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The Origins of Industrial Music
How a niche genre of the late 1970s infulenced all anti-liberal art of the future
1977 was a year that radically departed from the hippyism of America, and into the hands of the Europeans who hated the modern world. The band Throbbing Gristle released the album, The Second Annual Report, and declared it as “industrial music for industrial people.”
Coming from the avant-garde experiments with tape music, Musique concrète, and synthesizers, Throbbing Gristle would combine these mediums along with the themes of fascism, sexual desires, and the occult, resulting in the “industrial” sound with punk provocation. Monte Cazazza once described Industrial music in the 1983 issue of RE/Search, or the Industrial Culture Handbook, as “insanity outbreaks thinly disguised as art events.” By 1982, William Bennett of Whitehouse coined the term “power electronics” to describe a breakaway faction of industrial music that wanted to focus on this transgressive insanity performance first stated by Cazazza. Thus we get into the creation of an “avant-garde hate” practice of hating things for the artistic sake of it. Bennett thought it was cool and interesting to discuss serial killers, pedophilia, and other taboo and violent subjects in his music, along with Philip Best who continues to publish transgressive books in industrial tradition on his label, Amphetamine Sulphate.
Best wrote a doctorate thesis around his interest in William S. Burroughs and J. G. Ballard, who were pivotal to the manifestation of Throbbing Gristle’s techniques. Great examples of the industrial tradition are found in Burroughs’ Naked Lunch and Ballard’s Why I Want To Fuck Ronald Reagan. Both these art experiments flirt with political imagery, sexual perversion, sadism, the occult, and the surreal nature of collage art which opens the reader’s mind to interpretation of transgression. As early as the 1980s, liberalism was challenged through the work of industrial music and power electronics.
This series of “pranking” resulted in albums like 20 Jazz Funk Greats by Throbbing Gristle, which portrayed and misled the band as easy-listening flower children, and Buchenwald by Whitehouse, which was meant to create a collage of violent subjects. While Throbbing Gristle incorporated transgression as a minor theme to their music, or the “punk provocation” device as symbolism, Whitehouse relied solely on the punk provocation, and downplayed the other themes of political collage and the occult, so as long it could offend the viewer. This created a huge division in the industrial ethos, which I have tried to explain in my writing.
I believe Throbbing Gristle catered its thesis upon “fast food occultism,” which relies on commercial blandness, mundane mainstream propaganda, and utopian naivety for punk provocation, while Whitehouse relied on “avant-garde hate,” hating everything and everyone for the sake of character and aesthetics as the punk transgression. Two concepts, one outcome. Both bands were at war with one another. So what artistic paradigm would become dominant in the future of industrial music?
Boyd Rice tried to balance both the humor of fast food occultism and the offense of avant-garde hate with his work, till it eventually formed into Shaun Partridge’s Partridge Family Temple cult (or “Pft!” for short). Fizzies Partridge’s 2019 web magazine, The Aither, tries to document this split from industrial, while I have considered much of the post-Boyd Rice to Whitehouse industrial material rather as “post neofolk,” or the established “Unpop movement” term, relating it to influence the mainstream acts of Xiu Xiu and Venetian Snares.
Perhaps there is also a middle ground where much of that Asian influence found in the art of Trevor Brown and the music of Atari Teenage Riot and Merzbow formulated as “the Asian aesthetics movement,” or “AxA” (like “sXe” for straight edge) as an Asian-influenced to Eurasian punk subculture based around the foundation of the industrial ethos. This was called the “digital hardcore” movement at first but transformed back into the mainstream Asian American “indie” influence currently found in Mitski and Japanese Breakfast.
The truth is that both paradigms fell out of interest when rock became hybridized through industrial as “industrial rock.” Wax Trax! Records out in Chicago created an American version of the ethos, and soon what was considered to be “a fusion of electronic music and metal” immediately was dubbed as “industrial,” regardless of what Throbbing Gristle or Whitehouse had to say on the matter. Out of Chicago, there was an immediate and global success with acts like Front 242, KMFDM, PIG, VNV Nation, Underworld, Meat Beat Manifesto, Front Line Assembly, Sister Machine Gun, My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult, Coil, The KLF, and Laibach.
