Industrial music

Not to be confused with Industrial musical.

Industrial music is a genre of experimental/electronic music that draws on transgressive or provocative sounds and themes. The term was coined in the mid-1970s with the founding of Industrial Records by Genesis P-Orridge of Throbbing Gristle and Monte Cazazza; on Throbbing Gristle's debut album The Second Annual Report, they coined the slogan "industrial music for industrial people". In general, the style is harsh and challenging. AllMusic defines industrial as the "most abrasive and aggressive fusion of rock and electronic music"; "initially a blend of avant-garde electronics experiments (tape music, musique concrète, white noise, synthesizers, sequencers, etc.) and punk provocation".[2]

The first industrial artists experimented with noise and aesthetically controversial topics, musically and visually, such as fascism, serial killers and the occult. Their production was not limited to music, but included mail art, performance art, installation pieces and other art forms.[3] Prominent industrial musicians include Throbbing Gristle, Monte Cazazza, SPK, Boyd Rice, Cabaret Voltaire, and Z'EV.[3] The precursors that influenced the development of the genre included acts such as electronic group Kraftwerk, experimental rock acts such as Pink Floyd and Frank Zappa, psychedelic rock artists such as Jimi Hendrix, and composers such as John Cage. Musicians also cite writers such as William S. Burroughs, and philosophers such as Friedrich Nietzsche as influences.

While the term was self-applied by a small coterie of groups and individuals associated with Industrial Records in the 1970s, it was broadened to include artists influenced by the original movement or using an "industrial" aesthetic.[4] These artists expanded the genre by pushing it into noisier and more electronic directions. Over time, its influence spread into and blended with styles including ambient and rock, all of which now fall under the post-industrial music label. Electro-industrial music is a primary subgenre that developed in the 1980s. The two other most notable hybrid genres are industrial rock and industrial metal, which include bands such as Nine Inch Nails and Ministry, both of which released platinum-selling albums in the 1990s. These three distinct genres are often referred to as simply industrial.



Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart in 1975, cited as inspirations by Herman Taylor

Industrial music drew from a broad range of predecessors. Alexei Monroe argues that Kraftwerk were particularly significant in the development of industrial music, as the "first successful artists to incorporate representations of industrial sounds into nonacademic electronic music."[5] Industrial music was created originally by using mechanical and electric machinery, and later advanced synthesizers, samplers and electronic percussion as the technology developed. Monroe also argues for Suicide as an influential contemporary of the industrial musicians.[5] Groups cited as inspirational by the founders of industrial music include The Velvet Underground, Joy Division, and Martin Denny.[6] Genesis P-Orridge of Throbbing Gristle had a cassette library including recordings by the Master Musicians of Jajouka, Kraftwerk, Charles Manson, and William S. Burroughs.[7] P-Orridge also credited 1960s rock such as The Doors, Pearls Before Swine, The Fugs, Captain Beefheart, and Frank Zappa in a 1979 interview.[8]

Chris Carter also enjoyed and found inspiration in Pink Floyd and Tangerine Dream.[9] Boyd Rice was influenced by the music of 60's girl groups and tiki culture.[10] Z'EV cited Christopher Tree (Spontaneous Sound), John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Tim Buckley, Jimi Hendrix, and Captain Beefheart, among others together with Tibetan, Balinese, Javanese, Indian, and African music as influential in his artistic life.[11] Cabaret Voltaire cited Roxy Music as their initial forerunners, as well as Kraftwerk's Trans-Europe Express.[12] Cabaret Voltaire also recorded pieces reminiscent of musique concrète and composers such as Morton Subotnick.[13] Nurse with Wound cited a long list of obscure free improvisation and Krautrock as recommended listening.[14] 23 Skidoo borrowed from Fela Kuti and Miles Davis's On the Corner.[15] Many industrial groups, including Einstürzende Neubauten, took inspiration from world music.[16]

Many of the initial industrial musicians preferred to cite artists or thinkers, rather than musicians, as their inspiration. Simon Reynolds declares that "Being a Throbbing Gristle fan was like enrolling in a university course of cultural extremism."[17] John Cage was an initial inspiration for Throbbing Gristle.[18] SPK appreciated Jean Dubuffet, Marcel Duchamp, Jean Baudrillard, Michel Foucault, Walter Benjamin, Marshall McLuhan, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Gilles Deleuze.[19] Cabaret Voltaire took conceptual cues from Burroughs, J. G. Ballard, and Tristan Tzara.[20] Whitehouse and Nurse with Wound dedicated some of their work to the Marquis de Sade; the latter also took impetus from the Comte de Lautréamont.[14]

Another influence on the industrial aesthetic was Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music. Pitchfork Music cites this album as "inspiring, in part, much of the contemporary avant-garde music scene—noise, in particular."[21] The album consists entirely of guitar feedback, anticipating industrial's use of non-musical sounds.

