Electronic body music (acronymized to EBM) is a genre of electronic music that developed in the early 1980s in Western Europe. It combines sequenced repetitive basslines, programmed dance music rhythms, and mostly undistorted vocals and commandlike shouts with confrontational or provocative themes.
EBM was equally as an outgrowth of both punk and industrial music cultures, resulting from a variety of influences. The evolution of the genre reflected "a general shift towards more song-oriented structures in industrial as to a general turn towards the dancefloor by many musicians and genres in the era of post-punk." It was considered a part of the European new wave and post-punk movement and the first style that blended synthesized sounds with an ecstatic style of dancing (e.g. pogo).
EBM gained a stable following in the second half of the 1980s. Around that period, a youth-cultural scene emerged from EBM whose followers describe themselves as EBM-heads or (in North America) as rivetheads.
The term electronic body music was first used by Ralf Hütter of the German electronic band Kraftwerk in an interview with British music newspaper Sounds in November 1977. In June 1978 Hütter reused the phrase in an interview with WSKU radio (Kent, Ohio) to explain the more physical character of the Kraftwerk album The Man-Machine. Although the term originated in the late 1970s, it was not until the 1980s when it reappeared and started to come into popular use.
EBM stands for 'electronic body music', a term which only really came into use when the Brits and Belgians stepped into the 'sequencer business' with bands like Nitzer Ebb and Front 242. There you could find that sound again, where it was catchily picked up and labelled. In our days all these terms didn't exist, not 'industrial' nor 'post-punk'. [...] To us it was sequencer music, that was what we did.
In 1981, DAF from Germany employed the term "Körpermusik" (body music) to describe their danceable electronic punk sound. The term was later used by Belgian band Front 242 in 1984 to describe the music of their EP of that year called No Comment.
Described as an outgrowth of "electronically generated punk [music] intertwined with industrial sounds," EBM has been characterized as a composite of programmed drum beats, repetitive basslines, and clear or slightly distorted vocals, instructional shouts or growls complemented with reverberation and echo effects. Typical EBM rhythms rely on the 4/4 beat of disco or rock-oriented backbeats, (featuring kick drum, snare and hi-hat) and some minor syncopation.
Environmental samples, e.g. hammer blow, machine and alert sounds, are often used to create a "factory ambiance". Other samples include political speeches and excerpts from science fiction movies, cf. Front 242 – Funkhadafi.
German proto-EBM band DAF created the "muscles & machines" image – the basic concept of electronic body music.
The song “Warm Leatherette” (The Normal, 1978) stands at the beginning of an important development, the electrified version of Punk that had been picked up and transformed in Düsseldorf by bands like Die Krupps, DAF and Liaisons Dangereuses, music that might be called proto-EBM at least. […] The role of sequencers, synthesizer and drum machine sounds for the creative process itself and its results are another interesting point concerning EBM. The use of these instruments contributed obviously to the formation of danceable grooves and sound textures that attracted a wider audience.
— Timor Kaul, German musicologist and cultural historian
Archetypical songs are Verschwende deine Jugend, Alle gegen alle and Der Mussolini by DAF; Wahre Arbeit, wahrer Lohn, Goldfinger and Für einen Augenblick by Die Krupps; Etre assis ou danser, Los niños del parque and Avant-après mars by Liaisons Dangereuses, and Body to Body, U-Men and He Runs Too Fast for Us by Front 242.
Between the early and mid-1990s, many EBM artists ceased activities or changed their musical direction, incorporating more elements of rock, heavy metal and electronica. The album 06:21:03:11 Up Evil by Front 242 initiated the end of the EBM era of the 1980s. Nitzer Ebb, one of the most important purveyors of the genre, turned into an alternative rock band. Without the strength of its figureheads, electronic body music as a discernable music style faded by the mid-1990s.
In the late 1990s and after the millennium, Belgian, Swedish and German artists such as Ionic Vision, Tyske Ludder, and Spetsnaz had reactivated the style. Based on this revival, Sweden and East Germany then became the centre of the movement spawning a variety of newcomers such as Dupont, Proceed, and Sequenz-E. Primarily as a counteracting force against the expanding futurepop scene, these artists followed a neo-traditionalistic path, often referred to as "old school EBM".
