Front 242: a cult electronic band famous for pioneering the EBM Genre and their role in defining the sound of Industrial music. We take a look at their most-used synths, drum machines and sounds in each era.
Originally published on Gearnews.de by Moogulator.
Front 242: The Early Days
Let’s wind back to the beginning, to the days of “Principles”, one of the Brussels-based band’s first songs. Principles still showed heavy influences from Cabaret Voltaire and a sound that was dominated by analogue synthesizers. This analogue sound permeated onto Front 242’s debut album in 1982 “Geography”.
Legendary synths like Roland’s System 100 and 100m, Yamaha’s CS-40M and CS-15 were dominant on many of the tracks. Moog’s Source synthesiser makes an appearance with its preset sound “Operating Tracks”. This lesser-known synth is comparable to Moog Prodigy and was heavily used by Depeche Mode in its early days. As for drums, it was mainly the well-known sounds of a TR-808 that made early 242 so groovy.
The band opted for a considerably heavier sound on follow-up records “No Comment” and “Offical Version”. A more aggressive sound was the result of the band’s conscious choice to switch instruments. The analogue synths were out and in came sample-based instruments and dynamic FM-Sounds.
In this second and third phase, samplers became the main instruments of Front 242. The band not only triggered loops and one-shots of their synths with the samples, but also vocal snippets and glitch sounds. Everything was played on an Emulator II.
As for drum sounds, Front 242 opted for the bone-dry sounds of the E-Mu Drumulator. Many of the accompanying synth sounds came from the FM synths of the day like the DX7 and later the TG-77.
Live Performances: The man behind the scenes
Performances of Front 242 in the early days turned heads, as the band’s mastermind and its producer, Daniel Bressanutti, mainly performed behind the stage and on the side. The other members, vocalist Jean-Luc De Meyer, shouter and drummer Richard 23, and sample mangling maniac Patrick Codenys made up for Bressanuttis’s absence.
Behind the stage, Bressanutti operated a variety of machines, synths and samplers. There were multi-track recorders, a Mac, and a TG-77 among other synths. Later, he changed towards a more portable setup with machines like the MFB Synth II or the Korg R3.
The 90s and 00s
The advent of Techno and Detroit’s influence on electronic music subsequently influenced Front 242 as well. From the 90s and onwards The Emulator II disappeared. The likes of the Nord Lead, Korg M1 and Korg Z1 could all be seen live. Admittedly, it is not entirely clear if these synths were just used them as controllers to trigger sounds on a sampler backstage….
If you take a listen to the cryptically titled “06:21:03:11 UP EVIL” and “05:22:09:12 OFF” albums, then you’ll hear the key addition of the Korg Wavestation. On these later records, the band sampled not just synths but also guitar sounds. Front 242 still did it their way, which sounds dramatically different from contemporaries’ Ministry, Young Gods or bands in the Nu Metal genre.
On the “Technoiden Tour” that accompanied the “Live/Code” album, a human drummer with an actual drum set was added to the live iteration of Front 242 in 1994. This change was received well by some fans while others struggled with the second big sonic shift in the band’s career.
Front 242 Today
One of the prominent synths in today’s live setup of Front 242 is the Roland FA-06 Universal Rompler synth. In addition, a computer with a DAW and the lesser-known Roland Gaia is used by Daniel B. during performances. Many of the sounds and samples of the FA-06 are sufficient for the band’s songs. Other sounds are simply triggered on the computer through the 06. In addition, I have spotted Daniel still using a Korg R3 during live performances, which is the successor of the MS2000 and the Mikrokorg.
Today, only the Microkorg XL is available if you’re looking for an authentic replication of the sound engine. The Mircokorg XL is a versatile synth and the little brother of the Korg Radias. Judging from pictures of Daniel B’s solo project studio Nothingbutnoise, a couple of Virus synths are also in the arsenal of Front 242.
Front 242’s most-used machines
1. Emu Emulator II
The sampler has heavily influenced both EBM and Front242. Also, its workflow had a big impact on the way musicians created songs. From vocal snippets like “hey poor, you don’t have to be poor anymore” to noises and explosions, the sampler was a core element of Front 242’s sounds. The band often sampled from news clips or old historical footage to add another semantic layer to their chaotic sounds.
Sometimes they even replaced drum sounds on the Emulator II with all kinds of samples ranging from everyday noises to melodic instruments the like Cello sound in “Circling Overland”. And then they played a drum groove with these samples! Abrupt shouts from triggered samples like “Sweat” or “React” also put the Emulator II front and centre in Front 242’s music.
The Emulator II still exists as a software emulation as part of Arturia’s V-Collection.
Arturia V Collection 9 Download
2. Yamaha DX-7 / TG-77
Starting from “No comment” the dynamic FM sounds of the DX7 are all over the songs from Front 242 which was later joined by a TG-77; as a result, FM sounds have become synonymous with early EBM. Most of the sounds, melodies, and harmonies were played, not sequenced. Front 242, like many contemporaries, did not own a sequencer.
As the DX-7 is long gone, comparable synths both in sound and sonic possibilities are the Korg Opsix and Yamaha Montage.
Yamaha Montage 8
3. Roland System 100 / 100m
Both modular synths, with the 100m being semi-modular, share a distinct sound. And both Roland System Synthesizers were heavily used by Front 242. Today, Roland’s System 100 Plugout, System 1, System 1m and System 8 each bring sound engines with them that make many early Front 242 sounds possible. In addition, the 100m can be found in the System 500 format as well.
4. E-Mu Drumulator
The distinct drum sound of the early times of “No Comment” comes from the legendary Emu Drumlator; you’ll hear this drum machine on just about every track on “No Comment”. The Drumulator’s sounds are one of the core feature sounds of EBM.
Additional Synths to achieve Front 242’s signature sound
Sounds from the Off / Up Evil phase:
Sounds from the “Geography” record:
Roland System-500 Complete Set
Roland Cloud System-100 Download
Korg microKorg XL +
Note: This article contains affiliate links that help us fund our site. Don’t worry: the price for you always stays the same! If you buy something through these links, we will receive a small commission. Thank you for your support!
- Front 242's debut album included the breakthrough track "U-Men" and featured a predominantly analogue sound.: Alfa Matrix/Gearnews
- Bandcamp Live offers artists a streaming solution integrated into the platform.: Bandcamp