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Music 101

The Birth of Industrial Music

The Birth of Industrial Music


For a genre infamous for flirting with totalitarian imagery, obsessing over techno-apocalypse, singing of serial killers and slathering itself in existential gloom, industrial music has proven awfully amenable when it comes to cross-pollination. Since its emergence in the late '70s, the movement has shacked up with nearly every style imaginable, from hard rock to techno, heavy metal to goth, punk to world music. Even modern folk and New Age have found themselves mingling with industrial. And then there's Broadway fluff like Stomp! and Blue Man Group, both of which feature percussive elements that can be traced back to the scrap-metal experimentation of pioneering outfits such as Test Dept. and Die Krupps.

Because of this penchant for fusion, industrial's original sound (from back when it first emerged from England, Germany and, interestingly enough, San Francisco) has somewhat been lost through the decades. Nowadays, only genre purists and lovers of all things underground are willing to get their ears dirty with the vintage stuff. This mainly has to do with the music's abject brutality. Sorry Trent, you seem like an intense dude, but your brooding croon and Saw-like computer beats got nothing on Throbbing Gristle's Genesis P-Orridge croaking about infamous Myra Hindley, or Cabaret Voltaire creating echo-drenched odes to The Baader-Meinhof Group, or Einstürzende Neubauten destroying Berlin clubs with jackhammers -- yes, actual functioning jackhammers!

If all this vile weirdness sounds provocative, possibly even objectionable, it's because the era from which industrial music popped out was awash in bummer vibes. These artists came of age when the Western world seemed to teeter on the precipice of collapse: '60s utopianism was six feet under, gas was either super expensive or nowhere to be found, transnationals were transforming democracies into technocracies and cities had devolved into crime-riddled dumpsters. The only popular musicians acknowledging what was going down were the punks. But while their iconoclastic antics certainly inspired industrial culture, T.G., Neubauten, Cabaret Voltaire and the rest of their ilk took their diagnoses much further. To them, society was one gigantic asylum, one where the inmates had seized control. And as Hippocrates once stated: "For extreme diseases, extreme methods of cure." In other words, extreme situations call for extreme music, which is exactly what these sonic guerillas created: violent onslaughts of feedback, atonalism and abrasion specifically designed to blot out all rational thought. It was controversial and totally in your face, but hey, it also sounded utterly novel and different.

While the bulk of the selections on the playlist are from first-wave industrial artists, I also include three key precursors: William S. Burroughs (his tape manipulations from the late '60s are proto-industrial), Lou Reed (the 1975 album Metal Machine Music could be considered the music's birth) and COUM Transmissions (a vital pre-T.G. project).

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