After the second of their two anniversary shows in Brussels, which finally took place in July, Richard 23 and Jean-Luc de Meyer recited a long list of thanks and also payed tribute to departed companions and influencers, such as Gabi Delgado, Richard H. Kirk and Andy Fletcher. Barely two months before the sudden death of the Depeche Mode keyboardist, it were the Front 242 fans who held their breath. Jean-Luc in hospital, in a critical condition, the band in great worries, cancellations of shows: the alarming news of the frontman's serious illness spread like shock waves.
But on July 8th, the EBM pioneers were back on stage. The Ancienne Belgique was jam-packed, both singers apparently in top form. Only apparently? Indeed, as Richard 23 confirms! After three more shows in England and Scotland, Front 242 played at the E-Only Festival in Leipzig on the last weekend of July. VOLT met the tireless shouter in the hotel lobby, mostly talking about the present and the near future, which includes detailed plans well past 2023 and possibly even the release of new songs.
Did you arrive safely in Leipzig?
We always drive to Leipzig because we don’t like flying. Flying to Leipzig is also a bit of a problem, because there is no direct flight. I tried it before – so now we drive. But it’s a hell driving as well. From Cologne to here – traffic jam.
Have you had a nice evening then?
We had great sushi, recommended by Daniel Myer. Few hundred meters from our hotel, it was very nice. And then I went to bed.
“ALLES GEBEN”: JEAN-LUC IS BACK
Your’re going to play tonight. When you celebrated 40 years Front 242 and played at the Ancienne Belgique and this July, Jean-Luc looked really healthy and appeared to be even more powerful than ever. How is he doing?
He is exactly doing like that. He is back! We didn’t know what to expect for the first show. We told him if you’ll just be behind the mic and sing, we’re already happy because you’re back. Jean-Luc said “we’ll see”. After two songs I was looking at him and thought “fucking hell”! So he’s definitely back and good.
Will Daniel B. ever return to the Front 242 live-line-up?
He retired. He wasn’t even at the Ancienne Belgique. And he is not taking any active part in Front 242 any longer, but is still a member of the band. His last show was in November 2018 and that was it. He is the oldest of the band, he is nearly 70 now. He had some health issues as well, so he wants to take it cool and do his own thing on his own quietly. He was bored and tired of travelling, too. So when at the end you’re only doing things because you have to it’s not good. But we decided to keep on without him.
“What we’re trying to do with the new tracks is to do something that sounds good now but also has the flavor of the early days.”
And you’re keeping on indeed. You even produced new stuff and included it in the live set. These songs and also the new live versions are going back to your original sound quite a bit.
Not a little bit! They’re going back as best as we could do it!
So for Front this is remarkable as the band always went ahead instead of going back …
There are two reasons for that. First is that we have nothing to prove anymore, to be ahead of the time. We never considered ourselves as ahead of our time or ahead of something. We are just doing our stuff. The rest is for the people to say. So when you’re done after 40 years and it’s been like always ahead of everything at a certain moment, it’s very hard to keep on going at the front. Electronic music in the last 20, 25 years has exploded. There are so many genres, everybody is doing it now. So that’s the second reason: Why should we keep on trying to do the next sound of the future? And we felt that going back to our roots would be something more enjoyable, because I think that the last year we kind of started to get a little bit lost in older versions we once did. So I guess we wanted to restrain everything and put it back to one thing. For us, the best was to go back to our roots.
FULL FORCE REVERSE!
The current live versions sound almost exactly like the originals.
We fell back to old tapes from 85, 87, 89 to recreate the sounds from the live gigs back then. But we had to work to make them sound efficient today. If you only take the old stuff and play it now it sounds weak, because technology has involved, the PA systems in the room have involved, so we worked hard for a year and a half to bring all that to life. And I think what we’re trying to do with the new tracks is to do something that sounds good now but also has the flavor of the early days.
How many new songs do you have and in which stadium are they? Are you’re planning to release them?