Simultaneously, a number of European techno producers started incorporating elements of EBM into their sound. This tendency grew in parallel with the emerging electroclash scene and, as that scene started to decline, artists partly associated with it, such as The Hacker, DJ Hell,Green Velvet, Black Strobe, and David Carretta, moved towards this techno/EBM crossover style.
There has been increasing convergence between this scene and the old school EBM scene. Some artists have remixed each other. Most notably, Terence Fixmer joined with Nitzer Ebb's Douglas McCarthy to form Fixmer/McCarthy.
EBM follows the transgressive approach of punk and industrial music (e.g. "demystification of symbols") and the use of provocative extreme imagery is common (e.g. Nazi paraphernalia; reminiscent of punk's use of the swastika). Appropriating totalitarian, Socialist and Fascist references, symbols, and signifiers has been a recurring topic of debate between fans and outsiders to the genre alike due to its stylistical ambiguity that stems from industrial music's contrarian nature. In one instance, military-themed band Laibach "ma[de] no attempt to subvert this image [so] it has the aura of authenticity" so "[m]any Laibach fans began to revel in the evils of the band and to take their stage act at face value."
Hammer and Cogwheel: Working class aesthetic as a part of EBM iconography.
Bon and Doug were heavily influenced by DAF, Test Dept. and Einstürzende Neubauten. Hand in hand with the music was the image which unashamedly borrowed a lot from German and Soviet imagery. We all loved the sharp and striking design images of Russian and German '30s and '40s posters and artwork. Obviously we faced a lot of questions and objections about the ‚Neo-Nazi‘ image. But really we were just using the images to get people to sit up and listen. ‚Iconoclastic minimalism‘ was one phrase that was used to describe Nitzer Ebb at the time.
— Chris Piper, manager of Nitzer Ebb
The military style of EBM has a "part-human part-machine" gestalt typical of transhumanist or cyberpunk movements. EBM asserts a hyper-masculine image of "triumphalism, combat postures, and paranoia," and is known for its "tough-guy" or machismo attitudes displayed by both men and women. According to Gabi Delgado-López of Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft, the duo who adopted an aesthetic of black leather and military paraphernalia in the early 1980s was inspired by the male homosexual sado-masochistic scene and is not meant to represent "machismo ideology" but part of a "role."
Electro-industrial is an outgrowth of the EBM and industrial music that developed in the mid-1980s. While EBM has minimal structures and a clean production, electro-industrial draws on deep, complex and layered sounds, incorporating elements of ambient industrial. Electro-industrial was pioneered by Skinny Puppy, Numb and Mentallo & The Fixer. In the early 1990s, the style spawned the dark electro genre and, in the end of the decade, a strongly techno- and hard-trance-inspired style called "hellektro" or "aggrotech."
Industrial dance is a North American umbrella term for electronic body music and electro-industrial music. Fans associated with these genres call themselves rivetheads.
In general, industrial dance is characterized by its "electronic beats, symphonic keyboard lines, pile-driver rhythms, angst-ridden or sampled vocals, and cyberpunk imagery".
^Various Artists: Liner-Notes of the compilation ‚Music from Belgium‘. Techno Drome International/ZYX Records, 1988. "This record will show you the roots of Belgian electronic music. Young musicians who don’t want to ride on the New Beat wave. They want to do 100% Aggrepo for your body mechanic!"
^Eva Fischer: Audio-visuelle Tendenzen. Entwicklungen in der Visualisierung elektronischer Musik und in der Clubkultur. Universität Wien, 2009, p. 18.
^Timor Kaul: Some Thoughts on EBM as a transitional genre., Academia.edu, 2016, p. 1.
^ abcTimor Kaul: Electronic Body Music. In: Thomas Hecken, Marcus S. Kleiner: Handbook Popculture. J.B. Metzler Verlag 2017, ISBN3-476-02677-9, p. 102–104.
^Renaat Vandepapeliere: R & S Records Belgium, Localizer 1.0, Die Gestalten Verlag 1995, ISBN3-931-12600-5
^Dan Sicko, Techno Rebels: The Renegades of Electronic Funk, Billboard Books, 1999, p. 142.
