Saturday, November 22, 2008


CHAPTER 25 : CONFORM TO DEFORM : The Second Wave Industrial Infiltrators

(Chapter missing, regrettably, from the US edition)

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>Genesis P-Orridge versus New Pop

In an NME September 25th 1982 piece (about the Burroughs-honoring Final Academy event), Genesis complains about the return of the entertainment business: “groups are all product and image again. Fun and dance and trivialisation are mooted as gods, almost. Anyone who tries to be any way serious or thoughtful is ridiculed. We thought it was good point to reaffirm what the previous era was really all about, that what was eventually painted as gloomy and pessimistic was in fact realistic, and thus optimistic by motivation. Recognition of reality is incredibly healthy, not pessimistic, because it is the first step to optimism.”

In another NME piece a few months later, this time about Psychic TV (Nov 13th 1982), P-Orridge picked up where he left off: “People and groups have been scared off from thinking. … They’re all desperate to seem fun, superficial and groovy, and avoid wherever possible the concept that they can analyse the world. There’s been a very successful smear campaign on thought in music, which I think is a shame… Given the options of triviality and pedantry, I’d choose pedantry.” But he also was keen to characterize Psychic TV as a move beyond the mirroring-the-horror approach of TG and first-wave industrial: "We were journalistic. We were describing what we saw and when we had seen enough we said, What can we do about it? It’s no good describing things indefinitely, you have some obligation to draw conclusions and after that suggest solutions that might make life more tolerable and constructive.”

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>Andrew Poppy

In a few years time to be a ZTT Recording Artist

>calm and medical-sounding, the voice

It’s actually Psychic TV’s tattoist and body-piercer, Mr Sebastian!

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>Temple ov Psychick Youth… fan club

Erik Davis (I think this is him, from his book on Led Zeppelin's Zozo): "The word "fan" comes from fanaticus, an ancient term for a temple devotee, and Lovecraft fans exhibit the unflagging devotion, fetishism and sectarian debates that have characterized popular religious cults throughout the ages.’


From a Temple ov Psychick Youth communiqué:

Involvement in Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth requires an active individual, dedicated towards thee establishment ov a functional system ov magick and a modern pagan philosophy without recourse to mystification, gods or demons; but recognising thee implicit powers ov thee human brain (neuromancy) linked with guiltless sexuality focused through Will Structure (Sigils). Magick empowers thee individual to embrace and realise their dreams and maximise their natural potential. It is for those with thee courage to touch themselves. It integrates all levels ov thought in thee first steps towards final negation ov control and fear.


> an information exchange

The Temple was also a kind of experiential laboratory


In some ways, Psychic TV represented a kind of “positive industrial” that paralleled “positive punk” (negative industrial would perhaps be the power electronics end of things: grimly and morbidly fixated on the worst things in the world, with a questionable reveling in the gore and horror aspect). The Goth bands and the Psychic TV milieu shared an interest in all things pagan and primitive. Blood and Roses, for instance, had songs inspired by Aleister Crowley and sex magick like “Do What Thou Wilt” and “Necromanta”. The big difference between Goth and Industrial though was that the Goth bands stuck with rock’s guitar/bass/drums and song structures whereas industrial favored a eclectic melange of studio-warped weirdness, found sounds and ethnomusicological forgeries. Anything went, so long as it wasn’t rock and it was weird.

Re. the Goth/industrial connection, Gavin Friday of the Virgin Prunes sang on one track on Coil's Scatology, ’ The Tenderness of Wolves' and also wrote the lyrics. Mind you Virgin Prunes were kind of on the edge of Goth anyway and had that ambient/concrete side to them that was a bit Zoviet France-y.

>Thigh-bone trumpet

Introduced to the band by a new acolyte called David Tibet, later famous as Current 93

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> Soft Cell’s darkness

1982 was a great year for Soft Cell--never out of the UK charts, “Tainted Love” #1 in America--yet singer Marc Almond was dissatisfied. Chafing at his role as pop product, Almond began to hang out with denizens of the dark side. People like who ex-Throbbing Gristle members Genesis P. Orridge and Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson, who’d just formed a new group Psychic TV. Almond sang the anti-taboo, anti-repression anthem “Guiltless” on Psychic TV’s debut album. Repaying the compliment, Almond covered Throbbing Gristle’s “Discipline” for a free flexidisc given away by the glossy teenpop mag Flexipop. He took took delight in the fact that this sinister song with its S&M/fascist subtext would appeared superimposed on front cover stars Haircut 100--New Pop at its most innocuous and wholesome.

On the subject of the Orridge collaboration "Guiltless" he told NME's Chris Bohn'." People say Oh, it's really weird isn't it? You working with Genesis P-Orridge. But it's not at all. People assume I'm some sort of fool and wonder how come I'm working with some big intellectual person like Genesis. They think I can't communicate with him or something, which isn't true. We discuss things! As well as me learning from him he learns a bit from me for what he's doing. [The song is about]being guiltless about life, being open about your feelings, even if, as they often are, they are the very taboo things in life. These things shouldn't be taboo, because they're only human nature, but...I don't agree with all the things, but what is important is P. T. V. want to break down barriers, which is important, because there shouldn't be any barriers there in the first place...I think 'Guiltless' is one of the best things I've done.

