VICTORY NOT VENGEANCE
VNV Nation is a band like no other. At its inception in London, England, in 1990, its musical focus was comprised primarily of the then-emerging club-style beats, orchestral interludes, and a fairly stereotypical industrial sound, quite comparable to what Front Line Assembly and Skinny Puppy were putting out in the early 1990s. The band (inasmuch as one man can be a band) relocated to Toronto, Ontario, later in 1990 and stepped up its act a bit, releasing a couple of now-impossible to find, long out-of-print 12" singles, "Body Pulse" and "Strength of Youth." Each received airplay in North American dance clubs.
As the early 1990s rolled on by, Ronan Harris (the band's sole member and contributor) toiled around the club scene for a couple of years, and once toured with Nitzer Ebb, as the opening act, during one of their North American tours. The fruit of Ronan's labour back then was not as structured as it is today, and the songs he produced didn't often have any vocals, other than samples gleaned from various movies. While this did make it markedly easier for him to play live, it didn't really make for much innovation as far as the songwriting went. After the two 12" releases in 1990, Ronan kept a fairly low profile while putting new material together and looking for someone to help him out with the band so he could concentrate more on adding stirring vocals and other hallmarks of VNV Nation's music in years to come.
In 1994, Ronan moved back to London and hooked up with an old friend, Mark Jackson. Mark joined the band, primarily handling the laying down of beats and the playing of electronic drum kits during live performances. The fruit of their first collaboration became their debut album, Advance & Follow, released in 1995 on the German record label Discordia. While it was a great improvement on the earlier singles, it still lacked the depth that Ronan was looking for.
UNTIL I SEE THIS KINGDOM COME
With a new record contract in hand, Ronan and Mark took nearly three years to record the follow-up to Advance & Follow, which would eventually be titled Praise The Fallen. The band's contract with Discordia was terminated during the production of PTF, slightly delaying it, while they shopped around for a new record label. Off-Beat Records signed the band and promptly released PTF, to wide critical acclaim, at least in dance club/knobgeek circles. Most of the songs on the album were richly layered with heavy, storming dance beats, bits of orchestration, and Ronan's stoic vocals chanting about the evils of war, the price of vengeance, the glory of victory, and the hopelessness of defeat. Since the album's release in 1998, many of its singles remain dance club mainstays to this day; "Honour," "Solitary," and "Joy" among them. The album gave birth to a bevy of remixes by various other club beat fixtures, such as Covenant and Rudy Ratzinger (also known as :wumpscut:), as well as a great many remixes by Ronan and Mark themselves. Many of these can be found on the EP release of "Solitary," and on a few compilation albums put out by Off-Beat at the time. Additionally, the band commissioned a new logo to be designed by infamous UK net.goth and graphic designer extraordinaire David "Fross" Whewell.
The success of PTF allowed the band to extensively tour Europe as the support act for Covenant, where they packed large arenas and played to sold-out crowds exceeding 20,000 at various European music festivals, such as Wave Gotik Treffen, Mera Luna, and Zillo. Their popularity in European dance clubs was exploding, yet they were still virtually unknown in North America.
I PRAY THIS MOMENT LAST FOREVER
This would change with the release of the follow-up album to PTF, entitled Empires, which also produced a plethora of club staples, such as the awesome "Standing" (which was the album's lead single, and held the #1 spot on the DAC for several months in 1999 and 2000), as well as "Rubicon" and "Darkangel." North America was their second stop on the Empires tour, after playing a variety of smaller venues in central Europe. Though the North American tour consisted of only six dates, each one was a resounding success, and each of them were sold out. They would return to North America in 2000 with Apoptygma Berzerk, playing a larger amount of dates, but they were still the opening band; they had yet to headline a tour of their own. During the tour with Apop, however, the band endeared itself to its American and Canadian fans, because after Stephan Groth of Apoptygma Berzerk canceled a number of shows at the last minute due to minor technical problems, VNV Nation returned a couple of months after that tour ended to make up for the lost dates, this time without Apoptygma Berzerk. That mini-tour was also a huge success and it proved to the fans that VNV really knows how to work a crowd and put on a dazzlingly wonderful show. I have never seen such energy contained by a stage before, and I doubt I will again unless I have the opportunity to see VNV once again.
