When industrial music developed in England in the mid-1970s with Cabaret Voltaire and Throbbing Gristle, these groups used electronic instruments, percussion with found objects, and looped samples of "found" soundbites, elements later taken up by Front 242. These techniques can be seen as an extension of the use of electronic sources of sound as musical instruments and percussion with found objects by composer Edgard Varèse.
Front 242 was created in 1981 in Aarschot, near Brussels, Belgium by Daniel Bressanutti and Dirk Bergen, who wanted to create music and graphic design using emerging electronic tools. The first single, Principles, was released late in 1981. Although some members now claim that the name does not have a particular meaning, in an early '90s interview on Dutch TV, Daniel Bressanutti said that the '242' part comes from him swearing '242!' instead of 'damn!' when he was young. Also, the similarities to UN Security Council Resolution 242 have not been lost on those interested in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Perhaps more to the point, after the Second World War 242 Belgian citizens were condemned to death for collaboration with the German occupiers.
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 (early recordings with Bresanutti on vocals have recently been released). De Meyer came to write most of the lyrics. 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.
Their next single, U-Men, was released in 1982, followed by the band's first album Geography that same year. These first releases were cited as influential to other artists in the genre; however, they were not strong and hard-hitting as the group's later efforts. In 1983, Dirk Bergen left the band to pursue graphic design, and Richard Jonckheere, referred to as Richard 23, joined as a backing vocalist and charismatic stage presence.
Front 242 became a popular musical group in Belgium. Their next album, No Comment, was the first to introduce the term "Electronic Body Music" in association with their sound. Front 242 signed with the Wax Trax! label in 1984, and started their first tour in the United States with Ministry. This tour led to the creation of Revolting Cocks by Richard 23, Luc Van Acker, Alain Jourgensen of Ministry and others.
The 1985 album Backcatalogue collected material from the group's earlier years, but their international breakthrough did not occur until the release of Official Version in 1987, on the Red Rhino Europe label, followed by their "Official Warfare" tour in support of the album.
The wildly popular 1988 "Headhunter" single (with a video by Anton Corbijn) and its accompanying album Front By Front would prove to be among the most commercially successful and enduring records in the entire history of industrial music and EBM. By this point, Front 242 had developed a style of strong backbeats, slices, samples, and ominous vocals. The band drew on militaristic samples, mock-evangelism, and television images, but without clearly defining a message. The band stated instead that they were merely presenting the world around them as it was.
In the 1990s, the band went through many changes. Tyranny >For You<, released in 1991, had a much denser, multi-layered sound. Tyranny was also the first album they released under contract with a major corporate label, Sony/Epic, after the widespread popularity of "Front by Front". Sony/Epic also acquired the rights to the band's back catalog from Wax Trax! and issued re-released versions of the albums with new cover art and bonus tracks taken from singles and EPs.
In 1992, Bressanutti returned to combining graphic arts with music, taking his lithographs on tour to three U.S. galleries. Bressanutti also composed a solo half-hour atmospheric recording called Art and Strategy (or The Art Corporation) to play during viewings of the lithographs, and released it in a limited edition of 1,000 CDs. This is the only known solo work from any of Front 242's members.
Front 242's style shifted abruptly with each of their next two albums, released in rapid succession in 1993 (originally planned as a double-CD): 06:21:03:11 UP EVIL and 05:22:09:12 OFF (the numbers correspond to letters, spelling "FUCK UP EVIL" and "EVIL OFF"). However, strains were emerging, with the band members apparently having different artistic views.
Neither of these albums had significant input from Richard 23, and 05:22:09:12 OFF only included their lead vocalist, Jean-Luc De Meyer, on a remixed track originally from Up Evil. On the other hand, a variety of new contributors were listed as members of Front 242 on these albums: Jean-Marc Pauly and Pierre Pauly (of the Belgian electronic group Parade Ground) on Up Evil, and 99 Kowalski and Eran Westwood on Off. 99 Kowalski is the stage name of Kristin Kowalski, making a tradition out of Richard 23's idea of number-as-name. Kowalski and Westwood were originally members of a New York City band called Spill who Bressanutti and Codenys had brought to Belgium to produce their debut album. After the recording sessions fell apart, they contributed to Front 242 on the Off release.
A broader public was exposed to Front 242's music in 1992 in the film "Single White Female" starring Bridget Fonda and Jennifer Jason Leigh. In the film, obsessed roommate Leigh ties up Fonda to a chair but leaves her with the television remote control. In order to attract attention, Fonda tunes in to a music video channel and turns up the volume. The video playing at the time is Front 242's "Rhythm Of Time", from the album "Tyranny >For You<". Also in 1992, the television commercials for the film "K2" were set to the Front 242 song "Moldavia", also from the album "Tyranny >For You<".
After the release of 06:21:03:11 Up Evil and 05:22:09:12 Off there was no new material from Front 242 under any lineup. Instead, the band released a stream of live recordings and remixes. However, this period also saw a proliferation of side projects, an inordinate number of which involved De Meyer.
Earlier, Richard 23 played in the Revolting Cocks, and De Meyer had a side project doing vocals for Bigod 20 for their debut single, "The Bog" in 1990. In 1995, De Meyer met Marc Heal of Cubanate at a Front Line Assembly concert, and the two of them collaborated along with Ged Denton and Jonathan Sharp, to record as Cyber-Tec Project for the new (and short-lived) Cyber-Tec record label.