Another new buddy of Almond’s was Jim Thirwell, a rising young industrial musician who recorded as You’ve Got Foetus On Your Breath, Scraping Foetus Off The Wheel, and about half a dozen variations on the same charming theme. Thirwell appeared onstage with Soft Cell when they encored with a crazed cover of Suicide’s “Ghost Rider”. And he co-wrote the song “A Million Manias” with Almond, which appeared on the latter’s 1983 solo album Torment and Toreros. Released under the name Marc and the Mambas, Torment was a double album, crammed to bursting point with cathartic confessionals and torrid melodramas like “Black Heart” and “(Your Love Is A) Lesion,” with a pungent and garish influence musically drawn from Spanish flamenco music. Almond’s overwraught vocals and over-ripe lyrics (typical line:“can you smell the herpes from the scum-sucking fucks that hang around the suckers at night?”) desperately asserted the singer’s credentials as a true driven artist, a deviant with depth. Soft Cell’s own second album The Art of Falling Apart, released in early 1983, was much darker than their first, deepening Almond’s obsession with “cracked, faded glamour… the tarnish, the faults and the impurities”. The singles released from it didn’t do well, especially “Numbers”--a perverse and defiant choice given its morose downtempo feel and its lyrics about faceless, dehumanized sex inspired by a novel by gay author John Rechy. In interviews, Almond was at pains to distance himself from squeaky-clean New Pop. “At the moment it’s, like, sedate everyone with this gloss, this wash, this totally over-produced nothing, you know?,” he complained to NME. “But that bit of grime--it’s important!”

Marc and the Mambas

>Futurist DJ

One of Stevo's Futurist events

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>Some Bizzare Album

> Cabaret Voltaire … early sound been taken as far as it could

Probably contributing to Chris Watson's decision to leave the band to become a TV sound-engineer. He left half way through 2 X 45 --perhaps sensing that the band had exhausted one incarnaation of itself (the more Dada, abstract sound element that he would return to himself in the Hafler Trio) and was moving towards dance music (the format of the two 12 inch singles)

>predict their sales figures

Cabs albums were selling at around 10 thousand copies each--a solid achievement in those days for something so non-conventional (no songs as such), and by today's standards, fucking amazing. But still, they'd plateau'd and without a change of direction, they'd start to decline

>small numbers of copies for rmail order

Doublevision's new set up meant they could press up in batches as small as five copies

>Cabaret Voltaire … deal brokered between Some Bizzare and Virgin

Apparently Simon Draper, the music guy at Virgin had been interested in signing Cabaret Voltaire before Stevo had approached him. Talking to NME's Andy Gill ( 16 July 1983 ) Draper said the attraction was "The idea of them, I think. We have a history of electronic bands of all descriptions, right from Virgin's early days. And I've always had an interest and predilection for electronic music. Although electronic instruments are used throughout pop music now, sometimes it's not really the essence of it: there are a lot of groups now who are part of the mainstream of a tradition, who just happen to be using these instruments to give it a modern flash. Cabaret Voltaire are steeped more in the tradition of experimental music – and we have a tradition of being able to sell music which is ostensibly uncommercial, experimental, avant-garde in some sense, to a wider public. Also, we like to sign groups that have a very strong sense of their own identity. We're not a record company that like to manipulate and manufacture images for groups. Besides, we wanted to have a full set of Sheffield bands!" {as Gill noted, the other two being Human League and Heaven 17).

>The Crackdown

As well as using a producer, this was the first time they left their Sheffield studio Western Works to record in London, and the first time they used a 24 track studio.

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>Standardized palette

In that respect, the Cabs use of artificial handclap, a signature sound in electro, signified their intent to mass-communicate. Learning to speak the lingua franca of Eighties post-disco dance music inevitably entailed some loss of individuality; similarly, the art of making the machines swing wasn’t easily acquired.

>subdued vocal melodies

While Mallinder was effective as low-key, baleful presence, as just another strand in the web of rhythm and texture, hooks didn’t exactly leap out at the listener. Shannon, they were not.

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>"wooing" the majors... brass dildos

From the Face, February 1983. According to this account, it wasn't an attempt to woo the majors but a middle finger salute to the corporate labels who'd turned them down...

>Mannequin shaped microphone

Nicknamed Ringo

>17th century occultists

Sir Francis’s Dashwood’s Hellfire Club (motto: ‘do what you will”). It's not clear if these chappies were totally serious about the satanism or just using it as a humorous cover for debauched revelry.

>“Dreams Less Sweet”

"The Orchids" sounds like a bit like Virginia Astley or even the Dream Academy


“perverse noise unit” is how they described themselves in one interview or press release

>his corrupted little schoolboy

Self-described TG groupie Geff Rushton (later John Balance) finally met Sleazy after being invited to the live-in-the-studio sessions for Heathen Earth.


>Content-heavy songs

Even the name Coil itself had about a dozen layers of meaning. This was a hallmark of industrial culture going back to Throbbing Gristle’s earliest days: the sense that the music was a delivery system for ideas and information.

>How To Destroy Angels … iron gongs

Iron being a metal favorable to Mars, the god of war. Swords are also symbolic of Mars.

But what did they have against “Angels”? According to Sleazy, they symbolised guilt-tripping authority figures both external and internalised: “whether it’s the controlling influence of the church, or whether it’s an unnecessary desire to retain virginity.”


