Inside Front 242
an interview with Jean Luc De Meyer
Jorge C. Galban
At the peak of the industrial music revolution, the Wax Trax record label presented some of the genre’s best creative forces, including Front Line Assembly and Ministry. However, it was the electronic onslaught of Front 242 that set new standards for innovation and electronic aggression. Originating in Brussels, Belgium, the four members (Jean Luc De Meyer [Vocals], Richard 23 [Vocals, Percussion], Patrick Codeneys [Keys], and Daniel B. [Keys]) focused their energies on creating the most intense and intelligent electronic music of our time. With such international club hits as “Quite Unusual,” “Masterhit,” and “Headhunter,” Front 242 paved the way towards greater awareness of this exciting electro soundscape.
During the band’s recent “Reboot: 98” US Tour, Jean Luc De Meyer provides an inside look into Front 242’s past, present, and possible future. “We have been working together since 1981-82, and our intention was to create music that allowed our individual artistic freedom to be explored. Our vision was to create music that was honest and true to ourselves and to present this music to our fans. We chose the name Front 242 because it means the same thing in almost every European language and the number 242 is easy to remember.”
Following several successful releases on Wax Trax, Front 242 was to embark on a new phase in their musical careers. “In early 1991, we grew very excited in realizing that Sony Music was interested in us. We had already recorded and produced the album Tyranny For You when we got signed to Sony, and the album was released soon afterwards.” This album brought forth several college radio and club hits, including “Rhythm of Time” and “Tragedy For You.” It was almost impossible to enter a nightclub without hearing one of Front 242’s pulsing rhythms in the air. To further expand the bands’ visual presence, Sony released a video compilation entitled Eight X Ten, which contained several music videos and live concert footage. The band’s music videos were expertly designed by Anton Corbijn, who has worked with the likes of Depeche Mode and U2.
It was not long before the band was invited to join the musical mayhem known as Lollapalooza. This would be the first time that a European electronic band would be presented in a nationwide festival of this size. “We felt honored to be the only European electronic band to be invited to perform in Lollapalooza, because this had never been done before.” Although this opportunity seemed ideal for most artists on the bill, it proved to be a huge mistake for Front 242. “We were soon labeled as the black sheep of the tour, because we played purely electronic music, and our show was not suited for outdoor, daytime festivals. The technical people who were assigned to us had no idea what to do with our equipment and/or stage setup, and we had a difficult time with our performances. In addition, the audiences attending the shows were more interested in seeing guitar-based bands, and could not relate to our music. Front 242’s live shows are best suited for smaller indoor venues with the proper lighting and effects. Smaller audiences of 1,500 or 2,000 really work best for us and the shows are much more energetic, entertaining and interactive.”
With the Lollapalooza experience behind them, the band returned to Brussels to begin working on their most difficult and trying album to date. “When we got together to begin working on Up Evil, tensions in the band were high because we could not seem to agree on how things should be done artistically. Since the beginning, we have always been four individuals with diverse artistic beliefs and we had many confrontations because of this. Also, we were experiencing a great deal of pressure from Sony because they wanted to change the way we did things creatively. They wanted to change our working framework, and this added to the problems the band was having. Once the album was underway, the idea of creating a double CD was introduced. Since the differences in the band were serious, I had no interest in working on a second album. Richard agreed with me, and after Up Evil was finished, we left Daniel and Patrick to complete the work on Evil Off. For this project, Daniel and Patrick enlisted the help of several other musicians and vocalists to complete the album. I honestly feel that these are our worst albums.”
In spite of the creative difficulties in completing Up Evil, the album brought new avenues of creativity into light and presented their fans with some possible new musical directions. The single “Religion” was released, along with a visually stunning music video. Other tracks that best display the unique flavor of this album include “Skin,” “Melt,” and “Motion.” A successful European and US tour followed, complete with a massive light show and powerful stage performances. However, the internal conflicts within the band had steadily grown worse.