Once the tour ended, VNV returned home to London and began working on assembling some of the harder-to-find material onto a single release, entitled Burning Empires, a two-disc set, with one disc containing the rare tracks and the other containing the single for "Standing," a VNV fan favourite. ("Standing" is a truly wonderful song. I even had it played at the climactic moment of my wedding.) The print run of Burning Empires was quite small, and I have since seen copies of it sell for over $400 USD at auction. The following year, 2001, the band reworked and polished up their first album, Advance & Follow, and released it again, this time as Advance & Follow v2.0, as the original album met a similar fate as Burning Empires did, and it too sold for a lot of money per copy to diehard collectors.
The latter half of 2000 and most of 2001 was spent writing and recording a new album, Futureperfect. The tour to support it kicked off in October 2001, in Bremen, Germany, and continued through the rest of Europe, this time including Sweden, France, Spain, Holland, and Italy, though most of the gigs were played in Germany, which Ronan considers his adopted homeland. (He's Northern Irish by birth.) The tour progressed to the Americas once again, this time hitting up Mexico and Canada, this time as the headliner, first with Icon of Coil as the support, then with Haujobb on the second leg of the tour during the spring of 2002. Futureperfect had been released in late January 2002, and the second leg of the North American tour was, again, a complete success.
MAKE YOUR FUTURE PERFECT
With the release of Futureperfect, the band coined the term "futurepop," a label which many bands have since adopted. It's meant to steer the band clear of the industrial music stigma that intimidates some, in an effort to reach more people.
Since the end of that tour, Ronan and Mark have returned back to London and to Germany, and both occasionally play CD release parties for their new singles, as well as sticking to the European open air music festivals. Both Ronan and Mark also DJ at various clubs around Europe with their friends from Covenant. The year 2003 found the band and their newly-formed label, Anachron Sounds, putting together a DVD release of live footage collected over the years, as well as a rework of the 1998 single "Honour," released as a single called "Honour 2003." Following that, Ronan and Mark hid away while writing and recording their new album Matter + Form (2005), and preceded its release with a mini-tour of the United States, during which they played two songs from the new album along with 2-3 hours worth of VNV classics. One of the new songs, "Chrome," was officially released as a single in early 2005 -- via iTunes, thus marking the first virtual release for the band and Anachron Sounds.
Concert and DJ engagements continued throughout 2005 and 2006, with the band playing Göteburg (for SAMA 2006), Forbrændingen in Copenhagen, Castle Bolkow in Poland, Utrecht (for the Summer Darkness Festival), Leipzig (for WGT), and Köln (for the Amphi Festival). They also passed through and performed in St. Petersburgh and Moscow in Russia, Trømso and Oslo in Norway, Stockholm and Malmo in Sweden, and two Dark Storm Festival events in Berlin and Chemnitz.
Further new albums, 2007's Judgement and 2009's Of Faith, Power and Glory continue to press VNV into the minds and hearts of just the right people. (Note: the spelling of "Judgement" is not incorrect; it refers to a religious and/or spiritual judgement, not a judicial or peer judgment; note the presence of a second letter E in the album title). Additionally, a boxed set, Reformation 01, was released in 2009. It contains a DVD with live material, two CDs with heretofore unreleased studio works, remixes and live recordings and a small booklet. Automatic followed in September 2011.
Mark Jackson left the band in 2017 and was noticeably absent during VNV's mini-tour of North America in autumn. An official announcement came on November 15, after the tour. VNV continues as Ronan Harris plus multiple and varied other musicians for live performances. The typical VNV tour setup has for the most part been Ronan on vocals and keyboards, Mark on the electronic drum kit, and usually two other guys from the opening band manning the laptops and keyboards, all wearing the quasi-militaristic black button-up uniforms. I didn't recognize the drummer and had been wondering in the interim between the show and the announcement who the hell that was behind the drums this time. The question was sadly answered by Ronan's announcement.
TO MAKE IN HELL FOR US A HEAVEN
VNV Nation's live shows can scarcely be described with mere words. If I could express myself in pure energy and electrifying music, then perhaps that would be a better way to describe the live experience to someone who has not witnessed it for themselves. I've seen them four times now, and each time I left the venue after the show, I was drenched in sweat, caused by my uncontrollable urge to dance to what I was experiencing, exhausted from all the movement, and grinning from ear to ear from having just seen and felt such a positive entity as the music that issues forth from their synths, drum kits, and microphones, not to mention their beautifully-done Flash presentations that play incessantly during, and in sync with the music, which depicts still images flashing and rotating, images of war, the great minds of the modern age, and the suffering of humanity, all of which are relevant to the lyrics Ronan sings so passionately. The beats expelled from Mark's drum kits are felt rather than heard, and they feel damn, damn good. VNV Nation is truly the living embodiment of electronic body music.