The success of KMFDM and Laibach was largely related to their origins close to their respective home countries. Much of the 84-86 demos by KMFDM discuss the confusion and anxiety of living in controlled West Germany against communist and totalitarian East Germany, while Laibach’s Through The Occupied Netherlands demo was related to the chaos found in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Both bands focus on “fascist” political imagery as the source of the industrial ethos over any notion of avant-garde hate or pop commercial blandness. There is also a level of nostalgic trauma bounding over totalitarian states, such as East German nostalgia. The idiosyncratic manipulation of language, such as the fascist commands of a dictator, is used to provoke anxiety, and words of comfort are used as meditation. Raymond Watts of early KMFDM experimented with sadism and sexual perversion which would later be the central theme of his band, PIG. Nivek Orge of Skinny Puppy thought that animal abuse and body horror was a forgotten theme in the industrial ethos, and incorporated violent mutilation and costume play within the performance, which would later influence the work of Marilyn Manson and Slipknot. Meanwhile, Nitzer Ebb and D.A.F. continued the tradition of idiosyncratic language with the use of synthpop and edgy dance music. Nonetheless, there is a correlation between the three underlying themes of fascism, sexual desire, and the occult.
With electronic music becoming mainstream, where are these three ethos anymore in industrial music? The Industrial ethos was commodified and hijacked by liberal faces in the 1990s. The art of Jhonen Vasquez introduced in Johnny The Homicidal Maniac made the “goth” subculture fashionable among the white middle class, where violence against a peculiar person made it acceptable to “kill Nazies.” The backlash soon came from the totalitarian sect of industrial, where Boyd Rice, Adam Parfrey, Shaun Partridge, and Jim Goad created the Hatesville album as an attack against the liberal-minded infiltrator. Parfrey started Feral House and published books too controversial for liberals to handle. Michael Moynihan of Blood Axis soon started Tyr journal in 2002 as a focus group for understanding paganism, Alain de Benoist, Julius Evola, and racial occultism.
This soon attracted Dr. Greg R. Johnson of Morehouse College, who later made archive websites for Anthony Ludovici and Savitri Devi. Johnson later established Counter-Currents in 2010 as a network and journal for those in industrial music that became sincerely fascinated with racial nationalism and Neo-nazi politics. Current writers, like James J. O. Meara, an associate of God's Girlfriend (Brigit Brat), continue to write for Counter-Currents about homonationalism and occult pop culture in the tradition of William S. Burroughs.
Counter-Currents remains obsessed with the idea of a “white nationalist” subculture influenced by the praxis of Leon Trotsky and Antonio Gramsci, but all while proclaiming that it has something to do with Alain de Benoist or Camille Paglia, which is far from it. “White nationalism” for Counter-Currents has become a subculture or a fashion statement one must engage in like homosexuality or queer culture. Jim Goad currently writes for Counter-Currents, yet denies his interest in industrial and avant-garde hate. White nationalism is not a Republican party that votes for Donald Trump and commits to healthy societies, but instead, Counter-Currents is stuck in the notion that the industrial ethos of fascism, sexual desire, and the occult can exist only through white nationalism because both whiteness and “nationalism” (whatever lines are drawn) offend the liberal state, and thus the ultimate form of anti-liberalism. White nationalism in this context is not about deep ecology or green politics but rather a libertarian-leaning distortion of the industrial ethos.
Meanwhile, Jhonen Vasquez gains further popularity with his cartoon show, Invader Zim, and marks the end of the “grimdark” period of the 1990s. Vasquez allows other forms of liberalism to invade the dark spaces of industrial music and transforms the cartooning and comic industry into a coddled form of “safe spaces” against its past. If race becomes an issue, kill the messenger. If they are talking about sexual desires, kill them. If they are creating “micro-aggressions” through their art, destroy them. The worship of serial killers once established by Whitehouse was not aiming against itself, where the power of the “anti-racist action” was growing, and soon transformed into an American synthetic left ideal of “anti-fascism,” or, “fascism” described as any attitude against individual liberalism. Vasquez worshipped serial killing so as long as it killed the anti-liberal, while Whitehouse allowed the parasite in to destroy the industry.
In return, industrial activists like Rachel Haywire tried to counter this liberal push with her work “The New Reaction” in 2015. A decade later, a “Dimes Square” subculture started to grow in New York City, mainly coming from children of rich left-leaning parents and with an interest in irony hipsterdom and Bronze Age Pervert. It has been revealed that Dimes Square was encouraged by a right-leaning donor class to push against the apparent “woke” influence of NYC and San Francisco. The scene is far away from any notion of industrial music but has successfully assimilated an anti-liberal credo to its purpose. This, in part, was influenced by Rachael Haywire and her attempt to shift things against liberalism back in 2015. Even Philip Best’s label, Amphetamine Sulphate, is investing in Dimes Square associations and gatherings to find a new audience for their transgressive zines.
