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This article is about a musical genre. For other uses, see Industrial .

Industrial music is an experimental music style, often including electronic music, that draws on transgressive and provocative themes. The premise behind creation of industrial music was to "pursue music in the context of the late industrial society, a dehumanized world increasingly alienated from nature", focusing on "issues of the modern age, where propaganda and the access and control of information were becoming the primary tools of power." The initial idea for music that reflects sounds from the industrial age came from the composers and musicians Erik Satie and John Cage. The term "industrial music" was coined in the mid-1970s to describe Industrial Records artists. The Allmusic website defines industrial music as the "most abrasive and aggressive fusion of rock and electronic music"; "initially a blend of avant-garde electronics experiments (tape music, musique concrète, white noise, synthesizers, sequencers, etc.) and punk provocation".

The first industrial artists experimented with noise and controversial topics. Their production was not limited to music, but included mail art, performance art, installation pieces and other art forms. Prominent industrial musicians include Throbbing Gristle, SPK, Boyd Rice, Cabaret Voltaire, and Z'EV. While the term was initially self-applied by a small coterie of groups and individuals associated with Industrial Records, it broadened to include artists influenced by the original movement or using an "industrial" aesthetic. While industrial music was born in the mid-1970s, it was not noticed by mainstream listeners until the 1980s and 1990s, when it began to evolve into more mainstream, acceptable forms.


Early industrial music often featured tape editing, stark percussion and loops distorted to the point where they had degraded to harsh noise. Vocals were sporadic, and were as likely to be bubblegum pop as they were to be abrasive polemics. Early industrial performances often involved taboo-breaking, provocative elements, such as mutilation, sado-masochistic elements and totalitarian imagery or symbolism, as well as forms of audience abuse. The purpose of industrial music initially was to serve as a commentary on modern society by eschewing what artists saw as trite connections to the past. Industrial music is commonly built around non-musical and often distorted, repetitive, percussive sounds of industrial machinery, reflecting feelings of alienation and dehumanization as a form of social critique. The typical themes of industrial music include decay, decomposition, disorders, helplessness, horror, irresolution, madness, paranoia, persecution, secrecy, unease and terror. Listener responses were sad, dark, anxious, futuristic, death, urban, violent and anguish.

William S.
Burroughs, a conceptual inspiration for the industrial musicians.
Journalist Simon Reynolds described the early industrial group Cabaret Voltaire as characterized by "hissing high hats and squelchy snares of rhythm-generator." He enumerated the members' individual contributions as "[Chris] Watson's smears of synth slime; [Stephen] Mallinder's dankly pulsing bass; and [Richard H.] Kirk's spikes of shattered-glass guitar." Watson custom-built a fuzzbox for Kirk's guitar, producing a unique timbre. Mallinder's vocals were also electronically treated. Chris Carter built speakers, effects units, and synthesizer modules, as well as modifying more conventional rock instrumentation, for Throbbing Gristle. He also invented a device named the "Gristle-izer", played by Peter Christopherson, which comprised a one-octave keyboard and a number of cassette machines triggering various pre-recorded sounds. Throbbing Gristle opposed the elements of traditional rock music remaining in the punk rock scene, declaring industrial to be "anti-music." Accordingly, Throbbing Gristle did not seek to build upon a pre-existing genre, but instead "their mythos rests on the claim that they are the founding creators of an entirely new genre, 'industrial music.'" The band wrote music about unusual as well as mundane topics, including seduction, suicide, boredom, magic, stripping, rhetoric, plants, disco, pornography, calligraphy, dactylomancy, politics, their dog, underwear, and more. Cosey Fanni Tutti played guitar with a slide in order to produce glissandi, or pounded the strings as if it were a percussion instrument. Throbbing Gristle also played at very high volume and produced ultra-high and sub-bass frequencies in an attempt to produce physical effects, naming this approach as "metabolic music." They also aimed high powered lights at the audience. Some later Throbbing Gristle pieces, such as "United", were a much more dance-friendly form of electropop. Some industrial groups after Throbbing Gristle borrowed from Eurodisco or marching rhythms. Clock DVA and 23 Skidoo practiced an industrial version of funk music.

