Dig the scene:
I’m 11-years-old, in the 7th grade and in love with a girl named Raven. At least that’s the name she went by. I’m a junior punk rocker, in love with The Ramones and The Cramps. She’s strictly in love with The Cure. She daydreams of melancholy Robert Smith planting a kiss on her black lipsticked lips. I daydream of planting a kiss on her black lipsticked lips. She takes me to her house one fine day after school and we watch Christian Slater piss off the status-quo in Pump Up the Volume. Raven’s older sister returns from high school. I am now in love times two. Big sis looks like the girls I not-so-secretly covet in the pages of Thrasher Magazine. She’s half-skate Betty and half-junior Vampira. She wears fishnets with denim cut-off shorts and long-flowing floral print blouses. She wears black leather Na-Na monkey boots. The side of her head is shaved and she has a ring through her nose. She doesn’t fuck around with the wimpy boys in The Cure. She’s strictly Ministry and Skinny Puppy, bands I only have a fleeting knowledge of, meaning I’ve seen their T-shirts for sale in Thrasher Magazine. Raven’s big sis wants to watch a video she just bought. The flick?: the Ministry concert video In Case You Didn’t Feel Like Showing Up. This was my introduction to Industrial music.
Industrial music circa late 80’s/early 90’s: Klaxon sirens wail, drum machines thump, guitars sound like revved up funnycars, vocals are harsh and electronic shouts, keyboards add some robotic grandeur and samples from old b-movies and politicians speeches sprinkle the glorious din. All this and you can dance to it. At the time, it sounded like somebody mixed in DRI with Depeche Mode in a blender and hit the “crush” button. A few years later I snagged the Industrial Culture Handbook from RE/Search and glommed the grimey history of the genre.
If you want to look for the Ground Zero of the Industrial music scene, glance towards the U.K. and point your black leather gloved-finger at Throbbing Gristle. The band, Genesis P-Orridge, Chris Carter, Cosey Fanni Tutti, Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson, hatched from the performance art collective COUM Transmissions. Throbbing Gristle explored the limits of sonic boundaries with their take on exotica, ABBA-influenced pop and sheer noise terror. Their record label was “Industrial Records” and their motto was “industrial music for industrial people.” Traditional instruments were out; primitive samplers, keyboards, drum machines and other circuit-bent toys were in. The cut-up techniques formed by William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin were a huge influence, as was serial killer lore, Jim Jones and the People’s Temple, guns, survivor manuals, Nazi-flirtation and military manuals and uniforms.
Other bands soon turned their back on the normal “beat-combo” route of punk and took note from Throbbing Gristle. Clock DVA, Cabaret Voltaire, SPK, Nurse With Wound and the notorious Whitehouse put out records that sounded like city blocks exploding, but with a dance beat. Einsturzende Neubauten from Germany sounded like nightmares on wax. The young German noise-terrorists would incorporate actual “industrial” tools to the mix. Power drills, sheet metal, hammers and oil drums were their instruments of choice. Couple that with the unholy shrieks and wails from lead “singer” Blixa Bargeld and you’re not going to sleep easily after slapping that on the turntable. According to Nick Cave, when he was scouting Bargeld for inclusion in his post-Birthday Party outfit The Bad Seeds, he met Bargeld while he was working on an EN album in the studio. Before Cave could speak to him, Bargeld was busy taping a mic on a puppy while the little mutt rooted through pig entrails. Sweet dreams!
Across the Atlantic Al Jourgensen was unhappy with his band, Ministry. Originally a Pet Shop Boys/Soft Cell-type sickly sweet synth-pop band, Jourgensen wanted to branch out and hit a little harder. Ministry had a smash on their hands with “Everyday Is Halloween,” a dance club favorite that is still played heavily in select clubs today, but Jourgensen felt others were interfering with his preferred sound. Departing their label Wax Trax! Records (home to staple Industrial bands Front 242, Coil, KMFDM, Young Gods and many others), Ministry signed with Sire and unleashed the beast. With 1986’s Twitch, Jourgensen nixed most of the band and did everything himself. It wasn’t quite radio-friendly new wave, and it wasn’t quite the aggressive juggernaut Ministry would later become infamous for. That all came together on the 1988 release In The Land of Rape and Honey. After recruiting bass player Paul Barker and drummer William Rieflin from Seattle’s Killing Joke knock-offs The Blackouts, Ministry in their new form were ready to storm the dancefloor. They had another underground hit with “Stigmata”, the album’s opening track. Gritty and scary, “Stigmata” sounds like Motorhead jamming with Kraftwerk. The song was also featured in the cyberpunk thriller Hardware, although the footage used during the movie is of art-metal tricksters GWAR.
Ministry hit the big time with 1992’s Psalm 69: The Way to Succeed and the Way to Suck Eggs. Radio and MTV airplay shot the band in the mainstream, and whoa was it weird to come home from school and see William S. Burroughs shotgunning paintings in their “Just One Fix” video. “Jesus Built My Hotrod” (with guest vocals from The Butthole Surfers’ Gibby Haynes) and “N.W.O.” were the other singles that gained recognition and earned Ministry a headlining slot on that year’s Lollapalooza tour. Along with the mainstream success of junior Industrial bands Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson, goth music wasn’t solely for male Rivetheads and girls named Bianca anymore.
Industrial music, like any other genre now, has thousands of offshoots. Skinny Puppy, Ministry (sole remaining original member: Al Jourgensen), KMFDM are still playing shows and putting out albums, and even Trent Reznor has resurrected Nine Inch Nails. Throbbing Gristle reformed and played Coachella and select dates a few years ago, but after the death of Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson, it looks like that that was the last gasp. Every city still has clubs and bars that feature an Industrial dance night where latex and Army-surplus store threads collide. If you want to find out where they are in your town, just follow the scent of fishnet sweat and clove cigarette smoke.