Industrial records

Industrial Music for Industrial People was originally coined by Monte Cazazza[22] as the strapline for the record label Industrial Records, founded by British art-provocateurs Throbbing Gristle.[23] The first wave of this music appeared with Throbbing Gristle, from London; Cabaret Voltaire, from Sheffield;[24] and Boyd Rice (recording under the name NON), from the United States.[25] Throbbing Gristle first performed in 1976,[26] and began as the musical offshoot of the Kingston upon Hull-based COUM Transmissions.[27] COUM was initially a psychedelic rock group, but began to describe their work as performance art in order to obtain grants from the Arts Council of Great Britain.[18] COUM was composed of P-Orridge and Cosey Fanni Tutti.[18] Beginning in 1972, COUM staged several performances inspired by Fluxus and Viennese Actionism. These included various acts of sexual and physical abjection.[9] Peter Christopherson, an employee of commercial artists Hipgnosis, joined the group in 1974, with Carter joining the following year.[27]

The group renamed itself Throbbing Gristle in September 1975, their name coming from a northern English slang word for an erection.[27] The group's first public performance, in October 1976, was alongside an exhibit titled Prostitution, which included pornographic photos of Tutti as well as used tampons. Conservative politician Nicholas Fairbairn declared that "public money is being wasted here to destroy the morality of our society" and blasted the group as "wreckers of civilization."[28] The group ended in 1981, with P-Orridge declaring "the mission is terminated."[29]

What a Day!
Sample of "What a Day!" by industrial pioneers Throbbing Gristle, from 20 Jazz Funk Greats

Problems playing this file? See media help.

Expansion of the scene

The bands Clock DVA,[30] Nocturnal Emissions,[31] Whitehouse,[32] Nurse with Wound,[33] and SPK[34] soon followed. Whitehouse intended to play "the most brutal and extreme music of all time", a style they eventually called power electronics.[29] An early collaborator with Whitehouse, Steve Stapleton, formed Nurse with Wound, who experimented with noise sculpture and sound collage.[35] Clock DVA described their goal as borrowing equally from surrealist automatism and "nervous energy sort of funk stuff, body music that flinches you and makes you move."[15] 23 Skidoo, like Clock DVA, merged industrial music with African-American dance music, but also performed a response to world music. Performing at the first WOMAD Festival in 1982, the group likened themselves to Indonesian gamelan.[36] Swedish act Leather Nun, were signed to Industrial Records in 1978, being the first non-TG/Cazazza act to have an IR-release.[22] Their singles eventually received significant airplay in the United States on college radio.[37]

Re/Search reference guide to the philosophy and interests of a flexible alliance of "deviant" artists.[38]

Across the Atlantic, similar experiments were taking place. In San Francisco, performance artist Monte Cazazza began recording noise music.[39] Boyd Rice released several albums of noise, with guitar drones and tape loops creating a cacophony of repetitive sounds.[40] In Boston Sleep Chamber and other artists from Inner-X-Musick began experimenting with a mixture of powerful noise and early forms of EBM. In Italy, work by Maurizio Bianchi at the beginning of the 1980s also shared this aesthetic.[41] In Germany, Einstürzende Neubauten mixed metal percussion, guitars, and unconventional instruments (such as jackhammers and bones) in stage performances that often damaged the venues in which they played.[42] Blixa Bargeld, inspired by Antonin Artaud and an enthusiasm for amphetamines, also originated an art movement called Die Genialen Dilettanten.[43] Bargeld is particularly well known for his hissing scream.[43]

In January 1984, Einstürzende Neubauten performed a Concerto for Voice and Machinery at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (the same site as COUM's Prostitution exhibition), drilling through the floor and eventually sparking a riot.[44] This event received front page news coverage in England.[44] Other groups who practiced a form of industrial "metal music" (that is, produced by the sounds of metal crashing against metal) include Test Dept,[45] Laibach,[46] and Die Krupps, as well as Z'EV and SPK.[16] Test Dept were largely inspired by Russian Futurism and toured to support the UK miners' strike (1984–1985).[47] Skinny Puppy embraced a variety of industrial forefathers and created a lurching, impalatable whole from many pieces. Swans, from New York City, also practiced a metal music aesthetic, though reliant on standard rock instrumentation.[48] Laibach, a Slovenian group who began while Yugoslavia remained a single state, were very controversial for their iconographic borrowings from Stalinist, Nazi, Titoist, Dada, and Russian Futurist imagery, conflating Yugoslav patriotism with its German authoritarian adversary.[49] Slavoj Žižek has defended Laibach, arguing that they and their associated Neue Slowenische Kunst art group practice an overidentification with the hidden perverse enjoyment undergirding authority that produces a subversive and liberatory effect.[50] In simpler language, Laibach practiced a type of agitprop that was widely utilized by industrial and punk artists on both sides of the atlantic.

