If you were to argue that industrial is of its own entity—one devoid of the ‘sub’ prefix, you’d have a pretty damn good case. I mean, let’s not beat around the bush, industrial can get weird as hell. It takes a pretty seasoned/lenient ear to appreciate the depths of those dissonant soundscapes. While its eccentricities are cherry picked from other genres, its final form is nothing like the seeds from which it’s sewn.
Sat in experimentation, industrial is a parent genre to an incredible list of dark and delightful offshoots. Its rhizomatic qualities are an idiosyncratic tangle of noise and innovation—a sort of, sub-genre-come-genre if you will. Regardless of what standard you hold its originality, industrial is an exciting and strange precedent.
I remember showing my mum an Einstürzende Neubauten track a few years ago, I guess to see what she’d say. Ever the optimist, “interesting” was her response; though shot me a sideways glance of fleeting worry and confusion. Thus, is the reaction from most—admittedly, myself included. Bordering on performance art, industrial is a remarkable mix of sensory extremes.
Having sought cues from early 20th century Avant-guard minds like Arseny Avraamov—his composition “Symphony of Sirens” used the sounds of navy ships, factories, cars and weaponry—it would be the United Kingdom, mid 1970s that staked claim to industrial’s modern existence. From the unassuming city of Hull came the extraordinary vision of Throbbing Gristle and their ground-breaking label Industrial Records. Its four members Gensis P. Orridge, Cosey Fanni Tutti, Peter Christopherson and Chris Carter are widely considered the pioneers of Industrial music.
In stark opposition to their surroundings, theirs was an intellectual nuance. By the mid 70s Hull had seen the death of the fishing and shipping industries, leaving the northern city in poverty—the poorest in the country at the time.
Throbbing Gristle found influence in the cut and paste methods of writer William S. Burrows and profound European thinkers like Antonin Artaud and Guy Debord. Theirs was an anarchic notion. They saw a society indoctrinated into a cultural mould of self-identity and norms—its sculptors—the media, government, and religion. Industrial music kicked against the ideals of order and reason. It was a movement to incite and perplex, standing firm in singularity.
Throbbing Gristle would split in 1981. Though with its fragmentation each member would go on to achieve the incredible—each pushing experimental boundaries. Together with contemporaries like Monte Cazazza, Cabaret Voltaire, DAF and Skinny Puppy their industrial spores would ignite new splinters of the genre’s touch. EBM (Electronic Body Music) and dark electronic/dark synth pop would make the sound more palatable for a broader audience (kind of).
Traces of the industrial sound are still prevalent in 2019. While definitely not in its mind-bending, body-contorting originality, some of the world’s best are still asking questions of their audiences via left field experimentation. Acts like Aphex Twin and Trent Reznor’s Nine Inch Nails have met international acclaim using the ambiguity of the industrial sound. Theirs is a modern twist on the chaotic origins of the original form.
A far cry from the grooves of dance music, though still electronic—a fist of opposition that hits harder than the staunchest of punks—industrial is a concept lived both within and outside of the sound. It seems those having chosen its path don’t deviate, a one-way street of the most radical. I mean, razor wire to fluffy bunnies? I don’t think so.
Let us know who your favourite artists from this sub-genre are down in the comments!