Industrial groups typically focus on transgressive subject matter. In his introduction for the Industrial Culture Handbook (1983), Jon Savage considered some hallmarks of industrial music to be organizational autonomy, shock tactics and the use of synthesizers and "anti-music". Furthermore, an interest in the investigation of "cults, wars, psychological techniques of persuasion, unusual murders (especially by children and psychopaths), forensic pathology, venereology, concentration camp behavior, the history of uniforms and insignia" and "Aleister Crowley's magick" was present in Throbbing Gristle's work, as well as in other industrial pioneers. William S. Burroughs's recordings and writings were particularly influential on the scene, particularly his interest in the cut-up technique and noise as a method of disrupting societal control. Many of the first industrial musicians were interested in, though not necessarily at all sympathetic with, fascism. Throbbing Gristle's logo was based on the lightning symbol of the British Union of Fascists, while the Industrial Records logo was a photo of Auschwitzmarker. Boyd Rice is a particularly controversial figure for his interest in social Darwinism, The Church of Satan, misogyny, and Charles Manson. Cabaret Voltaire's song "Do the Mussolini (Headkick)" was inspired by the titular dictator's murder by an Italian mob. As Kirk recalls, "We'd get National Front people coming to gigs 'cos they'd got the wrong idea. But, at the same time, we kinda liked the ambiguity." Cabaret Voltaire were also interested in the resurgence of Islamic fundamentalism and the U.S. Christian right, particularly on the Red Mecca album. Some groups, such as Test Dept, were explicitly left-wing.



Industrial music drew from a broad range of predecessors. Alexei Monroe argues that Kraftwerk were particularly significant in the development of industrial music, as the "first successful artists to incorporate representations of industrial sounds into nonacademic electronic music." Industrial music was created originally by using mechanical and electric machinery, and later advanced synthesizers, samplers and electronic percussion as the technology developed. Monroe also argues for Suicide as an influential contemporary of the industrial musicians. Groups cited as inspirational by the founders of industrial music include The Velvet Underground, Joy Division, and Martin Denny. Genesis P-Orridge's cassette library included recordings by the Master Musicians of Jajouka, Kraftwerk, Charles Manson, and William S. Burroughs. P-Orridge also credited 1960s psychedelic rock such as The Doors, Pearls Before Swine, The Fugs, Captain Beefheart, and Frank Zappa in a 1979 interview.

Chris Carter also enjoyed Pink Floyd and Tangerine Dream. Boyd Rice particularly enjoyed Lesley Gore, and Abba. Z'EV cited Christopher Tree (Spontaneous Sound), John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Tim Buckley, Jimi Hendrix and Captain Beefheart, among others together with Tibetan, Balinese, Javanese, Indian and African music as influential in his artistic life. Cabaret Voltaire cited Roxy Music as their initial forerunners, as well as Kraftwerk's Trans-Europe Express. Cabaret Voltaire also recorded pieces reminiscent of musique concrète and composers such as Morton Subotnick. Nurse with Wound cited a long list of obscure free improvisation and Krautrock as recommended listening. 23 Skidoo borrowed from Fela Kuti and Miles Davis's On the Corner. Many industrial groups, including Einstürzende Neubauten, took inspiration from world music.

Many of the initial industrial musicians preferred to cite artists or thinkers, rather than musicians, as their inspiration. Simon Reynolds declares that "Being a Throbbing Gristle fan was like enrolling in a university course of cultural extremism." John Cage was an initial inspiration for Throbbing Gristle. SPK appreciated Jean Dubuffet, Marcel Duchamp, Jean Baudrillard, Michel Foucault, Walter Benjamin, Marshall McLuhan, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Gilles Deleuze. Cabaret Voltaire took conceptual cues from William S. Burroughs, J.G. Ballard, and the Dada of Tristan Tzara. Whitehouse and Nurse with Wound dedicated some of their work to the Marquis de Sade; the latter of these musicians also took impetus from the Comte de Lautréamont.

The Industrial aesthetic was heavily influenced by Dadaism, an anti-war art movement which criticized societal norms by creating art with an anti-art message. Dadaist art made use of "found objects", mundane objects which were not artistic, being put into an artistic piece - in their case for the purpose of subverting art norms. In the same way, early Industrial music made heavy use of "found sounds", non-musical sounds which were put into their songs. Other early industrial artists create music by using instruments that were recycled, stolen or discarded—at the time of the birth of the industrial genre in the late 1970s, these instruments were sometimes held by artists and fans to represent anti consumerist technology, requiring no expenditure of capital, opening up the possibility of music making to all. Voice distortion control devices such as the Vocoder are heavily employed by industrial musicians and speak to the integration of man with machine. Robot voices representing alienation are also quite common in industrial music.

Another influence on the Industrial aesthetic was Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music. Pitchfork Music cites this album as "inspiring, in part, much of the contemporary avant-garde music scene-- noise, in particular." The album consists entirely of guitar feedback, anticipating Industrial's use of non-musical sounds.

