Rock ‘n’ roll should piss people off. As should industrial.


Person A points out that industrial grew out of the punk scene and is therefore very much rooted in a smash the sacred cows ethos. It should piss people off. It should be dangerous.

Person B says oh, but the punk scene grew out of the hippie movement, therefore industrial needs to be sensitive. [And then usually proceeds to launch an ad hominem attack on Person A.]

Punk did not grow out of the hippie movement, it grew in opposition to the peace and love hippie and disco era, which had stagnated into a big self-congratulatory circle jerk by then.

Maybe if you were born in the ’90s and think the Clash is the first punk band you don’t know any better, I dunno. But even then, have none of these kids seen so much as Sid & Nancy?

Punk did eventually get defanged and co-opted to the point where maybe some people really do think it’s nothing more than choosing the red plaid skirt at Forever 21 at the local mall, but that’s a bastardization. Mind you, I guess it makes sense – a lot of these are the same kids who think industrial is all about going to the club in your $300 PVC skirt and fancy corsets.

And certainly I know kids in their teens who are smart enough to see through all the bullshit – that’s why I have hope for the future.

Here’s a history lesson for those who can’t be bothered to look it up in something like England’s Dreaming or one of the other thousand books on the founding of the Sex Pistols: Every 15-20 years or so, give or take, the status quo is dead and stagnant and something like punk comes up and explodes the old scene, plowing it under so it can rot and feed new growth. Sacred cows will be smashed in this process and yes, precious widdle feelings might be hurt. They need to be.

The sacred cows will vary, of course. The Sex Pistols went after the class system in Europe, the monarchy, the label system. The punk scene was also about DIY when that was still a shocking concept – that a band could go on stage with 3 chords and raw rage and energy to carry them, and that they could establish their own distribution and publicity channels through zines and tape trading, etc. and build an audience without radio or a label to spin PR for them. For someone who’s used to the web, this is simply taken for granted and the importance of that gets lost. It becomes a fashion choice.

Industrial took DIY a step further in terms of instrument choices, and in some cases they actually did things like beating on scrap metal. They also took the revolution of synthesizers and applied it to punk in a more abrasive way than the new wavers. Sacred cows here were often more technological or a matter of the established way of doing things, and being the Reagan era, much venom was also directed at political targets [a lot of which didn’t age so well – I’ve certainly found myself giggling at some of the lyrics from 80s industrial, and it’s kinda amusing to hear standard left-wing views touted as rebellious when everyone and their dog in the entertainment industry votes Democrat, except for Ted Nugent, who is widely ridiculed].

But just as punk got co-opted, so did industrial, albeit in a more niche sort of way. It blended with EBM to become… well… disco 2.0, I guess, without any hits.

The guys who were on the fringe/bleeding edge of it then are mostly Establishment guys making mainstream pop/rock now [eg., don’t bother sending your demos to Nettwerk, kiddies, they only want soccer-mom pop or Nice Non-Threatening Indie Pop now] or they’re long-since dead or out of the music business. Or if they’re still doing the same thing as they were in the 80s, now they’re respected established artistes [eg. Throbbing Gristle’s Cosey Fanni Tutti doing installations at the Tate Modern art gallery in London]. They aren’t “those loud neighbors” anymore.

Off the top of my head I think the only new band doing stuff that sounds like early industrial is Four Pi Movement, everyone else is doing club music [or weirdo alt-rock like me]. The biggest difference between most of what claims to be industrial nowadays and club remixes of, say, the Black Eyed Peas, is production values and vocal style. Everything has that shitty “oontz oontz” sound they ripped off from circuit club dance mixes. You get lots of small variations, but for the most part while there’s a lot that sounds cool, there’s not a lot that is a revolution in the way that the Sex Pistols were.

But at this point, that’s being a purist splitting hairs. Industrial is dead, long live “industrial.” I guess.

And we have the same sacred cows. Pressure to be PC and unoffensive. In the 80s it was Tipper Gore and the PMRC dragging rock stars in front of Congress to explain themselves, and you can google “PMRC testimony” and see it for yourself. Here’s my favorite, John Denver standing up for free speech when people expected him to take Tipper’s side:

We’re still fighting this battle, and now we don’t need bored political wives to point the finger, parts of the scene itself [such as it is] bring the pressure to conform. And not on behalf of poor impressionable children but on behalf of potential [presumably adult] fans who might be upset. One of the favorite targets is visuals deemed fascistic, well-tailored militaristic outfits and pseudo-fascist arm bands.

