The second consecutive Listener’s Guide to be about a band from Deutschland beginning with ‘D’, but that’s the point at which the similarities end. The DAF listener’s guide was written as a somewhat delayed tribute to Gabi Delgado, who died on the eve of the initial COVID lockdown (thankfully not from said disease itself), only for my writing to get totally derailed as my creativity ground to a standstill along with the rest of the world. I eventually completed it, but the significance of the timing was lost.
This guide, however, has been a long time coming. It’s about a band who have featured frequently in my DJ sets and past playlists. I wrote about them frequently back in my EOL-Audio days. And yet I’ve found their works remain somewhat under-appreciated amongst many of those who’s tastes I otherwise share. Too “goth” for the industrial kollectiv, too electronic for the goth-rock puritans. Too dark in tone for the casual listener, but too song-oriented for experimental elitists.
It’s time to tell you all what you’ve been missing out on.
I’ve long had issue with how poorly bands from continental Europe are covered when the Anglo/American music journos cover a particular genre. Even when the bands in question sing in English. Bands singing in any other tongue are a particularly hard sell, but every now and again, a notable project breaks through. And Deutsch-Amerikanische Freundschaft (DAF from here on) stand out in this very small grouping due to the way they achieved a cult following in the UK a couple of decades before anyone had heard of Rammstein. This achievement was not despite the fact that they sung in German, but in many respects because of it.
What do you mean, Fear Factory? Why are you profiling a METAL band, Jonny? Has the Listener’s Guide series jumped the shark already? I’m pre-emptively calling out these potential criticisms, because I’ve got the rest of this guide to prove to you all that this is a band worth writing about.
And they are a band with significant links to my own musical journey. The first “metal” band I developed a taste for, and the first I saw live. “Saw” is actually an understatement – heard, felt, smelt and otherwise lived through in every possible sense. It was thanks to Rhys Fulber’s involvement on some of their most notable albums that I discovered Front Line Assembly, an act who themselves were hugely influential in the development of my tastes in the years to come.
When writing guides such these, it’s often hard to choose the next band to cover. Sure, I can use social media to gauge interest in specific projects, but there’s also got to be a personal motive to invest time and effort in researching and writing a piece this long. It’s a particularly big decision when you deal with exceptionally prolific artists – the timing has to be right, lest one get bogged down in a body of work too large to take in. And it just so happens I’ve been spending recent months investigating the dark and obscure corners of one of the largest back-catalogues my genres of choice have to offer. It’s time to take a look at Wumpscut. (Yes, officially the name is supposed to be bookended with colons, but if I do that here, my grammar checker will throw a wobbly).
Wumpscut was formed by the Bavarian DJ Rudy Ratzinger in 1991, inspired by the likes of Skinny Puppy, Leæther Strip and Dirk Ivens among others. The name means nothing – it was an entirely synthetic creation. His style has been referred to as both ‘dark electro’ or ‘electro-industrial’ – the terms are interchangeable as far as online discussion goes, and since few musicologists acknowledge so much as the existence of the style post-mid 1980s, it’s unlikely we’ll ever get a clear answer. Just accept that if you’re not into dark synthetic textures, hard electronic rhythms and angry vocals, dealing with some of the most unpleasant subject matters both fiction and reality have to offer, you might as well quit reading now.
Whilst this was very much a solo project, Rudy occasionally brought in guest musicians, mainly for female vocals, as well as sampling extensively from movies and bands from a variety of genres – the Alien movies are an obvious influence, inspiring as they did the project’s official logo. He also remixed other artists frequently and featured on many compilations. The one thing Wumpscut never did was play live. Rudy never had any desire to take the project to stage – neither did he feel like he could have done the music justice if he had done so.
With the retirement of the project in 2017, I am at least able to tell the Wumpscut story from start to end. I hope this guide will serve to be comprehensive, though what it won’t be is 100% exhaustive. This is, after all, a Listeners Guide, not a Collectors Guide or Fanatics Guide. Most Wumpscut albums have been released several times, in several formats, and there’s no way I can cover every version of all of them. Physical format collectors will have to check resources like Discogs.com for a full shopping list. Be prepared to shell out for the box set versions. My cupboard isn’t big enough for them.
If you’re happy to stay virtual, I recommend Wumpscut’s Bandcamp page, which has just-about-everything for 5 Euros per album. The Concentrated Camp editions are the best way to get the most complete versions of each album, and there’s also sizeable compilations covering all the loose ends, of which there are many. Devoted fans can also get vinyl masters and ‘Inheritance’ editions (draft/demo versions from the DAT tape archives), but I’m not going to cover these – perhaps someone else will one day. Casual fans can stream most of the studio albums on the regular services, but the remixes and rarities are covered inconsistently, so you might not find every track I mention.
This may be too long for many of you, so you can just Skip To The End and just find out what songs are worth listening to. But if you’re up for the full and complete text – it’s time to get started.
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.
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 proved the old adage 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 these particular 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’. The existence of said bands 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.
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”
On one hand, I’m pleased that the shot-callers in the club scene have finally worked out and acknowledged the significance Electronic Body Music (EBM) had on the development of various contemporary 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’ in the username and no-one’s spotted the relevance yet.
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.
My discovery of the whole goth/industrial/darkwave scene in the late 90s relied on a few clubs, some word of mouth and a still very patchy World Wide Web. One name that kept cropping up was Project Pitchfork, a band no-one could really describe in the few words, but the name itself intrigued me. Every successive track I heard piqued that curiosity further. I remained a fan even after they’d fallen out of favour with others. And their releases, the good and not-so-good, always got me thinking. In every possible sense, they’re the right candidate for my first ‘Listeners Guide’.