The name of the band was chosen for its harsh, supposedly German sound. It does not carry any meaning in either English or German.
Beginnings and Basic Pain Procedure (1983)
Nitzer Ebb began when Bon Harris and David Gooday asked Douglas McCarthy to sing in their band. They shared an interest in witchcraft, talking to trees, and collecting runestones in Chelmsford and Little Baddow. Their inspiration were bands such as DAF, Killing Joke, and Bauhaus. In August 1983, the group recorded its first demo tape, Basic Pain Procedure
, produced by Chris Piper and Paul Chousmer (Also known for Another Green World, Webcore, Zuvuya and Astralasia). This rare demo tape included eight songs (“Faded Smiles,” “Tradition,” “The Home,” “Star,” “The Pass,” “The Book,” “Crane,” “Trust Ran in Colours”). The trio began with shows in small local venues, but its arresting stage presence, military-like image, and energy garnered a growing base of followers and soon led to appearances in larger clubs and concert venues. Combining the energy of punk with the electronic pulse of DAF, it released its debut single "Isn't It Funny How Your Body Works" on 7 January 1985 on its own label, Power of Voice Communications, and its music soon became a fixture on the club scene. A double-A-sided single, "Warsaw Ghetto"/"So Bright So Strong," followed in 1985 to similar critical and dance floor acclaim. Two further releases, "Let Your Body Learn"/"Get Clean" and "Murderous" were released on Power of Voice Communications before the group signed with Mute Records. The group’s recordings were licensed to Geffen Records in the United States, which kept the band on its roster when that label switched distributors from Warner Bros. Records to MCA Records. In 2012, Pylon Records re-released Basic Pain Procedure on record and in June 2013 it was released on CD, Tape/USB combo.
That Total Age (1987)
In May 1987, the group released its debut album on Mute Records (Geffen/Warner Bros. in the US), That Total Age
, which spawned a hit with the pounding bass rhythms and barked vocals of "Join in the Chant" and "Let Your Body Learn." Both tracks found favour with the Euro club scene and the nascent Balearic Beat movement.
In 1988, Doug and Bon set out to record the perfect electronic album, resulting in the group’s second album, Belief
. Preceded by the classic club track “Control, I'm Here,” that album was released in 1989 and was produced by Flood, who went on to produce its next three albums and remix other tracks. The band was now down to a core duo of Harris and McCarthy, with Julian Beeston on drumming duty. Two further singles, “Hearts & Minds” and “Shame,” were released in 1989 with remixes from Daniel Miller and William Orbit.
, released in 1990, showed the band moving away from 4/4, 130-bpm stomping dance tracks and explored other musical forms—jazz, rock, blues—while still sounding like itself. The first single, "Lightning Man," became a dance floor anthem with its jazzy clarinet figure and Doug's menacing vocals. The song is generally recognized as experimental and pushed the boundaries of industrial music at the time. Depeche Mode asked the group for support again, this time on the World Violation Tour in the US. Depeche Mode was frequently seen sporting Nitzer Ebb T-shirts around this period, most notably in the video of the song “Enjoy the Silence.”
As Is and Ebbhead (1991)
Exposure to large stadium crowds and the intensity of the whole rock-and-roll business provided a stimulus for the group to start to develop a more rock-oriented sound to its razor-sharp electronic dance music, and 1991's As Is
EP (produced by Killing Joke's Jaz Coleman, Flood, Depeche Mode's Alan Wilder, and Barry Adamson) saw the band adopt a more traditional songwriting approach, and it paved the way for the aforementioned Ebbhead.Ebbhead
was released in September 1991 and showcased a new confidence in the band's songwriting and production (ably assisted by Flood and Alan Wilder), while the single "I Give to You" was a sweeping orchestral introduction to the band's new grand ideas. Two further singles, “Godhead” and “Ascend” combined sampled guitar riffs, throbbing analogue synths, and anthemic choruses. A world tour followed from Autumn 1991 to Summer 1992, spanning the US, Canada, Europe, and Russia.
