Front 242

From Academic Kids

de:Front 242 Front 242 is a pioneering Belgian electronic music group that came into prominence during the 1980s. During their most active period (effectively ending in 1993 with the albums 06:21:03:11 UP EVIL and 05:22:09:12 OFF) they were influential to a number of other industrial and electronic artists, coining the term electronic body music (EBM) to describe their music.



The origin of Front 242 should be understood within the rise of industrial music, which originated in England in 1975 with the first performances of Cabaret Voltaire and Throbbing Gristle. These revolutionary groups introduced elements of style later taken up by Front 242 such as electronic instrumentation, overwhelming percussion often with found objects, and looped samples of found soundbytes. Going back earlier, these innovations can be seen as an extension of the work of Edgard Varèse, the first significant composer to adopt electronic sources of sound as musical instruments, and who also used overwhelming percussion including with found objects. It is perhaps no coincidence that Varese's great mark on the music world took place at the 1958 World Fair in Brussels, where Front 242 would work a few decades later.

Front 242 was created in 1981 in Aarschot, Belgium by Daniel Bresanutti and Dirk Bergen, who originally went by the name Prothese. They were interested in creating both music and graphic design using emerging electronic tools, and reportedly decided on changing their name to Front 242 because the name had greater potential as a subject of graphic design. The first single to be released was Principles, late in that year. Patrick Codenys and Jean-Luc De Meyer had separately formed a group called Under Viewer at about the same time. Codenys said his father received a lottery winning and shared enough of it with him so that he could buy a car, but he bought his first synthesizer instead. Contact between Bresanutti and Codenys led the two duos to join together in 1982. Bresanutti, Codenys and De Meyer all took turns on vocals at first, until they settled on De Meyer as the lead vocalist; only recently have early recordings with Bresanutti on vocals been widely released. De Meyer also came to write almost all of the lyrics. They also decided during this formative period never to use the regular waveform settings on their synthesizers, saying instead that creating the waveform itself for each note was part of the creative process.

Their next single, U-Men, would be released in 1982, followed by the band's first album Geography in 1983. These first releases, while cited as influential by a number of other artists in the genre, were not as characteristically strong and hard-hitting as the group's later efforts.

In 1983, Dirk Bergen left the band to pursue graphic design full time, and Richard Jonckheere was admitted to the group as a loosely backing vocalist and charismatic stage presence. Jonkheere was usually referred to by the name Richard 23. Front 242 was becoming the most popular musical group in Belgium; their next album, No Comment would cement the group's place in electronic music, and was the first to introduce the term "Electronic Body Music" in association with their sound. Front 242 signed with the legendary Wax Trax label in 1984, and started their first tour in the United States with Ministry. This tour led to the creation of Revolting Cocks by Richard 23, Alain Jourgensen of Ministry and others.

The 1985 album BackCatalogue collected material from the group's earlier years, but their international breakthrough didn't occur until the release of Official Version in 1987, on the Red Rhino Europe label, followed by their "Official Warfare" tour in support of the album. Their popularity would reach even higher with the 1988 "Headhunter" single and video by Anton Corbijn, and its accompanying album Front By Front. By this point, Front 242 had developed a style of strong backbeats, slices, samples, and ominous vocals. "Headhunter" is possibly one of the most popularly played and remixed songs of the entire genre.

During these releases Front 242 also presented a style and imagery which was political in a decidedly apolitical style. They would use militaristic samples, preachers and the TV as a source for inspiration, but refused to admit to having any message. As they put it, they were merely presenting the world around them as it was. Possibly due to this rather in-your-face approach, they have often been falsely accused of being neo-nazis or extreme right-wing. In fact the complete opposite is true, with them famously saying that "Neo-nazis couldn't make the music we do. They're too stupid!".

With the turn of the decade the band went through many changes. Tyranny >For You<, released in 1991, brought the world a much denser, multi-layered sound which would push them straight into the 1990s. This album, like Front By Front was a huge success and it seemed as if the Frontmen could just go from strength to strength. Tyranny was also the first album they released under contract with a major corporate label, Sony/Epic, after the widespread popularity of "Front by Front". Sony/Epic also issued re-released versions of Front 242's five earlier albums, with several E.P.'s and singles consolidated as extra tracks on the albums.

