Sunday, September 1, 2019

Test Dept & Severed Heads at El Corazon: Sept 11 & 15 | “Desolation Center” at Northwest Film Forum: Oct 9 - 10 | The Stentorian Era of Industrial Music Culture



Following in the wake of Punk and early New Wave, Industrial Music culture bore many correspondences to its Postpunk and Gothic Rock siblings, yet defined itself apart for the literal mechanics of its production and aesthetics. Globally a number of epicenters for the sound's earliest formation could be found in Berlin, Chicago, New York, London, and the major coastal cities of California. Most notably and formative for the sound and its culture, the German scene was the initial defining locus. Gathering around the Geniale Dilletanten Festival, and it's burgeoning music and performance subculture through efforts largely spearheaded by Wolfgang Müller, the genre's origin immediately expanded outwards to encompass multimedia, performance art, print and literary works. In a span of half a decade, this thriving scene in the margins of the divided city, gave birth to such artists as Einstürzende Neubauten, Die Tödliche Doris, Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft, F.S.K., Mania D, Palais Schaumburg, Sprung Aus Den Wolken, Abwärts, and Malaria!. British labels like Some Bizarre, Mute and Throbbing Gristle's own Industrial Records, were concurrently at the epicenter the UK's own cross-pollination of performance, sound, visual art, theater and cultural action. These institutions were born of the contextual cultural moment of Thatcher's England, alongside protests from the labor class and the rise of underground Queer politics. In this environment, a corpus of varied interpretations of the industrial aesthetic and sound could be heard in the music of Test Dept., Coil, Psychic TV, Cabaret Voltaire, Whitehouse and Nurse With Wound. No better map to this decade's cultural continuum of (often) overtly occult, queer, outsider industrial music in the United Kingdom exists than David Keenan's "England's Hidden Reverse: A Secret History of the Esoteric Underground".

The American continent saw it's own variation on the form later harnessed by label's like Chicago's Wax Trax! Records. Their legacy, beyond just releasing a body of music that bred or came to influence more commercially successful acts of the 1990s, like Nine Inch Nails and Prodigy, Wax Trax! were defined by a then-radical business model. The revival of the label, by the daughter of its co-founder Julia Nash and her partner Mark Skillicorn, came in the heels of their 2017 documentary, "Industrial Accident: The Story of Wax Trax! Records". Again, acting as more than just the setting of a retail record store, and label with an atypical contract process, the environment it's founders created a cultural locus of related aesthetics, sounds, values and lifestyles. This setting giving birth to the mid-to-late 1980s Electro-Industrial sound of Ministry, Meat Beat Manifesto, KMFDM, Front 242, and Controlled Bleeding. Further north, there was an affinity to be had with the concurrent Canadian scene largely released by Nettwerk Records, which issued albums from the influential Vancouver trio, Skinny Puppy, Australia's SPK, and Severed Heads, and Toronto's Front Line Assembly. Los Angeles and San Francisco also had their own eruptions of industrial sound and performance. In some ways achieving less popular notoriety than their midwest counterparts, the major coastal cities of California generated a wholly other variety of "notorious". Sharing more in common with their Berlin and London contemporaries, the cultural and economic conditions of late 1970s San Francisco Bay Area gave rise to the spectacular performative events of destruction staged by Mark Pauline and his cohorts in Survival Research Laboratories. Still active now decades on, much of the contemporary SRL press focuses on the changed cultural and political landscape, and the difficulty of staging Pauline's elaborate, destructive spectacles. Indicative in the cultural climate shift seen between The Wire's "Is Phoenix Burning?", and The Verge's "Terrorism as Art: Mark Pauline's Dangerous Machines" of a decade later. Gone is the era in which the Bay Area is a counter-cultural hub, and institutions like SRL and RE/Search could easily secure inner city public space for performance. A central component of the Bay Area's contribution to global industrial culture at the time were some of the very first compendiums published on its artists, concepts, politics and finery, under the banner of RE/Search publications. These were curated and released by its founder V. Vale, under such evocative titles as, "Industrial Culture Handbook", "Modern Primitives", and a volume drawing parallels between the work of "William S. Burroughs, Brion Gysin, and Throbbing Gristle".

Around these performance, happenings and publishing institutions, a small core of west coast industrial music endeavors came into being. Among their numbers, the wreckage-meets-hi-hop sound of The Beatnigs, the meeting of New York and San Francisco sonic chaos of Rythm & Noise, and Los Angeles-based Savage Republic were of the highest profile. SRL and RE/Search would bolster their influence by occasionally operating in tandem. Such as was the case in the early-to-mid 1980s performances with the launch of various RE/Search editions, and their March 6th 1984 event alongside the aforementioned Rhythm & Noise, NON from the UK, and Einstürzende Neubauten. The German band themselves having just returned days before from a performance in the Mojave Desert as part of an event that was the first of it's kind, wherein “Hundreds of Punks Hit the Desert and The Modern Music Festival Was Born”. Over the course of three annual events, spanning 1983 to 1985, and including in its first installment The Minutemen and Savage Republic, the second with SRL's Mark Pauline alongside Monte Cazazza and Boyd Rice of NON, and for its third iteration, Sonic Youth and Meat Puppets, this series of DIY meetings in the inhospitable desert setting were known as Desolation Center. Having finally completed the crowdfunding process and postproduction of the documentary of these extraordinary events, Stuart Swezey spoke with Red Bull Music Academy on, "The Music and Madness of the Desolation Center". September brings a small convergence of these still active Industrial players in the form of two dates at El Corazon featuring Australia's Severed Heads, and a revived Test Dept. from the UK. This is followed a month later by a two night screening of the self-titled Desolation Center documentary at Northwest Film Forum. In the case of the British wrecking crew, their newly reinvigorated sound follows on the release of "Disturbance", and an extensive world tour. Now a duo, their sound has undergone a series of transformations from the earliest industrial theater and direct political activism of their formative years. As detailed in The Quietus' "The Strange World Of... Test Dept." while retaining a visceral percussive force, their time of collaborations with Welsh experimental theater group Brith Gof, and rallying resources for largescale spectacles realized in the site-specific settings of abandoned car factories in Cardiff and railway works in Glasgow, belong to the era of Industrial Music culture's now legendary past.