Talk Show Host: 002: Front 242

In a joint effort, both Nigel and myself from Dark Assimilation, and Brian and Jane from the Miss Jinny Show teamed up for a number of interviews at Infest 2008. The first of a few that will go online in the coming weeks was an interview we were not sure we would even be able to get – with Patrick Codenys from Front 242. We caught up with Patrick post-soundcheck on the Sunday lunchtime. The below is the transcript, the edited interview can be heard by downloading the latest Dark Assimilation show here. Thanks for speaking to us Patrick, how are things in the Front 242 camp?
Patrick: So far, so good. We are set for the soundcheck, we met wonderful people here, and very able technicians, which is always very important when you want to succeed with your show. So far, so fine…we are very happy to be here. First time [in the UK] in a long time. It’s been a while since you’ve been in the UK – why the gap?
Patrick: It’s always a problem with promoters. We need to find the right promoter, with the right gap in our tour, and stuff like. We generally only play London, but we knew personally the promoter Mark, and it’s been two years where we tried to find a date, I mean, good timing for us and this year it’s happened, so we’re very happy.

Miss Jinny: We asked people who listen to our show to give us questions to ask you, and one of the ones that many people asked was that Front 242 are one of the bands cited as influences by many of the bands we have interviewed over the past five years. Do you have any particular influences from when you started out, and has that changed in the (many) years since?
Patrick: What has very much changed is that in the beginning we were technically working with very difficult technology, synthesisers were really not easy, not as [user-friendly] as now. So we had a lot of limits in what we could do, but that’s maybe the charm of the music of the time also – the vintage music. It was also a very strong fight with music establishment at the time, as electronic music was not at all considered, and even playing live was always an ordeal. Now everything is much more accepted, you even have a sort of stereotype of “EBM”, or “Gothic”-type of music, so people now know what we are talking about. That’s the main difference. At the same time it means that the chances are that some bands blend more into a big movement rather than have a personality. But those things have drastically changed for us. Is this why you are doing what you have called the “Vintage Tour”, seeing what you can do when you revisit the “old” songs with new technology and [where] you can go with that?
Patrick: It’s got an “educational” part? [laughs] No, but it’s got something of it to just remind people that those machines were made for a very particular aesthetic, for a very particular sound, no offence to you guys but for me synthesisers have nothing to do with rock’n’roll or the anglo-saxon vision of music, of rock, so it’s new machine, new aesthetic, try to find new paths, new ways of doing music. That’s the goal. There’s no point in trying to do a “rock” song or anything of that kind when you have new machines. So basically part of the show – not everything – a few tracks are very vintage, basic, for that purpose.

Dark Assimilation: Talking of vintage tracks, your most famous track is “Headhunter”. Are you getting fed up with “Headhunter” now, is it a track you’ve played so much you are bored with, or are you happy to keep bringing it out and letting the crowd go wild?
Patrick: Strangely enough it’s still a song we enjoy a lot. Because I think it is one of the only songs that we made that is an industrial “hit” which in contradictory somehow, but it works – we reached the American charts with that song, and a lot of charts in Europe. It’s not an easy pop song, it’s still quite tough, therefore it’s still a song we are very proud of, and it’s really a peak in the concert, so absolutely no shame to play that one! You mention it being a hit, actually – when I first heard “Headhunter” I was 11 and saw it on MTV Europe – I’m 30 now! [laughter] – and that first time I heard it I was like “that’s really cool”, and it was the first time I had ever heard any of this “electronic” music. And back then you could find loads of this stuff on MTV, and [shows like] 120 Minutes would devote much of their time to industrial music and the nineties was fantastic for it – but there is now, not that I can find, no outlet for this kind of music on TV and indeed most industrial bands don’t even bother to make a video. Do you find that a problem now, to be able to promote?
Patrick: It’s all a matter of business. There is a marketing that goes back to the seventies, that goes back to classic rock, it’s marketing, always was. I think that marketing and big labels had a drop out, a problem when all this EBM/industrial music came out at the time. We had a lot of support, but still, it’s not an easy music and people…we are in crisis time. You have to make people happy. So to program industrial music, or EBM or, I dunno, Throbbing Gristle, will not help. But those bands are major – in my education, those bands are major, those are the bands that I was fed when I was young. It’s very important to keep that underground music alive. That’s why I feel we are still there, it’s like when you hear from 242 tonight, it’s still very particular compared to other bands…I don’t say it’s better, but it’s different. And it’s so important to be able to. I regret that we cannot play America anymore, for instance, because that market became totally rotten, by the likes of Clear Channel, Live Nation and all those guys so you fight against the establishment and believe me, when it comes to business and rock music, it is the same as with Coca-Cola or anything else. What about the current scene – do you have an interest, or keep up with, if you want, “the scene”?
Patrick: I listen to everything. Like a lot of people will tell you, but when it comes to industrial music or to very specific bands, again when I listen to dance tracks more like techno tracks I enjoy, like, Trent Müller, I like Pan Sonic, glitch sounds, stuff like that. There some good bands in the Gothic scene too, I think every genre has got “leaders” and good stuff, but at home I really listen to everything, truly. I mean I enjoy electronic music, and research – that’s my main criteria. How do you think you have remained so unique? No matter what you release, you can always tell it is a 242 release. I’ll admit now, I wasn’t enormously keen on P.U.L.S.E., it was a direction I wasn’t expecting, but it still sounded like “you”. How do you do that? Many bands end up in a [position] where they just sound like everyone else…!
Patrick: Strangely enough, I think you have to go back to the source, and the environment in which we grew. Being in Belgium, in one of the first countries that got the Cable [TV] and lot of different stations, surrounded by Swedish, Germans, Irish, English…all kinds of people and this sort of abilities to assimilate other cultures was one of the specifics, also we were influenced by the German [Krautrock] from the seventies, which is bizarre but those guys were not musicians, but those guys were doing something different. Kraftwerk came out of that genre. Also I think that when I started to do music although I enjoyed a lot of English bands, or American bands, because that’s the market in Europe, I wanted to do something for myself but also keeping in mind what were my feelings. And when I got the synthesiser – the very first time I got one – in my hand, this is sort of an orphaned instrument, it’s got no classification, it’s got wierd sounds in there. This is a great opportunity to try and do “my” music. I’m not a rasta, I don’t play reggae [laughter], I’m not an American, I don’t do rock, blues or jazz, so no influence – a little bit, because everybody does – but really trying to do your own stuff, the opportunity to have a new instrument to create something new was there. We took our chances out of all that cultural “melting pot”, the sampling of TV, all that stuff, and you get a Front 242 recipe. [laughter]

