Front 242 Interview

Melody Maker, January 19th 1991

Front 242

The Grating Dictators

After a decade on music's periphery, the Belgium electrosamplers now look set to assault the mainstream with their new album, 'Tyrrany For You', and the aid of a major US record contract with Epic. Simon Reynolds finds out whether the former art terrorists will turn into Depeche Mode.

"Determination, persistence, assimilation, infiltration" has long been Front 242's slogan. Its logic has taken them, after almost a decade of covert operations in the indie sector, to a new combat zone: the mainstram, via a deal with Epic in the USA. Framed, fittingly, by the sleek, futurist interior of New York's remarkable Royalton Hotel, the "boys" from Front talk with typical impassivity about their promotion to the big league.

"We told Epic we're gonna use them, infiltrate them like a terrorist unit," says Daniel, Front's sampling technician. "They're awore of it, they want us to use them in that way. It's not a relationship based on mutual hypocrisy. And we know how they will use us, because they told us."

What does it mead to talk of "terrorism" in this contex? This is pop music, after all.

"It's both a metaphor and a technique. Terrorism is very close to publicity in its techniques, it's just a little less subtle. In publicity, you don't shock people. You don't cut a throat on TV and then say, 'Buy a Band Aid'."

"But terrorism is no longer at the forefront of our music right now," adds Patrique (another sampling boffin). "Our music is now closer to human values. There's a new maturity. The new keyword for us now is tyranny, not terrorism. The original meaning of tyranny was not evil: a tyrant was someone who was elevated and approved by the people. And tyranny is how we approach things now; we still work to spread out music and impose it everywhere, but we have the support of a big audience. It's a benign dictatorship."

Daniel: "There's a direct link, terrorism flows into tyranny, tyranny is what terrorism aspires to."

Vocalist Richard picks up the thematic baton: "We feel that the mood of the people is changing. We don't have to change, in order to expand. Just be more subtle, conceal a few things. It's still what we call a 'no concession' album. What we're doing now is visiting the nine US branches of Epic in order to teach the people at every level - design, press offices, publicity - the strategy for selling Front over here."

If Front 242 are using Epic, how are Epic going to be using Front? I'd heard that they saw you guys as the next Depeche Mode...

"We've had Americans come up to us, saying, 'We love Depeche Mode, but we love you too, because you are the strong edge of electronic music that Depeche Mode draw on'."

Patrique: "I think America is just ready for electronic music. And Epic might have guessed that through watching the rise of Depeche Mode. But apart from that there's no point of comparison between Front and Depeche."

There does seem to be a huge, potential catchment area in the US for you, that was catalysed by Depeche: suburbanites and small town "new romantics" who are fascinated by the idea of Europe.

Daniel: "In a sense, Front 242 are the real thing for these people, in that we have a cultural heritage, and that makes us more authentically grounded than some band from Utah trying to mimic the Eurobeat sound. When I say heritage, I don't just mean electro-pop innovators like Kraftwerk or DAF, I mean something that encompasses philosophy, classical music art, architecture, history. Front 242 draws on Wagner, Shostakovich, the Italian futurists, Rossolo, Graphism, so many European artistic initiatives. Before, it used to be Constructivism that was the big influence. Now we're a little less strict."

Certainly, the new album, "Tyranny For You", reveals a romanticism that few would have expected from Front 242.

Richard: "Previously, we were more media orientated. Our material was taken from the TV and radio. Now we're more influenced by our environment, and the feelings that arouses."

Daniel: "If you look at recent history - and ignore the recent Iraq episode - you can see that the world has calmed down, there's been a return to real values. There's been a lot of recycling - both of materials and values. We felt that technology had to brak somewhere, and look at itself in the mirror. So we've tried to inject a few more human feelings in the music, which means going back to ancient feelings - like tragedy or tyranny. Our way of working is the same, it's just that the electricity is different. It's 'nombrilique' record. Navel-contemplating."

Front 242 music is also very white: although it's dance music, there's scarcely an ounce of funk in it.

"We feel that there's such a strong barrage of black rhythm in pop music, and, yes, it's great, but it's not what we're about," says Patrique. "We can enjoy black records, but we cannot feel black rhythm. We could copy it, but it would be inauthentic. We're probably stiffer in our way of doing dance, but we're more probably more authentic. When I look at myself in the mirror and listen to Front 242, I feel something closer to myself that if I watch a rap group on MTV."

To get back to the concept of tyranny: I always thought that the Front 242 idea of masterhit was about the exhilaration of self-mastery (Nietzche's idea of self-overcoming). Is your tyranny more about ruling your own body and soul like a police state, than dominating other people?

Richard: "In our case, tyranny is not political, it's artistic. It's not the dark side of tyranny, where we're compelling them to do things. We just want the audience's undivided awe."

The sound, the image, the aesthetic of Front 242 is very male...

Patrique: "We are male, yes. We are not afraid of that fact. That masculinity is strong, because we are talking about art here. If we were talking about love, then you'd see more of our female side. It's art, and art calls forth your instincts. We are male, but not macho. Take Wagner, it's a very masculine form of expression. But it doesn't have any bad connotations for me."

On the whole, Front 242 is about the grand passion and extreme intensities that are dislocated from the hum-drum plateaux of medium-level existence - upon which most of humanity dwells most of the time. Do you despise the everyday, the domestic?

Daniel: "We prefer the eternal emotions, and avoid the topical. With the new album, there are no samples of contemporary political figures like Gadaffi or the televangelists on 'Welcome To Paradise'."

Front 242 view human existence as a kind of perpetual war: globally (peace as war pursued by other means), socially (capitalism's war of all againt all), even within the microcosm of the individual soul (the war between dries and aspirations). A war in which there is no right or wrong, just "strong" and "weak" forces.

"In each human there is the fundamental fight," they say. "Every day of your life, you are at war with yourself. It's a constant struggle."

"Tyranny For you" is released on January 23 on RRE Records

Simon Reynolds