What exactly is industrial music?

Written by: jupitreas
Published: 12.10.2004
What exactly is industrial music?

This is a very interesting question.
Its not as easy as it seems - industrial is a catch-all phrase in today's music world and its used to describe any rock band that has a sort of aggressive electronica touch to their music. Bands like Stabbing Westward, Gravity Kills, White Zombie or Static-X come to mind. Most industrial purists would never call these bands industrial.

What industrial really is is something a lot more ambitious. The term originates from the name of Throbbing Gristle's record label (Industrial Records) and Throbbing Gristle is officially considered to have started the style back in about 1976. It is a form of anti-music, descendant of da-da, surrealist and performance art and an artistic (yet intellectual) manifestation of nihilism. Being a subset of the avant-garde and a musical form dealing primarily with ideas, industrial was the thinking man's alternative to punk music. As an artistic movement, it has formed due to the simultaneous fear and fascination of how the information revolution and the effects of the age of mechanical reproduction affects the human condition and social consciousness. As the purpose of all art is to expand the beholder's perception, so was the purpose of industrial music to help the listener achieve a better understanding and awareness of how the advent of technology influences his view of the world. Thus, industrial was a form of anti-music - often focusing on the most shocking ideas and using the most unlistenable musical elements to convey its message.

Soon after the birth of industrial music, the music journalist John Savage, who was an integral part of the movement, formed the 5 areas that characterized industrial music which summed up most of what the early bands were doing and was later even called the industrial manifesto. These five areas were:

1.Access to Information
Industrial 'songs' often seemed like sonic equivalents of the stream of consciousness and deconstructionist approaches of authors such as William Burroughs (who later recognized this fact and collaborated with some industrial artists). One of the ideals of industrial was free access to all information, something that television and other mediums do not give human beings. Thus, the most controversial topics were overtaken and sampling was used extensively, to show the authenticity of said information. As was said before, industrial was also a fascination with modern technology and thus the paradox in such methods can easily be seen.

2.Shock Tactics
Inspired by surrealism, the industrial artists knew that to achieve a higher level of communication with the receiver, one must shatter the automatization barrier formed by living in a world filled with modern media. Thus, shock tactics were used. The afore mentioned controversial themes fall into this category, as well as the robotic, almost fascistic nature of the music.

3.Organisational Autonomy
Industrial music separated itself completely from the mainstream show business and relied solely on its own means of distribution. "Industrial Records" was the first label established to distribute industrial records and others followed shortly. Probably the most famous label of this sort in the 80's was Wax Trax, co-owned by Ministry's Al Jourgensen and being the label to distribute most of the important industrial records of that era.

4.Use Of Extra Musical Elements
Also known as multimedialism, the industrial music artists did not limit their message to just music. Often, a particular performance show was used, as was the case with Throbbing Gristle and Laibach. Video technology was also used and industrial video clips are some of the first to ever have been recorded. Some artists, such as Throbbing Gristle's Genesis P.Orrige expanded to even wider areas of social influence and designed its own Religion/Philosophy in the Temple Ov Physick Youth.

5.Use Of New Musical Technology and Anti-Music
To separate itself from commercial music (dominated by rock artists at the time), industrial artists adapted new technology to become a form of anti-music. Gone were the phallic guitars, the charismatic front men and the bombastic drum sets. Vocals were very often distorted, making it difficult for the listener to identify with the vocalist and thus allowing for him to approach the music on a more intellectual level, rather than a narcissistic one.

Ultimately, industrial music was a rusty nail in the self-limiting world constantly being created by the mass media. Thus, it served as a way to achieve a higher level of human consciousness and played a small role in the prevention of our world limiting itself to a collaborative "result of a selection, a montage, a taking of views" (Graeme Revell (S.P.K.)).

Naturally, as all other musical genres, industrial music evolved over the years. Due to the fact that it was an artistic movement, industrial music's face changed very drastically. By the mid-eighties bands such as Skinny Puppy, Frontline Assembly, Die Krupps and KMFDM (amongst many others) started to play a much more commercial form of industrial music, often dubbed EBM (Electronic Body Music) or Industrial Rock. The original ideals of industrial music were still very much intact; however, experimentation was introduced on the musical level as well (as opposed to only the ideal level) and thus a link with commercial music must have been made, in order for the experiments to make sense. This had a dual effect on industrial music - while it allowed it to explore new areas of how technology affects the human condition, it also made the music more listenable and many counter-culture subcultures such as punk or goth started to embrace the style, taking away from its original uniqueness.

