I. Introduction - What Is Industrial Music?
This is the first in a series of seven articles attempting to provide a brief history of industrial music. By examining the history of the music, I hope to establish a definition of industrial music. The problem with attempting to define a genre of music is that within that genre are many different styles or sub-genres. How can anyone claim that Throbbing Gristle, Einsturzende Neubauten, or Skinny Puppy, musically, have anything in common besides their interest in electronic music? And yet all three bands would appear on any list of formative bands within this genre. With this in mind, I have come to the conclusion that in order to better understand exactly what industrial music is, it would be totally inaccurate and short-sighted to start discussing the musical events that occurred in London, circa 1976. One common denominator within the industrial music culture is to experiment with and manipulate sound electronically. Therefore, early experiments in electronic music need to be examined, especially the experiments of Italian Futurist Luigi Russolo whose manipulation of organic and inorganic sound is crucial in the development of industrial music. From the manifestos and performances of the artistic community, it is essential to follow this trail of electronic experimentation to the world of musical academia and the classical avant-garde composers, through the world of progressive rock, the nihilism of punk, and the dance club culture.
A common theme explored in industrial music is the perversity of progress through technology. This perversity is often illustrated through topics including murder, torture, conspiracy theories, the occult, genocide, animal experimentation, war, religious iconoclasm, corporate greed, political dictatorships, racism, and human sexuality. Walking a fine line of condonation and condemnation, these topics are often explored through a mixture of extreme visual images and sound. This mixture offers tangible evidence decrying the absurdity of what, historically, has been acceptable behavior.
What prompted me to write this series of articles is my belief that industrial music, more than any other genre, offers a mirror image of a myriad of societal problems. By portraying these problems in full view, without the sugar coating afforded by the corporate dominated media, is a crucial element in solving the problems of the future. By examining this ugliness of the past, perhaps the future will not repeat the patterns set forth. Is the enemy technology? Technology has infiltrated every aspect of our lives, including how music is recorded, processed, and listened to. Technology provides a certain elemental threat of dehumanization. But is the enemy the intrusiveness of the Internet-connected PC, or is the true enemy apathy? Industrial music shakes this apathy at the core for it forces you to move, even if that movement is only to turn the volume on your stereo louder, to run away from the aural confrontation in horror, or destroy your stereo and everything in your path.
This series of articles is not meant to be exhaustive by any means. What I hope to do is provoke thought, offer historical insight, and provide references for further research about a complex and challenging genre of music. Unfortunately, there has been very little written about industrial music.
As this is simply an introductory article, the subsequent articles will promise to be more substantial in nature. The next article will introduce early experiments in electronic music, with a concentration on the Futurists, Dadaists, and an introduction to some innovative classical avant-garde composers.
An excellent introduction to Industrial music is the CD compilation: Alternative Press presents Industrial Strength Machine Music (1999, Rhino Entertainment Co.). This CD provides a concise, though limited, listening experience and informative liner notes by Jason Pettigrew, Editor-In-Chief, Alternative Press.