Daniel B – Front 242

Interview with Front 242’s Daniel B on synths and the new Nothing But Noise project

Steelberry Clones got an exclusive interview with Daniel B (Daniel Bressanutti) from Front 242. Daniel B talks passionately about analog synthesizers, the future of Front 242 and his latest project – Nothing But Noise, with a scheduled album release on April 16th. Front 242 hardly needs any major introduction, for 30 years they have been shaping, defining and exploring the genre that later became the foundation for electronic body music (EBM). Several bands have followed in their footsteps since then. Front 242 started in 1981 in Aarschot, near Brussels, Belgium, by Daniel and Dirk Bergen, who wanted to create music and graphic design using emerging electronic tools. The first single, “Principles”, was released in 1981. The front part of the name comes from the idea of an organized popular uprising. Patrick Codenys and Jean-Luc De Meyer had separately formed a group called Under Viewer at about the same time, and the two duos joined together in 1982. Bressanutti, Codenys and De Meyer took turns on vocals at first, until they settled on De Meyer as the lead vocalist. De Meyer came to write most of the lyrics and Valerie Jane Steele also wrote several tracks including “Don’t Crash”. They decided not to use the regular waveform settings on their synthesizers, arguing that creating the waveform for each note was part of the creative process.

Dirk Bergen early on left the band to pursue other things, but Daniel tells us that they have remained friends for all of these years, and when the opportunity came up last year they decided to get back in the studio together with Erwin Jadot (a mutual friend) to bring us this new project called Nothing But Noise (NBN). The new NBN album that will be released on April 16th brings us a very different sound, then we are used to listening to Front 242. NBN, apart from being done entirely by machines, has very little in coming with Front 242 – it is a very complex sounding album with strong ambient influences, basically all instrumental and perhaps most importantly no drums. Daniel B tells us that this was a clear intent from the beginning – to do a full synthetic album with no drums in sight. Steelberry Clones has pre-listened to the entire album and we must say that it is an impressive sonic experience to listen to all these analog synths pushed into a dark ambient world – a cinematic experience. You can pre-listen to a couple of samples below on the NBN SoundCloud player below:

The members of Front 242 were heroes in the electronic underground scene all through the 80s and 90s, and have continued to record and tour to the present day. The band members has come and gone over the years but they all have one thing in common and that is their love for side-projects – all current members of Front 242 sport multiple side-projects spanning DJing, bands and film. Daniel B has produced a range of extra-curricular work over the years, including ‘Male or Female’ and  ‘Speed Tribe’, a DVD and audio release based around the 2001 Le Mans motor race. Nothing But Noise,  together with Dirk and Erwin, is Daniel’s latest and most anti-242 project and of course we here at Steelberry Clones needed to know more about this.

Can you tell us a little about the theme of the new NBN album

“For us it was like a new beginning, and although it had been a long time since we stopped working together, we always had in the plans that at one point in time we should do something together. So when the opportunity came we basically did not have any specific plans for the new album – we merely did for ourselves, not something revolutionary, but something we both liked.”

However, somewhere in the back of our heads we had two objectives; first we wanted to kind of explore where the music we all listened to when we were young (Tangerine Dreams, Krautrock, Kraftwerk, Stockhausen etc) would have been today if these acts had continued to produce material all the way to where we stand today. Secondly, we wanted to take on the challenge of not using any drums at all, especially considering our Front 242 background. “I would say that the only real parallel to Front 242 is the sole use of machines.”.

You have all been engaged in several side projects, along side Front 242, has this been a way to keep the creativity up

Not in relation to Front 242, I would say. Front 242 is actually more of a certain formula – you know what it is supposed to sound like, and in fact most of our fans (and the longer we keep going) want us to sound the same. At least speaking for myself – Front 242 is not my whole life. It’s the same thing with a guitar player who at points in time also wants to play the piano – there are so many things to explore, but of course all the things you do outside of Front 242 will influence the work in the band – cross-pollination in a sense. The “Male and Female” album has definitely influenced my way of making music and in general it is easier to be creative in a new format, like Nothing But Noise, to explore new things.

The announced break with Front 242, was that because of Nothing But Noise, or something else

“As you know we (Front 242) do not make any records anymore – so I have plenty of time to focus on other projects.” Front 242 still have some booked concerts that we will do, especially in countries where we have not toured a lot, so we will still do occasional shows going forward, and for how long depends a lot on inspiration. When it comes to Nothing But Noise it is easy to say that we have the time and music is our lives :-)

Was it hard to start working again with Dirk after all these years – did you have a plan on what you wanted to accomplish

“We talked about it a lot and we did not have a master plan what we wanted to do.” (Editors note: There is a lot of similarities with the recently announced collaboration between Martin Gore and Vince Clarke – VCMG, two other guys who decided to make a techno album after 30 years without much contact at all, although Daniel B and Dirk has been close friends all these years). When Dirk left his 9-5 job, Erin and I pushed him to start working with us again – “If you ever stop working then we have to do music together”.

The whole Nothing But Noise album was more or less all about improvisation. In our respective studios we would do something and during a session we decided let’s keep this part and so the work progressed. We exchanged MIDI files and guides for how to set up the various parts. In most cases I made a base for the song and then in the studio we added solos and pads. So all the rhythmical parts were done before entering the studio.

