Front 242/Nachtmahr/Empirion/Global Citizen

Koko, London - 11th December 2011

"Masters of EBM>industrial>dance"


[Nachtmahr]Dark electronic fetishists Global Citizen took to the stage as I was queuing for my pass so I missed the first third of their thirty minute set. From the foyer things sounded a little on the scruffy side. Not sure why that should be – perhaps it was just how the sound filtered through the rather substantial walls of the glorious baroque Victoriana that is Camden’s Koko. Or perhaps they were having ‘issues’? Anyhow, by the time I managed to get through to see them on the stage things sounded much better. 

I still think hearing Global Citizen live is a very different experience to listening to their recorded output. The subtle intricacies of the studio are difficult to replicate in a live setting and, almost inevitably, some of the detail (and with it uniqueness) is lost. Having said that, now that I’m better versed in the first two Global Citizen albums (Master Stroke and Nil By Mouth) I am finding it easier than before in particular to tune into those special moments that pepper their songs. Though very few of the band’s songs are built on what you could reasonably call a hi BPM count, this concise set does focus on the top end of their tempos and gets the evening off to a promising start. 

Empirion continue their return to performing and one might be tempted to say return to form. Only, after tonight’s set, they’ve not bothered going back to their old ways. Instead, they’ve taken it up several notches and surpassed them – with some considerable finesse. Not only was this the best Empirion gig I’d ever attended (and, yes, I am including the 90s ‘heydays’ in that judgement), but this was one of the finest dance music performances I’ve experienced full stop. 

Their set (all new? Reworked? Or a combination of the two? I do not know them well enough to say) but if they’ve never really done it for you, you should definitely reassess them. For me, this was the perfect, and I mean perfect, sample of hard dance. It had all the driving, energising beats and repetitive rhythms of hard trance and a darker, heavier edge of the top end industrial dance stuff. You could not have picked a better support act for the current sound of headlining legends 242. I saw Empirion supporting the Belgians at the Astoria in London around ’92. This set simply blew that old approach away. 

Nachtmahr next, and whilst I realise (or at least hope) that Thomas Rainer is only having a bit of fun with his Imperial Austrian Industrial hobby, this project really doesn’t click with me. Up until this gig I'd kept an open mind, as this was only my second live sampling, but I’ve rarely had time for musical projects that don’t take themselves or their audience seriously. There are times when it works though. S.P.O.C.K. remain the act for all others of the tongue-in-cheek bent to aspire to. Co-incidentally, the first (and to date only) time I saw S.P.O.C.K. was also when I first saw Reiner live - with his L' Âme Immortelle project – which I rather enjoyed (at the Dark Jubilee Festival in 2002). Nachtmahr’s look may be clichéd but remains stylish, and the eclectic visuals continue to amuse, unnerve and confuse in equal measure. 

[Front 242]OK, onto the big boys. Some die-hard Front 242ers simply won’t attend a modern 242 gig, and I can understand why. I’ve gone on record on many occasions on this website pointing out that when it comes to electronic music, if I love a uniquely-crafted sound on a recorded track then I want to hear that sound (or something damn close to it) when I go to hear it live. I don’t demand that acts slavishly duplicate the studio versions of their songs. (I still see little merit in that.) But I do want tracks to at least be faithful to the essence of their originals. I only want this as otherwise the live versions just wind up being something different altogether and, 99 times out of a 100, all the worse for it too. 

After attending this gig I heard from two different friends (one in England and one in Japan) who both insisted that the primary reason for not going to see 242 live these days is because they have a live drummer! I use the exclamation mark merely for emphasis, not as a slight. For if the world were a perfect place, I too would not need to go to see Front 242 live and witness a live drummer. Indeed, I spent more than a decade not attending their gigs due to a decidedly ill-advised foray into ‘remix’ territory where they systematically removed all the distinguishing, and defining characteristics of their glorious back catalogue. In recent years they realised, and corrected, the error of their ways. The ‘Moments’ tour was the honourable (and impressive) result. Now, they seem to have settled somewhere midway between those two positions. 

As if to confirm this conscious piece of repositioning, the visuals were noticeably more old-school than we’ve gotten used to in recent years. Less intricate (and expensive looking), less abstract digital artworks and more literate interpretations of the mood and lyrics of the individual songs. I’m sure that after literally decades playing the same songs, that as performers the core three from the classic line-up (Patrick Codenys, Jean Luc de-Meyer and Richard 23) need to make it interesting for themselves if only to be able to push something close to enthusiasm and energy into the multifarious audiences of their global tours. The results varied, but this was still ample evidence that only the seriously analy-retentive need stay away from Front 242 gigs right now. Moreover, this was unexpectedly and heavily biased towards old material. And I do mean old. 

Body To BodyCommando MixTake OneFunkadahfi all put in more than respectable appearances. Personal favourites Im Rhythmus Bleiben and Welcome To Paradise also present and correct. As with previous tours, only Girlfirend X represented the much-ignored (but in my view brilliant) Pulse album. Front 242 have long been feted as the original (but ever-pioneering and evolving) masters of EBM>industrial>dance. Being honest, one can say that that’s a honour they’ve not always warranted down the years. Today, however, there are few that could reasonably argue otherwise. 8/10

Rob Dyer

Live footage on dsoaudio's YouTube Channel