Photo by Fede Reyes.
Welcome to Get Into This, a new series of essential guides breaking down everything you need to know about musical styles, movements, and artists from the folks who know them best.
This week, Berlin-based musician and DJ Luca Venezia, a.k.a. Curses, takes us inside the synth- and industrial-laden club sounds of New Beat and first wave EBM (Electronic Body Music) that helped shape his dark and romantic punk-New Wave sound. His acclaimed new album, “Next Wave Acid Punx,” is a curated 38-track compilation spanning nearly 40 years of subterranean club music, from dark disco to EBM to new wave acid. Cop it now on Bandcamp.
First, let’s be clear here. I am definitely not the first contemporary artist to reference these genres, but the following little history will help illustrate my passion and appreciation for the personal impact they had on me creatively. New Beat borrowed a lot of the synth and drum sounds from New Wave, early EBMm and even Hi-NRG, but slowed it all down, creating more space in the tracks to dance longer and feel the beat all night long.
Even though New Beat specifically was a short lived blip on the timeline of club music’s progression, it helped give birth to a multitude of genres, including hardcore/breakbeat, and even techno in some ways.
When I was about ten years old, my guitar teacher suggested I buy a BOSS DR-550 drum machine to help practice scales and keep on time. The default drum sounds were heavy, gated reverb snares. Full “Rock Drums” mode. These sounds echoed the music I was listening to at the time: Depeche Mode, Sisters of Mercy, Skinny Puppy. Eventually, I discovered groups like FRONT 242 and Nitzer Ebb. It was always the chemistry between guitars, drum machines, and synths that grabbed my attention.
Fast forward to my teenage years. I was going to drum n bass and electro raves in Queens and Brooklyn, but couldn’t afford to shop at spots like Satellite and Breakbeat Science (where all my DJ friends were shopping). Instead, I was crate digging in the bargain bins at Bleecker Bobs and Vinyl Mania. This is where I would discover records using the same gated drums and synths that I was drawn to when listening to Sisters, Skinny Puppy, or FRONT 242.
From the bargain bins, I was collecting Italo, Hi-NRG, and Latin Freestyle records, but playing the “dub” versions, and pitching down the “old” drum n bass records to 33 to match the bpm. These heavy, slunked out industrial drums came to life from pitching the records down. Later I would discover the sonic similarity in New Beat and EBM through compilations like Metal Dance by Trevor Jackson, and the iconic The Sound of Belgium series.
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So, where do we begin? Let’s start with the original of A Split-Second’s 1986 hardcore track “Flesh”:
Now, check out the pitched down, New Beat way:
Origins of a genre always have many tales, and New Beat seems to have a few.
One story credits Belgian DJ Dikke Ronny of Discotheque Ancienne Belgique fame playing A Split-Second’s “Flesh” record at 33 and +8 when it was meant to be played at 45 speed. Another tale takes place in Ghent’s infamous Boccaccio club, in which DJ-producer Marc Grouls played the single at 33 instead of 45. Peter Bonne of A Split-Second tells the tale in which, on the release day of “Flesh,” they heard a DJ from Lille play it at the wrong speed at Discotheque 55 in Ghent, and because it worked so well on the dance floor, they let it carry on.
No matter which story is the absolute truth, New Beat as a genre 100% stems back to A Split-Second’s “Flesh” being played at the wrong speed. So, maybe this allowed a new freedom in the music and dance. Pitching down records had somewhat of a punk D.I.Y. approach to DJing to me, and I related to it immediately.
This 1989 classic hits me so hard. Tears of trance on a dance floor, no joke. I love the epic pads and euphoric vocal sample that echoes over the eerie yet uplifting piano. The bassline and vocal stabs are reminiscent of future U.K. hardcore/breakbeat tracks from artists like Orbital or 2badmice that would follow later in the ‘90s.
