Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
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 who you ask, this definition may include European Avant-garde performance artists Throbbing Gristle and Einstürzende Neubauten, American rock bands Ministry and Nine Inch Nails, Canadian electronic acts Skinny Puppy and Front Line Assembly, 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."
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.
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), but soon evolved through the artistic endeavors of projects like Psychic TV or Skinny Puppy. 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.
New Wave and electronic body music
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.
Speaking very generally, modern industrial usually involves sequenced electronics, making heavy use of FM & digital synths. It is characterized by a deadened snare drum sample and a heavy bass drum sample to a rock or techno beat. Vocals are often distorted and can feature "tortured" lyrics. The auto-arpeggiate feature of modern synthesizers is used often, to create complex sounding multiple simultaneous arpeggiations from multiple synthesizers which are synchronized with drum machines via MIDI. Reliance on heavy distortion pioneered by heavy metal also typifies the genre. Contemporary industrial music is often club-oriented. An element common to early industrial is sometimes known as the "left hand right hand" mistake. Much of the genre's early work was written using step sequencers, which often resulted in the bass and snare drum loaded onto one track, precluding them from being played at the same time. This creates a sound which gives the impression a drummer is holding two drum sticks, and is hitting a drum with his left hand, and then another with his right hand.
It should be mentioned that there is much disagreement within the industrial scene as to the current state of industrial, to the extent that some (including artists mentioned on this page) are of the belief that there is no "current state of industrial", and that industrial music ended with the demise of Throbbing Gristle and Industrial Records. Thus, the subgenre outlines that follow are by no means definitive, and indeed are often a point of contention between fans of the music.
First wave (70s to 80s - Industrial Records)
Industrial began as an intellectual movement to challenge the idea of what music can be. The first wave of industrial musicians began performing in the mid-seventies. There are still a number of artists who create music in a fashion very similar to the original philosophies of Industrial Records. These genres all stem directly from industrial.
Avant-garde / experimental
Popularized by Industrial Records, this sound first defined the term "industrial", but bears very little resemblance to what most people consider to be industrial music. By modern standards, most of this would better be described as "experimental noise". Featuring tape loops, cut-ups, vocal and instrumental experimentation, this first incarnation of industrial music would be considered very difficult listening for many of those familiar with modern industrial, but was widely considered to be the defining sound of industrial in the 70s.
- Artists: Throbbing Gristle, Einstürzende Neubauten, Factrix, William S. Burroughs, Nurse With Wound
- Labels: Industrial Records
Noise / shock
This branch of Industrial focused more an brutal, ear shattering, noise, much of it was for shock value, it was and continues to be a huge influence on modern interpretations of Noise music, as well as Industrial music in general.
Main article: Noise music
Power electronics was originally related to the early industrial records scene but later became more identified with the noise music scene. It largely consists of screeching waves of feedback, analogue synthesizers making sub-bass pulses or high frequency squealing sounds, and screamed, distorted, often hateful and offensive lyrics. Deeply atonal, there are no "notes" or conventional rhythms in power electronics.
- Artists: Whitehouse, The New Blockaders , Sutcliffe Jugend
- Labels: Come Organisation (UK), Broken Seal (Germany), Alien8 Recordings (Canada)
Electronic / dance
A form of Industrial that was more accessible, and more danceable, that came about in the early 1980s. Evolved alongside EBM. Many of the artists involved were originally practitioners of the classic industrial sound.
Second wave (80s to 90s - Wax Trax)
EBM / industrial dance
Main article: Electronic body music
EBM (short for electronic body music; also commonly known as industrial dance): The term "EBM" was coined by Belgian act Front 242 in the eighties; it denotes a certain type of danceable electronic music. EBM beats are typically 4/4, often with some minor syncopation to suggest a "rock" rhythm. Heavy synths are usually prominent, and the vocals are often militaristic. This style was widely considered to be the defining sound of industrial in the 80s. In recent years, however, there has been somewhat of a schism within the EBM scene, and it is now not uncommon to hear futurepop and synthpop artists referred to as EBM artists. For this reason, many EBM fans have begun to refer to this earlier style as old-school EBM.
- Artists: Front 242, Bigod 20 , Nitzer Ebb
- Labels: Off Beat (Germany), Zoth Ommog (Belgium), Pendragon (USA), Wax Trax (USA)
Electro-industrial / elektro
Main article: Electronic body music
Electro-industrial (Now often called elektro, and not to be confused with electro) is largely a catch-all category that fills the space between power noise, EBM, old-style industrial, and gothic music. The main forerunner for these acts is the legendary eighties Canadian band Skinny Puppy, who used a variety of experimental production techniques to great success. Whereas EBM was generally straightforward in structure and production, elektro became known for its deep, layered sound. Typically this is a darker form of EBM; however this can often refer to acts that combine EBM with another subgenre (for example Feindflug , who combine EBM with power noise). Within North America, this style was widely considered to be the defining sound of industrial in the mid to late 1990s.
- Artists: Skinny Puppy, Numb , Wumpscut, Front Line Assembly, Haujobb
- Labels: Off Beat (Germany), Zoth Ommog (Belgium), 21st Circuitry (USA), Pendragon (USA), Metropolis (USA).
With its roots in American rock music, aggro-industrial (Often simply called aggro) fused punk-rock sensibilities with techno-industrial brutality. Known for their live performances, studio releases by these acts often employed rotating and shared lineups due to the frequency of improv and jam sessions. Much of this style's musical output was very aggressive, with confrontational lyrics and samples. This aesthetic was furthered by the larger-than-life stage presence of many acts, which often involved costumes, pyrotechnics, elaborate sets, and horror-inspired makeup. This style was widely considered to be the defining sound of industrial in the early 1990s.
