Dec 2017 12

Baltimore Soundstage, Baltimore, MD – 10/06/2017
Front 242 - Circling Overland Tour 2017


While several acts have played a significant role in defining the genre, it was Front 242 that gave us the name that perfectly encapsulated the style of danceable industrial and electronic textures that is EBM – Electronic Body Music. For over three-and-a-half decades, the pioneering Belgian group has followed a path of artistic and strategic creativity, eschewing the conventions of melodic songwriting in favor of something more primal and rhythmic. Touring the U.S. in the fall of 2017, Front 242 continues to captivate audiences with a high octane stage show that stands as one of the most widely regarded in all of modern electronic music. At Baltimore’s illustrious Soundstage on Friday, October 6, Front 242 was joined by a pair of staples of the local scene to make for an unforgettable evening.


First to take the stage was Washington, DC’s Distorted Retrospect, and the influence of and reverence for the old guard of EBM that 242 represents could be felt in every aspect of this band’s performance. The solo project of former Velvet Acid Christ live member Christof Krztov, Distorted Retrospect offered what could be construed as an exercise in minimalism – Krztov and his band mate were all but obscured by the intricate lighting, broken by carefully plotted waves to make for a striking visual ambience. Pounding industrial beats and slithering layers of synth arpeggios topped off by Krztov’s affected vocals made for an effective helping of danceable electro – simple, to the point, and just forceful enough to get the crowd pumped up for the rest of the night. On the other hand, Venal Flesh offered a slightly more notable visual accompaniment, with the group’s keyboard stands adorned in devilish accoutrements to give the likeness of a demonic ritual. Shrill synth lines and scathing beats fill the venue as front man Dan Barrett howls his distorted rasps with a vicious abandon, his guise like a possessed creature trapped in the pained throes between death and resurrection; flanked by VanityKills and Joseph Myers on the keys, Venal Flesh’s presentation was a definite standout of the night’s proceedings, though perhaps too macabre for the more straightforward electronic leanings of the crowd. Still, such spectacle is not to be ignored or easily dismissed, and with both opening acts having made quite an impression collectively opening for some of the biggest and most revered bands in the scene, one can be assured that Distorted Retrospect and Venal Flesh are worthy of greater recognition and praise as live acts. And then of course, a mainstay of the Baltimore/DC scene, DJ Neska kept the beats flowing between sets in her inimitably enjoyable fashion.


The lights dim as the droning warbles of synthesized bass fill the speakers, the faint throbs of a pulsating bass line gradually rising in intensity and resonating through the body in an almost subliminal fashion. With Daniel Bressanutti manning the mixing board, it isn’t long before the lights and sound begin to heighten along with the crowd’s anticipation, and the familiarly menacing and insistent bass line of “Moldavia” enters as keyboardist Patrick Codenys and drummer Tim Kroker take their places. Then the one-two vocal punch of Jean-Luc De Meyer and Richard “23” Jonckheere take to the stage, their authoritative and spirited presence immediately palpable as they lead the sonic paramilitary unit that has since 1980 paved a singular path of art and strategy. From the moment they howl, “It flies!,” the audience is immediately sent into spasms of danceable fury – Front 242 has arrived! Never a band to allow either its members or material to suffer the ravages of age, each member demonstrated the vitality and vigor of a young punk rocker… especially Jonckheere, whose movements were almost a blur as he dance up and down the stage, constantly riling the audience up and shouting with the same zeal as when he was a young mohawked upstart. In contrast, De Meyer’s appearance was more menacing and restrained, his raspy voice delivering rhythmic litanies that have become the stuff of EBM lore; his was more of an authoritarian guise that gave fuel to the fire of Jonckheere’s more flagrant display, with Codenys and Kroker continuously unleashing the musical armament with great aplomb. Similarly, each track was carefully reinterpreted through the use of modern technology to sound as fresh and as vibrant as when they were first released in the ’80s and ’90s, Jonckheere even joining on the keys at times for a fine exhibition of Front 242’s penchant for creative reinvention. Backed by a manic onslaught of dynamic video projections, the group launched headlong into a veritable hits package, delivering updated renditions of older favorites like “Commando Mix,” “Funkahdafi,” “Body to Body,” “Take One,” “U-Men,” and “Lovely Day,” alongside later tracks like “Religion,” “Together,” and the ever popular “Happiness.” Of course, as one would expect, the tracks that garnered the most potent reactions were the ever sardonic “Welcome to Paradise,” the crowd joining in the chants of “Hey poor, you don’t have to be poor anymore!,” and “Headhunter,” fingers counting to the classic chorus happily; put simply, as overplayed as the song is in many a DJ set, any live performance will remain a pleaser for the ages.


As with many hard electronic and industrial acts, Front 242 has over the years faced allegations of fascist sympathies due to the militaristic beats and imagery often employed by the group, often in a satirical and ironic fashion. Alas, the scars of these misinterpretations were laid bare as the night was marginally hampered by an incident involving a group of white supremacists in the audience, with one physically assaulting another concertgoer for laughing at his “white pride” shirt. Thankfully, nobody was seriously injured… well, other than the racist’s pride, for he and his group were ousted and all but driven out of the venue (and perhaps even out of town) when a group of women stood up against them, leading others to join in sending a clear message that this is not their scene and such bigotry is not welcome in the Baltimore electro/industrial scene. It was quite glorious. On top of that, this writer recalls a conversation that took place during the evening, which could best be summed up by the words, “I’m not a big fan of Front 242, but they put on an amazing live show.” That statement alone best exemplifies the significance and appreciation this group holds in the electro/industrial scene, creating an audio/visual extravaganza that is often imitated but never duplicated. Bravo, Front 242!


Article by Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)
Photography by Tabetha Patton (MizTabby)


Front 242
Website, Facebook
Venal Flesh
Website, Facebook, SoundCloud, Bandcamp
Distorted Retrospect
Facebook, Bandcamp


Front 242


Venal Flesh


Distorted Retrospect


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