1992 saw Bresanutti return his focus on combining graphic arts with music, with a tour of his lithographs to three U.S. galleries. Bresanutti also composed a solo half-hour atmospheric recording called Art and Strategy (or The Art Corporation) to play during viewings of the lithographs, and released this in a limited edition of 1,000 CD's. This is the only known solo work from any of Front 242's members.

Front 242's style shifted abruptly with each of their next two albums, released in rapid succession in 1993 (originally planned as a double-CD). 06:21:03:11 UP EVIL and 05:22:09:12 OFF were brilliant releases musically and once again showed that Front 242 did not need to follow existing trends to stay fresh and original, even using a female vocalist. (The numbers correspond to letters, spelling "FUCK UP EVIL" and "EVIL OFF".) However at this point there were strains emerging, with the band members apparently having different artistic views about how to progress. Neither of these albums had significant input from Richard 23, and 05:22:09:12 OFF only intermittently included their lead vocalist, Jean-Luc De Meyer. On the other hand, a variety of new contributors were listed as members of Front 242 on these albums: Jean-Marc Pauly and Pierre Pauly on Up Evil, and 99 Kowalski and Eran Westwood on Off. 99 Kowalski is the assumed name of Kristin Kowalski, making a tradition out of Richard 23's idea of number-as-name.

A broader segment of the non-industrial-music-loving public was exposed to Front 242 in 1992 in the film "Single White Female" starring Bridget Fonda and Jennifer Jason Leigh, when evil roommate Leigh ties up good roommate Fonda to a chair, and then turns the volume way up on the T.V. to drown out the sound of Fonda calling for help; the T.V. is playing the Front 242 video for "Rhythm Of Time" from the album "Tyranny >For You<". Also in 1992, the T.V. commercials for the film "K2" were set to the Front 242 song "Moldavia", also from the album "Tyranny >For You<", although there was no Front 242 in the film itself.

To the disappointment of many, the years following 06:21:03:11 Up Evil and 05:22:09:12 Off would be bereft of new material from Front 242 under any lineup, filled instead with a stream of live recordings and remixes. However, this period also saw a proliferation of side projects, an inordinate number of which involved De Meyer.

Earlier, Richard 23 had a side project as a member of Revolting Cocks, and De Meyer had a side project doing vocals for Bigod 20 for their debut single, "The Bog" in 1990. In 1995, De Meyer met Marc Heal of Cubanate at a Front Line Assembly concert, and the two of them collaborated along with Ged Denton and Jonathan Sharp, to record as Cyber-Tec Project for the new (and short-lived) Cyber-Tec record label. After the departure of Sharp and the demise of the Cyber-Tec label, the remaining group continued working under the name C-Tec. De Meyer also took over as vocalist for Birmingham 6 for their 1996 album "Error of Judgment". 1996 also saw the debut album "Elemental" from Cobalt 60, which De Meyer formed with the members of Kriegbereit, i.e. Dominique Lallement and Frederic Sebastien of Reims, France. This was the start of a number of releases from Cobalt 60. Meanwhile, Richard 23 recorded with the groups Holy Gang and later LeTschak.

The four core members of Front 242 regrouped in 1998 to compose radically reworked versions of many of their songs, which they then performed on their first tour in five years, appropriately called the Re:Boot tour. They acknowledged the influence of Prodigy and their "Fat of the Land" album in crafting the new, more techno style of Re:Boot. The new tour material was the subject of Front 242's new recording contract in the U.S. with Metropolis Records. Front 242 also indicated at this time that they were recording new material. However, they once again seemed to become only minimally active after 1998, making occasional appearances in Europe and Mexico, while Codenys recorded under the name Gaiden with Steve Stoll in 2001.

