With an unusual name, Teutonic beats and aggressive
sound, it is often assumed that Nitzer Ebb originated within the
German techno scene, but the truth of the matter is that this
trio hailed from the UK, Chelmsford in Essex to be precise.
Formed in 1982 by school friends Douglas McCarthy [Lead vocals,
guitar], Vaughn 'Bon' Harris [vocals, percussion, guitars] and
David Gooday, [percussion], Nitzer Ebb were influenced by the
harder sounds of the early techno pop scene, distilling elements
from several other genres too until they had created their own
identifiable sound, characterised by extremely powerful rhythms,
minimal sequenced hooklines and fierce, chanted lyrics.
From staging small shows in their local area, Nitzer
Ebb's infectious mix of pounding beats, militaristic imagery,
angst and anger was soon filling alternative dancefloors across
the UK, leading to live dates in London where the group caught
the attention of PWL producer Phil Harding. Realising the trio's
potential he helped them establish the label Power Of Voice
Communications, producing and releasing their debut single "Isn't
It Funny How Your Body Works?"(1985).
The Nitzer Ebb sound was one of an impassioned
techno rage, captured perfectly on three further singles "Warsaw
Ghetto"(1985), "Warsaw Ghetto Remixes"(1986) and "Let Your Body
Learn"(1986) which all raised their profile considerably to the
extent that in Europe they were soon regarded as the leading
exponents of the new Hard Beat or Electronic Body Music (EBM)
Taking Phil Harding with them, Nitzer Ebb signed to
Mute in November 1986 and released the extremely brutal beats of
"Murderous"(1986) followed by the 'International Funk
Aggression' of "Let Your Body Learn" (1987) a smash hit in the
clubs of New York, whilst the follow-up "Join In The Chant"(1987)
was an early and somewhat unlikely hit on the UK acid house
scene. Their debut album "That Total Age" (1987) captured the
essence of Nitzer Ebb in a perfectly formed package, its
combination of controlled anger and irresistible rhythm that
becoming for many the most definitive example of the Nitzer Ebb
Embarking on a worldwide tour they discovered that
their energetic live show was also just what dance music fans
had been waiting for, their popularity on the Spanish coast
alone resulting in a demand for 3 gigs a night.
This infectious sound attracted the attention of
fellow Essex lads and label mates Depeche Mode who invited
Nitzer Ebb to accompany them on the lengthy European leg of a
highly successful world tour, exposing them to exactly the right
audience for their sound and image. Returning to the studio
following the tour theycompleted their next album "Belief"
(1989) as a duo following the departure of David Gooday and
ditching their militaristic image in favour of a more subtle
approach to their output. Regular producer Phil Harding also
left for pastures new and was replaced by Mark "Flood' Ellis,
who in beginning a long relationship with McCarthy and Harris
was also instrumental in steering them towards a more refined
sound. With Nitzer Ebb's own world tour in the pipeline the duo
recruited Julian Beeston to assist them with Beeston becoming a
regular contributor both on and off stage.
Their third album "Showtime"(1990) revealed a less
confrontational sound and an accessibility that particularly
appealed to audiences in the USA. The single "Fun To Be Had"(1990)
even received a groovy remix by grandfather of funk George
Clinton and reached number 2 in the US dance charts.
By the time Nitzer Ebb released "Ebbhead" (1991)
even a previously reluctant music press were warming to their
sound. On this release Nitzer Ebb were slower and more
orchestrated, mixing their hard, industrial beat with raw guitar
samples and more fully developed songs. Promoting the album with
a global tour that took them from the southern states of the USA
to appreciative audiences in Siberia, Nitzer Ebb were enjoying
the fruits of their truly international appeal.
By the time that their fifth album "Big Hit" (1995)
arrived, Nitzer Ebb had been through another metamorphosis. Gone
was the techno rage that had become their signature, being
replaced instead with a wider use of real instruments,
particularly guitars and drums. The songs too were more complex,
dividing Nitzer Ebb's fan base between those who simply wanted
them to go on making Electronic Body Music and those who
supported their desire to develop. David Gooday rejoined the
group but purely to provide artwork for this album and McCarthy
and Harris hired a third member, Jason Payne [percussion] to
their main line-up, recruiting John Napier [guitars, percussion]
to assist with their live performances. "Big Hit" was their last
record to date with all concerned taking an 'extended hiatus'
following its completion which effectively spelled the end of
Nitzer Ebb's activities as a group.
Since "Big Hit" Nitzer Ebb's members have chosen to
concentrate on their various solo and side projects, a practice
McCarthy, Harris and Beeston had begun in 1989 with their
collaboration with Die Krupps. Douglas McCarthy has been a
regular collaborator with Depeche Mode's Alan Wilder on his
Recoil project. Bon Harris meanwhile has relocated to Los
Angeles worked as 13mg and with his latest three piece outfit
The rediscovery of the Hard Beat/Electronic Body
Music genre by a new generation of music fans has seen Richie
Hawtin (Plastikman) include Nitzer Ebb's 'Let Your Body Learn'
on his seductive "Decks EFX & 909"(1999) mix compilation and an
exciting set of Nitzer Ebb remixes commissioned by novamute. The
series of three 12" singles have seen Derrick May, Thomas P.
Heckmann, Terence Fixmer, The Hacker, Phil Kieran and LFO's Mark
Bell get to grips with the classic vintage of "Let Your Body
Learn" (1987/2002),"Control I'm Here"(1988/2004) "Murderous"(1986/2004),'Shame'
- Nitzer Ebb vs. Thomas P. Heckmann' (1989/2001) and "Join In
The Chant"- Nitzer Ebb vs. Derrick May (1987/2001), the latter
being a previously unreleased 1989 remix by the godfather of
2004 sees Mute Records honour the enduring influence
of Nitzer Ebb with a comprehensive retrospective entitled "Body
of Work" (2004). This double CD and DVD package is sure to
thrill both converts and the uninitiated alike, and with the
growth of interest in a period of electronic music's history
that Nitzer Ebb made their own, is sure to see their rampant
energy moving dance floors all over the world once more.