Front 242 Interview

Technology Works magazine #7

When thinking about interviewing Front 242 I came to realize that most of the ideas I had about who they are and what they stand for were almost entirely personal creations that I had applied to them based on the sounds and images they have sent my way. Which is exactly how they want it. Most people may only be becoming aware of Front 242 with the latest release, Tyranny For You, which is their first release on a major label. But 242 have been around for a decade now and the rest of the music industry still haven't come close to catching up with the sounds they were creating ten years ago. We spoke with vocalist JL DeMeyer and keyboardist Patrick Codenys while they were in Los Angeles for their latest tour. And if you missed the sold-out show, they'll be back in September with a more intensive club tour.

Technology Works: The name Front 242, who thought of it and what does it mean?

Patrick Codenys: It doesn't mean anything it's just a good name, including a lot of people working for the same cause, like a front of people. And the number is just sort of a design work. It's more like a company like Fuji or Coca-Cola. We thought the design was good. You can also say "Front" in any language. It really has no special meaning whatsoever.

TW: You're originally from...

Patrick: Brussels, Belgium.

TW: How many members are actually in the band because there are a lot of people that think three or four or two...

Patrick: Four. There are actually three public members, people on stage, and there's one member who is more technical, working on the live production [Daniel Bressanutti, who can be found at the sound-board during the live show contributing as much to what the audience hears as the members on stage]. In studio we are four people working.

TW: From the last album, Front By Front, you had the single "Headhunter" with the B-side "Welcome to Paradise." What made you think of the concept?

Jean-Luc DeMeyer: I had the chance to work in an insurance company before, and I worked in the department of human resources and I saw the way that this company was trying to hire people. It was very polite and very nice with men in suits, but at the same time it was very cut-throat. I wanted to make a parallel between tribal warfare and these activites. The song means both of these activities.

TW: On "Welcome to Paradise" you were dealing with religion which you've done in the past and you continue to do on the new album. But you don't say that religion is bad, you're just putting it out there.

Jean-Luc We never have. We have no message. We don't want to say anything to the people. We just take samples from the world around us, the news, television, movies, the street. We put them together and we work a little bit like journalists. We act as a reflection of what's happening and what's interesting for us in the world. We put those songs together to make a collage of news.

Patrick: What's important is to make the people react on it. Their interpretation is very important. We put a spark in their brain and we hope they go and have an attitude.

TW: A lot of people have very definite preconceptions about the band but if you look at it, there's nothing there to tell them which way to go.

Patrick: It's pretty empty.

TW: The new album, Tyranny For You, the title, what does it signify? Also the cover, I've heard it's an Olympic swimmer. Who or what is that?

Patrick: It's me. We take things in a way that we don't want to show them absolutely like a face, so it's worked on computer. It's a head in a transparent bathtub. I was underwater. It's a special way to take the picture with lights. It's a big job for the result. That's how it happened. We just take pieces and it comes out more expressionistic. About the title, if Front By Front is an album going to the people through media and press and samples from TV, Tyranny For You is more introspective because we realized the world was going more into an internal look. Nationalism, ecology...

Jean-Luc Religion.

Patrick: People going back to real values again. So the title Tyranny For You or Tragedy For You are both two antique meanings. Tyranny is not negative at all. The real meaning is people giving power to a tyrant to manage their life. So it's totally under their agreement, and that's the general idea.

TW: Do you feel the album is more of yourself?

Jean-Luc Definitely.

Patrick: It's more personal.

TW: On the song "Rhythm of Time," you explicitly say "we believe in future of the human race" whereas the popular outlook is that everything is bleak and there is no hope.

Patrick: But again it's just a statement. What's the difference between "We Believe in the future of the human race" and "no sex until marriage?" It's basically a pure statement and people take it differently. We had Mormon's coming to our show, they couldn't see the gig, but they came to buy T-shirts because they are really into the band on the religious wave. But also you can find really heavy skinheads that are the opposite. We are not here to judge people because they will have their own interpretation. It's like when you go to a movie, you like it or hate it or understand it one way or another. What's important is the affect, the impression.

Jean-Luc You also get kinds of reactions where people say "we believe in the future of the human race" and they're quite cynical. That's also a good reaction.

TW: Going back to the artwork, you also had a swimmer on the cover of "Never Stop." Is it the same person doing the artwork?

Patrick: Yes. They are the people of the band. Since the beginning we have always done our artwork. All the covers, the T-shirts.

TW: The entire concept is really a Front 242 product.

Jean-Luc It's part of the history. We started ten years ago in Belgium and there was nothing ready for us. Nobody was interested, no record company. We were just four and we realized that if we really wanted to do something we had to take control of it. We really have control of everything. No managers, no producer. We make our own record sleeves, t-shirt design, stage design.

