Industrial music


Industrial music is a loose term for a number of different styles of electronic and experimental music. First used in the mid 1970s to describe the then-unique sound of Industrial Records artists, a wide variety of artists and labels have since come to be represented under the "industrial music" umbrella. Depending on whom you ask, this definition may include Avant-garde performance artists such as Throbbing Gristle and Einstürzende Neubauten, noise projects like Merzbow and Whitehouse, electronic acts like Skinny Puppy, or writer William S. Burroughs.

The term was meant by its creators to evoke the idea of music created for a new generation of people, previous music being more agricultural. Specifically, it referred to the streamlined process by which the music was being made, although many people later interpreted the word as a poetic reference to an "industrial" aesthetic, recalling factories and inhuman machinery. On this topic, Peter Christopherson of Industrial Records once remarked, "the original idea of Industrial Records was to reject what the growing industry was telling you at the time what music was supposed to be."



Early influences

Luigi Russolo's 1913 work The Art of Noises is often cited as the first example of the industrial philosophy in modern music. After Russolo's musica futurista came Pierre Schaeffer and musique concrète, and this gave rise to early industrial music, which was made by manipulating cut sections of recording tape, and adding very early sound output from analog electronics devices.

Also important in the development of the genre was the Dada art movement, which attempted to create art out of household objects, and later the Fluxus art movement.

Industrial Records

Industrial Music was originally coined by Monte Cazazza as the strapline for the record label Industrial Records (founded by British art-provocateurs Throbbing Gristle, the musical offshoot of performance art group COUM Transmissions). The original Industrial Records artists have very little musical connection with most modern industrial music.

Although it was contemporary to punk rock in the mid-to-late 1970s (such as the Sex Pistols), industrial music was harder hitting, conceptual, thought-provoking and seen as more "difficult" (being at its root an experimental genre, not rock-based music). Whilst punk's revolution was to boil rock music down to three chords on a guitar, industrial's rebellion against the music industry refused the need to know how to play any chords at all. Early industrial performances would often involve taboo-breaking, provocative elements, such as self-mutilation, pornography, sado-masochistic elements and totalitarian symbolism.

The first wave of this music appeared in 1977 with Throbbing Gristle and NON, and often featured tape editing, stark percussion, and loops distorted to the point where they had degraded to harsh noise. Vocals were sporadic, and were as likely to be bubblegum pop as they were to be abrasive polemics.

Bands like Cabaret Voltaire, Clock DVA, Factrix and SPK soon followed. Blending electronic synthesisers, guitars and early samplers, these bands created an aggressive and abrasive music fusing elements of rock with experimental electronic music. Like their punk cousins, they enjoyed the use of shock-tactics including explicit lyrical content, graphic art and Fascist imagery. Industrial Records enjoyed a fair amount of controversy after using an image of a gas chamber as its logo.

Across the Atlantic, similar experiments were taking place. In San Francisco, shock/performance artist Monte Cazazza (often collaborating with Factrix and Survival Research Labs/SRL) began working with harsh atonal noise. Boyd Rice (aka NON) released several more albums of noise music, with guitar drones and tape loops creating a cacophony of repetitive sounds. In Germany, Einstürzende Neubauten were performing daring acts, mixing metal percussion, guitars and unconventional "instruments" (such as jackhammers) in elaborate stage performances that often damaged the venues they were playing.

The 80's and 90's, The style spreads

In the early 1980s, advances in sampling technology and the popularity of synthesised new wave music bought some industrial musicians greater exposure. As much as some New Wave bands were informed by the experiments of the industrial bands, the original industrial groups also began to refine their sound. Cabaret Voltaire and Throbbing Gristle experimented with dance beats, and the Cab's (as they were known by fans) album The Crackdown was released on Virgin Records to some success.

These dancefloor-friendly releases began to have a far-reaching influence, and acts such as Front 242 began to refine the industrial sound to a synth-oriented structure, with great success. By 1983, Front 242 had become Belgium's most popular band, although they had released only one album. They released a second album later that year, and introduced the term electronic body music (commonly referred to as EBM or body music) to describe themselves, as industrial music was still considered by many to refer to the artists on the Industrial Records roster.

During the late 1980's and through the 1990's this dance-friendly music became the public face of "industrial" and also influenced movements witihin alternative rock. Artists such as Front 242, Skinny Puppy, Numb, Pigface, Ministry received some mainstream attention on MTV and Radio, although their music was mostly played at "Industrial dance" clubs such as Slimelight in London, and thereby also became a part of the developing goth scene. Many industrial music purists consider that the term "industrial music" should be reserved for the underground, avant-garde music of industrial records and their ilk; and not applied to pop and rock crossover music. This has led to a split between the public perception of "industrial" music and the opinion of hardcore fans of that music.

Contemporary developments

During the early 21st century, perhaps as a reaction to the band and rock-oriented feel of the mid-nineties, industrial music made a radical shift towards computer-generated, one-person acts. Eschewing the explosive stage shows that were commonplace, many performances now consist of a single artist on stage, surrounded by computers and electronic music equipment. The structure itself is opening itself up to even further experimentation, with modern equipment making a number of previously unattainable effects and techniques fair game for anyone with enough computer savvy and patience. Artists include: Mimetic, Tarmvred, Winterkälte, Imminent Starvation, Gridlock and Spin.

Some notable labels in the current scene are: Ant-Zen (Germany), Ad Noiseam, Hymen (Germany), Hands Productions (Germany)
Sample of "Tentack One" by Imminent Starvation
Sample of "Death Time" by Converter

Please see the List of industrial music subgenres for a more comprehensive accounting of industrial styles.


As of 2005 there was a considerable amount genre-crossover and confusion taking place within industrial music. Part of the seemingly myriad sub genres of industrial music are caused by the tendency of fans of a particular industrial artist or group of artists to continue to follow those artists even if they begin working in a completely different genre. This change in style is often described as a sub-genre of industrial, even though in content it might be more similar to other genres of music. For example, the genre of apocalyptic folk was essentially created when a few industrial artists started to make folk music. Almost all of the fans of these artists are industrial music fans, as opposed to folk music fans. This phenomenon continues to shape the label of industrial music.

See also

External links


Electronic music | Genres
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