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(Copyright © 2009 Piero Scaruffi)
(These are excerpts from my book "A History of Rock and Dance Music")
Sheffield 1977-80TM, ®, Copyright © 2005 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
The term "industrial music" was first used by Monte Cazazza, an avantgarde composer based in San Francisco, but the meaning of "industrial music" was defined in Sheffield, England. Performance artists had employed abrasive, lugubrious soundtracks for their shows since the 1960s. As the technology improved, those soundtracks became more and more extreme. The marriage of avantgarde art and avantgarde music that dated from the days of Andy Warhol and the Velvet Underground was revived by the new wave, especially in California, and eventually landed in Europe. Sheffield became the emblem of the industrial society.
Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire, the inventors of "industrial music", were familiar with the noise of a factory and decided to use that noise as a metaphor for the human condition at the end of the 20th century. They began composing lengthy suites of electronic noise that were inspired by the creaking, the hissing and the thuds of machines, by the metronomes, by the clockwork mechanisms of a factory.
However, the core theme of the music played by Throbbing Gristle (15) was not science-fiction: it was pornography and horror. Chris Carter, Peter Christopherson, Neil Megson (Genesis P-Orridge) and Christine Carol Newby (Cosey Fanni Tutti) were more interested in exploring disturbing states of the mind than painting the future of humankind. Their focus was on the traumas of ordinary souls, souls lost to the machinery of the industrial society. Their manifesto and masterpiece, Second Annual Report (sep 1977 - nov 1977), was subtitled "music from the death factory". Its pieces used cacophonous electronics, terrified screams, atonal guitars and found sounds, to create a ritual of therapeutic shock and cathartic liberation. They employed free-jazz improvisation and winked at the avantgarde techniques of "musique concrete" and Karlheinz Stockhausen. The sound of the metropolis that came alive in their suites was the sound of the lives sacrificed to the machines, not the sound of the machines that used those lives. Their performances coupled this "noise" with multimedia shows that were no less provocative: Newby pioneered performance art based on bodily fluids and all sorts of erotic fetishism. Throbbing Gristle never stopped producing this kind of Freudian mayhems, as documented by the studio album Heathen Earth (feb 1980 - jun 1980), by the live Mission Of Dead Souls (may 1981 - ? 1981) and by the soundtrack for In The Shadow Of The Sun, premiered at the Berlin Film Festival in February 1981 (? 1980 - ? 1981), all of which are structured around lengthy streams of consciousness and abstract sound-painting, but, at the same time, the band changed course with D.O.A. (sep 1977/may 1978 - dec 1978), a collection of electronic vignettes inspired by Brian Eno's Before And After Science and Ron Geesin's Electrosound that, for the most part, focused on the mechanical landscape of factories, warehouses and assembly lines. The new protagonists were the machines: their cold steady rhythms, their screeching metallic noises, and their symphonies of inarticulate patterns. 20 Jazz Funk Greats (sep 1979 - dec 1979) added synthetic dance beats and simple melodies, thus opening the floodgates to disco-oriented industrial music, the progenitor of synth-pop.
The parable of Cabaret Voltaire (2) epitomized the entire industrial school: an abnormal number of releases (mostly pretentious and trivial), and a quick conversion to dance music. Initially, Richard Kirk, Stephen Mallinder and Chris Watson were inspired by early (pre-disco) Kraftwerk and early (pre-funk) Pink Floyd. Their early recordings, such as the album Mix-up (jul/aug 1979 - oct 1979) and the EP Three Mantras (jan 1980 - may 1980), boasted collage-like pieces of abrasive, distorted sounds and mechanical rhythms. Unlike Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire introduced an "eastern" element of trance. But they quickly rediscovered the song format with Red Mecca (may 1981 - aug 1981) and then began propelling it with hyperkinetic funk rhythms on the double EP 2x45 (oct 1981/feb 1982 - may 1982). The albums that followed were stylish electronic dance music that had nothing in common with industrial music.