Big deal, Marilyn Manson did that schtick 15 years ago. Boyd Rice was doing that 25 years ago. And before Boyd, punks were wearing swastikas in the 70s not because they were Nazis but because if you grew up in the UK in the 50s and 60s there was no better way to tell your parents’ and grandparents’ generation to eat shit. Siouxsie wore a swastika armband when she wasn’t walking around with her tits flopping out, Sid Vicious wore a swastika shirt, Malcolm McLaren’s SEX shop sold the London punk kids overpriced black leather mini-skirts with swastika stud patterns on the ass.

Personally I think it’s dumb and copying fashion choices that were done for shock value 30 years ago hardly breaks new ground. Hey, look – it has its own Wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nazi_chic

As you can guess, declaring your moral superiority by “taking a stand” against such isn’t new either.

I always wonder if anyone stops to ponder that there might be other reasons for “offensive” lyrics. Like maybe an artist reacting to things they’ve actually seen and experienced? Or things they’ve been accused of, things they’re reacting against.

Nor is it new to take a stand against sexism in lyrics, but this is also defined in the broadest possible sense and often with the implication that any negative portrayal of females is sexist and to be condemned. I have to assume those who think that way either don’t know too many women or have been lucky. Whenever I get together with my gal pals, we certainly love to get gossiping and bitching about bitches we can’t stand for any number of reasons [sabotaged us at work, fucked our boyfriends, whatever]. Guess we’re sexist too, since it couldn’t possibly be that our opinions are based on dealing with with women who are just as imperfect and worthy of criticism as any man we’ve ever met.

Get real. Negative portrayals of females exist because there are such creatures as females with negative traits. Women are people, not angels. Some of them suck.

Example: Anyone who’s ever been to any sort of scene’s nightclubs [including goth/industrial clubs] has surely met at least a few of the kind of girls described in, say, Faderhead’s “Electrosluts Extraordinaire.” Electro, top 40, reggae, rap – hell even country and western bars have a smattering of stuck up “look at me” girls. Seems to be a common thing. Why should it be off-limits to write about it?

Sexually explicit portrayals are also condemned. So, guys are damned if they don’t like a girl and write about it, and they’re damned if they like her a whole lot and write about it. Great… Furthermore, let’s be blunt: part of the reason dance clubs of any stripe exist is for the perpetuation of the species. Yes, we go to hang out with our friends, but we also go to get drunk and see if there’s any cuties of our preferred gender we can get to talk to and maybe go home with. This tends to favor more sexual themes in the music and a lot of that music sounds dumb or even offensive when it’s taken out of that drunken trying to get lucky in the club context. Industrial as it exists now is very heavily club-type music, so of course there’s lots of this kind of “sexist” material too. My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult and Lords of Acid’s catalogues are essentially nothing but, and most acts usually have at least one dumb hump song even if it’s not their main deal.

And it’s another old hat, too. Here’s George Carlin commenting on similar censorship matters in 1988:

“It’s called freedom of choice and it’s one of the principles this country was founded upon.” Don’t like something? Don’t listen. [I was going to say “don’t buy it, but, well, it’s 2012, does anyone still buy music?]

People who want to be offended will always find something to be offended by. And if it’s not actually there, they’ll make assumptions to get around that little hurdle.

I don’t think great art was ever made under the shadow of fear of hurting someone’s feelings or offending them. And even mediocre art is bound to push people’s buttons or it’s just background noise. Artists should never let worries about alienating a potential audience dictate what they create, if for no reason other than it’s impossible to not alienate a portion of the infinite potential audience.

Think about it: what’s less offensive than a nice pablum love song about wanting to do right by your lover from now on? Like this one:

OK, so tell the truth – how many of you just barfed a little in the back of your mouth?

So… Nickelback are geniuses at crafting songs designed to not alienate an audience, and they sell millions upon millions of records, yet even they have people who absolutely despise them. Not to pick on Nickelback, I could swap in Sarah McLaughlin or any other non-controversial pop artist and every single one of them has legions of people who wish they were dead to match the legions of fans.

The point is that as I said, artists should make the music they want to make and not worry about the audience. If you’re good, some people will love you. Most people will hate you or be indifferent to you no matter what you do.

The only people who will ever tell you to change what you’re doing because it’s offensive or because you might “alienate your potential audience” are the ones who already hate you and want to shut you up and sabotage you. It’s a control tactic, and you can never change enough to appease these people.

When someone tries it, ignore them and carry on.