Creating a whirring, near-subliminal pulse

>“The Sewage Workers Birthday Party”

Featuring background sounds from tapes of “rituals and orgiastic things” that Sleazy was into doing at the time. See also the album's Pasolini/de Sade inspired “Cathedral In Flames”

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>skewed sounds

Austin Osman Spare’s paintings were a profound influence on Coil’s music-making--they aimed for a “sidereal sound” equivalent to “the way he twisted his pictures, so that the geometry appears warped, we try to… produce strange geometries through sound, so that it comes out sideways. We do it with technology, with 3D devices, phasers, out-of-phasers, all sorts of gizmos.”

>amphetamania… Noddy as Gnostic icon

Auditory and visual hallucinations of this sort accompany the paranoid schizophrenia-like condition induced by stimulant abuse. Speedfreaks often believe they can detect hidden patterns and make secret connections. Amphetamine, along with other drugs like LSD and Ecstasy, might account for the aura of visionary gnosis surrounds Coil and their music: the frenzied autodidactic activity, the syncretic energy, the seeing symbolism everywhere, the sense of dark revelation. According to Sleazy, Coil themselves saw “delirium subliminals” in the most unlikely places, “atavistic glimpses of a grand chaos--surfacing in flashes of black light--in darkest Dali, Jarry, the Moomintrolls, the Virgin Prunes, in the face of Edith Sitwell….”. Er guys, maybe you oughter cut down a bit on the intake, yeah?

>Apocalyptic atmosphere

Unlike your actual paranoid-schizophrenic speedfreaks, the industrialists of this era tended to embrace the impending collapse, revel in apocalypse. “Panic”, on Scatology, was a celebration of “the redeeming powers of Kaos and confusion. Panic is about the deliberate nurturing of states of mind usually regarded as dangerous or insane. Using fear as a key, as a spur, as a catalyst to crystallise and inspire…. Psychic Surgery… a murder in Reverse.”

>Scatology produced by Jim Thirlwell

John Balance: "I respect people who have controlled energy but with a manic edge to it as well. That's partly why we used Jim Foetus on it producing it, because we knew he was capable of a kind of intricate mania" (Debris Issue 7 1984 )


Despite his willingness to be an entertainer, even a jester, Thirlwell’s artistic intent was just as serious as P-Orridge, Coil or any of his contemporaries. He described his label Self Immolation as “a cry of disgust” against New Pop’s harmless sterility. An early company newsletter exhorted “Fling filth at pop kids!" [an artful on the classic tabloid newspaper indignantly complaining re. the Stones or Alice Cooper or… 'must we fling this pop filth at our kids'?], with Thirlwell adding "Someone has to redress the balance!"

>endless variations

Just some of them:
You’ve Got Foetus on Your Breath
Scraping Foetus off the Wheel
Foetus Interruptus,
Foetus In Your Bed
Foetus Over Frisco
Foetus Uber Frisco
Foetus Uber Alles
Philip And His Foetus Vibrations
Foetus Under Glass

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>Foetus… I hear things cinematically

Jim Thirlwell: "Often I write in irregular numbers of bars, so when the change happens, that’s the point in my head where the twist occurs onscreen--the killer is revealed, someone’s head is being held underwater."

>Helped bring Einsturzende to the non-German world

It was largely down to Thirlwell's efforts and those of his journalist-friend Chris Bohn at the NME

Returning to London from Berlin, he approached Rough Trade with the idea releasing Neubauten’s material in the UK on a new label called Hardt, using the proceeds of his second album Ache. First he wanted license the 12 inch Durstige Tier (a collabaration with Lydia Lunch and Rowland S. Howard of Birthday Party), then compile an anthology of the group’s early singles.

>80-83 Strategen Gegen Architekturen (Strategies Against Architecture)

Thirlwell: “Daniel Miller said to me, ‘do you want to keep your Hardt imprint on it, and I’ll pay you royalties’. But stupidly I said, ‘no, my work here is done!’. What an idiot!"

>Neubauten/Foetus affinities

Although Thirwell didn’t go as far as building his own scrap metal drum kit, Foetus had a certain crashing percussive quality in common with Neubauten’s.

>hunger for apocalypse

Thirlwell dreamed of making “the ultimate, pre-apocalypse LP. Like you listen… and then they drop the big one. It's the last statement--ever.”

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> "the manifesto into an art form"

Manifesto is the literary genre that is most amphetamine-like in its eureka-clarity and categorical starkness

For my piece on a book collecting the great modernist manifestoes, go here:


My Austrian friend Christian Höller points out that the the Neubauten lp is correctly spelled "Strategien gegen Architekturen", and that Die Geniale Dilettanten should just be Geniale Dilettanten . He also points out that the term was invented not by Blixa Bargeld but by Wolfgang Mueller of Die Toedliche Doris , who organized events and edited a famous book on the subject. For Holler's piece about Berlin in the early 80's (pegged to the "Berlin Supper 80" cd/dvd compilation), go here

>launched an artistic movement

Bargeld also organised an event called the Untergang Show (the Decline Show)

blixa bargeld


Blixa Bargeld: “I was introduced to amphetamines on our first tour to the Netherlands. But I guess I would have been a much more useful member of society if I had just been able to smoke hash instead of becoming a speedfreak.”

In one Chris Bohn/Biba Kopf piece of the mid-to-late Eighties, there's a scene in Kreuzberg, some years after the peak of the Berlin's scene's intensity has faded. Bohn sketches a squatter café scene, with a burned-out patron/scene veteran clutching his head and quietly moaning: "too much speed, too much speed".