The multimedia shows created by Adi Newton's Clock DVA (3) differed from the other Sheffield horror-shock experiences because they focused on jams that bridged jazz-rock and acid-rock, as documented on White Souls In Black Suits (? 1980 - dec 1980). The better structured and danceable ballads of Thirst (dec 1980 - ? 1981) introduced a visionary artist, capable of both epic and apocalyptic feats. The sound of Clock DVA continued to evolve with Advantage (fall 1982 - ? 1983), this time towards "noir" atmospheres and Roxy Music-like decadence. Newton's arrangements became baroque on subsequent albums, starting with Buried Dreams (? 1989 - ? 1989), which showed a disproportionate attention to form rather than content.
The spirit of industrial music was related to punk-rock (if nothing else for being so radical). However, the means employed were quite different, as industrial combos shunned the traditional rock trio of guitar, drums and bass in favor of electronic instruments. The spirit was rebellious and outrageous, just like punk-rock, but the sound was hardly rock at all.
The spirit of industrial music was certainly in sync with the "new wave" of the USA. Pere Ubu's "modern dance" and Devo's de-volution rock had just addressed the same theme: individual alienation in the industrial society. It is a theme that had been explored before by rock musicians as varied as Frank Zappa, Brian Eno, Kraftwerk and Neu.
While the childish, barbaric, anarchic structure of industrial compositions seemed akin to what futurism and dadaism had preached at the beginning of the century, the sinister and melancholy tone of those compositions set them apart from anything else that writers and artists had conceived before. Only science fiction had explored the emotional realm of runaway technology, of robots that take over the world, of psychological holocausts. Industrial music viewed technology as a nightmare. It was as "negative" as punk-rock.
Furthermore, the shocking nature of those soundtracks led the perpetrators to indulge in porno and horror overtones that added to the general sense of apocalypse.
When both the leadings bands, Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret, abandoned the
harsh, gruesome overtones of their early recordings and embraced dance beats
and synthetic melodies, the rest of the industrial scene followed suit.
"Industrial" became an ambiguous term, referring both to the radical
sound paintings of early Throbbing Gristle and to the danceable melodic
vignettes of subsequent recordings.
Industrial music benefited, like punk-rock, from the boom of the independent record industry. The "indies" allowed a generation of obscure avantgarde musicians (mostly amateurs) to start a band and cut records. The "indie" phenomenon is also responsible for the over-indulgence of these musicians, who began releasing lengthy albums of mediocre music with no regard for the artistic value. For the first time in history, the "do it yourself" spirit was applied to electronic music. It was the electronic equivalent of garage-rock: the spirit meant more than the skills.
On the other hand, the sheer number of record labels allowed a plethora of sub-genres. The term "industrial" merely identified a community of avantgarde musicians. The individual members often had little in common.
Some were architecting electronic symphonies of musique concrete (Nurse With Wound, Zoviet France); some were experimenting with rhythm and texture (This Heat, 23 Skidoo, Hula); some were adopting an esoteric stance (Current 93, Hafler Trio, Psychic Tv, Coil); some were weaving static sheets of drones (Dome, i.e. former Wire members Bruce Gilbert and Graham Lewis); some were merely painting walls of white noise (Martin Bowes' Attrition, Nigel Ayers' Nocturnal Emissions, Metabolist, British Electric Foundation, i.e. former Human League members Ian Marsh and Martyn Ware, Cranioclast, Whitehouse, Konstruktivists); some were unleashing wild torrents of percussive sounds (Test Dept, Organum ); some were re-interpreting Brian Eno's ambient music and ethnic trance (Lustmord, O Yuki Conjugate); some were experimenting with sound manipulation, like Bryan Jones' Muslimgauze, who made more than 100 albums of tape-manipulated ethnic voices and instruments; and some were simply pursuing synth-pop, like Chris & Cosey of Throbbing Gristle (who would find a more creative balance of beat and noise on F(x), a 2015 album credited to Carter Tutti Void).
Whitehouse (psychotic vocalist William Bennett fronting two wildly abrasive synthesizers), virtually coined "power electronics" on projects of ferocious, visceral electronic tones coupled with provocative lyrics (hailing murder, incest and assorted perverted abjections) such as Total Sex (aug 1980 - nov 1980).
