Into the Pit: 117: Front 242 – Live at KOKO – 11-December 2011

There are times when I wonder exactly how and why the support bands are picked for a live show, and this was most certainly one of those. On occasions, an eclectic bill can work, surprise and enthrall a crowd, other times it just becomes a real frustration. We missed Global Citizen this time around (mainly as a result of me not getting home from Glasgow – from the previous nights 242 show – until 1830), as there was no way I was going to get there in time. If it had been the originally advertised Sheep On Drugs, I might have made more of an effort.

Front 242

Global Citizen

Koko, Camden Town
11 December 2011

We did catch some of Empirion, though, who seemed to not really garner too much of a reaction aside from the hardcore down the front. Which was perhaps a bit of a shame. After all, they were the one band on the support bill who were actually contemporaries of 242 in the nineties, taking dance music into crossover realms, in their case by remixing various EBM and industrial bands to impressive effect. So it was a bit of a shame that here they came across as rather one dimensional, the set ending up sounding more like a DJ mix than a live show. They were certainly rather more effective supporting Modulate back in the summer.

The appearance of Nachtmahr on the bill had me utterly mystified. They clearly weren’t the first choice – a barely concealed report was of the reformed Cubanate making their live return here, which obviously was scuppered when the reunion was ended with only one more song appearing – maybe this was done to entice more of the “kids” to come along. Not that numbers were a problem, anyway – the venue was filled with 242 fans for what is nowadays a rare UK show. I’m still not sold on Nachtmahr, anyway. At first, they were actually quite an interesting act, that have proven to be a huge hit on the dancefloors. But for me that impact was rather diminished by the appearance of a few albums since that have basically been exactly the same sound every time, and with the same tired, hackneyed military imagery, too.

And this was the first problem with this set. It quickly became tedious as song after song rolled out the same 4/4 beat, and things were not helped by Thomas Rainer’s voice sounding awful in the mix. It was, to be fair, unclear if it was due to Rainer having a cold, or that the sound balance was simply very poor, but it all contrived to be a show that really didn’t work very well, and was also notable for barely engaging a big crowd, too. The one high point for me was the old-school EBM of Madchen In Uniform, a track that stands out in the Nachtmahr canon for actually doing something different. If only…

So it was something of a relief when Front 242 finally appeared onstage. I must confess that I was tiny bit disappointed to find that the set was the same as the night before (the one change, I’ve since been informed, was to have been Kampfbereit in the encore, but was canned due to time constraints), but it was really interesting to see how different the crowd reaction was – and to different songs – to the night before.

Front 242 setlist:

Tragedy >For You<
No Shuffle
Commando mix
Triple X Girlfriend
Circling Overland
Lovely Day
Body to Body
Welcome To Paradise
Take One
Im Rhythmus Bleiben

Punish Your Machine

There is something of a cliche of London audiences being rather difficult to please, and here this seemed to be the case to start with, at least. The lengthy declaration of intent that is 98 is, if we’re honest, not a patch on 242 unleashing Happiness to get things going, and Together (one of the few songs I love from PULSE) didn’t really do much for anyone, either.

Front 242 aren’t exactly short of weapons when it comes to getting a crowd going, though, and as seems to be usual nowadays, the job here fell to a storming Moldavia, and a Tragedy >For You< that appeared to be immensely popular with the crowd. And pretty much, that was that – within two songs the entire crowd was onside, roaring on every song. In particular a monstrous Headhunter that even woke up the fairweather fans, too, judging on the way quite a few suddenly barged their way towards the front, then melted back again.

A little surprisingly, broadly the set was the same as the previous night’s show. Which would be a complaint if the set wasn’t so good – and there weren’t so many highlights to enjoy along the way. But the show felt subtly different to the previous night, and that might be down to the way the crowd reacted to different things. Commando Mix was perhaps more hard hitting than ever, while Take One – probably the oldest song played during the set – was as groovy as hell and had pretty much the entire room dancing away.

Aside from the slightly sluggish start, though, there really was nothing to fault with this show. A roaring. hour-and-fifteen-minute exhibition of the best live industrial/EBM you can hope to see, and despite the continuing lack of any more new material (only 98 has been played in recent times that is as yet unreleased), they still sound utterly relevant, vital. Proof once again that the classics never go out of style.

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