>sacrifice everything for art

Bargeld talked of being willing to sacrifice “our whole person as a test object”. The main thing Bargeld had derived from forbears like Throbbing Gristle was the twin notions of “un-entertainment” and of total commitment to art, physically putting yourself on the line (like the Atkionists before them all). “I don't need a listener, I need a witness,” is how Bargeld describes his feelings about performance at that time.

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> Die Krupps

Rather more of a loaded name to use than I thought, because more than a steel-making company, Krupps was Germany's leading munitions manufacturer. The business was founded in 1811 with a small foundry in Essen, grew rapidly, and started making steel cannons in the 1840s. By the late 1880s 50 percent of its output was military. When Hitler came to power, the Krupps factories spearheaded Germany's rearmament. After the war, Alfried Krupp was convicted at Nuremberg for using slave labour and was sentenced to 12 years in prison. He was also ordered to sell 75 percent of the holdings. However he was freed in the early Fifties and by 1953 had resumed control of the firm, which no one had come forward to buy.


Invented by the group’s Jurgen Engler, and actually patented, apparently.

>"Wahre Arbeit Wahrer Lohn"

A fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay.

>Obscurity department

C.f. Arto Lindsay/DNA and Mark Cunningham Mars scouring the record racks for ethnological field recordings. No Wave, with its Year Zero impulse to raze rock’n’roll and start from scratch, was a big influence; on meeting Lindsay some years later, Bargeld is said to have accosted him with the accusatory words, "why did you split up DNA?". But his favorite of the New York bands was Mars, the most hostile and harsh-to-the-ear of the lot.

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>Quickly decided to jettison the guitar

After recording a double-7 inch single "Scharz"

>Kollaps… metal percussion

Steel strands, lead mallets, etc

>go beyond tonality

Or even beyond tones: “There was almost a digust with notes and harmonies and melodies in earlier Neubauten,” Bargeld told The Wire in 2004. “We started from a complete metal point of view and a percussive point of view, and it never really had much to do with tonality or… chords”.

>Concerto For Voice and Machinery at London’s ICA

Blixa Bargeld says it was called that because “it was not meant to be a regular Neubauten concert”.

>audience went berserk

Later Einsturzende Neubauten repeated their ICA triumph by triggering an even more ferocious riot at the Palladium in New York.

John Gill, then ably covering the experimental/industrial beat for Sounds (where he gave Nurse with Wound's debut five question marks instead of five stars!), had this memory of the ICA riots to share:

"… you might be interested in what really happened at the Neubauten 'riot' at the ICA, because, erm, I started it. The piece was a concerto for EN and two singers, Frank Tovey and Edwin Pouncey's partner, who I think was called Jill. I was stagefront below Tovey, who kinda knew me, as did Edwin's partner, and some of EN, but mere minutes into the drilling business I was hit by a wave of cynicism: it was
clear that this was almost wholly artifice, to fabricate a Neubauten atrocity. As nothing seemed to be happening, I decided to up the ante by hefting small bits of drilled paving stone at the EN generators, but safely away from the performers, as I explained to Tovey when he hit me with his mike stand, but by that time EN were leaping into the audience, (Stevo didn't appear as far as I could tell), the lights went up, and I thought the safest place was the stage. The ICA, to whom I apologised the following day while purloining a memento from the small pile of rocks left outside the stage door, were laughing at the 'riot' the next morning. I don't know where the mythology sprung from (Stevo, maybe?) but the ICA theatre is nowhere near the Chuchill bunkers - they're across the road and buried very deep), nor was there a 'threat' against the London tube system; no tube line passes under the ICA. My pal Michael Morris at the ICA showed me the damage to the theatre; a small fist-sized hole in the rubberised sprung dancefloor of the auditorium, pero nada mas... Thought that might raise a chuckle, and perhaps put the 'shocking' Neubauten into perspective. Someone somewhere started the bunkers/tube threat stories,
and if it wasn't just bored journalists trying to enliven copy, my chief suspect is Stevo..."

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This split live mini-LP by Lydia Lunch and The Birthday Party was the (bad) seed for Immaculate Consumptives (see below). Drunk on the Pope's Blood was the B.Party side; Lydia's was called The Agony Is the Ecstasy and saw her fronting a pick-up band that included Steve Severin.

>Immaculate Consumptives… a couple of performances in Manhattan

Along with one in Washington, DC.

In a November 1983 NME piece on the events, Marc Almond echoed Thirlwell: “All of us use misery…as positive negativism…” adding “We’re the most cheerful miseries I know!”

Immaculate Consumptives cover, NME

>new stuff coming out of New York

Re. the return of No Wave, the crucial event was the Noise Fest, which took place in June 1981 at the White Columns art center, a 9 day showcase of new bands curated by Thurston Moore . More on this in the Mutant Disco footnotes.

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>Swans versus Test Dept

Where Swans admired the “maniacal solipsism” of abjection-trawling writers like Genet and Celine, Test Dept’s version of the metal-bashing “work aesthetic” came from a collectivist impulse.

Swans debut album Filth

>Dionysian lust

Neubauten’s Patieten OT track ‘Abfackeln!’ is about the soul purifying properties of fire

>Collectively told NME

The quotes were unattributed because they didn’t believe in individualism. They also declared: “Our idea of work is one of taking its intensity and its energy and using that for yourself, as opposed to for the state and just really testing yourself, pushing yourself to things that you would never have done and never thought yourself capable of doing before.”

