Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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100 Years, 100 Songs: #96. Front 242 – “Welcome to Paradise”

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on March 31, 2007

“Oh God, I’m a sinner / I deserve to go to hell”

Sometimes I wish I went to more (or really, any) parties that played industrial music. I guess with most people, industrial is basically an all-or-nothing prospect–aside from token bands like Nine Inch Nails and maybe Ministry that almost everyone can be comfortable listening to in some capacity, you don’t find too many casual industrial listeners out there. And I’m not really any better–what I know of the genre is basically limited to a couple mixes, some of my brother’s old cassettes and viewings of VH1 Classic’s “The Alternative.” Still, the best songs I’ve heard have been fairly mindblowing–the power, mythology and energy of metal, just with much less focus on guitars and much more on the rhythm. Who can’t get down to that?

Back in the days of Front 242, industrial still meant Coil and Throbbing Gristle and lots of bands that had the look and methodology currently associated with industrial, but without the phat beatz. In my mind at least, the turning point came with Depeche Mode’s “Everything Counts” in 1983. “Everything Counts” definitely had the sound and attitude of industrial, down to the lyrics about power struggles and the beginning synths meant to mimic construction sounds, but it has also one of the funkiest beats to come out of Europe in the early-80s. Soon would emerge a term to classify this more dance-influenced industrial wave: Electronic Body Music.

And the band which invented the term (and for which it’s probably most associated with today) was Front 242. I actually know very little about the band aside from a few songs, so I can’t say whether they really deserved the epiphet, but based on the two sides of their best known-single, it makes sense enough–this is dark, deep and dense music, but it was still definitely made for dancing (alliteration only semi-on purpose). I don’t know what industrial purists and/or Einsturzende Neubauten freaks have to say about it, but this music will always be way more powerful to me than that of their more bare-bones forefathers.

Headhunter,” the a-side, is probably better remembered, but the b-side, “Welcome to Paradise” is the song I prefer. Unlike the relatively straightforwardly structured “Headhunter,” “Paradise” is vocalless, except for a stream of sampled chants, confessions, incantations and prayers. It feels like a Hell House in 5:19, with repeated shouts of “Hey poor! You don’t have to be poor anymore! JESUS IS HERE!!!,” “Oh God, I’m a sinner–I deserve to go to hell!,” “In the name of Jesus–Hallelujah!” and, of course “NO…SEX…UNTIL…MARRIAGE!!” All of these samples–from old movies, radio broadcasts, who knows–are layered molasses-thick over one of the blackest, most juttering dance beats ever created.

You feel like a sinner just listening to it, which is probably the greatest appeal that most of the best industrial (or EBM, whatever) music has to offer. It’s decadent, rebellious and wholly unclean, but not in the frivolous or self-indulgent way most id-satisfying music seems to operate. It uses its sonic bombast to sound important and extremely relevant, in the empowering manner of the best Public Enemy singles of the time, and back in the evangelical and nuclear era of the late 80s, this was probably really pressing shit. And the best part of the song is the lack of boneheaded shouty lyrics to drag it down–Front 242 lets the samples speak for themselves, merely providing the appropriately apocalyptic podium on which they can preach.

It’s probably the greatest aural approximation ever created of what the Second Coming would sound like. And when it comes, you know I’ll be dancing.

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