Nitzer Ebb: Showtime (1990)

November 26, 2011

Nitzer_Ebb_-_Showtime_album_coverRoll: 3-10-7
Album: Nitzer Ebb, Showtime

Showtime is the kind of album that falls into that golden period in a band’s evolution between their excitingly primitive early work and their self-conscious and ingenuous later material. In Nitzer Ebb‘s case  the latter period is defined by a pair albums where their reach for post-Reznor industrial dance stardom exceeds their grasp. And though an argument could be made that Nitzer Ebb’s debut full length, the thunderous and punishing That Total Age, is their best album if only for it’s relentlessly violent attack, it’s this third instalment where everything gels.

Showtime balances their trademark aggressively sparse EBM rhythms with a less industrial and slightly more subtle synth-pop approach one could speculate was inspired by tour mates Depeche Mode. Nitzer Ebb would never prove to have the songwriting chops that made DM alternative rock superstars, but calling Showtime a harsh, dungeon-dwelling version of Violator isn’t too far off.

Along with Front 242, Nitzer was the group that convinced me, a young headbanging punker, it was okay to like those “faggy” synth bands. An attitude I’d harboured despite being a devoted Pet Shop Boys fan since 1986. I was nothing if not a complicated teen. But having seen the video for 242’s “Headhunter” on a trip to Europe during the summer of ’89 I rapidly changed my tune. I was most likely won over by the vaguely homoerotic, fascist-fetishist imagery in the classic Anton Corbjin-directed clip, but it nevertheless sparked a sudden interest in electronic music with a driving beat. By the time I reached Barcelona, I was buying bootleg acid house cassettes.

A year later I was attending a summer session at the Emily Carr College of Art and Design in Vancouver. Being a teenager from a small town on Vancouver Island, I spent a lot of time between classes, and in the evenings in my room at the YMCA, pouring over Discorder (the local university radio guide/paper). At the time it was my holy grail, the Rosetta stone that would reveal to me all the hip underground music of the pre-Internet era. In an interview with Front 242, Nitzer Ebb were name dropped (or it might have been the other way around). That was enough for me and I immediately went on a shopping spree with my food allowance.

At the end of the summer I came home ten pounds lighter and my duffle bag ten pounds heavier with cassette tapes. Mostly the entire Midnight Oil catalogue and, though I find it hard to believe now, early Rolling Stones albums and sundry alternative rock titles. But in the bag I delicately hoisted into the cab of my father’s pick-up truck when he picked me up at the ferry—making sure the tapes didn’t make any tell-tale clicks revealing my food allowance scam—was definitely a copy of Showtime.

And quite possibly Violator, which I’d come to begrudgingly appreciate as it was played ad nauseam during drawing exercises, and Nine Inch NailsPretty Hate Machine. The two albums that would signal the end of Nitzer Ebb as an artistically relevant  entity. Where they’d began as the unapologetic torch-bearers of the EBM sound pioneered by Front 242 and, more pointedly, DAF, Nitzer had managed to develop their own unique voice even by the time That Total Age was rolled out. But beginning with Ebbhead, the moronically titled follow-up to Showtime, they’d recruited Depeche Mode’s Alan Wilder to seemingly help them run their material through a Pretty Hate Machine filter.

The results weren’t outright terrible, mediocre at worst (or best), but the band had lost its identity. Especially since every other industrial and synth-pop band was playing the same catch-up game (including original NIN influencers, Depeche Mode) and Nitzer quickly got lost in the crowd. With their ironically titled Big Hit they didn’t get any better at emulating Trent Reznor’s formula of  theatrically emo pop-rock songs encased in an electronic shell. Even Downward Spiral engineer Flood was unable help them acquire Reznor’s strengths as they, sadly, abandoned their own. Though the album must have sold fairly well since it’s one of those CDs you see in thrift shops on a regular basis.

But that was all after Showtime which is an unsullied classic. From the genre high water mark “Getting Closer” to the ominous suspense of  “Lighting Man” right up to the raucous closer, “Fun To Be Had”, it’s one of the most sophisticated and personable records electronic body music ever produced. Perhaps the last masterpiece of industrial techno music, Showtime is the pinnacle of a genre and the end of an era.

Getting Closer (Live 1989)


One comment

  1. […] wrote about my introduction to Front 242 in my review of Nitzer Ebb‘s Showtime. Specifically, it was seeing the iconic video for “Headhunter“on European MTV.  Widely […]

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