In 1988 a band called Ministry recorded a mile-stone album called "The Land Of Rape And Honey" which forever changed the face of industrial music. It incorporated metal guitars along with industrial noise and electronic beats. Thus, a link between industrial and metal was made, and this was a link that proved impossible to break. Caught into the metal 'genre machine', industrial suddenly became more limited and also got a place on the map of mainstream alternative music, which was just about to receive its boom in the early 90s. When alternative music suddenly went to the top of the charts, the nature of industrial music (or industrial metal, as it was now usually called) changed significantly. Its debatable whether Ministry and its followers (NIN, Gravity Kills, Stabbing Westward etc.) can still be called industrial by the old Throbbing Gristle definition. Purists of the original style's artistic ideal prefer to call such bands sampler rock or sampler metal (or alternatively electronic rock and metal) as indeed, these bands are simply rock bands that use electronic and industrial elements to enhance their (platinum-selling) music.

I think that although many of these bands are indeed an example of sampler rock rather than industrial, a select few still uphold the industrial ideals while also being some form of rock. The bands are rare and include Ministry, Skinny Puppy, Velvet Acid Christ and Wumpscut, among others. Interestingly enough, some bands that do not identify themselves as industrial actually display industrial ideals. These bands include Neurosis, Today Is The Day and Mr. Bungle. Their aim seems to be exactly that of industrial music.

On the other hand, such bands as NIN, White Zombie, Stabbing Westward, God Lives Under Water, Filter, Static-X, Gravity Kills, Fear Factory, Rammstein, Oomph!, Spineshank, Marylin Manson, Godhead, Strapping Young Lad, etc. have nothing to do with the genres' original ideals and the only thing they have in common with it is the detached, cold electronic feel often prevalent in industrial music. Nonetheless, the masses know better. Today, this is what is called industrial and it seems like nothing can be done about it.


 



Written on 12.10.2004 by
jupitreas
With Metal Storm since 2002, jupitreas has been subjecting the masses to his reviews for quite a while now. Privately not actually an asshole, he lives in Warsaw, Poland, where he runs his small graphic and web design business.
More articles by jupitreas ››




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iaberis - 06.02.2007 at 21:03  
Nice, interesting article. Something like a documentary in the genre...
Eight - 10.02.2007 at 11:15  
Great article, im not a fond of this genre, but it was really interesting reading this, thanks
Paganblood - 11.02.2007 at 14:30  
An informative one
Bitch Boy - 12.02.2007 at 05:51  
I loved the article, obviously what you mention about those "industrial bands" (MM, Static-X, Rammstein, etc.) is totally true, they aren't industrial, they only take some elements from the indsutrial musica and combine them with some heavy riffs, that's it. The only band I would call industrial is Ministry.

I didn't know that industrial video clips were some of the first ones, that's interesting info.
Torelli - 22.02.2007 at 23:54  
The gengre "industrial" has always been a complete mistery to me, so i'm glad that someone is writing an article about it. It was a very intesting reading I must say...
BloodTears - 03.03.2007 at 20:19  
this was very helpeful for me. tks for doing it.
Darkside Momo - 19.08.2007 at 18:15  
Really interesting.

I agree with you on the fact that most of the 'industrial metal' bands are NOT industrial following the strict sense of the word.
BUT, I think it's better to llet the label 'industrial metal' to be what is is, because most people in metal understand what it's about. It's a devolution, OK, but let's live with it. It doesn't prevent me to appreciate all these bands after all
jupitreas - 20.08.2007 at 01:14  
Written by Darkside Momo on 19.08.2007 at 18:15

Really interesting.

