[aural time-slip] Front 242 – Official Version


[Reviewed by Peter Marks]

It’s 1987. The Soviets are still trying to explain Chernobyl away, Reagan is now having to use proxies in Congress to explain away Iran-Contra, the US continues to reel from the Challenger disaster and Apartheid is in full control of South Africa. Government has become a series of press conferences and investigative “task forces”, of course there’s no reason for you citizens to ever worry or dream of questioning their explanations. After all, they are the official versions, who’d be stupid enough to doubt things… especially when these events keep happening all over the world with only the names changing. The outcome is the same.

Meantime, I’m downtown in a club on about four hits of blue lightning when a voice comes out from the smoke and strobes proclaiming:

You know me, and I sure know you, every one of ya!

Like the voice of God himself coming across the dance floor, backed by rhythms and bass lines so powerful that there was no choice but to capitulate and join the party. A party which not only had hordes of angsty looking militaristic males (guilty) stomping but females, loads of them. Even more interestingly, everyone who did so wasn’t white, which is something the modern EBM/Industrial scene likes to sweep under the carpet and pretend isn’t the norm now. Don’t believe me? Go to one of their nights or one of their shows and tell me what you see, go on, take a good hard look. They never have and they never will.

Back then, artists made sure there was a place for all at the table.

Front 242 had been at it for some time before they changed the landscape of electronic body music (a term they coined) once and for all. They’d had some success in Europe but where I was at in the god-forsaken guitar dominated United States no one had any time for them. The last dying tides of the New Wave had been swept away by the time ‘Official Version’ appeared and those surviving new romantics were looking decidedly bloated and jumped on bandwagons whenever possible in a desperate attempt to remain relevant. Unlike where we find ourselves now in the musical world, 242 chose to shed their skin and leave behind whatever hints of it they may have had.

With infinite patience they decimated their technology and reduced their previous sound to a primal collection of aggressive perfection. Gone were the self-conscious overtures to what had come before. Bressanuti, Codenys, Jonckheere and De Meyer refined what they composed until it became the glistening, jagged blade which cut the throat of complacency. Listen up closely and you’ll hear where their love affair with techno began. In some kind of strange alchemy between the burgeoning white label scene, the New Beat scene and the iciness of minimal synthetics a new hybrid was brought to life and loosed upon the unsuspecting. Nothing was left to chance and no variable was ignored, even the smallest details were given priority with songs such as “Slaughter”, “Television Station”, “Red Team” and “Rerun Time” being every bit the measure of those timeless classics “Masterhit” and “Quite Unusual”.

The opener was no dullard, either. “W.Y.H.I.W.Y.G”, to me, is probably the best example of 242’s stylish jump with that roving bass and devastating kick just knocking the wind out of you and then taking control of your body until you can’t fight it anymore. Move! This is the message of ‘Official Version’. Do not sit about waiting for the changes you want in your music and world, you must be proactive. It’s all out there for the taking if you have the will; oddly, it was their follow up ‘Front By Front’ which achieved the break through for them here in the States. I regard that one as just the leftovers from the feast it’s predecessor served up. Tastes vary, of course, but if you forced me to pick just one of their albums to keep it would be ‘Official Version’.

The times change but their work continues to anticipate and confound even the best-laid designs of commerce and it’s nefarious legions.

Front 242Official Version
Wax Trax! Records, WAX-026
CD/MC/LP 1987

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