Big Hit (1995)
The momentum, progress, and optimism built up around Ebbhead
was slowly eroded by the group's (very expensive) three years recording the follow-up album, Big Hit
. Drummers were sacked, producers changed, and more. During this period, a schism between Harris and McCarthy began to develop. The group took far too long, and then failed to deliver the album required to elevate them to the level that was promised.The subsequent world tour saw a new live set-up with Harris on bass, McCarthy on guitar, Jason Payne on drums, and John Napier on guitar and percussion. While still an energetic and involving live act, the shows didn't seem to benefit from either real instruments or more musicians on stage, and the arresting visual dynamics of past tours were compromised in favor of a traditional set up. The Nitzer Ebb machine ground to a halt toward the end of the Big Hit
tour—final dates were advertised then canceled. Although the group never officially split, McCarthy and Harris both went their separate ways. However, the door was effectively left open for Harris and McCarthy to reactivate the band in the future if their differences could be resolved.
Recent years and reunion
The band having quietly split, its back catalogue began to appear in DJ sets and mix compilations, and its name would appear in interviews with house and techno producers (which only served to highlight their enduring influence). In recognition of this development, NovaMute released a remix series with three 12-inch singles between 2001 and 2004—“Shame”/“Join in the Chant,” “Control, I'm Here”/“Let Your Body Learn,” and “Murderous”/Control, I'm Here.” The remix of “Let Your Body Learn” was particularly fruitful as it was given a radical overhaul by French techno producer Terence Fixmer, which led first to a friendship and then developed into a recording project between Fixmer and Douglas McCarthy, called simply Fixmer/McCarthy
. Live performances (with just a mike and a Macintosh) around the world followed, which included new versions of Nitzer Ebb songs. This also led to an album released in 2004 as Fixmer/McCarthy, titled Between the Devil...
, which captured the raw intensity of early Nitzer Ebb.In late 2005, it was announced that McCarthy and Harris (now residing in the US, and producing and engineering Marilyn Manson and Billy Corgan) had begun to talk about the possibility of a Nitzer Ebb reunion. The group toured during 2006, which enlisted the services of drummer Kourtney Klein producer of Army On The Dance Floor and focused on the more electronic phase of its career, with Mute Records finally releasing the 2-CD set Body of Work, 1984–1997
in June 2006. A companion piece, Body Rework
, featuring remixes from cutting edge contemporary techno artists such as Motor, Black Strobe, the Hacker, Derrick May, and Robag Wruhme, was also released.Capitalizing on the success of the 2006 world tour, Nitzer Ebb began work on new material in Los Angeles early in 2007, with a retrospective documentary still in the pipeline. During 2007, Nitzer Ebb continued its trend of replacing drummers as Kourtney Klein left the band to be replaced by Jason Payne. A first track, "Once You Say," with Depeche Mode songwriter Martin L. Gore on backing vocals, was played in June 2007 by Dave Clarke in his White Noise show on VPRO's 3 Voor 12. This track, along with "Payroll," were debuted live as Nitzer Ebb played a handful of shows and festivals during 2007. These tracks are featured on Nitzer Ebb's newest album, Industrial Complex
.McCarthy and Harris reunited up with Jason Payne and producer Flood to finish up the first new Nitzer Ebb record in over a decade. In the meantime, Fixmer/McCarthy
released its second album in June 2008, Into the Night
.The band announced a US tour for fall–winter 2009 and were selected as the opening act of the January and February European and Russian dates of Depeche Mode's Tour of the Universe in 2010.Nitzer Ebb's Ninth album "Industrial Complex" was released in 2010. Reviews were mostly positive with NME giving it 8 out of 10 stars and saying "..Nitzer Ebb prove they’re far from obsolete." and Lithium Magazine saying that fans "...are going to be in for quite a surprise when they hear this new stuff – it’s totally bad-ass." Spring 2011 saw a very successful albeit short European double-headliner tour with old chums Die Krupps. Final encore of all shows - and an undisputed highlight - was the live presentation of "Machineries of Joy" with Nitzer Ebb being joined on stage by Jurgen Engler and Ralf Dorper.