Steven Stapleton's project, Nurse With Wound (3), harked back to the satirical and iconoclastic experiments of Dadaism and Futurism. His early, formative works (frequently shared with David Tibet of Current 93), such as Homotopy To Marie (? 1981/? 1982 - ? 1982) and The Sylvie and Babs Hi-Fi Companion (jan 1983/feb 1985 - ? 1985), were similar in spirit to the Fugs' Virgin Forest, to Frank Zappa's breakneck operettas and to the Residents' multiform suites. His art of the collage turned decidedly cacophonous with works such as the EPs Gyllensköld Geijerstam and I at Rydbergs (? 1983 - may 1984) and Brained By Falling Masonry (? 1984 - ? 1984), but achieved a sort of "classicism" on the album Spiral Insana (jun/dec 1986 - ? 1987). Later works would veer towards a type of ambient music akin to the static, buzzing pieces of minimalist composers such as LaMonte Young and Alvin Lucier.
The early collages (1982) by Zoviet France (2) were even more savage than Nurse With Wound's, evoking a cross between "musique concrete" and tribal music. The monumental double-albums Mohnomishe (jul 1983 - ? 1983) and Eostre (may 1983/apr 1984 - ? 1984) reduced the impact of their "wall of noise", but retained the two key elements that set Zoviet France apart: a trance-oriented approach and "lo-fi" electronics. The tetralogy of "Charm, Ceremony, Chance, Prophecy" ("CCCP"), begun with Misfits, Loony Tunes And Squalid Criminals (? 1986 - ? 1986), marked a move towards a less hostile and more atmospheric sound, which culminated with the eastern-sounding trance/dance of Shadow Thief Of The Sun (apr 1990 - ? 1991).
This Heat (11), a keyboards-bass-guitar trio, coined a unique style that borrowed from progressive-rock, jazz-rock, electronic music, industrial music and, last but not least, German avant-rock of Can, Neu and Faust. Tape loops, overdubs, sound effects and noise abound on their first album and masterpiece, This Heat (feb 1976/sep 1978 - sep 1979). The austere and erudite approach to composition, and an impressive repertory of musical tricks, amounted to little less than a manual of new harmony. Abandoning the difficult rhythms and returning to the song format, Deceit (? 1981 - oct 1981) popularized the idea in the era of synth-pop.
23 Skidoo (2), mainly Fritz Haaman's project, extended Cabaret Voltaire's research program first with the tribal polyrythms of the EP Seven Songs (nov 1981 - feb 1982), that also contained an early fusion of jazz, dub and ambient elements (predating "illbient" by a decade), then with thecosmic-messianic suite of The Culling Is Coming (live: jul 1982/studio: oct 1982 - feb 1983), that employed Tibetan percussions and electronic noise, and finally with the dub-funk percussive monster Urban Gamelan (oct 1983 - aug 1984).
David Tibet's project, Current 93 (2), that often employed Nurse With Wound's Steve Stapleton, Coil's John Balance and/or 23 Skidoo's Fritz Haaman, centered on lugubrious ceremonies. Nature Unveiled (? 1984 - ? 1984), the quintessence of Tibet's black masses, fusing mantra and Gregorian invocations, "unveiled" an ode to eternal suffering, a terrifying fresco of the Universal Judgment. His experiments on the human voice peaked with Dogs Blood Rising (nov 1983/? ? - ? 1985), another aural puzzle aimed at creating sinister atmospheres. Tibet's new course was announced by Imperium (? 1987 - ? 1987), a suite of sepulchral elegies imbued of themes from medieval Christianity, set to the usual sound of hell, and embellished with instruments of the Renaissance. This bard of apocalyptic folk-rock ballads set out to bridge esoteric music of the 1980s and hippy communes of the 1960s, particularly with the psychedelic piece Hitler As Kalki, from Thunder Perfect Mind (sep 1990/feb 1992 - ? 1992). David Tibet's pagan acoustic folk (reminiscent of the Incredible String Band), hardly related to his beginnings, would become a genre of its own.