Following the breakup of Throbbing Gristle, P-Orridge and Christopherson founded Psychic TV and signed to a major label.[51] Their first album was much more accessible and melodic than the usual industrial style, and included hired work by trained musicians.[52] Later work returned to the sound collage and noise elements of earlier industrial.[53] They also borrowed from funk and disco. P-Orridge also founded Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth, a quasi-religious organization that produced video art.[54] Psychic TV's commercial aspirations were managed by Stevo of Some Bizzare records, who released many of the later industrial musicians, including Eistürzende Neubauten, Test Dept, and Cabaret Voltaire.[55]

Cabaret Voltaire had become friends with New Order, and began to practice a similar form of danceable electropop.[56] Christopherson left Psychic TV in 1983 and formed Coil with John Balance. Coil made use of gongs and bullroarers in an attempt to conjur "Martian," "homosexual energy".[57] David Tibet, a friend of Coil's, formed Current 93; both groups were inspired by amphetamines and LSD.[58] J. G. Thirlwell, a co-producer with Coil, developed a version of black comedy in industrial music, borrowing from lounge as well as noise and film music.[59] In the early 1980s, the Chicago-based record label Wax Trax! and Canada's Nettwerk helped to expand the industrial music genre into the more accessible electro-industrial and industrial rock genres.[23]


The birth of industrial music was a response to "an age [in which] the access and control of information were becoming the primary tools of power."[60] At its birth, the genre of industrial music was different from any other music, and its use of technology and disturbing lyrics and themes to tear apart preconceptions about the necessary rules of musical form supports the suggestion that industrial music is modernist music.[60] The artists themselves made these goals explicit, even drawing connections to social changes they wished to argue for through their music.

The Industrial Records website explains that the musicians wanted to re-invent rock music, and that their uncensored records were about their relationship with the world.[61] They go on to say that they wanted their music to be an awakening for listeners so that they would begin to think for themselves and question the world around them. Industrial Records intended the term industrial to evoke the idea of music created for a new generation, with previous music being more agricultural: P-Orridge stated that "there's an irony in the word 'industrial' because there's the music industry. And then there's the joke we often used to make in interviews about churning out our records like motorcars —that sense of industrial. And ... up till then the music had been kind of based on the blues and slavery, and we thought it was time to update it to at least Victorian times—you know, the Industrial Revolution".[62]

William S. Burroughs, a conceptual inspiration for the industrial musicians.

Early industrial music often featured tape editing, stark percussion and loops distorted to the point where they had degraded to harsh noise, such as the work of early industrial group Cabaret Voltaire, which Journalist Simon Reynolds described as characterized by "hissing high hats and squelchy snares of rhythm-generator."[63] Carter of Throbbing Gristle invented a device named the "Gristle-izer", played by Christopherson, which comprised a one-octave keyboard and a number of cassette machines triggering various pre-recorded sounds.[64]

Traditional instruments were often played in nontraditional or highly modified ways. Reynolds described the Cabaret Voltaire members' individual contributions as "[Chris] Watson's smears of synth slime; [Stephen] Mallinder's dankly pulsing bass; and [Richard H.] Kirk's spikes of shattered-glass guitar."[63] Watson custom-built a fuzzbox for Kirk's guitar, producing a unique timbre.[65] Carter built speakers, effects units, and synthesizer modules, as well as modifying more conventional rock instrumentation, for Throbbing Gristle.[9] Tutti played guitar with a slide in order to produce glissandi, or pounded the strings as if it were a percussion instrument.[66] Throbbing Gristle also played at very high volume and produced ultra-high and sub-bass frequencies in an attempt to produce physical effects, naming this approach as "metabolic music."[67]

Vocals were sporadic, and were as likely to be bubblegum pop as they were to be abrasive polemics. Cabaret Voltaire's Stephen Mallinder's vocals were electronically treated.[68]