>At a time when unions were being undermined

When Test Dept were forming in the early Eighties, Margaret Thatcher was ridiculing the very concept of “society” and moving to tame the trade union movement . The latter were not only the organs of working class power in terms of collective bargaining over pay and working conditions; they were the principal funding source for Labour, the leading opposition party in Parliament, with the unions having a say in who was the leader of the Party and therefore the prospective prime minister of the entire country. To weaken the unions threatened to lead to a decline in their membership (as they grew less effective in improving their members conditions, and as employers grew emboldened to de-unionise workplaces, break the closed shop etc), this would lead to a long-term decline of the Labour Party. (Unless it changed itself, of course, into something closer to Toryism…)

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>Master and Servant…. Personal/political reversibility

“It’s a lot like life” indeed, as the lyrics quipped.

>Nicked a few of Neubauten ideas

Martin Gore attended The Concerto For Voice and Machinery at the ICA and was exhilarated by the sheer “power and excitement of it”.


Neubauten offical site

Swans official site

Foetus official site

Cabaret voltaire’s crossover years via Some Bizzare--ken Hollings Wire piece


Here's a piece that tracks the evolution from second-wave industrial to Electronic Body Music or as I call it here "industrial disco"

New York Times, fall 1990


"Tyranny For You", the new album by Front 242, sounds like business as usual for the Belgian electro outfit. It features their usual trademark features: juddering, girder-like beats, seismic sequencer pulses, bombastic synthesiser flourishes, and domineering, chanted vocals. These days Front 242 aren't so fond of the samples that used to punctuate their techno-mantras (snatches of political oratory, televangelist preaching, or trash movie dialogue). But their
aura is still overbearing and ominous.

There's one crucial difference about "Tyranny For You", though: it's Front 242's first release for a major label. After nearly a decade of 'covert operations' in the independent sector, Front 242 have signed to Epic Records and are making a bid for a mass audience. Where once they likened themselves to a terrorist unit, now they talk of how "terrorism aspires to tyranny".

Nobody can agree on what to call the kind of music that Front 242 play: "industrial disco", "dancecore", "Euro body music", are just some of the names that practioners disown more frequently than pledge affiliation. But after ten years as the soundtrack for a burgeoning cult scene, this sound may be on the verge of going overground. The recent grim turn in world events could even help it on its way, as clubgoers react against the New Age "positivity" of current dance music and turn to something more in tune with the chaos of the age. For industrial disco is danceable but it isn't funky, and it doesn't correspond to most people's idea of "fun". If disco is escapist, industrial disco is "no escape"-ist. Drawing on media images of conflict and calamity, it doesn't so much document as amplify the tension and chaos of the outside world.

The international network of producers and consumers of this music stretches from Yugoslavia to Belgium to Britain to Canada and the USA. But the market is dominated by a triumvirate of record companies. First and foremost is Chicago's Wax Trax label, whose output includes records by Revolting Cocks, My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult, KMFDM and Front Line Assembly, to name but a few. Wax Trax's public image has come to be defined by the notorious figure of Al Jourgensen, who at 31 has been dubbed "the world's best-paid juvenile delinquent". Jourgensen is the debauched mainstay of both Revolting Cocks and the more overground Ministry, whose commercially sucessful releases via Sire Records help fund Wax Trax's more left-field projects. Then there's Belgium's Play It Again, Sam label, who have pioneered 'Euro Body Music' with groups like Front 242, a;Grumh, Borghesia, and The Young Gods. Finally there's the Vancouver-based Nettwerk, whose roster includes Skinny Puppy, Severed Heads, Consolidated, and SPK. The three labels are loosely allied, often licensing each others records in their own territory, while members of their groups frequently collaborate on sideline or "supergroup" projects.

Industrial disco's musical "roots" (the term seems inappropriate for music so inorganic and assembled) lie in the Eurodisco sound invented in the late Seventies by producer Giorgio Moroder and popularised with tracks like Donna Summer's "I Feel Love". Moroder's aim was to create a pulse-based dance music that would be easier for white people to shake their stuff to than funk's tricksy syncopation. Another critical influence is the early Eighties German group D.A.F., who replaced the flash and dazzle of symphonic disco with a precise and rigorous grid of synth pulses. D.A.F.'s version of dance was less about flamboyant self-expression and more about "absolute body control" (as one of their songs put it).

The "industrial" side to the genre originates in a term adopted by one of the factions that emerged in the aftermath of punk. "Industrial" groups like Cabaret Voltaire and Throbbing Gristle beleived that punk was about disturbing the individual listener, rather than rallying youth in raucous solidarity behind political slogans. Challenging the listener involved tampering with traditional
musical structures, experimenting with new technology, and exploring subject matter that undermined comforting truths rather than shored up a consensus. These groups combined traditional avant-garde techniques (tape loops, found sounds, electronics) with the new spatial possibilites opened up by disco and dub reggae (using the studio as an instrument). The industrial aesthetic also drew on influences outside music, in particular the apocalyptic visions of cult writers like William Burroughs and J.G. Ballard. From Burroughs, they derived an obsession with "control" (a paranoid belief in the existence of networks of surveillance and mind-manipulation) and the technique of "cut-up" (the use of quotes and soundbites from the media). From J.G. Ballard, they drew an interest in aberrant sexuality and a fascination with horror.