I agree with you on the fact that most of the 'industrial metal' bands are NOT industrial following the strict sense of the word.
BUT, I think it's better to llet the label 'industrial metal' to be what is is, because most people in metal understand what it's about. It's a devolution, OK, but let's live with it. It doesn't prevent me to appreciate all these bands after all


Yeah, for the sake of convenience the erroneous term "industrial metal" can and should be used, although it would be nice if more people were aware of the problems with this classification. Then again, people who are not into the style will think industrial metal is metal with techno elements anyway, and fans of the style already know what industrial music is.... So its not a big deal.
Coincidentally, the term Gothic Metal is equally fallacious.
Bad English - 22.10.2007 at 00:10  
Nice it helps but I neve rwill be into this muisc i neve rwill understand it
I edd all Minsitry vids in MS and 80ties was never will understand it
But Lay Lady Lay song(Bob Dylan cover) was good but seems all Bob song covers are good and NWO was good too others crap
Stuart - 20.04.2008 at 16:18  
jupitreas, I am interested to hear your thoughts as to whether bands like Wumpscut, VAC, Suicide Commando etc... have a place on Metalstorm? I am a big fan of these types of bands and personaly see them as having an outlook very similar to certain sub-genres of metal and I personaly know many people who have "evolved" as they would put it, from some of the darker forms metal into being obsessive EBM/Modern industrial listeners simply for the facts of its great affect on ones subconsious which is indeed an evolution from many concepts found across metal. Thoughts?
jupitreas - 21.04.2008 at 00:39  
Written by Stuart on 20.04.2008 at 16:18

jupitreas, I am interested to hear your thoughts as to whether bands like Wumpscut, VAC, Suicide Commando etc... have a place on Metalstorm? I am a big fan of these types of bands and personaly see them as having an outlook very similar to certain sub-genres of metal and I personaly know many people who have "evolved" as they would put it, from some of the darker forms metal into being obsessive EBM/Modern industrial listeners simply for the facts of its great affect on ones subconsious which is indeed an evolution from many concepts found across metal. Thoughts?


EBM (or aggrotech) bands have a place on Metalstorm as far as reviews are concerned; however, they will never be featured bands here for the simple reason that they are not metal. They do nevertheless, as you said yourself, share a lot of traits with metal (such as anger, preoccupation with dark themes etc) and therefore reviewing their albums here is more than ok.
Stuart - 21.04.2008 at 23:18  
Written by jupitreas on 21.04.2008 at 00:39

Written by Stuart on 20.04.2008 at 16:18

jupitreas, I am interested to hear your thoughts as to whether bands like Wumpscut, VAC, Suicide Commando etc... have a place on Metalstorm? I am a big fan of these types of bands and personaly see them as having an outlook very similar to certain sub-genres of metal and I personaly know many people who have "evolved" as they would put it, from some of the darker forms metal into being obsessive EBM/Modern industrial listeners simply for the facts of its great affect on ones subconsious which is indeed an evolution from many concepts found across metal. Thoughts?


EBM (or aggrotech) bands have a place on Metalstorm as far as reviews are concerned; however, they will never be featured bands here for the simple reason that they are not metal. They do nevertheless, as you said yourself, share a lot of traits with metal (such as anger, preoccupation with dark themes etc) and therefore reviewing their albums here is more than ok.

OK, fair enough, that makes perfect sense and I agree totally with those sentiments, but then next logical question is what exactly defines metal? Is Sunn O))) metal? Simply because they use guitars and more "natural" instuments? Is it their standing in the metal scene? They seem just about as metal as Wumpscut do to me except qute differently, and yet I concede that Wumpscut are clearly not metal. Sunn O))) are a featured band on this website and I am very glad that they are. Who decides what is metal and what is not? I ask these questons not out of pretentiousness but because I am really interested in others views on the matter. I am aware that I am straying a little off topic now.
Hamird - 22.04.2008 at 13:36  
it was a great article and i enjoy reading it. since im interested in Industrial music more than others. even those are not named metal, like Suicide commando and Alien vampires and so on. using electronics and samples are alright for me,,,, i enjoy those stuffs
jupitreas - 22.04.2008 at 17:47  
Written by Stuart on 21.04.2008 at 23:18

Written by jupitreas on 21.04.2008 at 00:39

Written by Stuart on 20.04.2008 at 16:18

jupitreas, I am interested to hear your thoughts as to whether bands like Wumpscut, VAC, Suicide Commando etc... have a place on Metalstorm? I am a big fan of these types of bands and personaly see them as having an outlook very similar to certain sub-genres of metal and I personaly know many people who have "evolved" as they would put it, from some of the darker forms metal into being obsessive EBM/Modern industrial listeners simply for the facts of its great affect on ones subconsious which is indeed an evolution from many concepts found across metal. Thoughts?


