An exploration of Industrial Music in 13 genres

Industrial music is something like Goth’s even darker, angstier brother, the yang to its yin. Whereas Goth music is traditionally brooding, contemplative, apolitical and often has feminine overtones, Industrial is loud, angry, anti-establishment and abrasive. Whereas Goth looks to the past (folklore, the Victorian period etc.) for its aesthetics, Industrial looks to the future, with its focus on electronic music and often sci-fi inspired imagery. And yet the two scenes, somewhere along the line, became intermingled, meaning that Industrial is now recognised by many as part of the Goth scene. Industrial music is in fact a huge and bewildering genre, taking its inspirations from many other genres from experimental to metal to even hip hop. In this list of 13 different types of industrial music, I’ve tried to give a guide to some of the main kinds of Industrial music. I am indebted to the fantastic website Ishkur’s Guide to Electronic Music as a reference for this list (http://techno.org/electronic-music-guide), as well as Wikipedia.

1. Early electronic pop – Industrial’s predecessor

From the 1960s onwards, equipment for making electronic music became cheaper and more obtainable (and smaller), leading to a big increase in artists using machines as musical instruments. By the 1970s, electronic music was being released on a commercial scale, with one of the most successful and influential bands being Kraftwerk. Their snappy little songs and mechanical, futuristic imagery, despite being so tongue-in-cheek, would actually go on to inspire the much darker sounds of Industrial.

2. Throbbing Gristle – the first Industrial band

Throbbing Gristle, a UK band which formed in 1975, coined the genre “Industrial” from their slogan, “Industrial Music for Industrial People.” Their music was experimental to the extreme, as well as being aggressive and abrasive to boot. They also dealt with controversial and disturbing themes; just look up their song “Hamburger Lady” (or, on second thoughts, don’t. That song freaks me out every time. Which is why I’ve selected “Discipline” here instead). These characteristics would go on to form a model for all industrial bands to come.

3. Early Industrial

While Throbbing Gristle was disjointed and cacophonous, it was followed by other bands that sprang up throughout the 1970s and 80s that would start bringing an element of melody to their music, paving the way for more commercial Industrial, while retaining the mechanical sounds and dark imagery. Early bands include Einstürzende Neubauten, Leather Nun and SPK (featured here).

4. Electro-Industrial

From the late 80s to 90s, a crop of new Industrial bands sprung forth whose sound had started to venture into dance music territory, while still being dark and aggressive in temperament. To me, these “Electro-Industrial” bands signal the point at which Industrial started to cross into Goth, as they began to be lumped into the new electronic gothic sound “Darkwave,” which is a catch-all turn for pretty much any goth band that used a lot of synthesisers. As a lot of these bands originate from Germany, this also marked the point for Industrial music to be strongly associated with the country (although it already had been right from the start thanks to Kraftwerk). Eventually, electro-industrial gave birth to “Rivetheads” (aka Industrial Goths). Some of the biggest names in this genre are Skinny Puppy, Gridlock, Razed in Black and :wumpscut: (included here).

5. Aggrotech

Electro-industrial, but with the anger level notched up a little, with hardcore-influenced drums and angsty lyrics. Bands include Suicide Commando (featured), Combichrist and Funker Vogt.

6. Electronic Body Music (EBM)

EBM is similar to Electro-Industrial and there’s a lot of overlap, but the main differences are that EBM tends to be slightly lighter, more danceable, and more futuristic. This genre gave rise to the “Cyber Goth” culture and generated a crossover between goth and rave in terms of both music and fashions. Notable bands include Apoptygma Berzerk (featured), Front Line Assembly, and Front 242.

7. Futurepop

Bands in this genre take EBM and make it even more danceable and “clubby,” pushing Industrial to the limit of how palatable it can be before it becomes plain old rave music. VNV Nation (featured) is one of the trancier examples of the genre; others include Covenant, Assemblage 23, and Angels & Agony. There’s a lot of crossover with EBM, and it’s often hard to say where one genre ends and the other begins. Although definitely towards the poppier side of Industrial, this genre still wasn’t the most commercially successful form of the genre to emerge…

8. Industrial Metal

When musicians figured out that mixing the noisy and aggressive synthesisers of Industrial with the equally noisy and aggressive electric guitars of metal, Industrial was thrust into the mainstream for perhaps the first time. A lot of Goths don’t really like the metal element and have rejected Industrial Metal; other Goths do accept it as part of the Goth genre. Both sides seem to enjoy the debate, nonetheless. Nine Inch Nails (featured), although not the first Industrial Metal band, is probably the most important artist in the genre; others are Ministry, KMFDM and Rammstein.

9. Noise Music

While some bands were making Industrial music increasingly melodic and palatable, others were going in a completely different direction. Going back to the experimental and atonal roots of Throbbing Gristle, what these bands produced wasn’t exactly music – it was pretty much noise, hence the name of the genre. There’s actually a number of subgenres considered Noize, including Power Electronics and Power Noise, but they all make loud, unsettling, “anti-music.” The track I’ve included here by Imminent is in fact one of the more melodic examples of the genre. Other artists include Brighter Death Now, Venetian Snares, and several bands from Japan (called “Japanoise,” hah!).

10. Industrial Hip Hop

A broad genre, as pretty much any industrial-esque track with a break beat could be termed “Industrial Hip Hop.” Or Industrial tracks that incorporate rap. It’s not all that surprising that other forms of electronic music started incorporating Industrial elements into their sound - there’s also Industrial Drum n Base and Industrial Techno, but they’re pretty minor so I won’t feature them here – and Industrial Hip Hop was quite a successful blend of the two. A number of other genres, including Breakcore and, yes, maybe even Dubstep, probably owe some of their qualities to Industrial Hip Hop. There aren’t really any artists that play solely in this style, but some that have recorded Industrial Hip Hop tracks include Die Krupps (featured), Acumen Nation and Godflesh.

11. Digital Hardcore

Mix punk with industrial, and this is what you get. Digital Hardcore is political, angry and LOUD. It sometimes crosses into Noise territory as well. Atari Teenage Riot (featured) are the defining band of this small genre; other bands are The Mad Capsule Markets (from Japan again) and EC8OR.

12. Ambient Industrial

A.k.a Dark Ambient. Believe it or not, this genre, which is one of the quietest in the Industrial family, is most closely linked with Noise, one of the loudest, as they’re both about creating eerie atmospheres using electronics. Although it lacks the obscene lyrics and harsh drumming/screeching of other Industrial styles, it manages to achieve some of the most unsettling and disturbing sounds in the genre. Lustmord (featured) is a big name in the genre; others are Coph Nia, Desiderii Marginis and In Slaughter Natives.

13. Witch House

One of the smallest and youngest members of the Industrial Family (if indeed this is a “real” genre at all – there’s some debate), this interestingly named and interesting sounding genre borrows from all over the place – House, Hip Hop and Trip Hop, to name but a few. Unlike many other Industrial styles, Witch House tends to be rather melancholy and contemplative sounding rather than angry, almost like a come-down from Industrial’s seething rage of the past. There’s only a handful of bands that have been placed in this category, including the popular artist Zola Jesus; others are Salem (featured), Grimes and oOoOO (yes, that’s a band name).

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