Depeche Mode’s evil twin Nitzer Ebb’s music has, at its core, “a metallic & militant funk”

By on February 21, 2019

“Nitzer Ebb has traveled from their hometown of Chelmsford in Essex, England, to London, and on to international acclaim,” says Night Flight’s Pat Prescott during her introduction to “Take Off to Hardcore,” which originally aired on July 29, 1988.

This popular episode — which you’ll find streaming on Night Flight Plus — features their 1986 hit, “Murderous.”

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Nitzer Ebb are considered pioneers of EBM, or Electronic Body Music, which combines industrial and electronic synth-driven sounds with dance music, focusing on getting your body to move around on the dancefloor.

In March of 2018, the Guardian UK‘s Luke Turner — who considers Nitzer Ebb one of the most influential groups in music today — described their music as “libidinous, awkwardly English songs about the human body and sex.”

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Turner:

“Nitzer Ebb ascribed to the essentialist musical theory that all you need for a great song is a killer bassline, a sniff of melody and some ribald lyrics about shagging; this minimalist approach is what has left them so suited for dropping in amid some 140bpm techno.”

More recently (January 2019), Turner has written that Nitzer Ebb’s music has, at its core, a metallic and militant funk.”

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We here at Night Flight also like to think of Nitzer Ebb as Depeche Mode‘s evil twin,” which is how Spin magazine’s Staci Bonner referred to them in a review she penned back in the 1980s.

Both groups were heavily reliant on synthesizers, and as Mute Records labelmates they toured together, but early on, they also shared celebrated pop producer Phil Harding, who produced Nitzer Ebb’s first EP, Isn’t It Funny How Your Body Works, released in September 1984.

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Harding also set up Nitzer Ebb with their own label, Power of Voice Communications, through which they’d release several more singles, with sleeves designed by their graphic artist friend and current bandmate Simon Granger.

Their lyrics often came from poems written by vocalist Douglas McCarthy, who once said this about songs like “Murderous”:

“A lot of my lyrics on the first album came from poems I wrote, there was a lot of teenage angst in there and we really liked the idea of appropriating slogans and incorporating them into lyrics. For the most part to piss people off who didn’t realize that nearly everything we were doing was about nonsense, and having fun. I’m not saying that we weren’t serious about the band or the music but, to a certain extent, it was and still is all part of the act.”

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As seen in the video, McCarthy’s erratic body movements onstage actually stemmed from the fact that, early on, he was battling stage fright (he was only fifteen when they first began performing).

Read more about Nitzer Ebb below.

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Nitzer Ebb were formed in 1982 by Douglas McCarthy (vocals), Vaughan “Bon” Harris (programming, synthesizers, drums, vocals), and David Gooday (drums). McCarthy was fifteen,  and Harris and Gooday were sixteen.

The Chelmsford, Essex school chums’ favorite bands were Killing Joke, Theatre Of Hate, Bauhaus, Siouxsie & the Banshees, Cabaret Voltaire, the Virgin Prunes, and the Birthday Party, among others.

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At first they called themselves La Comédie De La Mort, taken from the title of a 1838 collection of poems by French Romantic writer Théophile Gautier.

Later, they decided they wanted a Germanic-sounding name, but without actually using German words, so using Brion Gysin‘s “cut-up” method they pulled the name “Nitzer Ebb” from a hat.

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They rehearsed for more than a year in Harris’s mum’s house — according to Gooday, “she’d go and walk the dogs for five hours” – before playing their first gig. They self-released their first single, “Basic Pain Procedure,” in 1983.

One of their early gigs in Brentwood, Essex, descended into chaos and a huge brawl after punks in the crowd began stage-diving and fighting with the band, smashing up their PA system.

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In the audience that particular night was Phil Harding of PWL Studios — Pete Waterman’s “Hit Factory” — who’d produced Stock Aitken Waterman hits like Dead or Alive‘s “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record),” among other hits (check his bio here).

Harding liked how they handled themselves that night, offering up access to Waterman’s London studio for recording.

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In 1987, after releasing three more Harding-produced singles on POVC — 1985’s Warsaw Ghetto, and 1986’s Warsaw Ghetto Remixes and Let Your Body Learn — Nitzer Ebb signed with Daniel Miller‘s legendary Mute label, who released their first Harding-produced full-length album, That Total Age.

1986’s “Murderous” arrived in the next batch of recordings they made for Mute, and after bidding war between EMI Manhattan, Elektra, Sire and Geffen for the rights to release their music in the United States, they decided on the latter label.

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That same year, Nitzer Ebb toured with fellow Essex lads and labelmates Depeche Mode, who invited the trio to accompany them on the European leg of their highly successful 1987 Music For The Masses Tour.

David Gooday left Nitzer Ebb after the tour, leaving Harris and McCarthy to continue on as a duo for few more years, into the 1990s.

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Earlier this year, Nitzer Ebb reunited with their original lineup of Harris, McCarthy, Gooday and Simon Granger (see photo below), and they’ll be playing a handful of European shows later this year.

Follow them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Night Flight’s “Take Off to Hardcore” — which also features videos by Bad Brains (“I Against I”), Sonic Youth with Lydia Lunch (“Death Valley 69″), B’Last, Alien Sex Fiend, and Peter Murphy (“All Night Long”), among others — is now streaming on Night Flight Plus!

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.