Die Mensch-Maschine

1995, I just started to find my way around the gothic scene, I had just dug through the CMI catalogue, ran into industrial projects and labels when I received a flyer of a “gothic” album “Darkness” (1995) of the Danish project In Absentia, their third and last release. This music was something wholly different from the dark ambient sounds that I listened to then. Danceable, quite cheerfull even and with vocals. For a while I was in contact with the band, learning about “electronic body music” or “EBM” as the music appeared to be called, “tapetrading” I got some more of this material. Soon after buying this cd I was at the Staalplaat store in Amsterdam (they are nowadays located in Berlin). Staalplaat mostly sold weird electronics, industrial experiments, much of it not my kind of music. At the time they also had other material from the industrial scene. Going through the racks my eye fell on the album “Music For A Slaughtering Tribe” of Wumpscut (1993) which was labeled “EBM”. Curious if I would like it, I listened to the album. This was miles away from the cheerfull sounds of In Absentia, danceable nonetheless, but very loud music with aggressive vocals. A huge grin appeared on my face and I went home, loved the album and searched for more material of Wumpscut. Wumpscut appeared to hold the middle between a genre that I was not yet familiar with (and which I call “danceable industrial” (“indancetrial”), but which is nowadays called “rhythmic noise” (I don’t like that term)) and “electro”. “Electro” is a derivative of “EBM”, it is a bit darker, more industrial. I learned about a few more proper electro projects, Terminal Choice, Velvet Acid Christ and especially the first was very popular for a while and they played in the Netherlands more than once with their black-metal-like show. None of the project had the power and aggression of Wumpscut and even though some electro sounded alright, I do not have a whole lot of it. Pretty soon (“Embryodead” 1997) Wumpscut got too soft for me too. On the other hand, kindred projects like Noisex and DKF (Deutsch Katholische Feindschaft) made such loud danceable industrial that it was a bit too much for me too.


The term electronic body music was coined by Ralf Hütter of the German electronic band Kraftwerk in 1978 to explain the more physical sound of their album The Man-Machine. DAF from Germany used the term “Körpermusik” (body music) to describe their danceable electronic punk sound. The term was later used in by Belgian band Front 242 in 1984 to describe the music of their EP of that year, No Comment. Front 242 characterized their approach as falling between Throbbing Gristle and Kraftwerk. Nitzer Ebb, influenced by DAF and Cabaret Voltaire, followed soon after. Groups from this era often applied socialist realist aesthetics, with ironic intent. Other prominent groups include Die Krupps, à;GRUMH…, and A Split-Second.

Thus says Wikipedia about the first part (1978-1987) of the history of EBM. For a long time I the idea that Front 242 (started in 1980) not only brought the danceable sound into the industrial scene, but also were the starting point of ‘dance music’ (meaning house, rave, etc.). Kraftwerk made relatively danceable music sometimes, DAF is two years older than Front 242 and “synthpop” (Ultravox) and “disco” had been made for half a decade though. Projects such as DAF and Front 242 mostly had their influence on underground dance music. Front 242 liked to run around on stage in uniforms, DAF (“Deutsch-Amerikanische Freundschaft” by the way) had some controversial lyrics. Like the quote shows, Front 242 used the term “electronic body music” to describe their style. In some ways similar, but when you hear enough of it different in sound is “electro”. SPK has been around since 1978, but it is mostly Skinny Puppy (1982) who set the tone for a whole new subscene. Front Line Assembly (1986) has been very influental too, but their sound is much more sophisticated and softer. Generally, since the beginning there have been projects that are much harder and projects that are softer in sound. There is also still a large synthpop scene, but it looks like it that the electro/EBM part (especially the harder sections) are closer to the industrial scene.

I came in with Wumpscut, who trove heavily on the hard danceable industrial of P-A-L (of whom the 10x greater version of “Concrete Rage” was made by Wumpscut) and similar projects. Still an unsurpassed style. The German electro sound has been quite popular for a few years, but when I did not find enough interesting material, I first looked through the scene of danceable industrial (with Imminent (Starvation), Winterkälte, Ah-Cama Sotz, etc., but also this genre proved only to have a few great releases and many mediocre ones for me.

There are many musical styles which are called “electro”. The most famous is the old-style techno with 4×4 beats, but there are people who call the old electronics “electro” and there are style such as “electropunk” and “electropop” which have nothing to do with the EBM kind of “electro” (and strangely enough “electrotrash” is more house-electro than “electropop”-like). I suppose for that reason the electro that I talk about is nowadays ususally called “electro-industrial”, sometimes “dark electro” and a few months ago I ran into the term “aggrotech” which according to Wikipedia is: “also known as Hellektro, Harsh EBM, or Terror EBM” and a term of about 10 years ago is “cybergoth”.

I have been reading Wikipedia and a few other sources to fresh up my memory to write a story like this and it is quite amusing to click through from articles. I run into terms that I have not even seen at Last.fm!

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