How good are those choir sounds? Ugh, those M1 and Fairlight choir synths never get old. Since the first time I heard them in music from Depeche Mode and Sisters, I was hooked. There’s this eerie quality, because it’s a machine replicating human vowels, but at the same time a sense of hope with the revelation element of a choir’s “oohs” and “ahhhs.” So, “Doughnut Dollies”… that chugging bass and acid feel mixed with the melancholic choir and Television samples on top swoops you into an alternate world, a tripped out trip in space.
I was actually hesitant in adding this to the “Next Wave Acid Punx” compilation, because it’s been my secret weapon in DJ sets for many years. It’s a great opener, closer, and even middle-of-set track to switch the direction and mood of the night. I love how it’s got the punk/sexual energy in the vox samples and drums, but at the same time a sense of hope and new beginning in the pads and strings. Even though “Come To Me” was a Belgian club hit, it was actually released on the German label Logic Records, which interestingly enough eventually became home to artists like Snap! and Dr. Alban in the ‘90s.
Under the guise of Various Artists, this compilation had a massive impact on club music. The vibe, drums and use of sampling were very parallel to the Belgian New Beat scene happening around the same time. Not to dismiss the industrial relevance of Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV took the music into a new club realm, which played an integral role in helping create what we know techno to be today in unity with the Detroit and Chicago legends.
There was also an Italo-pop/Hi NRG element to some of the New Beat releases. Like this one. If you sped this upm it could almost be a track from Axodry or Lime. I think the explosion had such an impact on nightlife culture, it felt only natural for radio and TV to be the next step…
Drum roll please, draw curtains, annnnnnd, and that’s where Confettis comes into play. Confettis was a band of singers and club dancers formed by Antwerp producer Serge Ramaekers.
The song and music video was made as a promotional tool to get people to his club night, but became an overnight sensation, with radio play and even live television appearances to follow. Shortly after “Sound of C,” there were attempts to hit TV and radio again, like the very questionable C in China. The genre soon either branched off into hardcore, acid house, or just straight up techno, and the sparks started to fizzle..
But before the powerful New Beat energy fizzled, there were still some absolute timeless heaters. This track has all the elements of your quintessential New Beat track for me: the pads, the heavy drums, but because of the pulsing bass, also a good segue into my personal early EBM favorites.
Let’s dive into the early stages of EBM that had direct lineage with Belgian’s New Beat scene and sound. Legend has it that Kraftwerk’s Ralf Hütter actually coined the term in the late ‘70s. But it didn’t really catch on until the ‘80s, once groups like DAF, FRONT 242, Liaisons Dangereuses, and Die Krupps started to work solely with sequencers for their productions and embraced the EBM label to describe what they were making.
This is a good band to segue into from New Beat because the head member, Jacky Meurisse, was a major part of the scene, producing under the name Pleasure Game, while also making experimental noise and industrial performances in the group Signal. Meurisse’s electronic production eventually influenced the direction of the band to be what would soon be called EBM, and “Submarine Dance” encapsulates this progression. The synths and vocals are darker and more ominous, but still slow in bpm.
The impact this duo had on me personally and on electronic music historically is immense.
The sexiness and stripped down toughness of the music and aesthetic that also echoed elements of the band Suicide really grabbed me. The music was important, and it went hand in hand with the entire energy of the duo’s aesthetic and stage movements. The dancing of Gaby (RIP🥺) was so ritualistic and free, juxtaposed with the vanity and poise of Robert Görl.
To realize that DAF were performing these songs on national TV makes me feel very nostalgic, wishing I could say the same for today’s musical TV appearances.
This video of the Germany-based band performing in Manchester in ‘82 is soooooo sick. I mean, the energy onstage is so raw and uninhibited, and really channels the same attitude I loved as a teenager when I listened to Iggy Pop or Fad Gadget.
Categorized usually as an industrial band, Vomito Negro (again, also Belgian) incorporated sequencers for their drums and synths, which helped build this EBM sound of the early late ‘80s.
