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The life and death of a genre

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Throbbing Gristle

By Princess Stomper

Industrial music was always about articulating fear, but no hellish prediction of the future could have foretold this.

There were always old punks lurking at the local, or skulking in the nightclub, and we thought they were OK. Punk was old and dead, and the few wrinkly remainders trying to hit on women or men half their ages were smiled at like old WWII veterans. They might be a little out-of-place, perhaps a little embarrassing, but we wouldn’t have been here if it wasn’t for them, so there was a reverence there. We respected our elders. Nearly 20 years later, I see how young people today regard my own clubbing years. On Buzzfeed, a meme is going viral where fans are taking some footage of some terribly earnest-looking industrial fans dancing and overdubbing the music with ever more ridiculous novelty hits, with even more mischief to be found on Reddit. These fans are a laughing stock – and rightly so, because they are ridiculous.

What turns it from pathetic to outright upsetting is how little resemblance either the people or the music bears to the genre I loved with such a passion. It’s painful watching something you love die. Even when I was young, the old guard complained that Nine Inch Nails weren’t “real industrial”, and we smiled because things have to evolve and grow. But now there’s no trace of anything that ever made us love it in the first place. It hasn’t just evolved, it’s an entirely separate species, and it needs to be put out of its misery.

The term “industrial” was originally coined in the 70s, with Industrial Records, and a sound invented to evoke the urban hell of factories. It sounded a bit like this. (Which is to say, fucking dreadful.) [Arrrrrgghhhh! You die for saying this, Princess Stomper! You die for this! – absolutely affronted Ed]

Still, we have the basic invention: aggressive vocals, early synths, fierce beats. Electronic punk, basically. The Germans, with characteristic efficiency, soon figured out that if you bang rhythmically on bits of metal, you can maintain that factory-floor coldness and sense of alienation, but having a bit of a tune won’t actually kill you.

(continues overleaf)

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23 Responses to The life and death of a genre

  1. Joseph Kyle September 29, 2011 at 11:11 am

    I always thought it painfully ironic that the Columbine shootings, which pretty much killed off the genre (at least in my mind) took place less than 15 miles down the road from the record store/label that started it in the first place, Wax Trax! Records…

  2. Lloyd B September 29, 2011 at 1:26 pm

    Throbbing Gristle may have put a name to it but the goth-industrial-darkwave-electronic-body-music you are talking about is a long way from Industrial Records. I’d say Front 242 and Front Line Assembly have more to do with what gets played in the clubs.

    As TG split into Psychic TV, Coil and Chris & Cosey so the true descendents moved more towards experimental ambient music like Zoviet France, Dead Voices on Air, Maeror Tri / Troum and other Post-Industrial music that Wire magazine like.

    But of course you might want to consider the noisier / fascistic end continued by the likes of Whitehouse, Boyd Rice… But I’d rather not 😉

  3. Princess Stomper September 29, 2011 at 5:56 pm

    @ Joseph – I’d never made that connection before. I just felt really sad that KMFDM were “blamed” by the media, when they were always vocally anti-violence. I did actually love that industrial-rock sound typified by them and Downward Spiral-era NIN, but I think that just died a natural death through over-imitation.

    @ Lloyd – Maybe you go to better clubs. I haven’t been clubbing for over 10 years but people link me to tracks like that terrible Faderhead song and, at least in the UK, that seems to be “in” right now. I can’t imagine DVOA getting played in clubs – it’s more something I’d play in the house, though I’ve never really warmed to them. I can still listen to Download, though. Even the tracks that Genesis P Orridge sings on.

    *runs and hides from infuriated Ed*

    *from hiding place*

    That “clank” article I wrote was inspired through hearing what I personally thought was the natural successor to industrial music – it’s still got the banging about, but in a wholly different and interesting direction.

  4. bump'n'grindcore September 29, 2011 at 7:39 pm

    Love this article, and the two anime rivet boyz are adorable! Nice to see something about the 90’s that wasn’t Nevermind. I still listen to :Wumpscut: and Leather Strip.

    Also, I do believe the natural succession to industrial, EBM and the like would be what has been labelled as “Witch House”, no? Because I’m hearing it in Mater Suspiria Vision, Ritualz, Fostercare, Gatekeeper, etc. Either that or it mated with Dub Step and gave birth to some of the stuff coming out on Ad Noiseum.

  5. Joseph Kyle September 29, 2011 at 8:49 pm

    @Princess: I think it is a combination of factors, but the shooting certainly may have been the final straw. Like with the death of “alternative” or grunge–generally placed to be at the day Cobain died, but was it, really? There’s a good case or two to be made for that.