^Martin Pesch, Markus Weisbeck: History of Techno and House music. In: Techno Style. Musik, Grafik, Mode und Partykultur der Techno-Bewegung. Edition Olms, Hombrechtikon / Zürich 1996, ISBN3-283-00290-8, p. 11. "1986/87: New bands like Nitzer Ebb, The Klinik and Vomito Negro appear on the scene and gain a large audience of mainly young males."
^Kate Stevens: Freak Nation. A Field Guide to 101 of the Most Odd, Extreme, and Outrageous American Subcultures, Adams Media, 2010, ISBN1-440-50646-9, p. 108.
^ abErnie Rideout, interview with Front 242, Keyboard Presents the Best of the '80s, Backbeat, 2008, p. 57.
^Oerter, Rolf (2005). Spezielle Musikpsychologie. Hogrefe Publishing Group. ISBN9783801705817, p. 443. Quote: "Punk mit elektronischen Elementen und industriellen Gerauschen gemischt -, die sich Mitte der 80er Jahre insbesondere in den Benelux-Ländern zur Electronic Body Music (EBM) erweiterte (zu den bekannten Gruppen zählen Front 242 und Nitzer Ebb)"
^Judith Platz: Electronic Body Music (EBM). In: Axel Schmidt, Klaus Neumann-Braun: Die Welt der Gothics. Spielräume düster konnotierter Transzendenz. VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, Wiesbaden, Dezember 2004, ISBN3-531-14353-0, p. 271. "Am ehesten lässt sich der Vokaleinsatz als Sprechgesang bezeichnen: Die Worte und Textzeilen werden deutlich gesprochen oder geschrien. Neben der tiefen, männlichen Hauptstimme, die meist trotz möglicher Echo-Effekte oder leichter Verzerrung gut verständlich ist, kommt oft noch ein so genannter ‚Shouter‘ zum Einsatz."
^ abcS. Alexander Reed: Assimilate. A Critical History of Industrial Music. Oxford University Press, Oxford 2013, ISBN978-0-19-983260-6, p. 165. "Rhythmically, EBM is based around an incessant quarter-note kick drum pattern, often with a backbeat snare. Drum machine hi-hats fill in the rhythmic gaps, but percussive ornamentation varies from artist to artist. […] Drum sounds were often samples of drums, car crashes, door slamming or environmental percussion."
^ abKaul, Timor (2016). Some Thoughts on EBM as a transitional genre. Academia.edu. p. 2.
^Ulrich Adelt: Krautrock. German Music in the Seventies. University of Michigan Press, 2016, ISBN0-472-05319-1, p. 135. "Moroder first experimented with krautrock-oriented synthesizer sounds on his solo album ‚Einzelgänger‘ (1975), an artistic and commercial failure. It is remarkable that he not only felt the necessity to experiment with synthesizer sounds reminiscent of Berlin School artists like Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze but that these experiments would help him to develop a unique German Disco sound with Summer’s 1977 hit ‚I Feel Love‘."
^Judith Platz: Electronic Body Music (EBM). In: Axel Schmidt, Klaus Neumann-Braun: Die Welt der Gothics. Spielräume düster konnotierter Transzendenz. VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, Wiesbaden, Dezember 2004, ISBN3-531-14353-0, p. 270. "Seinen Ursprung hat das Genre Anfang der 1980er-Jahre in Deutschland und Belgien."
^Bennett A, Guerra P (2018). DIY Cultures and Underground Music Scenes, Routledge, ISBN9781351850322. Quote: "[T]he dark symbolism of industrial music, the typically crude appearance associated with the punk era and, above all, underground collages and drawings oriented towards alternative contemporary art. While very particular aesthetic principles may be shared in some extreme subgenres such as power electronics or old-school noise, following the path of industrial music and its demystification of symbols (Obodda, 2002), the aesthetic judgements embraced by labels and listeners often demonstrate the rejection of imagery that is considered unoriginal."
^Timor Kaul: Some Thoughts on EBM as a transitional genre., Academia.edu, 2016, p. 4.
^ abReed, S. Alexander (2013). Assimilate: A Critical History of Industrial Music. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN9780199832606. OCLC1147729910 – via the Internet Archive.. Principal quote: "Regarding the emergence of the dance-driven EBM from the industrial scene, a;GRUMPH...'s Jacques Meurrens says, "In , the people who liked industrial and the people who liked EBM were mostly the same crowd," but even by the time, audiences were starting to form subgenre-based expectations."