Shortly before I started writing this article I made the terrible mistake of checking the news. Yes, it’s still a mess out there. A madman in Moscow is threatening with nuclear attack, prices increase, right-wing parties are on the rise, economic decline is forecasted for 2023 while Covid seems to be mutating again. Well, so far so dim. And while I try to remain an optimist who sees the good in people and the potential of humanity, I struggle these days to oppose all that doom and gloom. But what can you do? Not reading the news so often might help here but sometimes you just need to shake all the negative energy off, maybe by dancing it away to hypnotizing dark electronic beats and sounds. It’s the long lasting promise of catharsis through sound and movement that the techno scene has been telling us for over three decades now. And it can still work – turning the exhaustion of everyday life in to ecstasy. With long-lasting UK indie music institution Editors this whole concept gets unexpected advocates.
The idea of Editors releasing a dance record is not as far out as one might think. The hints were all there over the past years. Even earlier more post-punk-infused hits like Munich and All Sparks were clearly aiming for the dancefloor although it was more the one from your local indie disco. Over the years the sound of the group constantly involved and certain singles flirted with dance music multiple times. Whether it was Papillon, Magazine or Frankenstein – a certain turn towards electronic dance music was always in the air but EBM plays it out with new found confidence and consequence.
The title is a clever pun, actually standing for “Editors + Blanck Mass“. The one-man electronic music army lead by Benjamin Power officially became the sixth member of the group during the recording process. That’s another thing that shouldn’t come as a surprise considering how heavily Power was already involved during the making of 2018’s Violence. There’s even a whole EP with remakes from the record which he produced. And who knows – without Covid-19 that whole step towards full-time band membership might have never happened as drummer Ed Lay tells me via Zoom. “The reason why we initially got together with Ben was because we had the idea of doing a special more electronic live show, a ‘techno version’ of Editors which saw Ben and Tom reworking some of our older tracks,” he explains. According to Lay bandleader Smith and Blanck Mass sent each other ideas for these reworks but also added a few new songs and also ideas for covers. “Then the plans for these shows got cancelled due to the Covid-situation but the ideas were still out there. And they decided to carry on and see in which direction it might develop. Luckily there was time to work on these things, everybody on their own.” First Ben and Tom mapped out the ideas, then guitarist Justin Lockey and keyboarded Elliott Williams joined the process before Ed and bassist Russell Lissack were added as a final puzzle piece. “When I first heard the tunes they were almost finished,” explains Ed who had to adapt to a new working process in the studio.
“The rhythm tracks are the most important thing for Ben, he’s really good at those as he’s done them for years and perfected that craft. Me and Russell arrived pretty late in the process this time but what we provide is energy and a human connection, compared to the electronic sound. It’s something you cannot find within a drum machine. The way Ben puts together his music is very much in tune with how I enjoy listening to music. It’s a very harmonious connection.”
Finding Peace In The Disturbing
For a while the band wasn’t really sure whether the whole idea of these new dance tracks would actually play out once the pandemic allowed them all to be in a studio together last year. “Obviously we were all a bit frightened whether it would work or not but the moment we came in it added such a level of energy to the songs,” tells Ed. The pumping Educate was the first song the newly organized six-piece did together in the studio and according to him it worked immediately. “Once we got back together it was just a tremendous joy, being together in a room again after such a long time,” he adds.
I must confess that this shift in gear and tempo can feel a bit strange first. It surely did for me because while you are used to a certain level of energy within the Editors cosmos you never experienced it with such intensity and coherency like on this album. There’s an ongoing feeling of unease and restlessness that runs through the record. There’s also a lot going on within the songs; lots of layers, sound effects and surprising twists that happen while the driving beat seems to never stop. It’s the musical place that gives Ed and the rest of the band comfort, as strange as it might sound to others. “I guess we all naturally lean more towards something that’s a bit darker and twisted,” he tells me. “It’s not exactly clean pop, except maybe for the song ‘Vibe’ on the album. But apart from that our songs need to have some grip or something disturbing about them.”
“This is our catharsis. We find peace in the unsettling if you like to put it that way. This was always meant to be a dance record that goes at a Million miles per hour. There’s virtually not let off on the album.”
And that brings us to the other definition of the album title. EBM is more famously known as an abbreviation for “electronic body music” which Wikipedia defines as a genre that “combines elements of industrial music and synth-punk with elements of disco and dance music”. And yeah, you can spot all these things on the group’s seventh album. It’s the sound of multiple worlds colliding and a group that dares to take its musical vision to a different level. According to Ed the only song that was also pretty far in the process was another hard 8-minute long techno tune which might come out in some form or another but the band said that this might have been a step too far for the EBM album.