We have a lot of big question marks. We have enough songs, but nothing is completely finished. We’re in the stage where we can start to produce and mix the tracks. And the big talking now is when we’re gonna do this. I think that we’ll take decisions this August, to see if we do it ourselves or if we are working with somebody else. We already worked with two other persons from outside the band, on the tracks you heard live. They actually worked with us on five songs. The problem we have now is to decide the way we will do it. But the material is there. I think it sounds good. And after that we have to decide how many songs we want to make available on the market. If we’re not happy and if we won’t have twelve songs, we won’t release an album. But we can produce an EP or 12”es. The thing is: we have no pressure any more by a company or a career to make. We do things the way they come. To be honest, we’ve been working on these tracks for years, but we take our time.
Your performance at the Ancienne Belqique was recorded professionally by the venue’s crew and the result is amazing. At first people thought it was a bootleg, done by fans – and it always seemed as if Front 242 was somewhat liberal in regard to bootlegs. Why don’t you release it on dvd, since the material is there?
It’s true, we could have put out a new live dvd. But we’re not interested in it. We did it in the past, we have some on the market. But that Front is liberal about bootlegs is not really true. We have a publisher who is running after those people. But honestly, I don’t think there are bootleggers that are selling millions. Yet, some of these bootlegs are really famous because people share it now on social media. But if you have a guy who is doing 500 copies of a bootleg, first of all is not gonna make a lot of money out of it, most of the time it doesn’t sound good, yet some do sound good, but it helps keeping the band in public focus. People talk about it. We personally never run after those people, but our publishers do.
Talking about 40 years of Front 242: As you started with Front, press and other bands looked down on you and even discredited you. Now, 40 years later, you‘re still here and successful as ever, you even reached cult status, influenced many bands and even paved the way for new musical styles. Does that satisfy you somehow in retrospect?
Yeah, in some way. We never listened to those people. Obviously, if we did, we would have been dead a long time ago. I remember in 1983, when Endless Riddance with Take One came out, there was a famous Belgian journalist writing for one of the most famous papers at that time. He said that the music we were doing was the opposite of what he believed music was. He was saying that everything was bad but in the end he said that “it looks like I am preaching in the desert” – well, actually he was. This guy disappeared completely. I don’t know what he’s doing now for a job now. And we’re still there. So if we would have read this critic and said “this guy is right, we should stop”, we would have been dead after 1983/84.
TO BE BAD WAS JUST RIGHT
So you never gave a fuck on critics?
We always believed that a bad critic, a bad review, is better than no review at all. When I was a teenager and read in magazine about music “that album sucks and they cannot play and their look is different” I always thought “that’s interesting, who’s that band?”. So that were The Stranglers. And in the beginning of their career, the press wrote that they were Nazi people. Same with The Sex Pistols. Press said they cannot play. But the energy is amazing! I think it was the same for us. Fans knew that something was going on. And the press was completely wrong at that time. And still is sometimes, I guess. It was more like an engine for us back then. Negative critics told us that we were going in the right direction.
“Negative critics told us that we were going in the right direction.”
Talking about directions: rumours have it that this is some kind of farewell tour. Is that true?
So maybe you can tell us something about your future plans then?
We have concerts booked till the end of next year. In January we’ll start touring with Nitzer Ebb. That was originally planned for the 40th anniversary, but because of Covid and all the shit that happened, we could not do it. But now we’re finally able to do these dates. If this works well, we may have more. We have a lot of promoters asking us to play in the same combo. So we’ll see the way it goes. We have two or three shows in autumn in the States with Nitzer Ebb, we’re playing the same festivals the same day. We’re getting along pretty well, we are friends, so it should be ok. But you never know. Every weekend on stage… so if that goes well, we may have some more dates during the year with Nitzer Ebb. And we’re already booked for 2024 for some festivals. So this is not the end yet.
FRONT 242 / NITZER EBB -
Join The Forces Tour 2023
06.01. Langen, Neue Stadthalle
07.01. Berlin, Columbiahalle
13.01. Leipzig, Haus Leipzig
14.01. Hamburg, Markthalle
20.01. NL-Amsterdam, Paradiso
21.01. Oberhausen, Turbinenhalle