Industrial disco groups still work in this interface between pornography and pathology. For some, it's purely a question of voyeuristic kicks (Revolting Cocks). Others have more honourable motivations: Skinny Puppy rub our noses in the horror of vivisection in order to enlighten us and arouse our compassion.
But most groups on the scene tend to have a morbid fascination with extremist thought and behaviour: the arcane rituals and "discredited knowledges" of occult groups, the warped notions of conspiracy theorists, vigilantes, and psychopaths.

Industrial disco is generally fascinated with the extremes of human
experience, and in particular with the extremes of male psychology: the outlaw, the survivalist, the terrorist, the serial killer, the dictatator, the technocrat. Industrial disco's aura is supremely masculine. The key adjective is "hard", as in hard beats, hard living, hardcore. London's major club for this kind of music is simply called Hard Club. Dance is less a funtime release, more like an endurance test. Standard disco phrases like "work that body" are taken literally. The pumping-iron rhythms and unflagging repetition evoke a mood of aerobic triumphalism: like working out or marathon running, this is an aim-less strength that exists only to flex itself. Promo videos for industrial tracks often incorporate images of glistening, tensed musculature inspired by the heroic realism of totalitarian art.

A key influence here is the rhetoric of the Italian Futurists and Soviet Constructivists, with their faith in technology, their formal brutalism, and their suspicion of the "feminising" aspects of civilisation. Industrial disco particularly resembles Futurism in its worship of speed: not the illicit drug but the tempo of the 20th Century as it hurtles towards the apocalypse. (Wax Trax group Lead Into Gold wittily summed up the aesthetic with the title of their recent LP "Chicks, Speed and Futurism"). And like the original Futurists, the industrial disco groups have an ambiguous relationship with totalitarianism. For some, the flirtation is artistic rather than ideological (the sub-Wagnerian monumentalism of In The Nursery). Others make more explicit allusions. The German group KMFDM talk of their dream of a 'positive fascism' - an army of youth marching in one direction for peace and love, and working to build a society in which images of violence are banned. Or there's Front 242, who propound a survivalist philosophy that has been called 'micro-fascism'(organising your own mind and body like a police state).

Even if you can't endure the music, industrial disco is fascinating because it displays the full gamut of male psychology - from the sociopathic 'rebel without a cause' to the fanatic's will-to-power and paranoid worldview. Like rap, industrial disco can function as a glimpse into the hellish void at the centre of the male ego.
It provides a hyperbolic expression of two opposed masculine impulses. On the one hand, there's the outlaw who revolts against God and whose rampages range from rampant egoism to feats of self-destruction. Al Jourgensen is the best exemplar of this breed of barbarian.

The other tendency involves the will-to-order in the face of chaos. The best representative of this approach is a San Fransisco group called Consolidated, who have been described as a "white Public Enemy". Their brilliant album "The Myth Of Rock" savages the notion of rock rebellion, which they diagnose as a symptom of arrested development. Consolidated dismiss rock as a regressive cul-de-sac whose main effect is to keep people from changing the world. The group
are painfully aware of the reactionary aspects of the scene from which they've emerged (they talk disparagingly of "white aerobic supremacism"). Although their music shares much of the brutal exhiliration and galvanising rigour of the
industrial genre, Consolidated claim they're inspired by a different,
matriarchal model of strength. In that sense, they've done everyone a big favour: excising the unsavoury aspects of industrial while preserving the form, they've brought the genre over to the side of the angels.

Me on Neubauten's 1989 album Haus Der Luege

Some Bizzare
Melody Maker, 1989

By Simon Reynolds

After the conceptual perfection of their entry into the pop world, in which they announced the End (of music, of Western Civilisation), the logical step for Einsturzende might have been to disappear, or die. Instead, by carrying
on, they could easily be perceived as having settled into the ignominy of a career (and in the 'music business' no less). Certainly, in terms of the onward march of Rock Discourse they are nowhere now, just part of a rich (or threadbare,
depending on where you sit) tapestry of motley options: 'just music'. But in purely musical terms they're probably more interesting than ever, precisely because they've abandoned their early total gestures for more palatable formats.

And with the shift from out-and-out avant-gardism to the Blues and the Song, it's become possible to see that Einsturzende's "collapsing structures" have always been as much inside your own head as out there in the public realm of contestation. That the End of History they proclaimed was a private apocalypse: the demolition of the House of Lies (Haus Der Luege) that is the stable, self-policing self; the
deconstruction of the "BrainLego" out of which individual consciousness is formed.

"Haus Der Luege" starts with a "Prologue". It's an internal dialogue between two sides of the brain: the first devilishly advocates a poetry of impossible demands and self-immolatory desire, to which the Voice of Reason feebly counters "we could, but-". But before the case for vacillation and restraint can be recited, it's immediately drowned out by a sound like ten thousand vacuum cleaners
on the warpath. "Feurio" (Mediaeval German for fire) continues to expound the Bargeld manifesto of arsonist assault on the citadel of the self, for the massive
expenditure of unrecoupable energy. Sound-wise it's what Biba Kopf, in his excellent sleevenotes, calls a "musaic": a melange of hand-hit and synthetic sound, tier after tier of sonic rubble, mobilised into a rough-hewn dance shape at the mixing desk, in a manner that puts me in mind of PIL's "Flowers Of Romance".