Industrial Records

Industrial Music for Industrial People was originally coined by Monte Cazazza as the strapline for the record label Industrial Records, founded by British art-provocateurs Throbbing Gristle. The first wave of this music appeared with Throbbing Gristle, from London; Cabaret Voltaire, from Sheffield; and Boyd Rice (recording under the name NON), from the United States. Throbbing Gristle first performed in 1976, and began as the musical offshoot of COUM Transmissions. COUM was initially a psychedelic rock group, but began to describe their work as performance art in order to obtain grants from the Arts Council of Great Britain. Throbbing Gristle was one of the first bands to use sampling from prerecorded tapes, and also used a lot of homemade electronics through which they ran their samples and instruments, for example the loop playback machine and more famously, the Gristleizer. COUM was composed of Genesis P-Orridge and Cosey Fanni Tutti. Beginning in 1972, COUM staged several performances inspired by Fluxus and Viennese Actionism. These included various acts of sexual and physical abjection. Peter Christopherson, an employee of commercial artists Hipgnosis, joined the group in 1974, with Chris Carter joining the following year.

The group renamed itself Throbbing Gristle in September 1975, their name coming from a northern English slang word for an erection. Throbbing Gristle's first public performance, in October 1976, was alongside an exhibit titled Prostitution, which included pornographic photos of Tutti as well as used tampons. A member of the British Parliament reacted to this first performance with outrage, calling Throbbing Gristle "The Wreckers of Civilization." Nicholas Fairbairn, a Conservative politician, declared that "public money is being wasted here to destroy the morality of our society" and blasted the group as "wreckers of civilization" The group ended in 1981, with P-Orridge declaring "the mission is terminated." The group reformed in 2004.

Industrial Records intended the term industrial to evoke the idea of music created for a new generation, with previous music being more "agricultural":
 The acts on Industrial Records were groups who "combined an interest in transgressive culture with an interest in the potential of noise as music."

Expansion of the scene

Bands like Clock DVA, Nocturnal Emissions, Whitehouse, Nurse with Wound, and SPK soon followed. Whitehouse intended to play "the most brutal and extreme music of all time", a style they eventually called power electronics. An early collaborator with Whitehouse, Steve Stapleton, formed Nurse with Wound, who experimented with noise sculpture and sound collage. Clock DVA described their goal as borrowing equally from surrealism automatism and "nervous energy sort of funk stuff, body music that flinches you and makes you move." 23 Skidoo, like Clock DVA, merged industrial music with African-American dance music, but also performed a response to world music. Performing at the first WOMAD Festival in 1982, the group likened themselves to Indonesian gamelan. Swedish act Leather Nun, were signed to Industrial Records in 1978, being the first non-TG/Cazazza act to have an IR-release. Their singles eventually received significant airplay in the United States on college radio. It is a transgressive culture with an interest in the potential of noise as music. Unlike other forms of popular music, industrial music was and remain critical of systems of power and control and this criticism clearly extends to the record industry.

Across the Atlantic, similar experiments were taking place. In San Franciscomarker, performance artist Monte Cazazza began recording noise music. Boyd Rice released several albums of noise, with guitar drones and tape loops creating a cacophony of repetitive sounds. In Italy, work by Maurizio Bianchi at the beginning of the 1980s also shared this aesthetic. In Germany, Einstürzende Neubauten mixed metal percussion, guitars and unconventional instruments (such as jackhammers and bones) in stage performances that often damaged the venues in which they played. Blixa Bargeld, inspired by Antonin Artaud and an enthusiast of amphetamines, also originated an art movement called Die Genialen Dilettanten. Bargeld is particularly well-known for his hissing scream. In January 1984, Einstürzende Neubauten performed a Concerto for Voice and Machinery at the Institute of Contemporary Artsmarker (the same site as COUM's Prostitution exhibition), drilling through the floor and eventually sparking a riot. This event received front page news coverage in England. Other groups who practiced a form of industrial "metal music" (that is, produced by the sounds of metal crashing against metal) include Test Dept, Laibach, and Die Krupps, as well as Z'EV and SPK. Test Dept were largely inspired by Russian Futurism and toured to support the UK miners' strike . Swans, from New York City, also practiced a metal music aesthetic, though reliant on standard rock instrumentation. Laibach, a Slovenianmarker group who began while Yugoslavia remained a single state, were very controversial for their iconographic borrowings from Stalinist, Nazi, Titoist, Dada, and Russian Futurist imagery, conflating Yugoslav patriotism with its German authoritarian adversary. Slavoj Zizek has defended Laibach, arguing that they and their associated Neue Slowenische Kunst art group practice an overidentification with the hidden perverse enjoyment undergirding authority that produces a subversive and liberatory effect. Throbbing Gristle's music continued to become more accessible, and "less chaotic" with each release until they broke up in 1981.

