Igor sez: “Listen to anything on Waxtrax! instead.”
The other day I sat down before my computer, excited to write about the new Gatekeeper EP, Giza, released this past December 13 on UK’s Merok Records. What happened instead was that I spent the next few days reveling in Front 242’s back catalog. How could a thing like that happen?
Well, it’s because Gatekeeper is doing a lite take of an amalgam of artists that includes Front 242, Coil, and My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult. The difference is that with those other bands you could believe the artists had sacrificed something- or just gladly irreversibly given something- for the realization of an idea. To wit, at about 07:15 in this interview on Red Bull Music Academy, one of the members of Front 242 rebukes the interviewer’s insinuation that the band was in a privileged position to be making the music they were making with the equipment they were using in the early ’80s by saying, with not a little bit of apparent irritation, “An Emulator is about the price of a car and I decided not to have a car but have a machine. There are a lot of people who have cars here and would probably be able to buy an Emulator in the same sense.”
Like other musicians in their genre at the time, the expression of their art required something from them above and beyond the time put in. This was part of the fact that they pushed their art over boundaries, making it both artificially and intrinsically anathema to the mainstream. Wearing safely established symbolism doesn’t accomplish this same goal.
In the same few minutes of the RBMA interview mentioned above, he goes on to talk about the sense of freedom and opportunity they felt at that time as they were confronted with new synthesizer technology. (This exchange is featured in the first segment of the interview highlights video embedded below)
“…You have a new machine, a new concept, you can start from scratch. This is an opportunity for us. We felt maybe here we have a machine that is going to be able to express something of our culture because this machine is as naked as our musical culture… And so you think, ‘Here I have a chance to create a new aesthetic, to create new concepts, a new vision of music’.”
So, let’s look at Giza. The opening sound on the Giza EP is a sample of a motorcycle being started. Does the image of the burly dude on a hog still hold such strange and terrible Hunter S. currency that it’s going to send kids running from the dance floor to Mom’s skirts? Actually, that’s just what I’m getting at. On Giza you have several such samples vaguely evocative of “scariness” rooted somewhere in the familiar. However, without lyrics, an idea, a reason, a drive, a shaking fist or a primal investment on the part of the artists, this isn’t “Do you Fear for Your Child,” this is Adventures in Babysitting. There is nothing here to push the music on Giza out of the realm of the fear-ish, out of the category of the sinister-y. This is all just camp once the excitement of being reminded that you really want to listen to Front 242 wears off. There’s nothing electrically boundary-transgressing enough here to give you the surprising smack of satisfaction you’re looking for when, after your sojourn into the back-catalogs of the dread of the technological police society that Industrial music was a manifestation of, you remember to revisit Gatekeeper.
I like the stuff they seem to be into, but unless they push it their music, rehashed Twitch-era Ministry orchestra hits, Art of Noise et al-type vocal samples, and Front 242 background chanting/crowd noise and all, is just more Burning Man/Vegas revue weekend vacation dance music for deluded, self-assured careerists to use drugs to without making any significant changes in their lives. At least Enigma was doing this sort of thing at the tail end of when this music was actually being made.
Motorcycles! Brrrrrmm!! Hell and stuff!
Texture, prolonged tension, vocal samples, lyrics, message, and still unlike anything I’ve heard before or since.