Britain’s Nitzer Ebb are one of the most influential acts associated with the EBM (electronic body music) scene, as well as alternative dance in general. Since the early ’80s, the group, led by enthusiastic frontman Douglas McCarthy, have produced an aggressive, visceral brand of electronic music influenced by German industrial and new wave groups like Die Krupps and D.A.F. The group remains best known for the classic “Join in the Chant,” a single taken from 1987’s That Total Age that became a staple of dance clubs from Ibiza to Detroit. Subsequent albums such as 1991’s Ebbhead displayed more of an interest in pop songcraft, and found some success on alternative radio. Nitzer Ebb broke up following 1995’s Big Hit, which featured a greater presence of non-electronic instruments, but they reunited over a decade later, as their influence on newer generations of industrial and hard-edged techno artists continued to grow. After Industrial Complex appeared in 2010, Nitzer Ebb went on hiatus again, but they re-formed with all of their founding members in 2018 for a tour and retrospective box set.
Formed in Chelmsford, Essex, in 1982 by vocalist Douglas McCarthy, drummer Bon Harris, and keyboard player David Gooday, the group began experimenting with synthesizers and drum pads, fusing the bandmembers’ affinity for dark goth and punk rock with the emerging technology. A demo cassette titled Basic Pain Procedure appeared in 1983. After several popular shows around London during 1984, PWL producer Phil Harding began working with Nitzer Ebb and recorded their first single, “Isn’t It Funny How Your Body Works,” which appeared on the band’s Power of Voice Communications label in 1985. Three more singles followed during 1985-1986 before Nitzer Ebb signed to Mute in late 1986; the first Mute recordings were the singles “Murderous” and “Let Your Body Learn” in early 1987, just before the release of their debut album, That Total Age. After the single “Join in the Chant” was remixed by producer Flood (Nick Cave, Erasure), it became one of the crucial tracks in the growing alternative/Balearic dance scene, played out alongside Chicago house, Detroit techno, and Northern soul.
After the release of That Total Age, Nitzer Ebb toured Europe with Depeche Mode, and the latter band’s pop sensibilities appeared to inspire them. By the time of their second album, Belief, Gooday had disappeared (to be replaced by Julian Beeston) and Flood had taken over the producer’s role from Harding, nudging Nitzer Ebb closer to the dancefloor and shearing away the militaristic bent of much of their earlier recordings. Singles like “Hearts and Minds,” “Shame,” and “Lightning Man” were loaded with the cold aggression of earlier recordings, working well on dancefloors as well as college radio stations; the 1990 single “Fun to Be Had” even reached number two on the dance charts. The following year’s Ebbhead further consolidated their position with alternative audiences, with at least two well-known singles, “I Give to You” and “Godhead.”
Nitzer Ebb virtually disappeared from active music-making for the next four years, finally reappearing in 1995 with their fifth (and least industrial-sounding) album, Big Hit. The group became inactive, but McCarthy became a regular collaborator with Alan Wilder’s Recoil project, and formed the duo Fixmer/McCarthy with techno producer Terence Fixmer. The compilation Body of Work 1984-1997 appeared in 2006 and was immediately followed by set of new remixes titled Body Rework. After a reunion tour to support the releases proved successful, the group began working on new material. In January of 2010 they released Industrial Complex, their first studio album in 15 years and their first for the Alpha Matrix label. Nitzer Ebb then toured with Die Krupps, issuing the joint EP Join in the Rhythm of Machines in 2011. The following year, Basic Pain Procedure was reissued by Pylon Records.
Box Set [1982-2010] was released in 2018, containing double-LP reissues of Nitzer Ebb’s five albums for Mute, as well as empty slots for their other two full-lengths, which remained in print. Additionally, the band’s original lineup began performing for the first time since 1987.