“Industrial music” is a curious term. These days, most people associate it with the harsh, driving electronic sturm und drang of acts like Nine Inch Nails and Ministry. But the roots of this music lie in sounds even more provocative and disturbing than those of today’s dyed-black malcontents. It was some 25 years ago that the British group Throbbing Gristle first paired the words “industrial” and “music,” creating a whole new sonic vocabulary in the processone that infuses our daily lives more than we realize.
TG’s original point was that pop music had always been based on tunefulness and rhythmtraits that dated back centuries through ancient folk songs and the work of classical composers. Wasn’t it time, they argued, to update it at least to the 18th-century and the dawn of the industrial age? So the group set about to making some of the most visceral, amelodic recorded sounds heard up to that point, collected under forbidding song titles like “Slug Bait,” “Hamburger Lady,” and “We Hate You (Little Girls).” There was a savage, pitch-black sense of humor at work here, which may help explain the group’s simultaneous fixation with sugary pop melodies à la ABBA.
Along with contemporaries such as Cabaret Voltaire and SPK, Throbbing Gristle paved the way for hundreds more sound experimenters, musicians who seized on either or both of the group’s seemingly divergent impulses. In the process, industrial music started to explore more accessible (i.e., danceable) electronic stylesthus attracting a wider audience while still conveying the alienation of modern lifeor it moved into even more frightening, nightmarish territory.
While Trent Reznor has made a fine living pursuing this first path, there remains a devoted underground of musicians more interested in conducting pure noise experiments. Such is the case with Praying for Oblivion, the nom de bruit of Nashville-based musician Andrew Seal. Since moving here last year, Seal has been actively recording his own work and has released a handful of CDs, cassettes, and 45s. His most recent disc, Swan Song, mixes ear-splitting sheets of white noise with moodier, more somber backdrops in which human shouts sound as though they’re being drowned by the mournful, ominous hum of a power plant.
Just back from a recent European tour with occasional collaborator Mr. Natural (né John Sharp), which took the pair as far as Prague, Praying for Oblivion is now in the process of putting together a couple of upcoming local performances that should help give more exposure to experimental noise music. If these shows are anywhere near as fascinating and unusual as his September booking of the Argentinean group Reynols, they should be very much worth checking out.
Coming up this Sunday, Dec. 10, is a triple bill at Springwater appropriately labeled “An Evening of Sonic Ultra Violence.” First up will be Electronic Play-Girl, the playful, hilariously lewd project of one Ricky Sick from Hendersonville. His self-released cassette mixes textured whooshes and clatters with high-pitched bleeps and squawks that sound like a very sick piece of machinery. The song titles appear mostly to be phrases clipped from porno mags, resulting in such heartwarming tunes as “Ass Wide Open” and “Things That Go Bump in Your Pants!” (It’s probably worth pointing out that there are no lyrics, which is a shame, given the material Mr. Sick is working with here.)
Praying for Oblivion will also perform the same evening, and he’ll be followed by the intriguing North Carolina-based ensemble Sikara. The group’s most recent disc, The Surface Veil, is a varied, at times even tuneful collection that occasionally recalls the dreamy soundscapes of British experimentalists Zoviet France, with chimes, rumbling percussion, electronic squeals, and throbbing beats ebbing and flowing throughout the 11 tracks.
It should be an eventful night, although it likely goes without saying that “An Evening of Sonic Ultra Violence” is for the adventurous. Even if “noise music” sometimes seems to offer more pain and discomfort than pleasure and enjoyment, it serves a needed role: As with any sort of confrontational art, it reminds us of things we’d otherwise choose to ignore, and it suggests that there is a strange beauty to be found even in those things we’d choose to call ugly.
For more information about Sikara, visit www.radonstudio.com. For more information about Praying for Oblivion or the upcoming Springwater show, e-mail email@example.com. And to obtain a copy of Electronic Play-Girl’s cassette, write to 112 Carden St., Hendersonville, TN 37075.
Platters that matter
Recent releases of note:
Neil Young, Road Rock, Volume One (Reprise) Young’s umpteenth live album was recorded during this year’s tour stop at Red Rocks, reportedly a fiery set with guest contributions by Chrissie Hynde, as well as Young’s wife Pegi and sister Astrid. Highlights include an 18-minute version of “Cowgirl in the Sand.” That’s either a lot of sand or a lot of cowgirl.
Rage Against the Machine, Renegades (Epic) Perhaps the last RATM release with now departed lead singer Zach de la Rocha is this covers album, which touches on several of the political firebrands’ spiritual influencesthe MC5 (“Kick Out the Jams”), The Rolling Stones (“Street Fighting Man”), Bruce Springsteen (“The Ghost of Tom Joad”), and Eric B. & Rakim (“Microphone Fiend”) chief among them.
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