Patrick: We just put "Made by Front." We could put "music Front 242, mix by Front 242, produced by Front 242, cover Front 242, merchandising Front 242." It could be a very long list and some people do it but we just put a stamp "Made by Front." That's it.

TW: That's in keeping with your Front 242 as say a Fuji or Sony. You control every aspect.

Patrick: It's very important. I think it's basically a typical electronic music philosophy, trying to control and doing everything on your own. What we hate in rock in general is a lot of bands have all those parasites deciding for them what to wear, deciding how to act on stage, and this and that. And that's bullshit.

TW: Everything you released from "Quite Unusual" to "Masterhit" to "Front by Front" to the new album has done fairly well. Do you feel a real confidence level building? Or do you sometimes say "this might not work."

Patrick: Oh, it's never easy. We're never confident. It's one of the basic rules of creation, to always doubt about yourself and never be satisfied with what you're doing. So every step has to be reconsidered. Even with the gigs here we try to take some risks, putting in some atmosphere songs or songs people really wouldn't know. We want to keep on with this movement. We want to take risks all the time and never be sure about what we're doing.

Jean-Luc We grew up very slowly but all the time we never made a step backwards. And that is quite nice. I think the day it happens we will stop.

TW: With the new album, Tyranny For You, this is your major label debut. How do you feel about being on a major? Do they let you be Front 242?

Patrick: Yeah, definitely. It's written in the contract a hundred times. We have total, absolute, unshared control of the artistic direction. And we would have never have signed with anybody without that.

Jean-Luc When we were talking about creation, I believe when you have to create you are totally naked. You don't think about the company when you start a song. When you start a Front 242 song, and just listen to the music, there's no concession. It's not a commercial album at all. It's very far away from Michael Jackson, for instance.

TW: I met William Gibson and showed him your "Neurodancer" song because of the title, and he liked the concept of "Punish Your Machine." That people should strike back at the machinary, that people should be in control instead of being slaves.

Patrick: For us machines are just tools and slaves. I hate people that depend on their machines. They're stupid people. Now we are all used to using phones and it's a machine too. It's the same with computers, exactly the same. You don't have to be afraid. Also, "Punish Your Machine" has another meaning. It's a real therapy given to people to fight their fear of the machine. People who push a button and say "what did I do?" It's just a fucking machine. You don't have to be afraid. The band is not at all a techno-band, the machines are just helping us do music. That's all. We really like William Gibson's material and "Neurodancer" is from "Neuromancer."

TW: One of the things that sets your albums apart from others is that you have the beats per minute (bpm) on every album. Do you feel you're a dance- oriented band or is there some other reason that the bpm are on the album?

Patrick: Again, it's a question of what level you're reading the album. You can just read it as a beat. Some people enjoy music, listening to music. When I go to a club I don't expect to have - we're talking here about heavy theories but most people don't care about that, they just want a beat, to go in a club and dance. There's a part of this in the Front 242 concept. Something very plain and normal like you may find tonight on stage, just a beat in the face. It's definitely important for us to have this dancefloor aspect. It's very exciting because dancefloors are sort of the new church for the people and dj's are the new preachers.

TW: On the video for "Tragedy For You," who is the woman featured?

Jean-Luc Here name is Maya, she's Dutch, and she played in several films of Fellini.

TW: Did you have fun doing the video?

Patrick: It was just Richard who was with the girl. We had fun watching him afterwards.

TW: In all your videos there's a very humorous aspect that isn't apparent from the albums.

Patrick: That's because of the director. We were just saying there's free interpretation of our music and we worked with the guy and all he saw from it was humor. Which was strange.

Jean-Luc It doesn't really appear on the records. But in fact what you have and what you find in the music is like an iceberg. There's ten percent on top, out of the water, but there is also ninety percent that never appears. And in those ninety percent there is a lot of humor. Anton Corbijn, who did the video, he's Dutch and we have a very good relationship with him and we had some fun together. We didn't want to know anything about what he was about to do. So he just told us "you do that and you do that" and we didn't want to know. We don't know anything about video. We would like to but we never had time and it's very complicated and very expensive. So we decided instead of controlling even a part of it, to leave complete freedom to him. And we were really surprised because that was absolutely not what we expected. But it was absolutely coherent with the music and that was one possible interpretation.

TW: Looking at all your albums, it has a futuristic look to it. Do you consider yourselves more of a futuristic band?

Patrick: No, I think we're just observers. We're using technology but it's not like a big deal. I think the difference is that rock music is still in the middle age. All the other sectors, like companies, advertising, or other artistic disciplines like movies, all the work is moving with technology except for rock music. What we're doing is applying contemporary material, work with technology that's in front of us in 1991. We could play violin or guitar but we are just trying to be people of our time. There is probably part of the future in it, but no more than anywhere else.

Paul Moore