Sharon Kyronfive is ID:UD’s resident expert on 90’s industrial, and 199X is the stage where she illuminates us all on secret and not so secret moments from one of the genre’s most fertile periods. Take notes y’all!
Ah, sweet October. The leaves are turning. People aren’t asking me why the hell I’m wearing black at midday. And I’m getting all that extra exercise avoiding the 514th replay of “Everyday Is Halloween.” You know, all those signs that tell you Fall is here. Which is why I decided to have a little fun with this column. (Spoiler alert: no it does not include “Everyday Is Halloween.”)
In this fair season of skulls, bones, and the venerable undead, I challenged myself to throw open the mausoleum and come up with the most unloved, most forgotten, and most obscure examples of ‘90s industrial. Now, granted, this would not be a challenge if I were unearthing someone’s older brother’s basement noodlings avec Casio et Speak & Spell. The goal here was to find quality examples of the era that were actually released and, uh, listened to by other people. And not terrible. A mightier task than one might expect. I hope I succeeded. Read on.
In this corner: the Skinny Puppy-influenced elektro-industrial superstars on a major label in Czechoslovakia that pretty much no one (outside of the Eastern Bloc) has ever heard of.
Here’s a band with a nearly 30-year career who’s gone through an entire evolution of incarnations. And yet almost no one outside of Czechoslovakia has probably even heard of them. Vanessa actually started its life as Vanessa del Rio, presumably named after the porn star. (Shockingly, they changed their name after one record.) By 1994, signed to BMG Airola in their home country, their output indicated they were taking copious notes on what was happening with labels like Zoth Ommog and Celtic Circle, repackaging the sound with mostly Czech vocals for a homegrown audience. This song, the title track of their release by the same name, is by far their strongest, bearing more than a passing debt to Skinny Puppy, and easily playing well alongside bands like yelworC, Placebo Effect, and Putrefy Factor 7. This is not, shall we say, the most elegant example of this sound. But there’s a genuine sense of eagerness in their output that takes it beyond its own limitations to something a little crude but nonetheless precious. Interestingly, Vanessa had a long life after this track. By 1997 they were called Vanessa Gun and sporting a coldwave-meets-Cubanate influence. And these days Vanessa is back on Czech airwaves with a machine rock sound which would credibly play alongside bands like Eisbrecher or Dope Stars Inc. Good for them.
In that corner, one dude in Europe, armed with a guitar, synthesizer, and an obsession with invasive surgery, ready to take on 1995 with one record, then never be heard from again.
F.P.A.C “Plasma” and “Inorganic Remains”
I know little about F.P.A.C. other than it was the one-man project of Alexander Hornbostel, who managed to release only one record in the band’s career (if you can call one record a career). One wonders if Hornbostel mightn’t have spent a tour of duty in the metal scene before trying his hand at industrial. These two tracks have an oppressive and claustrophobic noise-inflected style which almost acts as the missing link between elektro-industrial, dark ambient, and power electronics. With, of course, an unmistakable Puppy influence. In fact, F.P.A.C. even had a track called “Forthcoming Perpetual Intercourse” (having, one presumes, already determined that the mind is the perpetual intercourse). If anyone knows whatever happened to this project, let me know. I’m curious.
And, finally, the man with a thousand side-projects. Wait. Make that a thousand and one.
The Bitniks “Sign O Rama”
Uwe Schmidt. Better known these days as Atom™. Probably best known in our scene as Lassigue Bendthaus, Atom Heart, or Senor Coconut. I could keep going, actually, because this guy literally had a million aliases. (And here you probably thought Bill Leeb was the man with too many side projects.) I think one of the great things about Uwe Schmidt’s long and illustrious career is the fact that you could spend a lifetime chasing after his myriad of side-projects, probably never find them all, and you’d still be missing little gems that flashed and then blinked out in the ‘90s cosmos. Such is the case with The Bitniks. Of course this side project produced only one record, Halograms, on the Hyperium sub-label Hypnotism. Careening from hypnotic, hyper-academic techno to ambient chill, The Bitniks carves its own space within Schmidt’s oeuvre. The unedited version of this track clocks out at 13 minutes, but this truncated version at 9:40 gives you more than enough of a taste.
Thanks for listening. Check back with me next column when it’ll be Ladies Night for ‘90s Industrial. (Oh myyyyyyy.)