with Cassandra Complex
Irving Center, New York City, NY • September 28, 2000
When David Bowie turned his back on drum n’ bass music after experimenting with it on his Earthling album and denounced its relevance in modern music, it was about as valid as perhaps Neil Young proclaiming that “trance is dead.” But for those whose roots are firmly nestled in the electronic music genre, experimentation should be nothing less than necessary. So, ladies and gentlemen, let’s welcome back ex-industrial monarchs Front 242 into the revamped cyber-dependant age. These Belgian lads laid the groundwork for many of the so-called EBM, electro, and techno artists today, but get overshadowed by a growing populace of anonymous DJs and their multitude of compilations saturating the na•ve ears of modern-day electronic enthusiasts. Front 242 first began their enlightened trek into the latest sounds of the dance underground on their 1998 tour and subsequent live disc, Reboot. Abandoning the battle-tinged percussive cries of their extensive back catalog, the quartet instead cleverly chose to renovate their oldies into new sonic structures. Adapting sounds of trance, house, hardcore and drum n’ bass, Front 242 rewrote their musical history and recreated an in-your-face live extravaganza that scared many old fans but lured many fresh ones into the fold. The result was an ear-splitting dancefest insulated with extreme energy and mind-numbing music.
Once yours truly got wave that the band was set to return to the States for a mini-tour, I had no choice but to pack my belongings and venture to the Big Apple to relive the excitement once again. I think many headlining bands carry a certain strategy, that being to choose some of the worst bands to warm-up or bore the hell out of the crowd, whichever one you choose. This show was no different. Openers Cassandra Complex almost appeared to be satirizing themselves, and the crowd could care less. Lackluster goth-rock fare that could drive an insomniac to head to their local Holiday Inn, Cassandra Complex only elevated the anticipation for the legends of 242. Once the opening chords of “Happiness” played behind a blank screen, the voice of live dance machine and crowd-pleaser Richard 23 quickly quelled the anticipation.
The hypnotic trance beat and pulsating rhythms of the track laid the groundwork for the 80-minute audio-visual fest to come. Although the setlist did not change much from the 1998 show, the inclusion of the “Animal” and “Funkhadafi” remixes were perhaps the shining moments of the night. Sweat-soaked and tweaked-out, vocalists 23 and Jean-Luc Demeyer perfectly complemented each other’s rough delivery, while the classics “Headhunter” and “Welcome to Paradise” were manipulated live into hardcore dance courtesy of soundman Daniel B., keyboardist Patrick Codenys, and live drummer Tim Kroker. New guitarist Elko displayed his chops with subliminal textures and pitch bends sprinkled through a few choice cuts like “Religion.” With the non-stop energy exhibition throughout the set, who could ever believe these guys have been around for two decades? The show did not progress without a hitch, though. Although Demeyer and 23 could not interrupt their compulsive dancing, the ultra-dull rendition of “Crapage” could almost be taken literally, as this remix proved that the original could stand the test of time on its own. But this didn’t seem to matter to a crowd filled with every walk of life imaginable. From ravers to elders and goths to punks, the masses assembled to witness a show, and a show they did get.
An aural assault on the senses courtesy of the band and the surprisingly vibrant Irving sound system, the tingles and ringing felt for hours after were only a mere testament to the second coming of these seminal electronic forefathers. Although some of their older, elitist fans have lost a step of two with the current sound, Front 242 hasn’t and it showed once again. The set could have been longer, a bit different than the last tour, and more renovation for each song would’ve been a welcome addition, but as the final throbs and wails reverberated up and down my nervous system, these negative emotions dissipated, leaving simple satisfaction. The overall enthusiasm for a second encore was left unanswered, but every soul in the plaza need not worry. Front 242 has re-discovered themselves, a much needed factor of progression in electronic music. After all, who better to carry the torch for the new millennium than those who know it best? Class, we’d like to welcome your once and future mentors. Any questions?