Readers of ID:UD will likely not be surprised to hear that I have a minor obsession with new old-school EBM. I’ve written a few times about what the advent of a purist school of body music means in greater terms of the history of the brand, namely that the rejection of the genre’s recent history in favour of a musical aesthetic pioneered in 80s is a signpost of genre maturation and diversification. I’m completely willing to admit that it can make for some dry listening; there’s only so many variations on “Let Your Body Learn” or “Verschwende Deine Jugend” the casual listener can hear before ear fatigue sets in.
In light of that, I found listening to Restricted Area’s 2011 release Core Excess/Underdog EP a pleasantly fresh enterprise. Released as a double album but with a distinct division between the two discs, the Core Excess portion made up of a more modern electro and synthpop influenced sound, while the Underdog EP took a more classic muscle n’ hate style outlook on electronic body music, with the occasional foray into the realms of latter-era Ebb. It was a nice acknowledgement of the validity of both approaches from a group who have been kicking around the margins of EBM since the mid-90s. While the group’s 2012 EP Wear & Tear certainly favours the latter sound more than the former across its running time, the Berlin-based project still throws enough curves to avoid feeling rote or derivative.
The “variations on a theme” conceit of all anhalt EBM is played out pretty clearly on the remixes on Wear & Tear, if not by design than at least in execution. The more reserved “Slacker” and the balls-out stomper “Weapon” appear with two remixes each, both sticking close to the step-sequenced basslines and four on the floor drum patterns of the Underdog versions. The distinctions happen largely on a textural level, a bleepy synthline added here, the stripping out of a percussive element there. Free from the context of any of the other mixes each works fine, although parachuting any given iteration into a DJ set or playlist likely wouldn’t raise any eyebrows.
By contrast, the original compositions have more to offer for surface level enjoyment. I particularly like the glockenspiel-led slow groove on “Friend”, one of the few spots on Wear & Tear where vocalist and producer Peter Elm slips away from alternately angry and sneering delivery to revisit the croon that surfaced on Core Excess. Similarly, “M.O.L.5″ feels more restrained, the tweaky bassline and distant washes of sound feeling far more akin to Douglas McCarthy’s electro-informed work with Terrence Fixmer than his definitive material with Nitzer. Set against journeyman servings of EBM like “Greed” and “Suicide”, they achieve a sharper relief, a reminder that Restricted Area has a more holistic view of the influences they share with many of their peers.
Outside of similarly minded connoisseurs (or obsessives, take your pick) of new-old school I’m not sure how much appeal Wear & Tear will hold for casual listeners. Outside of its one certified banger of a new song in the mid-tempo clang of opener “The End” it doesn’t bring much new to the table, although one might reasonably argue that the role of an EP like this is to supplement existing material in an LP format rather than stand as a complete experience of its own. I’m invested enough in Restricted Area to get some enjoyment in picking apart where the new songs and mixes depart from what the project has already established for themselves, as such I’ll take it as a stop gap, a nibble to hold me down while I patiently wait to see where the project goes next.