Listeners Guide

6 posts

Apoptygma Berzerk – A Listener’s Guide

This guide comes after a lengthy break in my long-form writing.  In order to get back on track, I realised I had to cover a band where I could really spin a tale, both in terms of the band’s own history and how their music affected me. And when I think back to which band broke the Anglo-American dominated nature of my CD collection back in the late 1990s and dragged me willingly into the ‘scene’ that has dominated my life ever since,  Apoptygma Berzerk are the band most responsible. 

The name means little to many, indeed it means nothing at all in linguistic terms.  However, behind that incomprehensible name is a fascinating, diverse, sometimes frustrating project, one who’s never afraid to state its influences, but always willing to take them in a variety of directions.  It is a project of many facets, many influences and many motivations, and hence despite not having the largest backcatalogue of all the bands I’m planning to cover, it’s still my longest Listener’s Guide to date.

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Nitzer Ebb – A Listeners Guide

The news that Nitzer Ebb were reforming as a live act was a cue for me to make them the subject of my fourth listeners guide, and my first to cover a British act. Indeed, they hail from Chelmsford, only a few miles from my own home territory on the Essex/East London borders. And a year working in their home city only went to prove that no prophet is hailed in their homeland. Not one of my colleagues had any idea who they were. OK, this may have been during EBM’s early 00s nadir, but I doubt any of them have become aware of their local legends since.

This wouldn’t be such disappointment if Nitzer Ebb’s influence had spread only to various German and Swedish copyists with the hermetically-sealed ‘industrial scene’, who’s existence is acknowledged about once a decade by the English-speaking electronic music press, who occasionally work out that EBM-and-techno-work-quite-well-together. But the Ebb’s influence has spread much further than that. I guess it’s down to me to tell the story. Again.

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Covenant – A Listener’s Guide

My Djing is usually request friendly, with the exception of certain private bookings and some (but not all) genre-specific events. I thought I’d extend that concept to the Listeners Guides and write about a band that someone was interested in reading about. Mesh were a candidate, and may indeed follow soon if I can find some distinctive to say about their later albums. Coil was an interesting if totally-unworkable suggestion, but Covenant struck me as having the strongest case. One of the biggest names in a vast pantheon of Swedish electronic music, and, as we will see, joint innovator of a musical style that was equally loved, tolerated and reviled, but dominated scene dancefloors for many years.

A common source of confusion in the early days was the existence of a Norwegian band of the same name. Now known as ‘The Kovenant’ after various legal wrangles, the two bands are known in spoken parlance as “Covenant with a C” and “The Kovenant with a K”. So please understand that in this Definitive guide, there is no definitive ‘The’ in front of the band name. It’s just “Covenant”

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Front 242 – A Listeners Guide

On one hand, I’m pleased that the shot-callers in the dance music scene have finally worked out the significance the early sound of Electronic Body Music (EBM) had on the development of various current dance music genres. But simply name-checking an early 242 single doesn’t make you an expert in the style.

Conversely, I once had a conversation with a noted goth/industrial/whatever-we-call-it DJ who simply wasn’t aware of any notable 242 tracks pre-Headhunter. Which was better than some DJs who thought that one song was the only thing by them worth playing. Or the fact that my corporate social networking profiles all feature a ‘242’ as a differentiator and no-one’s spotted the relevance yet.

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A Listeners Guide To…

There were times in my online life where I felt the pressure to be constantly reviewing and critiquing ‘new’ music by ‘new’ bands. Certainly, this is helpful in bringing people’s attention to sounds they otherwise might not hear and gives an important ‘leg up’ to up-and-coming musicians that don’t benefit from music industry backing. And there’s a number of sites blazing that trail now.

But when I look at my recent DJ activity, I find that my natural audience isn’t in tune with this mindset. With the exception of a few recent breakthrough acts (She Past Away, Lebanon Hanover and Youth Code spring to mind), demand on request sheets is for the classics. Similarly, my bookings for specific-genre nights are usually retro of one description or another. The DJ slots where you can play the tastemaker are tied up by a fraternity I have no means of entering.

But neither do I take any joy in playing the same hits over and over. There’s a lot of bands with a lot of songs out there, and a newcomer to a particular band is going to struggle to find the best place to start with large backcatalogues. The albums might be on Spotify, iTunes, etc, but where to start? Often I’ve heard people dismiss an entire band due to having heard (unknowingly) one of their ‘difficult’ albums acquired for pennies in a second-hand dealer. So it’s time to unpick the backcatalogues of bands that have too much music to listen to in one go.

And I’ve started with a long-running favourite of mine – Project Pitchfork.

Project Pitchfork – A Listeners Guide

My discovery of the whole goth/industrial/darkwave scene in the late 90s relied on a few clubs, a bit of word of mouth and a still very patchy World Wide Web. One band name that kept cropping up was Project Pitchfork, a band no-one could really describe in the few words, but the name itself got me curious. And every successive track I heard piqued that curiosity further. I remained a fan, even during albums which I didn’t personally ‘get’. They’re the right candidate for my first ‘Listeners Guide’.

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