“The whole joke with EBM as a title was one we simply couldn’t miss. I love the whole symbol and imagery that comes with it,” Ed explains. But there’s also an honest interest and admiration for that iconic musical niche which the entire band is very much drawn to. Electronic body music first showed up on the musical map in the 1980s, a politically intense time where the neoliberal madness of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher clashed with the still raging nuclear threat of the Cold War and I’d like to see a few similarities to where we are right now, accept there might be even less hope among people. Front 242 are a famous band on that field and they are also on PIAS, the same label like Editors so Ed tells me he was aware of them in some form.
“When we worked with Flood as a producer for our LP ‘In This Light And On This Evening’ in 2009 I learned even more. I mean he’s the “grandfather” to industrial music, having produced Depeche Mode and Nine Inch Nails before. He introduced us to Nitzer Ebb as well.” Over the past decade Editors got more aware of these bands and the scene they act in and slowly found themselves diving further into that territory. They started playing Goth and Dark Wave festivals, like Germany’s Amphi Festival and M’era Luna where Ed was exposed to bands like Skinny Puppy and Project Pitchfork as he tells me. “It’s a world I’m really interested in and can connect to. I love the world of Goth and the freedom of expression that the scene gives to people.” He also names 1994’s The Downward Spiral by Nine Inch Nails as one of his all-time favourite Top 5 albums. A natural affection lead Editors further into the heart of Goth pop darkness and it became a mutual love as Ed confirms. “We are always trying to do something with a bit more heart and soul and dignity, even if it’s a Goth dance track. And people response to that. That’s why community is so important to us, within that scene and for us as a band.”
Dancing Beyond The Abyss
EBM surely doesn’t feel like the seventh album of a band that’s about to celebrate its 20th birthday next year. Instead it’s a breath of fresh (dark) air, one that shakes off the burden of the past while also not shying away from it. There’s a lovely moment at the end of Silence, the only quieter track on the album where Justin Lockey delivers a great guitar solo that really reminds me of the band’s earlier days. “We will never shy away from putting a massive stadium guitar solo,” Ed tells me with a smile. “When Justin did that guitar it really works and gives the record a brief moment of relaxation following its first quite claustrophobic tracks.” The drummer also confirms that the making of the album as also a nice cycle back to the group’s roots as Editors recorded the album in a studio called “The Chapel” in Lincolnshire which is also the place where they recorded their debut The Back Room. Needless to say, it was quite a special moment for the three original members, including him. However, these two albums couldn’t be further away from each other in terms of sound.
At the end of 2022 the future of Editors seems to be a blank page again, without a road map. Following their best-of album in 2019 and the following Greatest Hits tour this record feels like a new start with Blanck Mass further changing the dynamics of the restless group. That’s especially crucial as he now helps shaping these songs as well, something that used to be an exclusive job of Tom Smith. According to Ed the singer found it actually quite pleasant. “He’s now less pressurized to map out these songs in the first place. And that freedom has made him write different vocal melodies and also lyrics.” Ed says Educate is another good example here because he never heard him sing lines like that. “It feels like a cap has been taken off his bottle and he’s allowed to let that energy spark out.” These days Editors head on their first tour as a six-piece, delivering an energetic live show full of new tunes and old favourites as they invite their audience to dance along with them in the strobe light of this apocalyptic rave that celebrates the disturbing joy of existence, it seems.
Nobody knows what’s next at the end of a recording process. Ed surely doesn’t but he also hints on what might happen next. “We’ve never written on the road before but with Ben it might be different since he’s so productive. He’s also keen to flash out ideas as soon as he has them. It wouldn’t surprise me if we would come up with new tunes by the end of the tour.” Editors remain creatively restless and I’d like to believe that’s one of the reasons why they are still around and are actually one of the few remaining groups from that old 2000s generation that still excite me after all that years. Well, maybe my natural connection to dance music and techno might have helped a bit this time. Once the final seconds of the closing trance-infused Strange Intimacy abruptly end I instantly got the desire to hit the repeat button and start from the beginning, something that Ed agrees on. And that’s something that happens rarely these days, especially with a band that’s been around for quite some time. As the world turns faster and the turmoil gets louder it might not be the worst idea to crank up the volume and loading up your personal energy level to be prepared for whatever madness happens next. David Bowie once so famously sang “Put on your red shoes and dance the blues” and if you agree with Ziggy Stardust Editors might be the finest companions for your next night out.
Editors’ seventh album EBM is out now on PIAS.