Influences and legacy
Sonically, Nitzer Ebb evoked the sequenced teutonic basslines and barked commands of Virgin-era DAF in its early days, and took the energy of post-punk bands like Killing Joke and Bauhaus to create a new aesthetic. As the group grew in confidence and ability, it began to develop the Nitzer Ebb sound—a blend of unusual analogue trickery, minimal song structure, heavy drum beats and percussion, and Douglas McCarthy's soulful vocals—either shouted, sung, or spoken. Its sound was captured perfectly in one of the band’s publicity slogans from 1987—"International Funk Aggression"—despite being hard and heavy, its tracks were always very danceable.Nitzer Ebb's musical weapons of choice included the Roland SH-101, a WASP synth, the Roland System 100, the Sequential Pro-One, the classic Oberheim Xpander, and the Yamaha TX81Z, and with this arsenal of analogue, digital FM, and extremely large modular synthesizers, created a sound that still stands up today. Along with a phalanx of Akai samplers, Nitzer Ebb was able to create a minimal yet expansive and accessible electronic sound, that saw it develop from the sparse electronic basslines and beats of That Total Age
to the widescreen technicolor funk of Showtime
.Nitzer Ebb was seen as a totality, comprising music, art and culture, manifesting itself as a Nitzer Ebb Produkt (an homage to the band Kraftwerk), which saw all advertisements, fliers, record sleeves, letterheads, T-shirts, and other objects all sharing a collective identity that was heavily influenced by Russian Constructivist art, Italian Futurism, totalitarian imagery, and Expressionism. Long-time collaborator Simon Grainger was an unofficial member of Nitzer Ebb and responsible for the austere look and feel of this visual aspect of the band, which aimed to provoke reaction, to critique, and even to poke fun at such stern stark powerful imagery. It also perfectly reflected the uncompromising style of the group's music.Nitzer Ebb was a large influence on Detroit Techno: Derrick May publicly acknowledged this fact before the group opened 2007’s Detroit annual electronic music festival. A diverse range of DJs and producers, from Richie Hawtin (featured on Richie Hawtin’s Decks FX & 909 mix CD, on which “Let Your Body Learn” was mixed with Hawtin’s own hit “Minus Orange”) to Tiga, have also acknowledged the influence that Nitzer Ebb has had on their careers. Indeed, the group’s tracks (usually in their original form) are still heard across the world's more discerning dance floors, and have been consistently listed in a wide range of DJs’ Top-10s in the dance-music magazine Mixmag
. Another influence can be heard in the first self-titled album of German band Oomph!, who are considered to be one of the founders of the music style Neue Deutsche Härte represented most famously by another German band Rammstein.The single "Murderous" has been sampled by other electronic music acts, such as Information Society (on "Now That I Have You") and Kode IV (on "Success").
In 1989, Nitzer Ebb collaborated with Die Krupps on an updating of its classic “Wahre Arbeit Wahrer Lohn” single on the Machineries of Joy
EP. Having worked with Alan Wilder on 1991's Ebbhead
, Douglas McCarthy returned the favor, appearing on Recoil's 1992 album Bloodline
, on the electronic reworking of “Faith Healer,” the Alex Harvey classic. McCarthy also appeared on Recoil's Unsound Methods
album in 1997, providing vocals for the tracks "Incubus" and "Stalker."McCarthy appeared with Empirion at 1997's Tribal Gathering (a performance that was broadcast on BBC Radio 1) before embarking on a new career in video production. Since working with Terence Fixmer, he has lent his unique vocals to collaborations with Motor, KLOQ (band), Warren Suicide, a duet with Sarah "Client B" Blackwood on Client's "Suicide Sister", and Die Krupps on another reworking of “Wahre Arbeit Wahrer Lohn.” Homotronic's ironic "U Look Like a Gay" also features an uncredited performance from McCarthy. McCarthy has released material in collaboration with DJ Terence Fixmer as Fixmer/McCarthy. McCarthy released a new album called "Kill Your Friends," in November 2012 on Los Angeles-based label Pylon Records.Bon Harris began the Maven project in 2001 in Los Angeles, California, and has worked with Marilyn Manson, Smashing Pumpkins/Billy Corgan, Bush, and Depeche Mode. In 2006, Maven released "Mary" as a 3-song digital bundle including the songs "Candidate" and "Silverbirds." Three additional songs were released via its MySpace player: "In Still Love," "Hard on for Love" (a cover version of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds featuring Marilyn Manson), and "Jesus, Mary, and Jennifer Louise." The current status of the Maven project is unknown.