After the departure of Sharp and the demise of the Cyber-Tec label, the remaining group continued working under the name C-Tec. De Meyer also took over as vocalist for Birmingham 6 for their 1996 album "Error of Judgment". 1996 also saw the debut album "Elemental" from Cobalt 60, which De Meyer formed with Dominique Lallement and Frederic Sebastien of Reims, France, members of Kriegbereit. This was the start of a number of releases from Cobalt 60. Meanwhile, Richard 23 recorded with the groups Holy Gang and later LaTchak. The four core members of Front 242 regrouped in 1998 to compose radically reworked versions of many of their songs, which they then performed on their first tour in five years, appropriately called the Re:Boot tour. They acknowledged the influence of The Prodigy and their "Fat of the Land" album in crafting the new, more techno style of Re:Boot.
The new tour material was the subject of Front 242's new recording contract in the U.S. with Metropolis Records. Front 242 also indicated at this time that they were recording new material. However, they had little activity after 1998, making occasional appearances in Europe and Mexico, while Codenys recorded under the name Gaiden with Steve Stoll in 2001.
Then 2002 saw the beginning of a wave of new material from Bresanutti and Codenys, and then from Front 242. In August 2002 a DVD/CD two-disc set called "Speed Tribe" was released by Dance.com. The DVD was a collaboration with experimental documentary filmmakers Rod Chong and Sharon Matarazzo, who filmed the 2001 24 Hour Le Mans. in the video, the racecars, clouds, rain and spectators form an impressionistic visual backdrop for the music.
Several months later, the first release from Male or Female, also known as Morf, a new project for Bresanutti and Codenys along with vocalist Elko Blijweert. In 2002 and 2003, Morf released an album, an E.P., a double album, and a DVD/CD two-disc combo, on the Belgian record label Alfa Matrix, and went on tour through the U.S.
Then, 2002 and 2003 also saw the release of the new material from Front 242 in a decade: the E.P. "Still and Raw" and the album "Pulse", released on XIIIBis Records in Europe and Metropolis in the U.S. These represented another iteration of Front 242's explicitly stated goal of reinventing itself. The style of the two new releases is more mellow than some of their past work, using more "glitchy" and "bleepy" sounds. As well, it uses the manipulated voice as a musical instrument. The new releases have a much more emotional style from De Meyer, which was presaged in his later recordings with C-Tec and particularly Cobalt 60 on its album "Twelve".
Front 242 promised a new U.S. tour to perform new material from "Still and Raw" and "Pulse". They have made occasional appearances in Latin America and Europe, even being rejoined by Dirk Bergen for a reunion concert in Aarschot (De Klinker club) in 2004 under the original lineup of Bresanutti, Bergen, Codenys and De Meyer. This performance was kept secret until two days before the show but when the scene magazine Side-Line and the band's label Alfa Matrix launched the news, tickets were quickly sold out.
The band has now also set itself to re-release its entire backcatalogue both as a normal CD and as a limited edition consisting of a 2CD set holding lots of previously unreleased material. For this the band is working together with the Belgian label Alfa Matrix label that already took care of releasing the albums of the Front 242 side-project Male Or Female. The first re-release is their debut album "Geography", this time newly remastered personally by Bresanutti to surprisingly powerful effect and including 3 extra tracks (two hidden ones) on the normal CD format.
Meanwhile their enthusiasm for side projects has continued, as Patrick Codenys started appearing with a new group called Red Sniper, Bresanutti started recording with a new group called Troissoeur, and Codenys and Richard 23 formed a quasi-DJ project called Coder23 which toured in late 2004 and early 2005 as the opening act for VNV Nation. Jean-Luc De Meyer contributed vocals on two studio tracks for the Glis album "Nemesis" in 2005. The lyrical content of the two songs ("The Irreparable" and "La Béatrice") were based on the poems of Charles Baudelaire.
Front 242 toured through twenty venues in North America in November 2005, their first tour as a full band since 2000. The band performed at the Roskilde Festival in 2006. The band's sold out two day performance at the Ancienne Belgique in Brussels has been recorded for a future release via Alfa Matrix. More releases are expected in 2006 or 2007.
In December 2006, Front 242 announced from their MySpace page that they were writing music for a video game called Cipher Complex and provided a link to a teaser trailer with a short sample of one of their scores.
In 2007 Jean-Luc Demeyer announced a new project: 32CRASH via the Alfa Matrix label. The band is preparing for an album release in October 2007 after the release of the EPCD "Humanity". Early audiopreviews show that the project is very much electro(clash) minded.
On June 1 the Alfa Matrix label announced that Front 242 would make an ultimate statement towards abusive audio compression by releasing the free 2-track download, "First moment", in 5 various audio sound quality formats: 1. Mp3 - 192kbit/s (medium quality) 2. Mp3 - 320kbit/s (good quality) 3. Wave - 16bits/44 kHz files 4. Free Lossless Audio Codec (Flac) - for PC 5. M4A Apple Lossless - for Mac
To get hold of this free 2-track download, which hit the online world on June 15th, fans needed to register on a special page. Unlike what fans and some media spread, the 2 track download was not new studio material, but 2 live tracks ("U-Men" and "Im Rhythmus Bleiben") in a rather stunning sound quality. Both recordings were previously unreleased. Over 60.000 people downloaded the tracks within hours of being made available.
On June 4th Alfa Matrix announced the imminent release of "Moments...", a 'Live' recording encompassing the very best of Front 242's compositions. The release is presented as a 2CD boxset and as 1CD which holds 4 tracks in alternative versions not featured on the 2CD box edition. And as a bonus with the limited 2cd boxset, Alfa Matrix will also include the FREE 18-track CD compilation "Sounds From the Matrix 007" with unreleased songs.
The fans who registered for the 2-track download "First moment" were given an extra reduction for 4 days if they wanted to order the packet. The label also confirmed that over 100.000 people downloaded the free tracks.