Following the breakup of Throbbing Gristle, Genesis P-Orridge and Peter Christopherson founded Psychic TV and signed to a major label. Their first album was much more accessible and melodic than the usual industrial style, and included hired work by trained musicians. Later work returned to the sound collage and noise elements of earlier industrial. They also borrowed from funk and disco. P-Orridge also founded Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth, a quasi-religious organization that produced video art. Psychic TV's commercial aspirations were managed by Stevo of Some Bizzare records, who released many of the later industrial musicians, including Eistürzende Neubauten, Test Dept, and Cabaret Voltaire. Cabaret Voltaire had become friends with New Order, and began to practice a similar form of danceable electropop. Peter Christopherson left Psychic TV in 1983 and formed Coil with John Balance. Coil made use of gongs and bullroarers in an attempt to conjur "Martian," "homosexual energy". A friend of Coil's David Tibet, formed Current 93; both groups were inspired by amphetamines and LSD. J.G. Thirlwell, a co-producer with Coil, developed a version of black comedy in industrial music, borrowing from lounge as well as noise and film music. In the early 1980s, the Chicago-based record label Wax Trax! and Canada's Nettwerk helped to expand the industrial music genre into the more accessible electro-industrial and industrial rock genres.

Industrial Music as Modernist Music

If modernism if described as a family of aesthetic practices expressing dissatisfaction with the status quo and seeking to imagine the world otherwise, industrial music is at home within the scene of modernist musics. The birth of industrial music was a response to "an age [in which] the access and control of information were becoming the primary tools of power." At its birth, the genre of industrial music was different than any other music, and its use of technology and disturbing lyrics and themes to tear apart preconceptions about the necessary rules of musical form supports the suggestion that industrial music is modernist music. The artists themselves made these goals explicit, even drawing connections to social changes they wished to argue for through their music. The Industrial Records website explains that the musicians wanted to "re-invent Rock music with content, motivation and risk." and that their records were " a combination of files on our relationship with the world and a Newspaper without censorship." They go on to say that they wanted their music to be an awakening for listeners so that they would begin to think for themselves and question the world around them. They probe their listeners by saying: "You Get what you deserve. Or do you? Well, from the people with a vested interest in controlling and guiding society to follow their recommendations as to what attitudes you should have, what motivations should govern your behaviour and what goals you should be satisfied with, you DO NOT get what you deserve. You get what you are given, and what you are given is primarily conditioning that pushes you towards blind acceptance, wasted labour, frustrated relationships and a vast sense of hopelessness. We are trained to feel we are not responsible or in control of our society and world so that we will continue to let "Leaders" look after us like parents with retarded children."


In the late 1980s, a number of additional styles developed from the already eclectic base of industrial music. These offshoots include fusions with noise music, ambient music, folk music, and electronic dance music, as well as other mutations and developments. The scene has spread worldwide, and is particularly well-represented in North America, Europe, and Japan. Post-industrial subgenres include ambient industrial, power electronics, Japanoise, neofolk, electro-industrial, electronic body music, industrial hip hop, industrial rock, and power noise. Without a doubt, the best-selling offshoot of industrial music is industrial metal; Ministry and Nine Inch Nails both recorded platinum-selling albums. Their success led to an increase in commercial success for some other industrial musicians; for example, the Nine Inch Nails remix album Further Down the Spiral, which included contributions from Foetus and Coil, was certified gold in 1996.

