We don’t often do straight opinion pieces, but we had a deadline and this is something we’ve been thinking on for a while. Read up and let us know what you think in the comments!
We had a sneaking suspicion at the beginning of the 2013 that this might be the year Our Thing broke back into the general indie consciousness, and thus far we’ve been pretty pleased by how that’s been working out. From the general excitement surrounding the Nails reunion, to Puppy being big-upped by Grimes (an undoubted factor in the greater surge of interest in their latest album compared to the last two) to artists we cover showing up on Hype Machine in greater numbers than ever, it’s been a pretty fascinating trend to watch develop. Even the fact that the word “industrial” got used in practically every review of Kanye West’s Yeezus, whether justified or not, is indicative of some acknowledgment from an indie press that has largely ignored our corner of the swimming pool for aeons. All that stuff is well and good, but perhaps the most interesting thing has been the continued rise of interest in the so-called “indie industrial” or “new body” or whatever term is sticking to it right now. While White Car set the precedent with the interest shown for their debut LP last year, Youth Code are breaking through in a way we never could have foreseen, with articles hyping their debut single and LP appearing on such venerated independent online music journals as Brooklyn Vegan, Ad Hoc and of course, the omnipresent Pitchfork.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, we’ve noticed a lot of reactionary antagonism to this sort of buzz within the “traditional” industrial community, the sort which our pals at Storming The Base so cannily addressed recently. When a band dealing with influences you, the savvy long-time industrial fan are extremely (and perhaps dangerously) well-versed in starts earning plaudits for being utterly ground-breaking and without precedent by people responsible for dreck like this, it’s understandable that shields would fly up as if a Romulan Warbird just decloaked. In addition to your own frustration about the possibility for inept or misleading representation of something that you’ve lived and breathed for decades, there’s the suspicion that the so-called indie press are treating Our Thing like a fad and will drop it the moment chillwave gets a second look or there’s an umpteenth Pavement reunion. Conversely, we can understand why someone might not want the stigma of being associated with the modern-day industrial scene; a search for “industrial song” on Youtube yields Eisenfunk’s “Pong” as the first result, the anthem of the reviled cyber-goth movement, Our Thing’s equivalent of the hated Juggalo.
We sympathize with all of these grievances and have felt them ourselves, but it’s important to realise that they’re all dependent upon a false binary, an “Us and Them” myth which we’ve likely contributed to in no small way by our adherence to the concept of “Our Thing”. Broadly, it invokes an idea of a “traditional” industrial community, the one that encompasses the international club and festival scene and the rivet record labels: the scene that gave us American coldwave, futurepop, and aggrotech (along with yarn hair, gas masks and goofity-ass body armour). Then there are the supposed outsider bands, the bands presaged by ultra-hip fashion label/tastemaker blog Mishka’s support of //TENSE//; bands like White Car, Youth Code, and BITES that have a clear debt to eighties EBM but have largely eschewed the aesthetics of the trad-rivet scene. Some folks would have you believe these communities are at best wary of one another, at worst outright contemptuous. The truth – as always – is a lot more complicated.
It’s easy to draw up arbitrary cartographies, designating one of these movements as the “real” industrial and another as tacky dilettantism, (or coversely one as a return to the spirit of the movement while another is utterly inbred and stunted, the result of a stagnated gene pool) but the harsh reality is that most of the celebrated greats of industrial, new or old, have rejected the “industrial” label and all of its associations at one point or another. As we’ve opined while engaging in this discussion elsewhere, that rejection may in fact be the sole connective tissue between the entirety of the body of industrial artists (talk about negative dialectics). Hell, looking ninety years back into the history of experimental music we have Schoenberg poo-pooing the fusion of traditional harmonic patterns and serialism by his disciple Berg. In short, there is nothing new about the confusion and suspicion over who is releasing “this music” right now and why.
Furthermore, the divisions between the two camps are almost entirely fictional, based on the context in which we are accustomed to seeing this music addressed. A closer examination sees any actual separation falling to pieces, the result of excessive hand-wringing and knee-jerking. Aesthetic Perfection, a top tier act on the industrial touring circuit, is putting out a single at the end of this month with remixes from BITES and ∆AIMON alongside BlakOpz and Suicide Commando. At Los Angeles’ ultra-hip Lil Death hip kids are dancing to southern rap and Laibach in the same set, while not far off, Complex and Part-Time Punks are putting on shows with bills where mainstays like Dirk Ivens play on a bills with up-and-comers like High Functioning Flesh and Blush Response. On the surface a band like Necro Facility and a band like By Any Means Necessary might not have a lot in common, but you can bet there’s more than a little overlap in their shared influences. We don’t think this is a case of two camps working together, we explicltly believe that there are no camps.
Instead of rehashing these same old imaginary divisions, why not work at something more constructive, like a better understanding of a nodular, and unapologetically labyrinthine shared tradition? Do you think Demdike Stare sounds like In Slaughter Natives or that Dom Fernow owes a lot to Bryn Jones? You’re not wrong, but why not point newer listeners of those sounds to some of their progenitors without (and this is the tricky part) sounding like a bitter, wizened asshole? We have a chance to give classic artists like that some shine, as well as direct people from well outside the scene to the sort of contemporary artists we wished they knew about or thought about in relation to Our Thing, rather than just filling in the blank in their mind with whatever 20 year old stereotypes their media diet has fed them.
All of the above has been proposed with the notion that the ears and tastes of you, the cultured and very serious rivethead, are beyond reproach, which, let’s face it, probably aren’t (please realise that this is directed as much at ourselves as it is anyone else). There may be things some of those critics and new ears are detecting which you aren’t. Just about every time we’ve gone absolutely bugfuck for a new record, there’s been someone saying “I don’t see what all the fuss is about; new band X sounds just like old band Y”. Obviously we’ve felt differently and have tried (in our own meager way) to petition for what it is that makes these new bands different or otherwise worthy of attention. There have been splits between the two of us along those lines; one just not initially getting what the other heard right off the bat, or one having to wait for the same listening conditions which cinched one record for the other. There is always room for debate, room for discussion, room for discovering a new record or a new perspective, and perhaps, against all odds, room for admitting past faults.
For all of this, though, for all of the sturm und drang which kicks off this sort of conversation every time new blood comes in, the production of music itself isn’t ultimately dependent upon or threatened by these debates and discussions. At the end of the day, the future of industrial music lies with those creating it, and those people deserve and will have the final say. The attention of the press, whether the ‘fork or ID:UD, provides a record of contemporary attitudes, but doesn’t have authoritative control over the medium or the music. Is some online douche insisting you prove that you’re as rivet as they claim to be before they’ll deign to listen to the demo you posted in good faith? Fuck ’em. Are you depressed by the unwavering certainty that larger press organs will utterly ignore the frigging amazing classic dark electro record you just poured three years of love and work into? Fuck ’em. As an actual artist, you get to decide where this music goes and what it evolves into, for better or worse, not pundits like us.
The future of industrial rests with Youth Code. It also rests with Encephalon. It rests with ∆AIMON, Henrikk Björkk, Everything Goes Cold, Tannhäuser Gate, iVardensphere, High-Functioning Flesh, The Pain Machinery, and countless others. It rests with a lot of artists we think are terrible, too. It rests with kids all over the world who are installing their first DAW or realizing just how much noise they can make with the knobs on their parents’ distortion pedals. If the idea of it resting with all these artists and more either excites or disgusts you, if you want a measure of control, all you have to do is take it. Get in the game.