If one thing becomes painfully clear after reading my seventh installment of the admittedly lame History of Industrial Music article series, a fertile underground scene had become victim to the wrath of corporate pilfering. As the major labels, once again, rushed to wreck another genre of music, industrial music nearly became a casualty in the mid-nineties as industrial morphed into mainstream MTV culture and the whole scene nearly collapsed from chronic malaise.
Thankfully, industrial music was temporarily saved from certain extreme vileness by the unexpected resurgence of electronic noise and angry Euro-ebm. So, yes I am grateful for the saving graces of the independent labels. However…
Things are starting to get scary in the independent world too. With everyone clamoring for attention, a lot of the music is starting to sound the same. So what is next? Or has it all been done already? Now I am not attacking the whole independent scene, and those few bands that are still breaking new ground know who they are and need not explain themselves. But you know what bands I am talking about, don't you? Yes, all three of you who actually read my articles know exactly what I am talking about. I am sure that you can think of at least twenty bands that could fit that description.
To those bands in the latter category, please do all of us a favor: piss off and sign with a major. Please. Spare all of us your rebel artist electro-angst bullshit and cash in before the stock markets of the world collapse.
Yes. Industrial's dead. There, I said it. Don't believe me? Then you are not listening at all. Don't like me for saying this? I don't care. It needs to be said. It's the truth. And the ebm and synthpop resurgence: how long do you honestly think it all will last?
Do not despair. I have listed below ten albums that defy classification, and are perfect albums to annoy your even more annoying neighbors. These CDs all skate the circumference of electronic music. However, none of these bands could ever be confused with anything remotely industrial, but there are parallels that are interesting. I have listed the albums below alphabetically, in order to invoke a state of non-confusion.
Brainiac - Bonzai Superstar (1994, Grass Entertainment) Brainiac's music is an intentionally distorted strain of adolescent new wave induced by an extreme sugar high. This album in particular set the standard for the band's interestingly brief career. Brainiac was the first band that I am aware of that began the, then unfashionable, 80s retro pursuit that is so popular today. Unfortunately, Tim Taylor died tragically in a car crash in 1997, thus abruptly ending the band's output. John Schmersal is currently in the band Enon, which has continued the Brainiac legacy to a certain degree.
The Fall - The Wonderful and Frightening World of… (1984, Beggars Banquet) - Mark E. Smith is baffling and brilliant. One must use a Turing machine to penetrate his cryptic lyrics. And like David Lynch, another impenetrable soul, you either love Smith or you hate him. If you hate The Fall (shame on you), then this is the best album to initiate the digestion and redemption processes. This was the heyday of the tumultuous Fall era, as Mark E.'s penultimate writing prowess seemed to be in a heightened state of arousal, urged on by his, then current, state of Brix-ness.
Mr. Bungle - Disco Volante (1995, Warner Bros.) One of the few times a major label got it right, Mr. Bungle is the undisputed king of genre-hopping. Mike Patton, better known for his work with Faith No More, instigated this cast of characters to develop some of the finest convoluted music ever produced. This album aborted the crudity of the band's earlier releases for a more refined sound. I actually prefer their California album to this one, but Disco Volante has an unabashed muscular approach and the "annoying factor" is persistent. Check out the song "Desert Search for Techno Allah.' It is definitely not techno, but it is about as electronic as this band gets. Also, check out other Patton side-projects: Maldoror (w/Merzbow) and Fantomas.
Pain Teens - Stimulation Festival (1992, Trance Syndicate) Bliss Blood's commandingly blank-stare vocals are the perfect feminine counterpoint to Scott Ayers gritty guitar sludge-fest. This album combines dark as hell lyrics, rabid guitar growls, tape loops, and filtered noise. The Pain Teens affinity lies closer to a more indie rock sound than it does to your standard electronic music circa 1992. However, they were the perfect example of a band unafraid to experiment with electronic media while avoiding the whole guitar-jock mentality.
Neurosis - Times of Grace (1999, Relapse) Neurosis is the ultimate in progressive doom that will bury your Pink Floyd dreams beneath many layers of scary screams, inexplicable calm, and tribal drums. Their more experimental electronic ambient side-project, Tribes of Neurot, is actually more my speed these days. With Steve Albini's production fingerprints all over this, Times of Grace qualifies as one of those albums that blocks out the world and replaces it with something just as unsettling. Neurosis will appeal to those more metal-bound, although synthesizers abound. This is probably the band's most overtly electronic album.
The Pop Group - We Are All Prostitutes (1998, Radar) If you are not familiar with the funked-up gothic dub of the Pop Group, then this is the album for you to start your exploration, as it is sort of provides a "best of" panorama. The music, let alone the CD title, is guaranteed to irritate the most sedate and meditatively inclined human being. Even the CD cover is freaky: a giant crucifix placed upon the forehead of some distraught minion in an obvious attempt to exorcise a demon. There is no word mincing here, just a total barrage of in-your-face political mayhem that bludgeons you into a state of tingling nerves. What is really great is the band's name: you think you are getting something innocuous like the Bay City Rollers.
The Residents - Eskimo (Original release date: 1979. Re-issued 1990, East Side Digital) This CD boldly attempted to approximate, with music and sound, the sobering story of the Inuits and others native to the frozen tundra, and of the harsh struggles of their daily life. The full impact of this ambient sound journal is best experienced indoors, with headphones, and when it is miserably cold outside. It will give you a greater appreciation for all of the things we take for granted: reliable shelter; heat; and the fact that you do not have to eat raw walrus meat in order to avoid starvation. One thing is for sure, the Residents are an incredibly weird band, but they perform and compose music like nobody else. In my opinion, this is their best effort that I have heard thus far. This particular re-issue also contains an added ep bonus: The Replacement.
Six Finger Satellite - Severe Exposure (1995, Sub Pop) Six Finger Satellite, via Severe Exposure, perfected their version of vicious new wave hardcore electro-terror, mixed with a biting sense of humor. This alchemy is most apparent on the song 'Simian Fever,' which is about the perils of pissed off monkeys on a rampage after escaping a research lab. They are undoubtedly the most un-Sub Pop band you will ever listen to, perhaps due to the band's geographical origin: Rhode Island. Their follow-up album, Paranormalized, is also great and highly recommended.
Various Artists - Extreme Music from Africa (1997, Susan Lawly) Compiled by William Bennett of Whitehouse, this CD highlights some of the cutting-edge experimental electro-acoustic music coming from the beautiful, yet unforgiving, African continent. This CD was a very recent purchase of mine, only because I never knew it existed. It exceeded my expectations beyond measure. In some cases the technology is rudimentary, but that is the point. Use what you have, and use it well, before some nasty bastard tries taking it away from you.
John Zorn - IAO (2002, Tzadik) If there is such a thing as scary jazz, this is it. John Zorn provided the genesis for a band such as Mr. Bungle to pursue a collage-like effect by incorporating various genres within the same song. Zorn even produced Mr. Bungle's first Warner Bros. CD. Experimental music is John Zorn's trademark, and he incorporates many different styles on IAO: music for choir; ambient; death metal; percussion; and electronic manipulation. Dedicated to filmmaker Kenneth Anger, and based on the writings of Aleister Crowley, this CD is not for everyone.
So what is my point? I would answer that question with another question: what is going to be the next trend in electronic music? Perhaps, one of these bands might offer a clue.
Copyright 2002, Michael Casano