A brief introduction to Industrial music

Rosie Pentreath

While industrial music sounds provocative, chaotic and, to some, utterly inaccessible, its origins can be found in established and organised intellectual thought around the universality of music

Origins

Industrial music was born as a response to the new noises of the modern mechanised world and, in the words of industrial band Throbbing Gristle’s founder, Genesis P-Orridge, “the premise that everybody is capable of making music, whether they realise it or not.” 

What Orridge and the early pioneers of the genre were championing was the notion that anything that could make a sound was a musical instrument and anyone producing that sound was a musician. Unique timbres, textures, rhythms and harmonies grew out of the freest musical experimentation and a distinct genre soon emerged. Tapes of William Burroughs speech were cut up and rearranged by the experimental artist Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson to make music; sounds were borrowed and modified, and rigged into keyboards that became the earliest forms of sampling and synthesisers; sequencing and looping formed new ways of structuring pieces into sonically arresting "sound collages". 

 

History

While the term “industrial music” was coined in the 1970s by Monte Cazazza around the time he was working with Throbbing Gristle to establish the label Industrial Records, it can be seen as a genre extending from the experimental electronic musique concréte movement of the 1920s, 30s and 40s led by French composers Pierre Schaeffer and Pierre Henry, who cut and manipulated tapes of everyday sounds and speech into musical compositions. 

Later, minimalist electronic avant garde compositions like Steve Reich’s Different Trains (1988), featuring train noises and announcements looped over repetitive melodies, were emerging in parallel with the industrial genre. Writing in 1930, composer Igor Stravinsky observed that “there will be a greater interest in creating music in a way that will be peculiar to the gramophone record”, highlighting the inevitability of the rise of this kind of electronic music once recorded sound became a possibility. 

 

The Context

As well as experimenting with noise and sounds to create a new aesthetic in music, early industrial pioneers like Monte Cazazza, Throbbing Gristle and Australian band SPK were also intellectually and politically motivated. Cazazza described the genre as “industrial music for industrial people” and this sums up its goal to give a voice to ordinary people in an age where information and its transfer through electronic mediums equalled power. 

Much like punk, the music—or “anti-music” as pioneers would have it called—served to break down taboos and rally against the unequal distribution of power in society. Association with working class disruption and anti-establishment thinking are neither of them long bows to draw. Industrial Records aimed to disrupt music and perceptions of sound; to get people thinking differently about the world around them and to question the motives of established power and established systems.

 

The Sound

The sound of the early industrial music is seemingly chaotic, often using harsh and dissonant electronic noises that build up into often rather intense textures. Beeps and scratches and thuds organise into rhythms, and repetitive electronic layers serve as melody. The human voice appears in cut tapes of speech rather than in song. Later, bands incorporated sound elements more traditionally with music such as drum beats and melodies.

 

The Pioneers

The development of industrial music was led by the aforementioned band, Throbbing Gristle, which was Genesis P-Orridge, Peter Christopherson, Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti, as well as American artists Monte Cazazza and Boyd Rice, and bands like Cabaret Voltaire and Z’EV. Later the genre went more mainstream with the likes of Trent Reznor and his band Nine Inch Nails, Skinny Puppy, Ministry and Marilyn Manson, who all took industrial music closer to the realms of glam rock and metal. 

 

Industrial Music Today

The genre today is strongly represented by 3TEETH and post-industrial artists like Factory Floor and Sally Dige who incorporate more accessible beats and melodies into their industrial sound. Throbbing Gristle’s own former member Cosey Fanni Tutti is still going strong, releasing a new solo album under her own name this month.

Cosey Fanni Tutti’s new album Tutti is out Friday, February 8