"A Chair In Hell" is Bad Seedsy, with a "something wicked this way comes" beat tiptoeing up creaking stairs. "Haus Der Luege" is another excursion into disco concrete that dissolves into a waterfall of broken glass. Side Two starts with the nauseous hum of what are either flies or motorbikes, out of which drifts, like the Marie Celeste,"Fiat Lux". An immensely funereal item of ransacked, ghost
town blues, it's further proof of Bargeld's veneration for Sixties C&W visionary Lee Hazelwood. "Fiat Lux" fades into "Maifestspiele", where sounds of the annual May the First riots in Germany are draped in canopies of psalmic sorrow (is it a guitar? is it an orchestra? no, it's fourteen loops of Bargeld vocal played at different speeds). "BrainLego" is like Stone Age people trying to imitate Art Of Noise's
"Close To The Edit". "Schwindel" is urban Gamelan played on a bed frame, a choir of metallic chimes punctuated by the Bargeld Scream (a sound like a traction engine letting off steam). Finally, "Der Kuss", is an ode to the self- annihilating bliss of the kiss, constructed around deep register grand piano chords and a slide guitar solo like a coyote staring into the void.

To remind the listener of such a disparate array of styles and sound-sources (Lee Hazelwood's epic balladry, Gamelan metal-bashing, Penderecki's orchestral threnodies for Auschwitz and Hiroshima, Arvo Part's Mediaevalism, even Eskimo part-song) while at the same time impressing more firmly than ever the sense of an unshakeable musical
identity... well, it's a pretty cool manoeuvre for Neubauten to pull off. But all the while, Bargeld - ironically the consummate egotist - is lusting to breach his own identity, to "think myself to the end" ("BrainLego"), be consumed in a
self-ignited inferno of unreason.

Me on a Foetus anthology circa 1989 or 1990

Womb Inc
Melody Maker, 1990?

At the end of the day, when all is said and done, it's extremely hard to take seriously a man who operates under a series of droll variations on the word "foetus": You've Got Foetus On Your Breath, Scraping Foetus Off The Wheel, Foetus Interruptus, Foetus Uber Frisco etc etc. Clint Ruin/Jim Thirlwell is the jester in the pack of his post-hardcore peers, and Foetus is something like the Madness of the noise generation. Which is to say, indefatigibly entertaining: I
might well find myself playing this 'Best Of...' dubble more often than records I really admire. But at the end of the day, we all know that humour-in-music isn't really that interesting: it's the sad, solemn or desperate, driven songs
that you clasp to your bosom, would take to the proverbial Desert Island.

Like Madness, humour infects every last pore of Foetus music, from the baroque, vaudevillian arrangements to the lyrics, which are over-ripe, but never achieve the
apocalyptic, verminously visionary pitch achieved by, say, Nick Cave circa "Mutiny" and "From Her To Eternity". Thirlwell's demolition derby of puns and mixed metaphors
("slimes of a feather grind together", "double goddamn and a carton of hells", "supercalifragilisticsadomasochism", "halo of flamin' lead") are chucklesome rather than chilling glimpses into the Void.

Similarly, there are some amazing sonic forgeries ("Bedrock" is sleazy, striptease burlesque, "The Only Good Christian Is A Dead Christian" is call-and-response gospel),but leave you wondering: why is it being done? Other tracks are mammoth constructions that plunder such diverse genres as avant-garde classical music, metal-bashing, disco, R&B, heavy metal: the kind of hardcore/pomp rock bombast that Jim
Steinman might produce if he was ten years younger and had been brought up on the wrong side of the tracks.

When the lyrics let up and the hammy voice is given a breather, Foetus can be tremendous on a purely musical level. In particular, Side Two is a sequence of brilliant instrumentals like "Lilith", "Shut" and "Sick Minutes". "Diabolus In Musica" is a thoroughly creepy piece based on a musical "tritone" that was banned in the Middle Ages because it was considered Satanic (users were tortured to death,
often by genital mutilation); "Smut" is symphonic blitz-boogie somewhere between Glenn Branca and George Thorogood; "Rattlesnake Insurance" is ghost-town blues reminiscent of that perennial Immaculate Consumptive favourite, Lee Hazelwood. These are stunning soundtracks looking for a film, for a reason to exist.

Then it's back to the flailing, hell-for-leather pace and laid-on-with-a-trowel concatenation of sound and imagery: the electro pummel of "Catastrophe Crunch" and "Calamity Crush" (where Thirlwell's collission of drum machine and grunge guitar anticipated Def Jam, Age Of Chance, etc by a good few years); the industrial Hi-NRG of "Wash It All Off".

At 80 minutes plus, "Sink" is exhausting, ultimately tiresome. It showcases Thirlwell's remarkable ability to build with sound, to mix'n'match/mismatch styles. But ultimately there's something hollow at the heart of these fabulous constructions. In the end, it's just entertainment,a cue for laffs rather than lesions.

Me on the Cabs's crossover years

The Original Sound of Sheffield--The Best of the Virgin/EMI Years
Conform to Deform--The Virgin/EMI Years
Uncut 2001

by Simon Reynolds

It's hard to believe today, but back in the early Eighties the "New Pop" ideal of mainstream entryism was so dominant, and the alternative (staying indie) so discredited, that even the leading lights of industrial music had a bash. Clock DVA, SPK, and Throbbing Gristle (renamed Psychic TV) all formed alliances with major labels, glossing up their music seemingly in hopes of getting on Top of the Pops. What's most surprising in retrospect is not the group's eagerness to "sell out" hell, everybody needs to make some bread), but the major labels' belief they could sell the stuff to Joe Punter.