What matters is that anti-liberalism has been taking on variations and forms since its inception within industrial music. A binary between left and right is becoming erased, and a new division is between the liberal vs. the anti-liberal. The cliche is that art by young people is supposed to be “punk rock” and transgressive, relating to the Baby Boomer generation. But what is resistant if it’s being contrarian for the sake of it? The irony faction of Dimes Square continues non-commitment in favor of liberal hedonism and self-destruction under the disguise of anti-liberalism, giving the liberals a reason to fabricate evidence there are still “evil Nazies” out there.
“Parties” are still active to keep everyone sedated, all while those who are "extroverted hate those who pursue the truth and find meaning in art. The “cult of the extroverted” creates a hostile environment of liberals who can’t tolerate industrial any longer and will cry once the word “Aryanism” is said alongside “Asian.”
Perhaps we are not seeing a real anti-liberal breakthrough, but a compromised platform of liberal democratic capitalism operating as usual for the wannabee artist who wants to be accepted by so-called “peers.” Like a synthetic left operated and backed by the CIA, we are seeing a “synthetic right” also operated by the USA to stop any Anarchist potential to destroy the state. The irony is powerful because it downplays those who are sincere, as those who are sincere align their art and authenticity with virtue ethics. Industrial must be sincere in its intention and not ironic to advocate the “satire” state of liberalism being condescending against its opponents.
Controversial American communist Caleb Maupin wrote “BreadTube Serves Imperialism” to examine and criticize the current “communist” market of influencers on YouTube. Most of the influencers in the “BreadTube” circle do not advocate countries of existing socialism, and rather attack sincere communists as “fascists,” “racists,” and taint them as advocaters for the most evil, genocidal, and "totalitarian” regimes. A sincere communist would read the work of Marx and Lenin and come to the side of any existing government that advocates the communist dream. But in America, “communism” becomes a subcultural tool to seek radical liberalism to divert actual sincerity away from a system that could oppose American liberal democracy and capitalism. Dr. Gabriel Rockhill has written numerous articles on the CIA’s influence on French critical theory and its outcome of transforming Eurocommunists into the vague “cultural left.” Rockhill stands as the intellectual figure of how the political binary of left versus right has both become proxies to defend the current elite using the language and praxis of working within a liberal capitalist state, which can only advance its interest.
The established veneer of “anti-liberal” opposition is the power structure itself. This comes from the dark money and influence of Elon Musk, Peter Thiel, Jonah Bennett, Richard Hanania, Christopher Rufo, Geoff Shullenberger, Raw Egg Nationalist, Bronze Age Pervert, and all the Takimag contributors to the "deep state" rich donor class that came after the Neocons and currently brag about "a culture war” from the tongues of Trotsky and Gramsci. These people would naturally try and find a hip class of young Republicans willing to do their bidding under the disguise it’s youthful and daring. The same could be said about Counter-Currents and its project to push the libertarian managerial class, even if that means supporting antisemitism that advocates Zionism.
Monte Cazazza never compromised with any force, and like a martyr, had to take the punishment of shame and exile to get himself across. The weakness of liberalism is commodifying and comforting its followers into their selfish narratives against the virtues of straight edge and the artist’s will. Industrial breaks from the limits of liberalism and finds new ways to cause transgression and meaning through performance art and music. The establishment is smart enough to know contrarian art, from The Situationist International to Antifa, can be compromised to support the American state and ideology. There are agents, and they are willing to turn “transgressive art” in their favor. Industrial music must never favor the state’s demands, and must always present, perform, and prank until an agreement of “ethical sadism” is reached.
The origins of industrial music reveal the truth of white nationalism. It’s not about advocating a polite society. It was always about going against subculture, conformity, and everyone else. The duality remains as a battle between two bands. Is the industrial ethos orbiting Throbbing Gristle, or is it orbiting Whitehouse? Should we make industrial art around totalitarian crassness? Or should we make industrial art on what offends people the most? By understanding the post–World War II economic boom and bust, modernism was transformed into an extreme individualistic ideology, where racial interest collided with materialism. Both the concepts of being “white” and a “nationalist” are challenged abstractions and rely on consumer subculture for it to have meaning. Industrial music reexamined the bourgeois crisis found among the middle class, and what was once normal became controversial. Synthesizers, drum machines, samplers, and percussive instruments still upset liberalism.
It is a matter of the current avant-garde of 2023 and beyond to continue the rich tradition of industrial music and to know where they are coming from. If we don’t know our historical thesis of “insanity outbreaks,” how can know our art? We must know that industrial music is the root of the anti-liberal movement and its artistic manifestation. To be ignorant of industrial means that the state has control over us.
We need to break free and be open about our desires.