Hafler Trio (1), aka Andrew McKenzie, devoted himself to highly experimental music that toyed with electronic clusters, tape loops, found sounds, etc. At times, he achieved an impressive synthesis of the languages of concrete, industrial, cosmic and ambient music, perhaps best experienced on A Thirsty Fish (? 1987 - nov 1987) and on the six-movement "mass" Intoutof (? 1985/? 1988 - ? 1988).
John Balance and Throbbing Gristle's Peter Christopherson were the brains behind Coil (1), yet another pretentious esoteric project that experimented with alternative sources of sound, best on Horse Rotorvator (? 1986 - aug 1986), and that eventually evolved towards the droning music of Time Machines (? 1997 - jan 1998).
Psychic Tv, the new project by ex-Throbbing Gristle founding member Genesis P-Orridge (Neil Megson), found a way to bridge the old world of industrial music and the new world of "acid house".
Test Dept (1) played a hostile barrage of "found" percussions (particularly metallic objects), halfway between Neu and Einsturzende Neubaten. The pretext was used on Beating The Retreat (jul 1983 - ? 1984) for broader excursions in sound, and lent itself to large-scale live performances.
David Jackman's Organum explored the connection between musique concrete and ambient music from In Extremis (? 1985 - ? 1985) to Submission (? 1988 - ? 1988).
Andrew Hulme's O Yuki Conjugate subscribed to Brian Eno's ethno-ambient electronic music of the time, notably on Into Dark Water (aug/sep 1986 - ? 1986).
Lustmord (1), i.e. veteran industrial composer Brian Williams, adopted the vocabularies of cosmic and ambient music at a deeper psychological level on albums such as Paradise Disowned (winter 1983/1984 - ? 1986) and especially Heresy (? 1987/? 1989 - ? 1990). A second phase began with the horror concept Monstrous Soul (nov 1990 - ? 1992), notably its suite Primordial Atom, and the two lengthy suites of The Place Where The Black Stars Hang (? 1993 - ? 1994), Aldebaran Of The Hyades and Metastatic Resonance; while the six cosmic suites of Trans Plutonian Transmissions (mar/aug 1994 - oct 1994), credited to Arecibo, updated his cosmic-ambient music to the age of raves.
Several of these projects shared a common destiny. They began with highly individual styles that borrowed from the avantgarde. Due to the limitations of their techniques and tools, those styles sounded like an electronic update of the free-form suites that were popular among acid-rock practitioners of the 1960s. Finally, by the late 1980s, almost all of them had converted to dance music. Towards the end of the decade, "industrial" had become mainly the name of a dance.
Only in the new century would "industrial music" pay off. Then the same
musicians who had hastily abandoned it for more lucrative disco-oriented
projects returned to it, and, in fact, went beyond it.
Organum, for example, would drift towards classical and minimalist music with
the trilogy of Sanctus (dec 2005 - feb 2006), Amen (? ? - nov 2006) and Omega (? ? - dec 2007).
On the other hand, James Thirlwell (114),
better known as Foetus and also known as Clint Ruin, Steroid Maximus and Wiseblood,
became a protagonist of both the London (1978) and the New York (1983)
counterculture, and, ultimately, one of the most significant musicians of
the decade, wedding the punk aesthetics to classical-music ambitions.
Belgium coined one of the most successful currents of industrial dance, "electronic body music", a by-product of latter-period Cabaret Voltaire, influenced by disco-music and science-fiction. Geography (end 1982 - early 1983), by Front 242 (1), was the milestone recording. Then came Klinik (and their offshoot Dive), Neon Judgement, Vomito Negro, etc. Commercially speaking, this industrial school was even more influential than the British school.
A similar style developed in Vancouver, Canada. On their early albums, such as Bites (? 1984/? 1985 - ? 1985), Skinny Puppy (1) delivered a cyber-punk mixture of melodies that were hardly melodic at all, tight cadences by a platoon of drum-machines and ghostly electronics, although they would reach a more cohesive sound on the concept VIVisectVI (jun 1988 - sep 1988) and on the Ministry-influenced Rabies (? 1988/? 1989 - nov 1989).
