“Industrial culture? There has been a phenomena; I don’t know whether it’s strong enough to be a culture. I do think what we did has had a reverberation right around the world and back.” – Genesis P-Orridge, visionary and frontman of Industrial music pioneers Throbbing Gristle.
Emerging in the mid 70s Industrial music broke convention. It was a sound born in a time of cultural oppression, the soundtrack to a generation at the picket line and in the midst of economic decline – from Europe to America. Conceived to late 1960s experimental psychedelia and Krautrock, it utilised a DIY ethos in parallel with the emergence of Punk.
The Industrial music scene proved unlike any other, rejecting the mainstream norm it looked towards avant-garde movements for inspiration, Dada, Futurism, Surrealism and post-modern writers William Burroughs, Brion Gysin and J.G. Ballard are all cited as vital influences. Confrontational and controversial, Industrial bands sought to explore new musical avenues, creating innovative recording techniques, creating homemade instruments and merging music with performance art on stage – including an infamous early Throbbing Gristle stage setup where you had to choose whether to hear or see the band.
The movement acted as a source of escapism from the mundane, a creative output that formed one of the most transgressive movements in musical history, as abrasively fresh today as when it first emerged.
And yet, surprisingly, upcoming documentary Industrial Soundtrack For The Urban Decay is the first to address the incendiary genre, citing key figures from the scene such as Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire, SPK, Test Dept and Clock DVA. Altogether it’s a burning insight into the rise and enduring influence of Industrial music, a subject close to the hearts of filmmakers Travis Collins and Amélie Ravalec.
Alex James Taylor: What first influenced you to explore this subject? Were you surprised at the limited amount of coverage the industrial scene has received over the years?
Amélie Ravalec: When I first got into industrial music, I read quite a few good books and fanzines but was disappointed by the lack of ‘reference’ film on the subject. So the idea of directing a movie on industrial music first emerged then. I was busy with Paris/Berlin but a few months after releasing it I was eager to get started on a new project so I started shooting.
I have always been inspired by harsh, industrial sounds and industrial architecture. From a really young age, I read books by Burroughs and Ballard and became interested in art movements like Dada, Surrealists and Futurists. Industrial music really appealed to me as a melting pot of all those influences.
AJT: In your opinion, what is it about industrial cities and the factory jobs that proved so influential?
AR: Many of the artists we interviewed did work at some point in a factory. I think you’re always a product of your environment, and growing up surrounded by factories in industrial cities would influence your music. I don’t think it’s as obvious as people trying to replicate the sound of the surrounding factories in their music, but you can certainly hear the influence.
AJT: Politically, the 70s and 80s were a stale, bleak time in much of Europe, was industrial music a form of escapism from this?
AR: The late 70s and early 80s was a bleak period politically in the UK, which we reflect on in the film. Margaret Thatcher’s government brought cultural oppression and forced the closure of many mines and factories, leading to mass unemployment for the working class. Surprisingly, this had somewhat of a positive effect, allowing young people the time to focus on creative activities and was a catalyst for starting bands and the birth of industrial music.
AJT: How has the reaction to the film been?
AR: We started making Industrial Soundtrack in 2012 and have been connecting with industrial music fans all over the world since then. People are very eager to see the film and it’s great to see so much interest. Our first screening to go on sale at ICA London sold out in 24 hours; they added a second showing which sold out pretty soon after, so we couldn’t be happier.
AJT: Is there anyone you wish you could have featured but were not able to?
AR: We contacted a few prominent industrial bands and journalists that didn’t want to be featured in the film, but overall we interviewed most of the industrial music pioneers. Getting all the living members of Throbbing Gristle, the first industrial band, as well as Cabaret Voltaire, SPK, Clock DVA, Test Dept and many other seminal industrial bands gave us more than enough material to tell the industrial music story.
AJT: Did you feel added pressure being the first to document the scene?
AR: There is always pressure before releasing a film, especially when being the first one to document a subject, but I think there are many ways to tell the industrial music story. As a director, the choices you make, from who you decide to include in your film, the subjects you cover, the music and footage you use and how you edit it, are ultimately personal and subjective. Ten directors could use industrial music as a subject and this would give birth to ten very different films.
AJT: Your last film Paris/Berlin: 20 Years of underground Techno explored the underground scene in both these cities. Did you find similarities between this scene and the industrial one you document in your latest project?
AR: A lot of the people I interviewed in Paris/Berlin like Ancient Methods, Regis or Adam X were influenced by industrial music and have been mixing it with techno for years. There are many similarities between Industrial techno and the modern rhythmic noise and industrial scene.
AJT: Do you see cultural differences between the music scenes within each city you have researched? What sort of things do you notice?
AR: While industrial music has now spread across the world, it pretty much started as a collection of people experimenting with similar ideas and artistic influences during the late 70s. These artists eventually became aware of one another through mail art and tape exchanges, there was no internet at the time so it took a while for a scene to establish.
Throbbing Gristle’s friend Monte Cazazza coined the term ‘industrial music’ but it soon got picked up in the media to describe other bands and a musical movement. V. Vale, who we interviewed in the film, published the Industrial Culture Handbook in 1983, which is now considered the reference publication on industrial music. The book features many of the early industrial bands and artists including TG, Cabaret Voltaire, SPK, Z’EV, NON and Sordide Sentimental, all featured in our film.
AJT: You also have your own label, Fondation Sonore. Industrial/techno music must play a huge part in your life, what is your opinion of the scene today?
AR: Music in general plays a huge part in my life. I’m very busy working on my films and other projects but I still run Fondation Sonore label and gigs and it’s always a pleasure to book or sign new promising artists. We had Codex Empire playing at our last gig in March, which is a side project from the industrial band Konstruktivists, and he played an amazing debut live set of industrial techno. There are a lot of great labels and musicians out there at the moment and this is very inspiring.
Industrial Soundtrack For The Urban Decay premieres May 8th at BFI, Belvedere Road, South Bank, London SE1 8XT
The premiere will feature Throbbing Gristle‘s Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti in attendance for a Q&A and DJ sets from Test Dept as well as the two filmmakers. Limited tickets available here