[midlife 150] #107: front 242 “headhunter”

January 8, 2011

Album cover for Front By Front by Front 242

#107 Headhunter by Front 242, available on Front By Front, 1988 [buy from Amazon.co.uk] [buy from iTunes]

I’ve remarked before on the apparent atrophy of industrial music, a phenomenon that handily mirrors the ebbing away of the industrial economy, at least in the developed world.

When analysing decline the place to start is the peak. And for the collection of sub-genres that can be grouped loosely under the heading “industrial”, the late 1980s generally and this song in particular are that peak.

Belgian group Front 242 may not have coined the term “electronic body music” (it reportedly stemmed from Ralf Hütter’s 1978 characterisation of Kraftwerk’s new LP, The Man Machine) but their output defined and embodied EBM better than anyone else.

They – and contemporaries like Nitzer Ebb – set the blueprint for industrial music’s final revolution: a combination of the abrasive manufactured and found sounds of industrial music’s conceptual forefathers (Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire et al), the rhythms and structures of then-emerging dance music and testosterone-fuelled lyrics critiquing religion, political agit-prop of all persuasions and, of course, the military-industrial complex.

Headhunter – released in three versions on an EP and seminal EBM album Front By Front – followed this template, but optimised the production process to the extent that it it could not be improved upon using current technologies and techniques.

The scraping, sawing, bashing, puncturing, lathing and welding that form its sounds and rhythms seem to conjure the chassis of a mechanical cyborg whose mission is programmed by the mantra “Lock the target, bait the line, spread the net, catch the man”. It’s The Terminator in five minutes.

It was deservedly a huge club hit (by industrial music standards) and spawned a promo video (watch on YouTube) directed by Anton Corbijn, Depeche Mode’s long-time visual interpreter and creator of Joy Division biopic Control.

The song was effectively the last off the assembly line before the industrial music factory was retooled to serve a larger, rock customer base – not necessarily a bad thing (cf. Nine Inch Nails). But even the 21 (yep, 21) Headhunter remixes released in 2000 can’t re-animate the simple power of the originals.

This review is part of close to 94‘s [midlife 150] series, which counts down favourite music 1970-2009.


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