Front Line Assembly (1) were also followers of Cabaret Voltaire and prophets of the cyber-punk generation. Their most refined recording was the technological poem State Of Mind (aug 1987/feb 1988 - mar 1988). Bill Leeb (whose real name is Wilhelm Schroeder) conducted at the same time a number of parallel projects: Cyberaktif, Noise Unit (Front Line Assembly's evil alter-ego), the progressive-house experiment Intermix, the ambient/new-age Delerium, Will and Synaesthesia .
The "electronic body music" of these bands from Belgium and Canada
laid the foundations for the alternative dance-music of the 1990s.
In Germany, a number of projects were purveyors of noise and anarchy well beyond the proclaims of industrial music, bridging punk aesthetics and expressionism: Der Plan, whose Geri Reig (nov 1979/jan 1980 - may 1980) was one of the earliest experimental albums of their generation; Die Krupps, who debuted with the wild cacophony of Stahlwerksymphony (mar 1981 - ? 1981) before converting to metal-industrial dance music; P16D4, who toyed with musique concrete and electronic improvisation on Nichts Niemand Nirgends Nie (? 1985 - ? 1986); Die Haut, whose Schnelles Leben (mar 1982 - ? 1982) was one of the most radical works of the national school; HNAS, whose Im Schatten Der Möhre (? 1986/? 1987 - ? 1987) was noise at the border between industrial, psychedelic and progressive rock.
Einsturzende Neubauten (12) were the main voice of this generation, bridging the gap between 1970s progressive-rock, Throbbing Gristle's industrial music, Swell Maps' punk-rock and something (very atonal, very chaotic, very non-musical, both austere and subversive) that had no name yet. Singer and guitarist Blixa Bargeld (Christian Emmerich) and percussionists Mufti F.M. Einheit (Frank Strauss) and N.U. Unruh (Andrew Chudy) created a living theatre of self-destruction. Their live shows were pagan rituals that sacrificed instruments and people to their totemic angst. The claustrophobic atmosphere of Kollaps (jun/aug 1981 - oct 1981) relied on a sinister assortment of harsh sounds (found objects, industrial cadences, psychotic vocals, distorted guitars) but it nonetheless achieved lyrical pathos. Zeichnungen das Patienten OT (jan/aug 1983 - nov 1983), their masterpiece, was an expressionistic collage set in a spiritual wasteland. Their cacophonous horror was sincere and internal. That was a point of no return. Only the psychodrama Fünf auf der nach oben offenen Richterskala (apr/jul 1986 - jun 1987) approached that manic suicidal intensity again. Their art, made of silence as much as of sound, made of "gestures" as much as of "harmony", was more closely related to Beckett's theatre than to Berry's rock'n'roll. As their technique became "manner", the ensemble relied on a combination of highly emotional elements to disorient (not shock) the audience: the three-movement "concrete" suite Fiat Lux, off Haus der Lüge (may 1988/may 1989 - sep 1989), and the suite Headcleaner, off Tabula Rasa (mar 1991/oct 1992 - feb 1993), carried out less chaotic journeys through their earthly (and very German) hell. Eventually, the old terrorists transformed into gentlemen philosophers, and their visceral ferocity turned into subtle grandeur, but pieces such as Perpetuum Mobile, off Perpetuum Mobile (aug 2002/jun 2003 - feb 2004), showed the fundamental continuity between the various stages of the group's militancy. The apocalypse had been postponed, but the burial was already underway.
Monoton, the brainchild of Konrad Becker, composed austere electronic music, based on mathematical properties, for faint pulses, background hiss and minimalist repetition, thus rediscovering the art of the irrelevant. The desolate, sparse Blau - Monotonprodukt 02 (aug 1980 - ? 1980), with the 16-minute Dubwise, was outdone by the fuller, more organic and more sinister Monotonprodukt 07 (? 1982 - ? 1982).
