Back to the '90s: Front 242 brings Electronic Body Music to major label

In the early days of electronic music, composers intended the music to be listened to. Edgard Varèse and Karlheinz Stockhausen constructed elaborate collages of sound, intended to be performed in concert halls. John Cage took a more indeterminate approach to his compositions, but they were still considered to be artistic statements. Even Kraftwerk, who were the pioneers of popular electronic music, were essentially composing “head” music to be listened to on headphones, perhaps while one’s head was in an altered state.

This perception changed when Giorgio Moroder and Donna Summer released the landmark electro-disco single “I Feel Love.” This wasn’t music for the head, but for the body. As the ’70s became the ’80s and disco lost its luster, newer genres like electro, synth-pop, house and techno followed Moroder’s lead and used synthesizers, sequencers, samplers and drum machines as their primary instruments to create dance club anthems.

Even Kraftwerk was not immune to this trend, describing their 1978 album “The Man-Machine” as “electronic body music.” Other artists like D.A.F. and Cabaret Voltaire continued in this vein, but no group embodied electronic body music (EBM) as thoroughly or successfully as the Belgian knob-twiddlers known as Front 242.

Front 242 released a series of dark electronic albums and singles in the ’80s that were as danceable as they were listenable, from their debut single “Principles” in 1981 through their biggest hit, “Headhunter,” in 1988. Their success landed them a major label contract with Epic, and in 1991 they release their major label debut, “Tyranny (For You).”

In many ways, this album was a turning point for Front 242 and for the EBM genre. In particular, the standout track “Gripped by Fear” had an emotional resonance that was atypical for the genre and would inform later EBM artists like VNV Nation, Apoptygma Berserk and Covenant in the late ’90s and early Aughts. “Tyranny (For You)” was also the most cohesive and sonically adventurous album Front 242 had released to date, though it would not prove to be as popular with fans who were expecting the next “Headhunter.” Still, like Kraftwerk before them, Front 242 opened a door that led to future delights for the head as well as the body.

— Nicholas Coleman

  1 comment for “Back to the '90s: Front 242 brings Electronic Body Music to major label

  1. June 14, 2010 at 10:38 am

    Essential for any dancefloor. A rare case of an artist jumping to a major label and delivering a masterpiece. Tyranny is probably my second fave of their’s behind Front by Front. They influenced me as a DJ for sure as I started the year Tyranny was released. Nice article about some great music and great times.

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