VNV Nation goes Transnational with new album and tour
By Gary Spencer
Photo: Ronan Harris [above] and Mark Jackson, also known as VNV Nation, perform at the Taft Theatre on April 29; photo: Franz Schepers
Over the years, industrial music, electronic dance music and electronic music have been stereotyped as impersonal, devoid of soul and emotion. In many instances, such critics are not only correct, but the artists who have made the music within those subgenres will tell you that was part of their goal – hence, why music made with 0s and 1s and mechanization in general was the ideal platform for their art. But for every artist of that ilk, there are other artists who prefer synths and drum machines to convey the broad range of human emotion and feeling. Irish/English duo Ronan Harris and Mark Jackson, who have recorded and performed under the name VNV Nation, fit this description.
For nearly 20 years, VNV Nation – whose acronym stands for “victory not vengeance” – has created catchy, yet darkly emotional, industrial dance music perfect for both nights alone before dreams kick in and for kicking the dust off your boots at the local goth club. In recent years, however, VNV has expanded their sonic palette to allow for light to enter their sound to balance the cloudiness the group had come to be known for. VNV’s newest album, Transnational, continues the band’s evolution out of the European gothic/industrial scene and into a tag-free realm of electronic alternative music. This is where the group feels most comfortable, considering their roots and aspirations for making the music that is unmistakably VNV Nation.
“The catalog itself has evolved over the years – there have been changes along the way,” VNV Nation frontman and primary songwriter Ronan Harris said. “[Transnational] is a continuation of that – it’s not a copy or replica of what we’ve done, but an extension of everything we’ve done. I wanted to make something more personal with a lot of honesty and look back at everything I’ve accomplished as a musician. For me, it’s like the modern VNV Nation taking a bit of influence from older albums as a tip of our hat to those albums and to our older fans.”
Indeed, Transnational runs the gamut from stompy, industrial anthems with sing-along choruses to the ambient, soundtrack-oriented fare VNV has honed over the past decade. The songs within Transnational give a nod to the past while still sounding like 2014 – forward-thinking without forgetting where they’ve been. But Harris makes no bones about the fact VNV Nation is all about moving forward and not living in the past.
“[Some] people get upset because we’re not the same band we were in 1999,” Harris said. “I’m not into the idea of repeating former glories just because someone had an awesome summer and met a girl and they want that feeling again. I make music primarily for myself – my tastes, my feelings, my philosophies, my experiences, my catharsis, my everything. If I don’t, I’ll explode! But I also feel it is a dialogue – this is how I feel, how do you feel?”
One way VNV Nation likes listeners to feel, rather than hear, what they are doing is through their live performances. Unlike many electronic acts who feel content to twiddle knobs behind a mixer and laptop, VNV Nation has gone to great lengths to recreate what they do on record organically in concert, with the aid of additional keyboardists and live drums. And, perhaps most importantly, they like to actively engage with the crowds and make it a personal, memorable and high-energy experience. Apparently the saying, “you get what you give” is alive and well, as audiences across the world are responding in kind.
“I’m having the most fun I’ve had on tour in years!” Harris said. “We’re very on our game – really animated and involved with a lot of interaction with the crowd. I’m absolutely amazed by how well the shows are going. The big audiences are impressing me, they’re loving it and we’re all having a great time.”
More specifically, Harris is looking forward to playing Cincinnati on April 29 at the Taft Theatre.
“I’ve always wanted to do places like Ohio – it’s a big state and we’ve got a lot of fans there,” Harris said. “It’s always been a very enthusiastic, down-to-earth audience, which appeals to us – really energetic and passionate shows with a lot of good humor and banter. That’s important to us.”
It’s these elements of enriching the human experience presented in VNV Nation’s music and live persona that mean the most to Harris whenever he writes a song, records an album or performs for the masses.
“It’s never been about commercial success – I really want people to know Transnational is as personal and honest as you can get,” Harris said. “I hope people will understand that. It’s music that will make you happy no matter what stage of life you’re in. If we’ve inspired someone, that’s a wonderful thing.”
VNV Nation will perform on Tuesday, April 29 at the Taft Theatre, 317 E. Fifth St. in Cincinnati. Doors open at 7 p.m. and tickets are $17 in advance. For more information, please visit anachronsounds.de.
Reach DCP freelance writer Gary Spencer at GarySpencer @DaytonCityPaper.com.