    Obviously KMFDM had violent imagery in their music, and that their name translates into “no pity for the majority” certainly didn’t help them out after it was revealed that Harris and Klebold were big fans. Blame may seem absurd thirteen years later, but seeking some sort of meaning after a senseless act like that–it’s understandable that people would scapegoat Sasha and his group.

    I don’t think scenes and genres “die,” though. I think that people move on, and the genres simply go back to being their little subcultures in spite of trends. MRR still publishes, though I don’t listen to that kind of music any more; Projekt records is still putting out records, though goth has gone back to its catacombs.

  6. Chris Rice September 30, 2011 at 3:59 am

    I dunno, I think the genre is just dormant at the moment, just as Big Beat and indie rock (of the QoTSA/ grunge variety) are. It’s not dead as such, just waiting for the kids to get back into it and form some bands. I suspect the current dubsteppy type music will start crossing over into guitar music and presto, Industrial!

  7. Chris Rice September 30, 2011 at 4:00 am

    Actually, I should have said scene, not genre, there are odd bands out there making all of these types of music, there just aren’t many of them.

  8. el patho loco September 30, 2011 at 6:50 am

    Remember everyone, being a real industrial fan = damn kids get off my lawn with your crazy hair and clothing wait what

  9. Lloyd B September 30, 2011 at 9:06 am

    @Princess Stomper

    Yeah I don’t think I heard DVOA in a club but definately TG and Download. I thought your point though is the Industrial music genre is dead because of rivetheads whereas I’m just pointing out that the (in my not so humble opinion) better stuff leading from TG and Cabaret Voltaire is the huge amount of post industrial ambient / sound art. More art than club music! Download circa “Furnace” and “Eyes of Stanley Pain” still kick it. If you like that kinda thing I highly recommend Diamond Catalog:
    http://soundcloud.com/nnatapes/nna032

  10. Princess Stomper October 1, 2011 at 4:12 am

    @ Chris, I can’t imagine a Big Beat revival. As for dubstep/rock crossover, I’m not sure how popular it would be. Breakbeat rock sounded great on paper – and a lot of the time in practice, but it just never really took off for whatever reason.

    @ Lloyd, you might enjoy this interview I did with cEvin back in 1996 which references a lot of what you’re talking about.

  11. Chris Rice October 1, 2011 at 8:19 am

    @Princess. There’s kind of a Big Beat revival going on at the moment but it’s more nostalgia than anything new. I heard a horrible Korn track produced by Skrillex that managed to be incredibly dull, but I suspect some younger smarter kids will soon be coming up from behind.

  12. Chris Rice October 1, 2011 at 8:22 am

    Oh, and I love that Pitchshifter track. Capricorn had a nice line in breakbeat rock as well…

  13. Princess Stomper October 4, 2011 at 5:10 pm

    Addressing some points from Jack on ET’s Facebook:

    “NIN were not industrial”

    Early NIN counts because of how much it rips off Skinny Puppy. After Pretty Hate Machine it gets increasingly tenuous, though.

    “the whole Test Dept side of things seems to have vanished into history, which is a loss. Also, if we want to trace the move from industrial to pre-techno beats surely SPK’s irksome Metal Dance should get some kind of nod”

    Indeed, but the article is not meant to be exhaustive.

    “Also, its somewhat of a misnomer to say TG featured “aggressive vocals”

    You have to admit that Gen has … uh … a distinctive voice. A very off-puttingly distinctive voice. I’ll admit I haven’t listened to much TG because I just hear those vocals and reach for the off button. 20 Jazz Funk Greats ain’t bad because he’s not bleating over it.

    Re the performance art aspect, yes, I’d agree that was definitely a focus of early industrial, but as far as it being “important”, I still think that can be summed up in my point about it being expression for its own sake (and not some formulaic commercial endeavour, or background bleeps for e-heads).

  14. Jack Sargeant October 4, 2011 at 5:28 pm

    here’s what I posted on ET’s FB:

    Industrial was great, but as a purist I have to say NIN were not industrial, surely they returned to the dull tyranny of rock and roll. Also, we often see the industrial ‘genre’ linking NIN but the whole Test Dept side of things seems to have vanished into history, which is a loss. Also, if we want to trace the move from industrial to pre-techno beats surely SPK’s irksome Metal Dance should get some kind of nod.

    Also, its somewhat of a misnomer to say TG featured “aggressive vocals” etc etc not only was a larger part of their studio work not aggressive (see most obviously 20 Jazz Funk Greats, the dreammachine influenced Heathen Earth, the Martin Denny-esque Journey Through A Body) they also eschewed beats on Heathen Earth. They were also tuneful in places (see the above albums). Perhaps most importantly, first wave industrial music was produced by people interested in communicating via all manner of creative practice rather than simply rock music, thus Cabaret Voltaire, Monte Cazazza, Non and TG were all involved in fine art, performance and mail art, not ‘just’ music.