Invariably, the post-industrial popsters stiffed in the marketplace and, tails (or pierced dicks) between legs, they rejoined erstwhile comrades like Nurse With Wound and Coil in the margins. Still, flouting received wisdom, it's not always true that compromise ruins a band's sound. Sometimes it an improvement: the radio-friendly Nirvana of Nevermind is just plain better than the Subpop stuff. Even a failed attempt at mainstreaming can serve as a timely escape for a band that's hit an aesthetic dead end. So while I'd still rate Cabaret Voltaire's first phase from "Nag Nag Nag" through Red Mecca to "Your Agent Man" as their definitive legacy, it's undeniable that by 1982 they'd taken that approach as far as they could. It was time for a change: a new arena, bigger horizons, a shifted sound.

On their first two post-Rough Trade albums, The Crackdown and Microphonies, the Cabs are basically trying to do a New Order: marry postpunk's angst with the party sounds of electro and Latin Freestyle that ruled Manhattan clubs like the Funhouse and Danceteria. If they never pulled off a "Blue Monday" or "Confusion", they got close with "Crackdown", "Just Fascination," and especially "Sensoria", which gave an ultramodern sheen--all chattering sequencers, pert chugging basslines, and robotic handclaps--to the classic Voltaire vibe of twitchy, under-surveillance tension. The result---Shannon for J.G. Ballard fans---was only a few leftward steps from Depeche Mode in their "political", Neubauten-infatuated mode. But Stephen Mallinder's sultry vocals were always too subdued and moody for full pop impact. And melody was never the Cabs's strong suit.

By the time a dance culture based around largely instrumental music arrived, in the form of acid house, Cabaret Voltaire was running out of steam (understandably, after thirteen years and umpteen releases). Remixes of post-1988 Cabs tunes by dancefloor luminaries like A Guy Called Gerald and Rob Gordon show both how much the Cabs had in common with acid and bleep, but also how they needed assistance to really infiltrate that arena. Hooking up with Sheffield deejay Parrot as Sweet Exorcist, though, Richard Kirk did enjoy the ravefloor impact that eluded the Cabs, with early Warp releases like "Testone". Avant-funk finally had its day, as 'ardcore.

The three-CD Conform to Deform is flawed: there's hardly anything from 1985's under-rated The Covenant, The Sword, and the Arm of the Lord, and an entire disc dedicated to live versions seems an odd decision (although the Cabs could be a formidable and forbidding live experience). Some tracks haven't dated well: "C.O.m.a" is all stop-start edits, Fairlight gimmicks, and other modish mid-Eighties techniques, but, unlike equally of-their-time efforts by Art of Noise and Mantronix, the effect is "period charmless." The single-disc The Original Sound of Sheffield, though, makes a strong case for the Cabs's crossover era. An essential companion/sequel to the first-phase Cabs singles compilation The Living Legends, this "greatest near-misses" tells the story of how one pioneering postpunk outfit tried to adapt to the challenging climate of the 1980s.

Me on the Swans live in 1986

London University Union
Melody Maker, March 1st 1986

By Simon Reynolds

They took the stage looking a little like Grand Funk Railroad, but the Swans present a torture of sound as radical as Einsturzende Neubauten's. There are no melodies, no riffs even - bass and synthesizer are played percussively, combining with the drums as a single instrument.

The Swans songs consist of a single motif or sequence repeated with minimal variation, lurching forward at a punishingly slow pace. The guitar fills in the sound with surges and slashes of ugly noise. Michael Gira's voice is just another loop of abraded texture, an endless scar. And the Swans play very loud.

At times they're like agonized crawling things (some grim humour that they should adopt a name so symbolic of grace and dignity). At other times they sound like pop's abbatoir: only Glitter's "Rock 'N' Roll, Part Two" and the bleakest Killing Joke have approached a rock this merciless, this dehumanized, this dead. Perhaps Swans music exists at the point where the organic and inorganic meet, where the most degraded forms of life shade into the mechanicals.

Some bands use noise to blow the mind. The Swans music acts more like a compression of consciousness, a soul mangling. We were frozen in their noise, our minds unable to wander.

The only comparable experience I've had recently is the latest Cabaret Voltaire performances. Kirk and Mallinder used electronics of formidable opacity, percussively, to achieve a similar effect -- total sensory assault, an involuntary, joyless seizure of the attention.

For the Swans take rock beyond pleasure, beyond joy, to a realm where they can only be submission. What they find attractive in rock is not its liberating energy, its breaking free and emotional release. No, they have perceived in rock an urge to abasement, a repetition complex. This they've isolated and intensified, using the hypnotizing power of repetition, its compulsion, as a metaphor for the mechanisms of social bondage. They explore the sado-masochism at the roots of power psychology, by implicating us in a performance whose pleasure, whose hold, is essentially masochistic. Their music functions as both analogue and working example of the libidinisation of pain.

I don't know why the Swans want to take themselves, and us, so low. But I can't help but be impressed. Without particularly wanting to attend one of their concerts again.

All non-pictorial contents copyright Simon Reynolds unless otherwise indicated

1 comment:

groove68 said...

Rare music doc BERLIN NOW, 1985, with Neubauten Die Haut, Malaria et al.

Watch here as a video on demand stream