Dark Assimilation: Flipping back to Headhunter, it’s one of the most covered tracks I can think of – everyone seems to have taken their own angle on it. What do you think of all the various covers? Do you see them as flattering, are there are styles of people covering your tracks that you like?
Patrick: I have no problem with that. I think that since ever the reason why we started music was to look ahead and so people say “oh now you’re a reference, how do you feel about that?” or “everybody is copying you”, or some people are copying, to all those questions I say we still look ahead, I’m still interested in music, I want to do research, so I never look around to see what’s behind me, it music that’s on the market. If people want to do a cover, may as well, but it’s not really my concern. What does the future hold for 242?
Patrick: The future? It’s very difficult because there is a money problem for everybody, so if you want to increase research you need money. I don’t live in a big house, or anything like that, money is there to buy time for us, because time is research. I think that there are so many great things to do, like with 5.1 systems, or surround [sound], concerts, there are tons of great instruments, there are so many directions you can go with electronic music. But unfortunately music is often done to entertain people, because people have to forget about their problems, and for me, when I was young, music was just a challenge, it was the opposite, it was a weapon against the Government, being mad, and stuff like that. So I wish the future comes back to where music has something to say, where music can become a weapon again instead of entertaining…like in Rome they have “bread and games for the people”, it should take back it’s rebellion feeling. So I don’t know if that’s the future, but I hope it will blow one day in that direction. It will explode. It has to. It’s a way to express.

Dark Assimilation: You’ve released a couple of live downloads recently [and album], and you’re playing here today. is there any studio work or albums in the pipeline?
Patrick: I don’t know. Here the way we function is four guys in the band – when we feel it is the time we go for it. It’s not like fifteen years ago where you had to do an album every two years…so the intro tracks [tonight] is a sort of new track that we’ve never played, that’s not on an album, so I think we might first experiment a few tracks live before we go back to the studio, but everybody has a lot of side-projects anyway, but the time has not come for “gathering” again for the moment. Has it always been the preference to do things differently live, as obviously you mix elements of other tracks in (like in Moldavia, for instance), is this a preference for giving the fans something completely different or is it just the way you wanted to go?
Patrick: It’s the way we prefer to do it, but at the same time it’s the only way to do it, because studio work has nothing to do with live performance. Also remember that in the eighties the big criticism of electronic music was that it was boring, cold, and it’s true – people were behind keyboards, nothing was happening. Today when you see a DJ he doesn’t move more, but everybody is crazy and that’s because the music is different. We always wanted to make a point about being very physical and bringing energy onstage and show you could work with keyboards and still be as powerful as a heavy metal band, for instance. But if you want to do that, you have to cut down on your tracks, and there is no way you are going to go into detail, so you go for the real muscle-music, the big bassline, with the drums and stuff like that, and the vocals on top, that’s a little bit of the formula we have onstage and we keep it, because it is very efficient.

Dark Assimilation: Time for a silly question. We’ve been asking bands…if you could pick any superhero power, what would it be?
Patrick: Personally? What, on a cartoon level, like comics? [laughs] I would go for Batman. Not necessarily him, actually I’d like to be the Joker or something…

Moments is out now.

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