Thursday, March 17, 2011

They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Hah! by Neuroticfish

One of the post-80s fads of the electronic music world was the musical style called "futurepop". Futurepop's roots as a distinct subgenre in electronic music have to go back to before the 80s, actually. Ralf Hütter of Kraftwerk coined the phrase Electronic Body Music (EBM) to describe the music on The Man-Machine, their 1978 offering which was fairly danceable and accessible relative to some of the other Kraftwerk releases to that point (I should do a post for "The Model" or "The Robots" or even "Neon Lights" one of these days.) The term didn't really gain any traction until Front 242 re-coined it again to describe their 1984 release No Comment. EBM fell into this niche somewhere between early Industrial pioneers like Throbbing Gristle, Kraftwerk, Cabaret Voltaire and DAF mixed with a more commercialized sound. I once flippantly called it "angry synthpop" and that seems to still be more or less accurate. I also, back before I was aware of all the subgenre labels and exactly what they all meant, called it the fusion of synthpop and industrial.

Prominent early artists of this variety include Front 242, A Split Second, Frontline Assembly, Nitzer Ebb and Die Krupps. I was a big fan of some of this stuff in the late 80s, particularly Front 242's classic album Front by Front, which also has the most commercially successful industrial song ever recorded, "Headhunter." As the 80s became the 90s, though, and music continued to evolve, at least one branch of EBM started trending even more towards synthpop, although still with some clear EBM roots in terms of samples, extremely heavy rhythms, vocal delivery, etc. By this point, the music had lost mainstream appeal, at least in North America, and most of the folks who were putting it out were European. VNV Nation, Covenant, Apoptygma Berzerk, and Fictional or Ravenous (side projects of Gerritt Thomas of Funker Vogt, which is a more classic electronic industrial group. Ravenous and Fictional head into EBM and even synthpop.) By this time electronic music online luminaries like Al Crawford (anyone else remember his seminal review archive website? Huge in the synthpop scene in the mid 90s.) were calling VNV Nation, Apoptygma Berzerk and Covenant EBM/synthpop hybrids, and Ronan Harris of VNV Nation coined the term futurepop to describe this music. In the late 90s, they had their commercial breakthrough of sorts, and albums like Praise the Fallen and Empires got some significant attention, as did comparable albums by APB and Covenant at the time.

A number of other bands popped up in this same space, including Neuroticfish, Assemblage 23, Icon of Coil, Colony 5 and more. Curiously as the decade advanced, almost all of these outfits either migrated even further away from their EBM roots, or quit altogether. Neuroticfish even made some waves mid-decade by including a sampled vocal "Electronic Body Music is dead" prominantly on a few of their songs.

Anyway, I was a huge fan of the futurepop movement, and while I also like the more synthpoppish offerings of former futurepoppers and even EBMers, I also really appreciated the harder, angrier sound of some of these guys when they were more in that vein. One review I saw of Neuroticfish called it "Depeche Mode with teeth". What can I say; sometimes that's really what I'm in the mood for! For an unusual sample of what this kind of music was like, I've got Neuroticfish's remake of a goofy novelty song from 1966, Napolean XIV's "They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Hah!" which Neuroticfish has managed to turn into something quite sinister and creepy. This is from Neuroticfish's 2005 album Gelb, which ended up being the last one (of three) that the band (really just one guy) put out before "closing" the Neuroticfish project for good.