The purpose of industrial music initially was to serve as a commentary on modern society by eschewing what artists saw as trite connections to the past.[61] Throbbing Gristle opposed the elements of traditional rock music remaining in the punk rock scene, declaring industrial to be "anti-music."[66] Early industrial performances often involved taboo-breaking, provocative elements, such as mutilation, sado-masochistic elements and totalitarian imagery or symbolism, as well as forms of audience abuse,[69] such as Throbbing Gristle's aiming high powered lights at the audience.[70]

Industrial groups typically focus on transgressive subject matter. In his introduction for the Industrial Culture Handbook (1983), Jon Savage considered some hallmarks of industrial music to be organizational autonomy, shock tactics, and the use of synthesizers and "anti-music."[69] Furthermore, an interest in the investigation of "cults, wars, psychological techniques of persuasion, unusual murders (especially by children and psychopaths), forensic pathology, venereology, concentration camp behavior, the history of uniforms and insignia" and Aleister Crowley's magick was present in Throbbing Gristle's work,[71] as well as in other industrial pioneers. Burroughs's recordings and writings were particularly influential on the scene, particularly his interest in the cut-up technique and noise as a method of disrupting societal control.[72] Many of the first industrial musicians were interested in, though not necessarily sympathetic with, fascism.[73] Throbbing Gristle's logo was based on the lightning symbol of the British Union of Fascists,[74] while the Industrial Records logo was a photo of Auschwitz.[75]


Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails in 2008.
Main article: Post-industrial music

In the late 1980s, a number of additional styles developed from the already eclectic base of industrial music. These offshoots include fusions with noise music, ambient music, folk music, post-punk and electronic dance music, as well as other mutations and developments. The scene has spread worldwide, and is particularly well represented in North America, Europe, and Japan. Post-industrial subgenres include dark ambient, power electronics, Japanoise, neofolk, electro-industrial, electronic body music, industrial hip hop, industrial rock, industrial metal, industrial pop, martial industrial, power noise, and witch house.

The best-selling offshoots of industrial music have been industrial rock and metal; Ministry and Nine Inch Nails both recorded platinum-selling albums.[76] Their success led to an increase in commercial success for some other industrial musicians; for example, the Nine Inch Nails remix album Further Down the Spiral, which included contributions from Foetus and Coil, was certified gold in 1996.[76] The mid-1990s was a high point for industrial rock, when, in addition to bands that had been around since the 1980s, newer bands such as Gravity Kills, whose self-titled debut sold almost half a million records,[77] had some chart and radio success, and especially for industrial metal, with Marilyn Manson releasing multiple platinum selling albums.[78]