See also


  1. The Secret History of Rock: The Most Influential Bands You've Never Heard by Roni Sarig
  2. V.Vale. Re/Search #6/7: Industrial Culture Handbook, 1983.
  3. "... journalists now use 'industrial' as a term like they would 'blues.' - Genesis P-Orridge, RE/Search #6/7, p. 16.
  4. The Secret History of Rock: The Most Influential Bands You've Never Heard by Roni Sarig
  5. RE/Search #6/7, p. 5.
  8. Reynolds, p. 168.
  9. Reynolds, p. 169-170.
  10. Reynolds, p. 170.
  11. Reynolds, p. 227.
  12. Reynolds, p. 228.
  13. Reynolds, p. 230.
  14. Jazz Funk Greats by Drew Daniel
  15. Jazz Funk Greats by Drew Daniel
  16. Reynolds, p. 230.
  17. Reynolds, p. 235.
  18. Ford, 8.10
  19. ibid.
  20. Reynolds, p. 242-244.
  21. RE/Search #6/7, p. 5.
  22. RE/Search #6/7, p. 9.
  23. "These ideas contributed some of the theoretical mise-en-scène for emergent Industrial groups such as Throbbing Gristle, SPK, and Cabaret Voltaire, all of whom experimented with cut-up sound and re-contextualised ambient recordings." Sargeant, Jack, "The Primer: William S. Burroughs," The Wire 300, February 2009, p. 38.
  24. RE/Search #6/7, p. 105
  25. Reynolds, p. 232-232.
  26. Stubbs, David. Review of Standing in Two Circles: The Collected Works of Boyd Rice, Brian M. Clark, ed., in The Wire 300, February 2009, p. 72.
  27. Reynolds, p. 170.
  28. Reynolds, p. 170-171.
  29. Monroe, p. 212
  31. RE/Search #6/7, p. 11-12.
  32. RE/Search #6/7, p. 19.
  33. Reynolds, p. 225.
  34. Reynolds, p. 227.
  35. RE/Search #6/7, p. 67.
  36. RE/Search #6/7, p. 117
  37. Reynolds, p. 154, 159.
  38. Reynolds, p. 156.
  39. Reynolds, p. 242.
  40. Reynolds, p. 243.
  41. Reynolds, p. 485.
  42. Reynolds, p. 226.
  43. RE/Search #6/7, p. 97-105.
  44. Reynolds, p. 154-155, 171.
  45. Reynolds, p. 242.
  49. Reynolds, p. 224.
  50. Kilpatrick, Nancy. The Goth Bible: A Compendium for the Darkly Inclined. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2004, ISBN 0-312-30696-2, p. 86.
  51. RE/Search #6/7, p. 42-49.
  52. RE/Search #6/7, p. 50-67.
  53. Reynolds, p. 224.
  54. RE/Search #6/7, p. 17.
  55. Reynolds, p. 226.
  57. Reynolds, p. 226.
  58. Reynolds, p. 227.
  59. ibid.
  60. ibid.
  61. The Secret History of Rock: The Most Influential Bands You've Never Heard by Roni Sarig
  62. The Secret History of Rock: The Most Influential Bands You've Never Heard by Roni Sarig
  63. Reynolds, p. 229.
  64. Reynolds, p. 240.
  66. Reynolds, p. 241.
  67. RE/Search #6/7, p. 92-105.
  68. Reynolds, p. 240.
  69. Reynolds, p. 241-242.
  70. Reynolds, p. 243.
  71. Reynolds, p. 243-244.
  73. RE/Search #6/7, p. 68-81.
  74. RE/Search #6/7, p. 50-67.
  75. Reynolds, p. 484.
  76. ibid.
  77. Reynolds, p. 486.
  78. ibid.
  79. Monroe, p. 222.
  80. Reynolds, p. 485.
  81. Reynolds, p. 489.
  82. Reynolds, p. 487.
  83. Monroe, p. 96.
  84. Slavoj Zizek, "Why Are Laibach and NSK Not Fascists?," M'ARS 3-4, 1993, p. 3-4.
  86. Reynolds, p. 474.
  87. Reynolds, p. 474-475.
  88. Reynolds, p. 480-481.
  89. Reynolds, p. 476.
  90. Reynolds, p. 477.
  91. Reynolds, p. 478.
  92. Reynolds, p. 481-482.
  93. Reynolds, p. 482.
  94. Reynolds, p. 483
  95. Kilpatrick, Nancy. The Goth Bible: A Compendium for the Darkly Inclined. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2004, ISBN 0-312-30696-2, p. 86.
  96. The Secret History of Rock: The Most Influential Bands You've Never Heard by Roni Sarig
  97. The Secret History of Rock: The Most Influential Bands You've Never Heard by Roni Sarig


  • Ford, Simon. Wreckers of Civilization. London: Black Dog Publishing, 1999.
  • Hanley, Jason J. (2004). "'The Land of Rape and Honey': The Use of World War II Propaganda in the Music Videos of Ministry and Laibach," American Music, 22, 158–75.
  • Monroe, Alexei. Interrogation Machine: Laibach and NSK. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2005.
  • Reynolds, Simon. Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984. Chapters 9: "Living for the Future: Cabaret Voltaire, The Human League and the Sheffield Scene"; 12: "Industrial Devolution: Throbbing Gristle's Music from the Death Factory"; and 25: "Conform to Deform: The Second-Wave Industrial Infiltrators". London: Faber and Faber, 2005. ISBN 0-571-21569-6
  • V. Vale and Andrea Juno, Re/Search #6/7: Industrial Culture Handbook, San Francisco: V/Search, 1983. ISBN 0-9650469-6-6

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