Friday, June 17, 2016

A Rather Brief History of Industrial Music

"To escape the horror, bury yourself in it."

In the mid to late 1970s a new musical movement, known as punk, emerged in the United States and England, quickly spreading to other countries. The history of Punk itself can, and has, filled volumes, and my purpose is not to recount or critique it here. For our purposes, Punk is significant for ONE reason: It blew the lid off established musical forms and opened the door for a resurgence of innovation.

The number of genres and sub genres that look to punk as musical forefathers is vast. Post-Punk, Hard Rock, Goth, Death Rock, Industrial, EBM, Indie Rock, Emo, Grunge, Metal, Future Pop, Power Noise, etc... all owe a greater or lesser debt to the accomplishments of a rather small number of people banging their fists against the mainstream for a couple of years in the 1970s.

The purpose of this document is not to explain all of them, or even to explain the rise and fall of different bands, labels, individuals, and scenes within Industrial Music in depth. For that I will refer you to the rather good Wikipedia article on this topic. Here I am only providing a rough outline to convey the basics of what different phases the genre has passed through, from its origins, to its current parodic death throws.

This transformation can be appreciated by focusing on five distinct periods of development.

I) The First Wave of Industrial Music
II) Electronica + Sampling & The Golden Age of Industrial
III) Evolution + The Aggro-EBM of the late 1990s
IV) The Wilderness
V) Parodic Phase

I The First Wave of Industrial Music



Industrial has traditionally be characterized as a percussion-intensive genre. This is generally true, however it has been as much focused on simple audio experimentation as it has been with the aesthetic of people banging on things. Take Throbbing Gristle - one of the first "industrial" bands. Using effected guitar and bass, primitive synthesizers, tape loops, and random additional instruments, they created very strange sound-collages that did not generally fit into the traditional "song" structure. If Richard Wright of Pink Floyd was one of the first to use synthesizers as an integral part of pop music in the 1970s, Throbbing Gristle, and their peers in this time (Bands such as Cabaret Voltaire, SPK, Monte Cazazza, Einstürzende Neubauten) were still trying to use - anything and everything - to push and break the limits of what we consider "music".

How about replacing an electric guitar with a Jack Hammer? How about using bits of pipe, scrap metal, and oil drums, instead of traditional drum sets? What better way to reflect (or encourage?) the decay of late industrial society than by appropriating the actual material, and organic sounds, of this society? Punk had thrown open the doors for intelligent people to think about fashion, music and art in different ways... but for all its rage and fury punk has also remained one of the most musically conservative of all genres, hardly ever deviated from the traditional "rock" instrument line up. Industrial people were too creative and adventurous to limit themselves to this.


In the early days, synthesizers were A LOT more expensive than they are today. As a result, few people could afford them. There were no computers and MIDI Controllers to set up in one's bed room and "mess around" on. Furthermore, Digital Samplers were not readily available until the early 80's and even by then they were in short supply, very expensive, and had very limited memory and sampling rates. If, instead of a traditional "snare" drum, you wanted the sound of metal on concrete, or metal on metal, you had to actually get those real objects and carry them to a show and bang on them then. As a result, live performances of "industrial" bands in the 70s and 80s were generally more interesting than those of "industrial" bands today.



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