The natural evolution of EBM
Tom Shear of Assemblage 23 discusses the intensely personal nature of his music, the futurepop scene in general and the EBM revival.
Tom Shear is an unlikely rockstar, his muscular frame and shaved head make him look more like a bouncer than the performer. But, his physical appearance belies a very friendly and soft-spoken man who gets nervous before performing and whose music often contains the most soul-searing outpourings of grief and feeling you're likely to hear from any artist. His reaction to the suicide of his father was the subject of most of his last album "disappoint", which covered a range of emotions from self-doubt and despair to anger and frustration. Incredibly, some people have criticised Tom for his honesty on the album, implying that he was capitalising on the events.
"Well, I think that was just meant to be a cheap shot, to me the artistry of successful song-writing is something people can hear and relate to on a personal level, whether they're interpreting it in the same way the song-writer intended or not, if they can make a personal connection to it, I think the song has succeeded. There's so much stuff out there, unless you're a fax machine, you can't connect to it personally. I mean, it's great talking about the potential of technology to steer us wrong, but, let's face it, it's been done to death and how many of us can really relate to cyborgs knocking down our doors and stuff like that."
For him, the acts of recording and performing his feelings through his music represent an act of purging, but the two are different. While he gets a certain amount of satisfaction from transferring his emotions to paper and then recording them in a studio, he finds live performance a far more intense experience.
"It's really cathartic and it's so refreshing. I feel very lucky, because most people, they can only bitch to their friends about, you know, 'my boss is such an asshole' or whatever, and here we get to go to all these different countries and stuff like that, and I can get that energy out in front of all these different audiences. So it's a great way of dealing with that kind of more negative emotional type stuff instead of carrying it around inside you."
His use of dance music elements in his EBM-based music has led to him being included in the futurepop scene, but he's one of a number of acts that don't like the term or the idea of it being separated from other styles. He sees the term as a marketing thing and is critical of those who are so eager to stick new labels on things.
"Truthfully, what's being labelled futurepop to me is just the natural evolution of EBM. I mean you think of '50s rock n' roll versus what rock n' roll is now, and they couldn't sound more different, but it's still the same style; it's just that it's evolved. I think the problem is that we're so eager to call something a new style of music that the old style, in people's minds, dies. So it never has a chance to evolve and to sustain itself because people want to it something new, so, it's a balancing act, I think."
He's not very optimistic about the ability of the futurepop to be more than the relatively small scene it is at the moment and doesn't see it crossing over into the mainstream. While he says that things are healthy for the style at the moment, he doesn't see it reaching the levels Front 242 did when they sold 100,000 copies of "Front by Front". He already sees a backlash against it, which he says will eventually manifest itself in another style that's going to become more prevalent. As he points out, VNV were once on Wax Trax, but that didn't last long and that a good seller in the scene in the US is 25,000 copies, which would be a tax write-off for a major label.
"The music public is so fickle, I think there's a Chris Rock saying, it's no longer here today, gone tomorrow, it's here today, gone today. I think the bands that will survive are the bands that are less concerned with stylistic formulas than good song-writing. I don't think we should feel too good about ourselves, in the big scheme of things, this is very small."
He's not convinced by people who describe the kind of music he makes as being poppy, he attributes that to people who also listen to Converter and Noisex. "What may be relatively poppy in that scene, to someone in the mainstream, it's like 'what's this depressing stuff that you're playing'."
However, he is encouraged by the way the electroclash scene is leading to a revival in old school EBM, if only for the fact that there's a newer generation of fans who he can't believe have never heard classic albums like 242's "Official Version", which he classes as a brilliant album. He says it would be nice to see some of the bands getting recognised, bands that recorded the earlier works that had a huge influence on what the scene is now.
"I was devastated when Frank Tovey [Fad Gadget] died, because, first off, he was one of my earlier influences, but, the worst part was, he was just starting to make a comeback and I think so many more people would have heard his music and realised how important what he did was. I don't know if it will happen, but I would like to see it happen, but it's one of those things that can go both ways, either these electroclash bands try to get people to go back and hear the original masters of these styles or the more ignorant people will be like, oh, you know, these people created this style, it's something that's never been done before."
Thankfully, with the likes of DJ Hell and Terence Fixmer including classic EBM in their sets, the latter seems to be the case. But hopefully, this will not lead to the classic acts overshadowing the newer innovators and we can expect to hear much more material from Tom Shear and Assemblage 23.
by Girl the Bourgeois Individualist