You have mentioned that you took inspiration for the new Nothing But Noise album from several of the great synth pioneers – what influence have they in fact had on the works of Front 242 and Nothing But Noise

Easiest would be to say: “The use of machines – it is kind of magic; the sounds that come from non-traditional instruments”. The move from traditional instruments resembles a lot what we have seen in film as well, where we have gone from 2D animated movies from Walt Disney, to today’s super 3D animated movies, Pierre Henry, Stockhausen and others did the same in the filed of music – introducing new technology. Personally Daniel did not want to learn any instrument, although started as a drummer, so he ventured into the field of synthesizers. actually his first synthesizer was a Roland System 101 back in the 70’s. Things like the Fairlight was far too expensive, but the fact that Daniel got a job in a music shop allowed him to explore a lot of the new gear that came about, e.g. the  Roland MC4 Micro Composer. (The MC-4 MicroComposer was an early microprocessor-based music sequencer released by the Roland Corporation. It could be programmed using the ten key numeric keyboard or a synthesizer keyboard using the keyboards control voltage and gate outputs.) So in summary Daniel says that his biggest influence was through the love of machines.

You have a fairly large synth collection – any favorites and what do you think of the analog revival that we are experiencing right now

In principal Daniel loves everything analog and in general none is better then the other – “it all boils down to what you need and what you have set out to accomplish”. When we ask again he does mention the Moog Voyager and the Virus, as well as the Oberheim. “Favorites change from song to song”, Daniel says. For example if Daniel wants to make use of a synth bass, he would never go for a KORG C1, but mostly he will end up in a fairly mixed environment – the difference always sits in the details.

Daniel then talks warmhearted about the difference of using a Tube Amp versus a Transistor Amp. Tube Amps are a real passion to Daniel, however if they would be active in other genres they would probably be more digital, “as of today we do not really need all that noise and crazy sounds that are out there”.

Going back to the analog stuff, Daniel tells us that he still sees the Roland System 100 as a very capable system, and when he goes shopping for modular stuff he prefer American suppliers, both based on quality and price. The Formant synth is also something that ranks high in Daniel’s world of synths – “It is not a hybrid – they sound like an old Moog VCS”.

On the Nothing But Noise album we have a very standard set up and in the center sits a Octopus sequencer, which from my perspective is more of an instrument then a controller. It has its roots in the analog world.

While sequencers are machines to control synthesizers, Octopus stands out for a broad user base as a musical instrument. The merit lies in the directness, intuitiveness and creativity that gets unleashed by interacting with Octopus.

Why did you want to go all analog

According to Daniel – they wanted to maximize the experience, and be analog as far as they could. Together the trio has a huge set of gear and as Daniel puts it: “Why not use them?”. So apart from the song “Brush”, which was not analog at all, actually it is not even synths – Brush was more about looping in a delay, Nothing But Noise features synths like the Virus Polar and the Juno 16 a lot. Although he let us know that on future releases it will be a more mixed environment. “We are always working on new stuff”, says Daniel – meaning that we can expect more Nothing But Noise productions going forward.

We noticed that you are using Cubase on stage – is this your favorite DAW or have you embraced other software as well

Cubase has always been a companion to Daniel, however Daniel also points out that Cubase really lost the game when they weren’t able to handle video in a proper way, so for Front 242 we have been using Logic, and in general it is best to focus on one system. Daniel continues saying that Sculpture is probably the best, if not the only, reason to go with Logic.

For those of you who have not heard of this powerful synth:
Plenty of soft synths claim to be unique, but Sculpture, the physical modeling plug-in included with Logic Pro, really is one one of the deepest and most powerful soft synths on the planet. By physically modeling the components of acoustic instruments, then feeding them through a downright insane chain of adjustments, modulation, keyboard scaling, morphing, and alien voodoo, Sculpture is capable of sounding different from anything else out there. That’s not easy to do. Of course, the other side of Sculpture is that it’s incredibly daunting to learn. Parts are intuitive and fun to play with, like the ball in the Material panel in the center. But the modulation and morphing options at the bottom caused one good friend I won’t name, with years of professional preset design and synth programming, to exclaim, “Find me one person who understands how that bottom section works.”

The song “Brush” on the new album is a good example of the use of Sculpture, Daniel B says. Daniel has more or less tested everything that has come including Reaktor (NI) and Reason (Propellerhead), stating that Reaktor’s Razor is a nice player, but that Reason is  too musch 808 for him (and far too complex – hyper informative and too cluttered, he adds). Razor on the other hand provides you with modular in a modular, kind of. Synplant is another favorite of Daniel’s – in a world where he would have entered into other musical genres.

How do you take your analog experience on stage

This is tricky, Daniel admits and also says that they are far from final in how they would like to do it going forward. As of right now Nothing But Noise are still testing what would be the best set up. Today they are using three re-programmed Access Virus, together with Dave Smith’s Pro 8, and (believe it or not) an iPad running the Animoog. “For us it is important to keep a real live sound”, Daniel says. The Animoog is used for solos and noise – a superior touch thing he claims, and something that has revolutionized how we perform with music. A multi-joystick kind of. Daniel says that they want to use iPads even more on stage – especially from an improvisation perspective. The iPad is even great from a projection perspective, when you have the opportunity to see the screen moving during the concert, something that Daniel says he has really been missing. “This will over time get rid of all unique touch devices like the Tenori-On and the Kaossilator over time. “I have expected this revolution for a long time”, Daniel says, especially in the world of controllers as we have been using the iPad as a controller for the Slim Phatty.

Sampled voices and what happens next in the world of Daniel B

Daniel and I came, at the end of the interview, to discuss the absence of sampled voices on the new NBN album, which in fact has been used quite heavily by Front 242 on many of their albums. Daniel says that the truth is that you can’t steal anymore, the world of IP rights has catch up with bands like Front 242 and Nothing But Noise. And to create everything from scratch really isn’t an option – far too expensive and troublesome.

What happens next? Daniel let’s know that they are up for invitations to play live – all bands must tour these days, both because it is fun of course, but also because that is the state of the record industry today. “Playing live is such an influence on what you do when you come home, you cannot compare improvising live versus improvising in the studio.”

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