Front 242 hammers out evolution from its industrial aesthetic

December 10, 1993|By J. D. Considine | J. D. Considine,Pop Music Critic

For nearly a decade, Front 242 has been on the abrasive edge of alternative rock. Eagerly embracing the industrial aesthetic, this Belgian band traded almost exclusively in distorted vocals, screaming synths and brisk, adrenalized electro-beats -- so Not that anyone in their audience minded. If anything, the relentless, grating sound of tunes like "Headhunter V3.0" and "Tragedy (For You)" helped earn the Front a following as large and loyal as any in the industrial underground.

So why does the band seem so eager to defy expectations with its new albums?

Listen to "06:21:03:11 Up Evil," and what you'll hear comes fast and furious, from the ominous pulse of "Melt" to the shrieking clangor of "Religion." Switch to "05:22:09:12 Off," and though the mood is often just as dark, the sounds are softer, more diffuse. It's not relaxing, exactly, but the music is certainly far less edgy and aggressive.

"We are very tough with our audience on those two records," admits Patrick Codenys (pronounced CO-den-ay), one of the group's founders. "But at the same time, doing music for your audience does not mean making the music that your audience is asking you to do.

"We didn't want to become a caricature of Front 242 and make, like, 'Tragedy (For You)' No. 2 or 3," he says over the phone from a Minneapolis hotel. "We really needed to take some risks and some challenges, and that's what we did on these two albums."

Of course, now that industrial music is finally beginning to build an audience in America, it probably would have been smarter for the band -- commercially, anyway -- to milk its old sound for at least a few more albums.

Codenys and his bandmates understand that. "Doing these two albums is a very non-commercial option, especially in a recession period like now," he says. "People want to buy safe.

"But at the same time, [taking risks] is the only luxury we have as artists, and we should do it."

Besides, Codenys feels that much of the industrial aesthetic has been played out by this point. "That way of thinking is a little over to me now," he says. "Industrial thoughts are still interesting by their expression, but not by their contents. The world's moving to something else.

"It's strange, because I was just reading a thing from Baudelaire which was saying that men create machines because they secretly wanted to sort of load away their intelligence," he adds. "It was saying that, 'Entrusting this intelligence to machines in some ways sets us free from all pretensions toward exhaustive knowledge, and it allows men to laugh off all those pretensions.'

"And I feel that it's pretty much that way. People switch to other, more important subjects. You can be attracted by other things, because the machine is dealing with all that other stuff for you."

So Front 242 has decided to move on. "We're trying to get out of there with those two albums," he says. "One moves more to a rock, traditional rock distorted structure, but the other one is trying something different. Probably the second album is like a real opening."

Front 242

When: Saturday at 8 p.m.

Where: Hammerjacks, 1101 S. Howard St.

Tickets: $14.50 in advance, $16.50 day of show

Call: (410) 752-3302 for information, (410) 481-7328 for tickets

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