Then 2002 saw the beginning of a wave of new material from Bresanutti and Codenys, and then of Front 242 itself. This began in August 2002 with the release of a DVD/CD two-disc set called "Speed Tribe", released by The DVD was a collaboration with experimental documentary filmmakers Rod Chong and Sharon Matarazzo filming the 2001 24 Hour Le Mans, in which the racecars, clouds, rain and spectators are all used as impressionist elements of a visual backdrop for the music. Within three months of "Speed Tribe" was the first release from Male or Female, a.k.a. Morf, a new guise for Bresanutti and Codenys along with vocalist Elko Blijweert. In 2002 and 2003, Morf released an album, an E.P., a double album, and a DVD/CD two-disc combo, on the Belgian record label Alfa-Matrix, and went on tour through the U.S. Then, 2002 and 2003 also saw the release of the long-awaited first new material from Front 242 proper in a decade: the E.P. "Still and Raw" and the album "Pulse", released on XIIIBis Records in Europe and Metropolis in the U.S. These represented another iteration of Front 242's explicitly stated goal of reinventing itself on almost every new album, as it has done through its history. The style of the two new releases tends to be a little more mellow than some of their past work, and makes revelatory use of glitchy and bleepy notes, while it also introduces a whole new level of manipulating De Meyer's vocals to achieve novel effects of the human voice as musical instrument. The new releases also feature a much more emotional style from De Meyer than his previous Front 242 work, but which was presaged in his later recordings with C-Tec and particularly Cobalt 60 on its album "Twelve".

Front 242 also promised a new U.S. tour showcasing the new material from "Still and Raw" and "Pulse", originally indicating that it would take place in autumn 2004, though that has been pushed back. They have made occasional appearances in Latin America and Europe, even being rejoined by Dirk Bergen for a reunion concert in Aarschot in 2004 under the original lineup of Bresanutti, Bergen, Codenys and De Meyer (kept secret until two days before the show). They have also recently issued another re-release of their first album "Geography" on Alfa-Matrix, this time newly remastered personally by Bresanutti to surprisingly powerful effect, and with extra tracks and a second disc filled with very early material that had never before been released. Meanwhile their enthusiasm for side projects has continued, as Patrick Codenys started appearing with a new group called Red Sniper, Bresanutti started recording with a new group called Troisseure, Codenys and Richard 23 formed a quasi-DJ project called Coder23 which is touring in late 2004 and early 2005 as the opening act for VNV Nation, and De Meyer collaborated as a vocalist with Glis in 2005. Overall, Front 242's new work continues to reveal new ideas in music to fellow musicians and fans alike.

Core Band Members

Occasional Band Members / Collaborators

  • Dirk Bergen - credited as member on Geography
  • Jean-Marc Pauly - credited for writing and composing vocals on 06:21:03:11 Up Evil
  • Pierre Pauly - credited for writing and composing vocals on 06:21:03:11 Up Evil
  • 99 Kowalski (a.k.a. Christine Kowalski) - credited as writer, composer and vocalist on 05:22:09:12 Off, Animal, and Angels Versus Animals
  • Eran Westwood - credited as writer, composer and vocalist on 05:22:09:12 Off, Animal, and Angels Versus Animals
  • John Dubs - credited as writer and composer on Animal and Angels Versus Animals


  • Singles and EPs:
    • Principles (single, 1981)
    • U-Men (single, 1981)
    • Endless Riddance (e.p., 1983)
    • Two In One (e.p., 1983)
    • Live in Chicago (e.p., included free with early copies of No Comment, 1984)
    • No Shuffle (single, 1985)
    • Politics of Pressure (e.p., 1985)
    • Interception (single, 1986)
    • Masterhit (single, 1987)
    • Headhunter (single, 1988)
    • Never Stop! (e.p., 1989)
    • Tragedy (For You) (single, 1990)
    • Rhythm of Time (single, 1991)
    • Mixed By Fear (e.p., 1991)
    • Animal (single, 1993)
    • Angels Versus Animals (e.p., 1993)
    • Religion (e.p., 1993)
    • Still and Raw (e.p., 2003)

Side Projects

External links


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