  15. Jack Sargeant October 4, 2011 at 5:37 pm

    re Gen’s voice, you should really listen to the TG studio albums, he barely features on Heathen Earth or Journey Through A Body and 20 Jazz Funk Greats is certainly not aggressive. DOA features a bit of Gen, but also 4 solo tracks by each band member.

    I realise the piece wasn’t exhaustive, but the NIN, techno-goth perspective strikes me as too simple, while the Test Dept aspect seems under documented.

    Also, @ Lloyd, Whitehouse stand alone and apart from industrial music, and I think that power electronics is possibly as different from industrial as hardcore was from punk or RnB is from Mississippi blues.

  16. Tamsin Chapman October 4, 2011 at 7:47 pm

    Genesis P’s voice is one of my favourite male voices! It’s sort of warm and tickly.

  17. Andrew Mc October 7, 2011 at 10:13 am

    I agree with Jack that TG, Monte Cazazza and Boyd Rice were approaching their music or noise-making with a greater art orientation and that NIN are dramatically different in an overriding aspect: they simply restylized grandiose rock imagery. The early bands mentioned in the article were avant-gardists. Conceptual decisions pre-empted the sound they eventually created.
    This is evident with the COUM Transmissions to TG evolution.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TvIS8m1HRy4
    Here is an early COUM Transmissions recording led by Genesis. In terms of music it is stylistically separated from TG, though conceptually (as a musical excretion from performance artists) it definitely prophesies his later projects. In this it’s a very interesting document. As mentioned, Test Department were something else completely much closer to anarcho-punk ideology and political activism but this was still a important aspect in their use of scrap materials as instrumentation (and their collaborations with community choirs). Cabaret Voltaire entered a new wave sound through the most interesting succession of albums – culminating in 2×45 which is stylistically more dub than industrial in it’s sound. But this is just the present view as sounds have been catalogued and delineated a style and genre like an iTunes playlist. NIN was popular music – their label knew it and the album sales proved it.

  18. Princess Stomper October 9, 2011 at 8:53 pm

    @ Andrew Mc, thanks for the link. Quite funny, though – I was almost enjoying it until he starts squawking and then it’s like “Gaah! STFU!”

    That clip is what I’d call “experimental psychedelia” rather than anything like what I’d recognise as “industrial” – it doesn’t have any of the hallmarks from any of its eras. On balance it falls on the middle ground for me between being quite nice and absolutely fucking terrible.

    Plus, “document?” Do me a lemon! *picks up Andrew Mc and deposits him in Pseuds Corner* Repeat after me: “It’s a music clip”.

    I managed 7 minutes, which is pretty good going for anything involving that “warm and tickly” voice.

    @ Tamsin, what next? “Cuddly”?

  19. Tamsin Chapman October 10, 2011 at 3:48 am

    @ Princes – YES! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s1yr8w_vZ5E
    One of the best pop songs ever and he looks like a teddy bear (with bad hair) 😉

  20. Princess Stomper October 13, 2011 at 3:21 am

    Oh look – you can now enjoy your cuddly teddy bear in high definition.

    http://tg.greedbag.com/dept/~remastered/

    (I’ll be over here. Hiding.)

  21. c December 6, 2012 at 6:28 pm

    Just as an aside – wax trax started in denver, but it was located and maintained in chicago bf it went kauputt. It was part of the whole reason why in my late teens living here in the outskirts didn’t suck. i got to see like, every decent industrial band i can think of.

    So, no – i really don’t think that the Columbine thing had anything to do with it, as if you want my opinion – the music was already getting dried up. I moved to chicago that year, from my small town in michigan, long enough to get one year of industrial’s kicking screams of death in before it was done. The deaths of the founders of wax trax, i assume has a lot to do with chicago’s scene sucking. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wax_Trax!_Records

    random fact – the wax trax! sound born now rests in my hometown in a studio here.

    Also, I am way late to this post but whatever.

  22. revstone April 9, 2015 at 6:51 am

    KMFMD is keeping it strong, even after 30 years! We just released their 30th anniversary concert + behind-the-scenes documentary, and I have to say, their sets are just as tight as they were 10+ years ago, maybe better. My $0.02

    http://www.wearekmfdm.com

  23. 21stcenturyb0y October 1, 2015 at 3:54 pm

    Old guys with balding heads and pot bellies still wearing leather and eyeliner recycling the same ideas since Front 242’s Geography came out. Yeah…industrial is about as relevant as “alternative rock” is. I recently attended a KMFDM show and I would say the average age was 40 sporting their old faded t-shirts reliving the glory days. Time to put a nail in it and move on.

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