FULL DISCOGRAPHY (album releases in bold text)
- 1990 Body Pulse (12") / self-released / (deleted)
- 1990 Strength of Youth (12") / self-released / (deleted)
- 1995 Advance & Follow / Discordia Records / (deleted)
- 1998 Praise The Fallen / Off-Beat Records and Wax Trax!/TVT and Metropolis Records (various releases)
- 1998 Solitary (CD EP) / Off-Beat Records
- 1999 Darkangel (CD EP) / Dependent Records
- 1999 Empires / Dependent Records and Metropolis Records
- 2000 Standing (CD single) / Dependent Records and Metropolis Records
- 2000 Burning Empires (2CD EP) / Dependent Records / limited release: 4,700 copies (includes the Standing single as the second disc)
- 2001 Advance & Follow (v2.0) / Dependent Records / limited release: 12,000 copies
- 2001 Genesis 1 (CD single) / Dependent Records and Metropolis Records
- 2001 Genesis 2 (CD single) / Dependent Records and Metropolis Records
- 2002 Futureperfect / Dependent Records and Metropolis Records
- 2002 Beloved 1 (CD single) / Dependent Records and Metropolis Records
- 2002 Beloved 2 (CD single) / Dependent Records and Metropolis Records
- 2002 Beloved 3 (12" single) / Dependent Records
- 2003 Honour 2003 (CD single) / Anachron Sounds and Metropolis Records
- 2004 Pastperfect (DVD+CD live album) / Anachron Sounds and Metropolis Records
- 2005 Chrome (iPod single) / Anachron Sounds and iTunes Deutschland
- 2005 Matter + Form / Anachron Sounds and Metropolis Records
- 2005 Homeward/Chrome (CD single) / Metropolis Records (North America only)
- 2007 Judgement / Anachron Sounds and Metropolis Records
- 2009 Reformation 01 (DVD+CD boxed set) / Anachron Sounds (Europe) and Anachron America (USA, Canada)
- 2009 Of Faith, Power and Glory / Anachron Sounds (Europe) and Anachron America (USA, Canada)
- 2011 Automatic / Anachron Sounds (Europe) and Anachron America (USA, Canada)
- 2013 Transnational / Anachron Sounds (Europe) and Anachron America (USA, Canada)
- 2015 Resonance (late 2015 release)
Ronan is a prolific remixer of others' works. Those who had him remix one (or more) of their songs include:
This is of course apart from his remixes of VNV's own songs, of which probably about an album and a half's worth are available.
Ronan has also lent his talents to a few non-VNV ventures: the Bruderschaft project, which produced a single song, called "Forever" (featuring his vocals), had it remixed by nineteen industrial/futurepop figures, then put it out on two CDs, with all the profits from the CD sales going to a cancer charity; he also provided the vocals for the Lights of Euphoria song "Consequence (Face Yourself)," which appeared on 2004 album Kreig Gegen Die Maschinen. In 2001, he produced the Angels & Agony album Eternity, and in 2006, he did some production and sequencing on the AFI album Decemberunderground, which (rather shockingly) debuted at #1 on the US Billboard 200 album chart. Ronan's remix of the song "Miss Murder" appeared on the single release of that song.
Mark Jackson is a part of Combi-Nation (Combichrist + VNV Nation) with Joe Letz of Combichrist. They engaged in a mini-tour of the United States in early 2010. He also collaborated with Vasi Vallis' Reaper aggrotech project by providing the vocals for a version of the song "Twisted Trophy Hunter".
Finally, Ronan has a side project called Modcom, which is dedicated to producing instrumental electronic music using only analogue equipment.
* * * *
THIS IS YOUR WORLD
Das ist deine Welt
C'est ton monde
THESE ARE YOUR PEOPLE
Das sind deine Mitmenschen
ces sont tes gens
YOU CAN LIVE FOR YOURSELF TODAY
Du kannst heute für dich leben
aujourd'hui tu pourrais penser qu'à toi
OR HELP BUILD TOMORROW FOR EVERYONE
oder für alle die Zukunft von Morgen aufbauen
ou aider à construire un lendemain pour tous
I've seen this band live six times:
Atlanta (Empires Tour 2000, with Apoptygma Berzerk)
New Orleans (Futureperfect Pre-tour 2001, with Icon of Coil)
New Orleans (Matter + Form Tour 2005, with Soman and Imperative Reaction)
New Orleans (Judgement Tour 2007, with Imperative Reaction)
Detroit (Transnational Tour 2014, with Whiteqube)
Detroit (Automatic Empire Tour 2017, with iVardensphere)