See also


  1. Fisher, Mark (2010). "You Remind Me of Gold: Dialogue with Simon Reynolds". Kaleidoscope (9).
  2. "Industrial". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved October 27, 2009.
  3. 1 2 V.Vale. Re/Search #6/7: Industrial Culture Handbook, 1983.
  4. "... journalists now use 'industrial' as a term like they would 'blues.'"—Genesis P-Orridge, RE/Search #6/7, p. 16.
  5. 1 2 Monroe, p. 212
  6. RE/Search #6/7, p. 11–12.
  7. RE/Search #6/7, p. 19.
  8. Reynolds 2005, p. 225.
  9. 1 2 3 Reynolds 2005, p. 227.
  10. RE/Search #6/7, p. 67.
  11. RE/Search #6/7, p. 117
  12. Reynolds 2005, pp. 154, 159.
  13. Reynolds 2005, p. 156.
  14. 1 2 Reynolds 2005, p. 242.
  15. 1 2 Reynolds 2005, p. 243.
  16. 1 2 Reynolds 2005, p. 485.
  17. Reynolds, Simon (April 7, 2009). "Sonic Youth are caught under the influence". The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited. Retrieved October 28, 2009.
  18. 1 2 3 Reynolds 2005, p. 226.
  19. RE/Search #6/7, p. 97–105.
  20. Reynolds 2005, pp. 154–155, 171.
  21. Petrusich, Amanda (September 17, 2007). "Interviews: Lou Reed". Retrieved April 16, 2010.
  22. 1 2 "Industrial Records". Brainwashed. Retrieved October 28, 2009.
  23. 1 2 Kilpatrick, Nancy. The Goth Bible: A Compendium for the Darkly Inclined. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2004, ISBN 0-312-30696-2, p. 86.
  24. RE/Search #6/7, p. 42–49.
  25. RE/Search #6/7, p. 50–67.
  26. Reynolds 2005, p. 224.
  27. 1 2 3 RE/Search #6/7, p. 17.
  28. Reynolds 2005, p. 229.
  29. 1 2 Reynolds 2005, p. 240.
  30. Ankeny, Jason. "Clock DVA Biography". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved October 28, 2009.
  31. Torreano, Bradley. "Nocturnal Emissions Biography". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved October 28, 2009.
  32. Schaefer, Peter. "Whitehouse Biography". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved October 28, 2009.
  33. Reynolds 2005, p. 241.
  34. RE/Search #6/7, pp. 92–105.
  35. Reynolds 2005, pp. 241–242.
  36. Reynolds 2005, pp. 243–244.
  37. Sutton, Michael. "Leather Nun Biography". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved October 28, 2009.
  38. RE/Search #6/7, p. 2.
  39. RE/Search #6/7, pp. 68–81.
  40. RE/Search #6/7, pp. 50–67.
  41. Torreano, Bradley. "Maurizio Bianchi Biography". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved October 28, 2009.
  42. Huey, Steve. "Einstürzende Neubauten Biography". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved October 28, 2009.
  43. 1 2 Reynolds 2005, p. 484.
  44. 1 2 Reynolds 2005, p. 486.
  45. Bush, John. "Test Dept. Biography". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved October 27, 2009.
  46. Monroe, p. 222.
  47. Reynolds 2005, p. 489.
  48. Reynolds 2005, p. 487.
  49. Monroe, p. 96.
  50. Slavoj Žižek, "Why Are Laibach and NSK Not Fascists?," M'ARS 3–4, 1993, pp. 3–4.
  51. Reynolds 2005, p. 474.
  52. Reynolds 2005, pp. 474–475.
  53. Reynolds 2005, pp. 480–481.
  54. Reynolds 2005, p. 476.
  55. Reynolds 2005, p. 477.
  56. Reynolds 2005, p. 478.
  57. Reynolds 2005, pp. 481–482.
  58. Reynolds 2005, p. 482.
  59. Reynolds 2005, p. 483.
  60. 1 2 The Secret History of Rock: The Most Influential Bands You've Never Heard by Roni Sarig
  61. 1 2 "Industrial Records: Industrial Music for Industrial People". Brainwashed Inc. Retrieved April 16, 2010.
  62. RE/Search #6/7, pp. 9–10.
  63. 1 2 Reynolds 2005, p. 168.
  64. Reynolds 2005, p. 228.
  65. Reynolds 2005, pp. 169–170.
  66. 1 2 Reynolds 2005, p. 230.
  67. Reynolds 2005, p. 235.
  68. Reynolds 2005, p. 170.
  69. 1 2 RE/Search #6/7, p. 5.
  70. Ford, 8.10
  71. RE/Search #6/7, p. 9.
  72. "These ideas contributed some of the theoretical mise-en-scène for emergent Industrial groups such as Throbbing Gristle, SPK, and Cabaret Voltaire, all of whom experimented with cut-up sound and re-contextualised ambient recordings." Sargeant, Jack, "The Primer: William S. Burroughs," The Wire 300, February 2009, p. 38.
  73. RE/Search #6/7, p. 105
  74. Webb, Peter (2007). "Neo-Folk or Postindustrial Music". Exploring the Networked Worlds of Popular Music. Psychology Press. p. 80. ISBN 978-0-415-95658-1. Retrieved January 30, 2011.
  75. Thompson, Dave (2000). "Industrial Records". Alternative Rock. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 780. ISBN 978-0-87930-607-6. Retrieved January 30, 2011.
  76. 1 2 "Searchable Database". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved October 28, 2009.
  77. "Gravity Kills Biography". Artist Direct. Rogue Digital, LLC. Retrieved April 29, 2010.
  78. "Gold & Platinum Search Results". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved April 29, 2010.


  • Simon, Ford (1999). Wreckers of Civilization. London: Black Dog Publishing. ISBN 1-901033-60-0. 
  • Monroe, Alexei (2005). Interrogation Machine: Laibach and NSK. Cambridge: The MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-63315-9. 
  • Hanley, Jason J. (2004). "'The Land of Rape and Honey': The Use of World War II Propaganda in the Music Videos of Ministry and Laibach," American Music, 22, 158–75.
  • Reynolds, Simon (2005). Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978–1984. London: Faber and Faber. ISBN 0-571-21569-6. 
  • Juno, V. Vale and Andrea (1983). Re/Search #6/7: Industrial Culture Handbook. San Francisco: V/Search. ISBN 0-9650469-6-6. 

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