BACKTRACKS: Liaisons Dangereuses – Peut Etre…Pas

Backtracks; a series from Melodic Distraction dipping back into the archives in search of tracks that shifted the electronic music landscape. With each edition, we invite a local artist or DJ to share their most impactful music and the history behind it. For this edition, local artist & DJ Chris Cooper explores the legacy of Liaisons Dangereuses’s record ‘Peut Etre…Pa’, which paved the way for the emergence of EBM and heavily influenced the nascent US house and techno scenes.

Formed in 1981, Liaisons Dangereuses was the brainchild of Beat Bartle and Christlo Haas, key members of the burgeoning ‘Neue Deutsche Welle’ movement. Backed up by the haunting vocals of Krishna Goineau, they built upon the work they had been pioneering separately. They combined the rhythmic sensibilities of D.A.F. with the harsh industrial experimentalism of Einstürzende Neubauten to produce a jagged yet irresistibly danceable final outcome. Although they would record only one album, its DNA epitomised by the track, ‘Peut Être … Pas’, can be found throughout a disparate array of dance music’s sub genres, transcending any particular scene or movement.

From the outset of ‘Peut Être … Pas’ a rigid 4:4 kick snare pattern is overlaid with a gnarled staccato bass riff to produce a frustrated, pent-up funk. Vocal snippets intermittently puncture their way through atonal synths adding a level of humanness to the overtly industrial rhythm of the song. At the two minute mark a cascade of synth notes rise and fall in a sordid fashion, dispersing as quickly as they appeared, giving the track an unpredictable edge which only intensifies as it marches frantically towards its climax. The result is a six minute atonal machine jam that, rather than appeal to any sense of musicality, ignites the irresistible primordial desire to move in time to the beat.

Although its legacy is most visible in the development of EBM, to which Christlo and fellow D.A.F. member Gabriel “Gabi” Delgado-López were integral, its impact is far wider in reach. Unexpectedly, its biggest early supporters were in the USA. It gathered heavy playtime in the clubs of early eighties Chicago and Detroit, with an impressive list of preeminent house and techno artists, including Ron Hardy, Derrick May (see below) and Juan Atkins, frequently featuring it in their sets. This connection to both Chicago and Detroit has been further solidified with Jamal Moss, Jeff Mills and Carl Craig citing it as a key influence in their formative years. 

Parallels can be drawn as well in a variety of contemporary artists (such as Powell and Marie Davidson) who build upon the group’s addictive combination of attack command style lyrics and bare-bones machine workouts. This goes to show the forward thinking nature of Bartle and Christlo’s output, particularly their ability to produce highly polished yet simultaneously raw tracks; a sensibility which has gone on to define much of the most memorable dance music released since.

Despite this, next to nothing was known about the release at the time owing to Bartle and Christlo’s unwavering contempt of the music industry and refusal to engage in any promotional efforts for the band. This meant that, for the most part, the music was taken purely at face value rather than being pre-judged by an association with any particular scene – which may go some way to explain the ubiquity of its influence. However, far more likely it is simply that Peut Être … Pas’ infectious and much emulated mix of mechanised rhythms and frustrated alien funk have meant that, almost 40 years on from its release, it still sounds as fresh and vital as ever.