We could do an entire feature devoted to Yello’s prolific and influential role in electronic music, not to mention their collaborations with English avant-garde synth-pop outfit Art of Noise. The Swiss experimental performance artists were pioneers of so many movements in club music, but the vocals in “Bostich” in particular echo the cadence and delivery of so many EBM acts of the late ‘80s to me. The aesthetic of the Industrial Revolution and man-machine was always a strong theme in their work as well.
This iconic British duo was and remains one of the first non-Belgian acts involved in the core early New Beat and EBM scenes. The hit that crossed over into the Balearic and New Beat scenes was “Muscle & Hate,” an absolute singalong anthem. But personally, “Murderous” was the megahit. Especially when it comes to what I love about EBM.
When I first heard this, it channeled all the energy of vocals in the punk bands I grew up on and seamlessly combined this with electronic drums and synths. Similar to DAF being a powerful duo, the dynamic chemistry between Douglas Mccarthy and Bon Harris had a locomotive force that felt invincible. Very influenced by the socialist and sometimes controversial imagery of bands like Test Dept, Nitzer Ebb’s aesthetic used their message of unity and questioning segregated society by subverting the iconography of totalitarianism and fascism. Years later, we got to perform together at Nuits Sonores (2019) and hit it off and kept in touch. They are still a powerful force, absolute legends. Let’s see if me and McCarthy ever get to that collab…
Belgians really took the lead in many ways when it comes to these genres. I would have to say FRONT 242 are my personal favorite, and most influential to my productions, so I’m listing two of their songs here. The early albums especially had such an impact on the sampling process in electronic music, specifically the use of television and news samples, capturing relevant and sometimes controversial current affairs.
Even the way the punk- and rock-influenced vocals and guitars meshed seamlessly with the arpeggiated synths and basslines had such an influence on me. As a teenager, I was really into watching episodes of The Emergency Broadcast Network, a video art collective who would collage video clips together to create rhythms and textural soundscapes — very similar to the sampling process of FRONT 242. “Commando Remix” in particular is also unique because its pulsing bassline and guitars encompass the energy of this “dark disco” sound that’s having a resurgence at the moment.
To fans of EBM and industrial music, this track may be an obvious choice. But it’s an obvious choice for a reason. This is a critical record for the development of EBM. Clark teamed up with keyboardist David Harrow, who brought out this hypnotic Tangerine Dream-like riff that spirals in, out, and around her magnetic poetry. The orchestra stabs that come in around 5:30 really take me to New Beat territory, too, along with the drums, the percussion, and pulsing bassline.
Belgium may have been at the forefront for a lot of the acts, but Slovenia-based Borghesia had a massive impact on the EBM sound as well. I still DJ this one. Like, all the time. It’s even got elements of synth/new wave, like Ministry’s first album “With Sympathy,” which came out a few years earlier. There’s the use of television samples again, incorporated with pop-like vocals.
Around the mid ‘80s, the sound started to spread worldwide and bands like Ministry and Front Line Assembly formed, which eventually evolved into the more mainstream genre of Industrial.
The music was powerful, and set such a precedent for incorporating live band elements with electronics. The intimate relationship between man and machine. EBM and New Beat both brought the relationship between humans, machines, and the stage to a new level. To this day, that energy and production continues to influence new eras of genres, be that the new Dark Italo wave that’s surfacing, or dark disco, or the new EBM that’s having a strong return.
This is where Chapter 2 and 3 of “Next Wave Acid Punx” comes into play: showcasing exclusive new music within a wide spectrum of artists all influenced by New Beat and EBM in their personal way.
It was so hard to include everyone that I wanted to in this compilation. There are many artists that didn’t make it on the compilation, who I have to say are making a massive impact in the New Beat and EBM resurgence as well. Honorary mentions go out to Kris Baha, Randolph & Mortimer, Credit00, Dedjotronic, and Schwefelgelb to name a few. Maybe a Volume 2 is due in the future!
Follow Curses on Instagram.
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