“During the final live shows at the end of 1993, we realized that we needed to spend time apart from each other and work on other projects. So we took a one year vacation from working together and soon became involved in various side projects that allowed each of us to express ourselves artistically in our own ways. Richard and I began working on other projects while Patrick and Daniel were engaged in production and remixing projects. I actually counted the number of releases that I have worked on since 1993; so far, I have appeared on over 30 releases; five albums and several CD singles.” Some of these side projects include Birmingham 6, Cobalt 60, and C-Tec. “With C-Tec, Wax Trax/TVT Records has been very supportive, and they are very happy with the sales. There will be a second C-Tec album and a follow-up US Tour next year.”
So how did the Reboot: 98 concept come about? “About a year and a half ago, we began receiving an overwhelming amount of proposals for live shows. In response to this, we got together and sat down to discuss these issues together for the first time since 1993. It was the first time that all four of us had been together in the same room since then. I must say that for the first time, we came together and got along very well. We had never really gotten along very well in the past, and this was the first time that all of us felt relaxed, comfortable and mature. We are older now and have a more relaxed and open attitude towards each other. One of the first things we decided was that if the band were to perform live shows, the music would have to be reworked to reflect the current styles that have been made popular by such artists as Prodigy and the Chemical Brothers. Next, we recreated many of our songs in a newer, softer style. During the first ten to fifteen shows, we recorded the live performances and created an album called Reboot: 98. We sent this CD out to certain targeted record labels and said, ‘Here it is this is what it looks like and sounds like. Are you interested or not?’ We refused to make any compromises and only wanted to make agreements with labels who were willing to release the album as it was. And to our surprise, several labels responded positively. At the same time, the number of live show requests grew larger, and we were amazed at the increasing number of people who wanted to see the band live. With the popularity of electronics in the music industry, people became interested in wanting to see Front 242 in a live setting.”
In describing the bands’ first performance of the European tour, Jean Luc explains “We played in a place in Eastern Germany where we had never played before. There were about 14,000 to 15,000 visitors there, and the one thing that impressed me the most was that as far as I could see, everyone was singing along to all of our songs. I could not believe that after not releasing any new material for over five years, the fans still supported us and had an affinity to our music.”
It was not long before the band agreed to perform at various music festivals across Europe and then embark on an extensive US tour. “The shows in the US have been fantastic, with a few exceptions where the venue and promoter were inadequate. Overall, we are enjoying ourselves a lot, and having a great time seeing so many enthusiastic fans at our shows.”
I wondered how the band compared their 1993 Up Evil tour with their current Reboot: 98 tour. Jean Luc states that “In our 1993 tour, we had a large technical crew of over 14 people and the entire show was very loud, intense, and tiring. This time around, we have kept things simple. Our crew consists of only seven people, four band members, the tour manager, and a few technicians. The production of the live set has been kept softer to present the band’s music incorporating elements of today’s music. Also, technology has certainly improved over the past five years, and having remote ear monitors has given us complete freedom and mobility on stage that was not possible in the past. So we are enjoying our live shows as much as possible, since this may be our last tour.” As a witness to their recent performance at the Button South, I can attest to the bands’ massive appeal and impressive stage performance. There is a sense of magic on stage as Jean Luc and Richard energize the audience, and you have to admire a band that has been around for over ten years mesmerizing audiences with their electronic wizardry.
Will there be a new Front 242 album in the near future? Jean Luc can only say this; “at this point, I can not say yes or no to the possibility of writing new material together. It all depends on many things. If one of our side projects really takes off and gains popularity, working on 242 will be set aside to focus on other priorities. We are all involved in different things, and it all depends on our ability to work together.
As my interview comes to a close, I am left in awe at the down-to-earth nature and genuine character of Jean Luc. If there is another Front 242 release in the future, it will be a testament of the bands’ endurance and creative talents. Should Reboot: 98 prove to be the last chapter in Front 242’s history, their musical genius will continue to reshape the way artists create electronic music.