German trio Die Tödliche Doris, who debuted with an album titled " " (? 1981 - ? 1982), were not terribly interested in making or playing music, although they did produce something approaching a dissonant mixture of prog-rock, free-jazz, disco-music and industrial noise with a punk nihilist stance. Their real mission rested with Dada's absurdist/provocative and John Cage's aleatory/gestural strategies. For example, Unser Debut (? 1984 - ? 1984) and Sechs (? 1984 - ? 1986) contained tracks of the same length: they were supposed to be played at the same time on two turntables in order to obtain the real album, the "invisible LP" or Die 5 Unsichtbare LP. (? 1984 - ? 1993).
Kinderringellreihen Fûr Wharen Toren Des Grals (dec 1980/? 1985 - feb 2003) collects rarities. Angeldust (? 1980/? 1984 - ? 2002) collects all the early cassettes.
Deutsche Amerikanische Freundschaft, with Gold Und Liebe (aug/sep 1981 - ? 1981), Palais Schaumburg, with Palais Schaumburg (? 1981 - ? 1981), and Xmal Deutschland, with Fetisch (? 1983 - apr 1983), contributed to move synth-pop towards industrial dance-music.
The all-girl group Malaria (1) recorded Emotion (jun 1981 - ? 1982), borrowing from Art Bears' progressive-rock, Soft Machine's jazz-rock, and Talking Heads' art-funk.
Switzerland's Yello pursued a lighter version of Kraftwerk's sci-fi cabaret on Solid Pleasure (? 1980 - oct 1980) and then focused on parodies of disco-music.
In France, Philippe Fichot's Die Form (1) developed a unique form of experimental noise with Die Puppe (? 1982 - ? 1982), a concept album about death and eros.
Italy's Pankow's Freiheit Für Die Sklaven (jun 1987 - ? 1987) offered a dark expressionist version of "electronic body music", while Maurizio Bianchi engaged in some of the most extreme experiments on sound in works such as Symphony For A Genocide (? 1981 - ? 1981) and Endometrio (? 1982 - ? 1983). Spain's Esplendor Geometrico began with a rather derivative style but achieved with Mekano-Turbo (sep 1988 - late 1988) the link between the harsh wall of noise of early "industrialists" and the electronic body music of their descendants. Norway's When (Lars Pedersen) crafted gothic and cinematic musique-concrete suites such as Death In The Blue Lake, off Death In The Blue Lake (feb/mar 1988 - ? 1988), Grey, off Black White & Grey (? 1990 - ? 1991), and especially the 38-minute piece of The Black Death (summer 1992 - ? 1992).
Most, if not all, of these musicians would demonstrate their fundamental
lack of talent by following the trends. First they would adopt disco beats
and make danceable records. Then they would adopt the aesthetics of
Brian Eno's ambient music and turn to long, quiet drones.
Industrial music spread from Britain back to the USA, where musicians such as Residents, Pere Ubu and Boyd Rice had laid the foundations for it. Strains of industrial music surfaced in Boston (John ZeWizz McSweeney's Sleep Chamber), Pennsylvania (Executive Slacks), Delaware (Batz Without Flesh), although they never amounted to a proper movement. A few acts based in New York bridged the gap with the ten-years old new-wave. David Lee Myers' Arcane Device (1) bordered on electronic avantgarde on works such as Feedback Music (? 1988 - ? 1988), a cassette of music based on feedback principles and performed by home-made "feedback machines", Engines Of Myth (? 1988 - ? 1988) and Diabolis Ex Machina (? 1992 - ? 1992), one of the most cacophonous albums of all times. Paul Lemos' Controlled Bleeding (1) began in a primitive/industrial vein with Knees And Bones (may/nov 1984 - feb 1985): visceral cacophony, walls of metallic percussions, devastating feedback, gothic litanies. The bleak and macabre atmospheres climaxed with Headcrack (? 1986 - ? 1986), while the music became more accessible, eventually leading to the hypnotic electronica of Between Tides (may/nov 1985 - ? 1986) and the more conventional industrial/gothic dance of Trudge (jun 1988/may 1989 - ? 1990). Lemos' side-project Skin Chamber Wound (? 1991 - oct 1991) offered a nuclear fission of death-metal and industrial-music.