Coldwave has its roots in industrial metal acts like the Young Gods and Ministry, and exploded on the American scene in the mid-1990s. Albums like Chemlab's Burn Out at the Hydrogen Bar exemplified the typical coldwave sound: rock-like guitars with prominent synthesizer accompaniment, and live or sampled drums. Lyrical content varies, but is typically cyberpunk-oriented in some fashion, often with pop sensibilities. Coldwave record labels had a notoriously short lifespan.
- Artists: Chemlab, 16 Volt, Hate Dept. ,
- Labels: Re-Constriction Records (USA), Fifth Colvmn Records (USA). If It Moves (USA).
Death industrial can be described as having much of the same source sounds as power electronics, but used to create a deep atmospheric sound with some thematic similarity to doom or death metal. Often features a more flowing rhythm and deeper, less abrasive sound than power electronics. The Grey Wolves are credited for pioneering the style, but many the concepts of death industrial were first seen in NON.
- Artists: The Grey Wolves, Brighter Death Now , Atrax Morgue
- Labels: Cold Meat Industry (Sweden), Slaughter Productions (Italy)
Dark industrial is the marriage of dark ambient and industrial. Much like dark ambient, the style is a minimalist soundscape. What separates dark ambient from dark industrial is the harshness. The droning and distorted samples of dark ambient are replaced by waves of static and eerie melodies.
- Artists: Gruntsplatter, Innana, Keimverbreitung
- Labels: Malignant Records (USA), Cold Meat Industry (Sweden), Cold Spring (UK)
Third wave (90s to 00s - Ant-Zen)
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.
Industrial techno is a jarring cross between power noise, traditional industrial, and techno. It often resembles house music in structure, while keeping the harsh sounds, noises, and fast pacing of industrial music. Although guitars are not uncommon, lyrics and a verse-chorus-verse structure are very rare.
- Artists: Pow[d]er Pussy , Punch Inc. , Mimetic, Tarmvred
- Labels: Ant-Zen (Germany), M-Tronic (France), Ad Noiseam
Power noise (also known as rhythmic noise) takes its inspiration from some of the more structured and distorted early industrial acts, such as Esplendor Geométrico . There are also certain techno and technoid influences. The term "power noise" was originally coined by Raoul Roucka, who records as Noisex . Typically, power noise is based upon a distorted kick drum from a drum machine such as a roland tr-808 , uses militaristic 4/4 beats, and is usually instrumental. Sometimes a melodic component is added, but this is almost always secondary to the rhythm. Power noise tracks are typically structured and danceable, but are known to be occasionally abstract. This genre is showcased at the annual Maschinenfest festival in Aachen, Germany as well as InFest Festival in Bradford, UK.
- Artists: Winterkälte , Imminent Starvation , Axiome, Converter, 5f_55 . Haus Arafna
- Labels: Ant-Zen (Germany), Hands Productions (Germany)
Technoid acts take equal parts inspiration from the noise scene and IDM music. The end result is usually diverse IDM-influenced rhythms with varying levels of noise and industrial influence. Artists will often use non-conventional sounds within their music, such as field recordings of natural phenomena, dated 8-bit electronic equipment, or samples from artists of a wildly different genre. It is not uncommon for two albums by the same artist to have drastically different sounds and structures, resulting in a number of acts that have evolved a great distance from where they were only years ago. German label Hymen Records is largely responsible for the term and the style.
- Artists: Gridlock, Black Lung, Somatic Responses , Xingu Hill
- Labels: Hymen (Germany), Mirex (Germany), <UNIT> (USA)
Drum n noise
Drum n noise Combines elements of breakcore, IDM, Industrial, hardcore techno and power noise, often with a fairly free structure somewhere between IDM and noise music. The term was coined by the act Winterkälte when it was used as the name for one of their albums.
- Artists: Enduser , Hecate , Tuareg Geeks
- Labels: Mirex
The following styles are often associated with industrial music, but should not be considered part of the industrial genre itself. They are included here for the sake of reference, as people unfamiliar with the style often consider them "industrial" in the absence of a more appropriate classification.
While not considered industrial music by many who perceive excessive commercial and pop influences, industrial rock acts were commonplace within industrial magazines, on industrial music compilations, and as opening acts at industrial concerts. Referring to these acts as "industrial", however, may be met with hostility from some in the industrial scene.
- Artists: Nine Inch Nails, Gravity Kills, Econoline Crush, Stabbing Westward, Marilyn Manson, Celldweller
- Labels: Nothing Records (USA)
As of 2004 there was a considerable amount genre-crossover and confusion taking place within industrial music. There are several high-profile artists whose early albums could arguably be classified as industrial (such as Covenant's first album, 1994's Dreams of a Cryotank, or the first VNV Nation album, 1995's Advance and Follow), but who have since worked almost exclusively in the futurepop or synthpop genres. Conversely, there are a popular number of artists from other genres who are releasing work that sounds like modern industrial music, but without any participation or work with industrial musicians, labels, or media. The Speedy J album A Shocking Hobby is a good example of this -- it comes from the IDM scene, but would fit perfectly as a release on a rhythmic noise label. As a result, the genre is becoming increasingly influenced by artists working in other genres. This may be seen as a benefit, as it has exposed industrial music to a larger audience, but some have countered that this popularity is also causing the genre to become "watered down", due to techno and futurepop artists getting increased consideration in industrial clubs and on industrial labels.
Part of the seemingly myriad sub genres of industrial music are caused by the tendancy 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.
Notable industrial music artists
- The rec.music.industrial usenet group FAQ file
- Lectro Slue: Description and origins of industrial music
- The Unacceptable Face of Freedom: Totalitarian imagery & industrial music
- Industrial Music Library: On-line repository for documents chronicling the origins of industrial music
- Page by music professor, includes several articles and copy of PhD written about industrial music
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