrial project such as this one. (It’s also, for what it’s worth, an Italian volcano.)

Following up on his critically acclaimed 2015 cassette, Stromboli finds himself mining the deepest trenches of both existential dread and transcendental bliss on his debut LP. Volume Uno is a relentlessly thorough study in personal unease, tracks like “Haunted” and “Basedow Graves” bringing to mind the agonized meditations of Suicide’s “Frankie Teardrop” and Coil’s “Time Machines” in equal measure. These are the sounds of late-night willful isolation, where the need to create and be heard is only eclipsed by the ecstasy of silence. It’s a harrowing, masterful exercise in futurist ambience and propelled noise.

Volume Uno is available now via Bologna’s Maple Death Records. Stromboli finds himself in good company on the label, who has released work from such spiritually compatible artists as His Electro Blue Voice and Disappears. Do yourself the favor of picking it up and embracing the void, and you may find yourself as strangely satisfied as if you’d filled a comfort-food craving with his delicious namesake. Comfort in discomfort, as it were.
—Michael Berdan

The Dark Visions and Technical Prowess of Statiqbloom’s Fade Kainer

Statiqbloom Logo

Producer and multi-instrumentalist Fade Kainer is a mainstay in Brooklyn’s heavy/dark music scene; you might know him from doom merchants Batillus, the death-drones of Inswarm, the beautiful noisescapes of Theologian, Tombs’ powerful, bleak black metal, touring with Swans’ Jarboe, or any number of other projects, but you may not yet know his solo project, Statiqbloom. Statiqbloom may be the ultimate expression of Kainer’s musical and artistic visions, combining his formidable technical abilities and songwriting skills with his compelling live presence and strong aesthetics. Hard dance beats, glassy synths and sinister vocals form a captivating union in Statiqbloom’s tech-noir sci-fi landscape. It feels like the soundtrack to endless nights spent clubbing in a post-apocalyptic sewer, two moons fat in the sky over a scorched earth.

We spoke with him about how a metal kid got into electronics, and how personal a project Statiqbloom is, among other topics.

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Album of the Day: Slug, “Early Volume”

There’s never been anything even remotely approachable about Slug, the L.A. noise band that exploded onto the scene in a hail of distortion and feedback in the late ‘80s. They staged deliberately-deafening impromptu concerts outside at Loyola Marymount University, where the members of the band were working as radio DJs, and slowly built a catalog of music with guitars that sounded like breaking glass and basslines that undulated and howled like the sandworms in Dune.

But time has a funny way of sanding the edges of bands that once seemed confrontational. Music that felt oppressive two decades ago now wouldn’t sound out of place in commercial hip-hop songs, and some of the ‘80s most extreme genres—industrial music, in particular—now sound quaint and kitschy. Not so with Slug: the 18 songs that make up this collection still feel like repeated right-hooks from a studded boxing glove. Slug has no use for melody: “Freak of Nature” pits a preacher’s ranting and raving against guitars that groan like the failing engine on an old Camaro. The song bludgeons with repetition: the same pitch black four-note chord pattern buzzsaws over and over and over—like the noise rock version of water torture.

“Elevator,” the closest thing on the record to a “single,” takes the notion of industrial music literally, with rhythms that sound like they’re being beaten out on hubcaps and guitars that are all feedback, no tone. And “Pink Party Dessert” hits the gut like a cement medicine ball, 400-ton guitars whaling away at the same note ad infinitum. The closest analogue would be the similarly-maniacal anarcho-noise of New York’s Missing Foundation, but the fact that Slug keep halfheartedly feinting toward conventional pop structures—a chorus here, a middle eight there—makes their music feel more subversive, as if they’re providing us with entryways just to destroy them. Slug deconstruct rock the way demolition crews bring down hotels: with explosive force and heavy machinery.

J. Edward Keyes