EBM (or aggrotech) bands have a place on Metalstorm as far as reviews are concerned; however, they will never be featured bands here for the simple reason that they are not metal. They do nevertheless, as you said yourself, share a lot of traits with metal (such as anger, preoccupation with dark themes etc) and therefore reviewing their albums here is more than ok.

OK, fair enough, that makes perfect sense and I agree totally with those sentiments, but then next logical question is what exactly defines metal? Is Sunn O))) metal? Simply because they use guitars and more "natural" instuments? Is it their standing in the metal scene? They seem just about as metal as Wumpscut do to me except qute differently, and yet I concede that Wumpscut are clearly not metal. Sunn O))) are a featured band on this website and I am very glad that they are. Who decides what is metal and what is not? I ask these questons not out of pretentiousness but because I am really interested in others views on the matter. I am aware that I am straying a little off topic now.


Its not easy with the fringe bands. I suppose the trick is that if a convincing argument can be made that a band is metal, then we can feature it here. Due to Sunn's involvement in the scene etc such an argument can be made. Wumpscut does have metal guitars in one song but that isnt enough to make a convincing argument that they are a metal band.

But yeah, it isnt easy to decide in some of these cases. We just do the best we can!
Stuart - 22.04.2008 at 21:29  
Written by jupitreas on 22.04.2008 at 17:47

Written by Stuart on 21.04.2008 at 23:18

Written by jupitreas on 21.04.2008 at 00:39

Written by Stuart on 20.04.2008 at 16:18

jupitreas, I am interested to hear your thoughts as to whether bands like Wumpscut, VAC, Suicide Commando etc... have a place on Metalstorm? I am a big fan of these types of bands and personaly see them as having an outlook very similar to certain sub-genres of metal and I personaly know many people who have "evolved" as they would put it, from some of the darker forms metal into being obsessive EBM/Modern industrial listeners simply for the facts of its great affect on ones subconsious which is indeed an evolution from many concepts found across metal. Thoughts?


EBM (or aggrotech) bands have a place on Metalstorm as far as reviews are concerned; however, they will never be featured bands here for the simple reason that they are not metal. They do nevertheless, as you said yourself, share a lot of traits with metal (such as anger, preoccupation with dark themes etc) and therefore reviewing their albums here is more than ok.

OK, fair enough, that makes perfect sense and I agree totally with those sentiments, but then next logical question is what exactly defines metal? Is Sunn O))) metal? Simply because they use guitars and more "natural" instuments? Is it their standing in the metal scene? They seem just about as metal as Wumpscut do to me except qute differently, and yet I concede that Wumpscut are clearly not metal. Sunn O))) are a featured band on this website and I am very glad that they are. Who decides what is metal and what is not? I ask these questons not out of pretentiousness but because I am really interested in others views on the matter. I am aware that I am straying a little off topic now.


Its not easy with the fringe bands. I suppose the trick is that if a convincing argument can be made that a band is metal, then we can feature it here. Due to Sunn's involvement in the scene etc such an argument can be made. Wumpscut does have metal guitars in one song but that isnt enough to make a convincing argument that they are a metal band.

But yeah, it isnt easy to decide in some of these cases. We just do the best we can!

Hmmmm, that seems like a valid point. I imagine it can be quite a tricky process, because there is just so much music out there that has some sort of relation to metal, either intentionaly or not. The question I guess must be where do you draw the line. You simply can't allow every band with the vaguest metal leanings to come on to the website as it would then cease to be a "metal" website and simply be a music website which defeats the whole purpose. It was an interesting article nevertheless, although I appreciate much EBM and have been very involved with it, I've never taken the time to look at some of it's roots, I've just looked at it for what it is and its "mind altering" capabilities, so in that this article was quite a pleasent read. You should write more on this topic if you ever find the time and inclination. An excuse to go to Germany for some research maybe.
Candlemass - 05.07.2008 at 16:30  
Good article.
I was asking myself alot about Industrial music lately.
You rock m8.
Patrick290 - 20.02.2012 at 14:43  
Certainly educative article!
I learned more about music genre! The title itself made me curious about other type of music.

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