A Brief History of the Industrial Revolution

Greg Kot

1 Min Read

When Throbbing Gristle started a British independent label in 1976 called Industrial Music as a way to distribute its recordings and that of a few like-minded peers, it put its thumbprint on an unclassifiable genre that would conflate electronic music, rock and the avant-garde.

The word “industrial” suggested not just a sound but a process. Rather than making music in a garage with guitars and drums as nascent rock bands had a decade earlier, this was music that sounded like it was concocted in a factory — a hybrid of machines, tape loops, random noise and studio-as-instrument experimentation. The “songs,” such as they were, embraced transgressive subjects and explicit language. Sample lyric: “You’re like a virus in my garden/Subhuman! Subhuman!”

Not for nothing did Throbbing Gristle subtitle one of its albums “Entertainment Through Pain.” Yet the music evolved and expanded in the ‘80s to include a wider range of influences, and re-engage with rock instrumentation, a re-set kickstarted by Chicago-based Wax Trax! Records. Its abrasiveness occasionally tempered by hooks and humor, the ever-morphing genre took on many incarnations — industrial disco, dancecore, aggro, Euro-body — and spit out its own company of rock stars, including Ministry’s Al Jourgensen, Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor and Marilyn Manson.

Here’s a quick introduction to a sound that defined the cutting edge in the ‘80s and infiltrated the rock mainstream by the early ‘90s:

“Ostia (The Death of Pasolini)” by Coil (1987):

The English duo’s pedigree — former members of Psychic TV and Throbbing Gristle — promised innovation, and Coil delivers on its second album, “Horse Rotorvator.” It includes an homage to the late Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini, with a choir of crickets and classical instrumentation.

Greg Kot is the editorial director of The Coda Collection. He is also the cohost of the nationally syndicated public-radio show and podcast “Sound Opinions” with Jim DeRogatis, and previously the music critic at the Chicago Tribune for 30 years. His books include acclaimed biographies of Mavis Staples (“I’ll Take You There”) and Wilco (“Learning How to Die”) and a history of the digital music revolution (“Ripped”). He also coauthored “The Beatles vs. the Rolling Stones: Sound Opinions on the Great Rock ‘N’ Roll Rivalry” and has written extensively for Rolling Stone, BBC Culture and Encyclopedia Britannica. When he takes off the headphones, Kot coaches in his Chicago-based youth travel basketball program (OTEhoops.com). In addition, he has coauthored two best-selling editions of the book “Survival Guide to Coaching Youth Basketball.”

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