Industrial Television For Industrial People

In reviewing old Back Alley footage, I quickly came to regret ending that project as prematurely as we did. If we’d continued, there’d be a lot more visual documentation of the scene that over time begins to fade from memory.

It is, then, in the spirit of immortality that I am pleased to introduce STATIK Industrial Television, a new video diary of Rivet Head Culture. In collaboration with my old cohort Luke Haughwout of Mechanical Harvest, we’ll present our take on the scene and the artists and culture within it.

Like us on Facebook and follow us on YouTube. It’s going to be a fun ride.

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Heavy Lifting: Billboard Magazine’s Industrial Strength

You should write a book on industrial music.”

As humbled as I am by the respect and honor the suggestion implies, every time that someone recommends the idea, it’s bittersweet. I wanted to. In fact, I even started once. And so begins the story of the industrial anthology that wasn’t (and two that were).

Chapter One: INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION

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In the days before self-publishing and the internet, a career as a professional journalist was a dramatically different proposition than it is today. This was particularly true for music writers, a scant few of which actually earned a living writing for scant fewer regular run publications: NME,  T.E.Q.?, Alternative Press…Rolling Stone.

Dave Thompson – and his writing/erstwhile partner Jo-Anne Greene (remember that name) – was one of the lucky ones, if commitment to a meager lifestyle of substantial free-lance work can be considered lucky. Thompson was not only a talented writer, he also had a penchant for darker, leftfield art and music, having written extensively on goth and post-punk over several years’ time. As such, it would be hard to argue a better or more obvious choice for Cleopatra Records label head Brian Perera to assign the task of archiving the state of industrial music for the encyclopedic Industrial Revolution, first published at the end of 1992.

Unfortunately, any attempt to encapsulate the entirety of a scene still in its earliest stages of evolution at press time is a Sisyphean effort at best. Thompson himself acknowledges as much in the book’s “Introduction”:

“…the concept of ‘influence’ in the industrial field is so ill-defined that for every artist who dreamed of Einsturzende Neubaten (sic) hitting anvils with hammers, there was another who wanted to emulate Van Der Graaf Generator and crash ships into rocks.”

Not surprisingly, criticism of the book was sharp and sudden. Some of it was fair; the book is – to be polite – editorially challenged, odd considering Thompson’s pedigree.

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The book’s second edition appended an additional list of relevant artists/acts.

Critique, however, was also leveled at the constituency of the compendium itself. Some inclusions felt tangential, others arbitrary. Acts who (even then) were considered influential – if not imperative – were initially omitted: A Split Second, Klinik, Lassigue Bendthaus, Portion Control…all originally absent (whilst John Cale and Hawkwind amassed three full pages).

A valiant attempt was made to expand upon the burgeoning music scenes of Europe and the U.S. through the inclusion of two addenda to the primary work provided by rivet head culture icon, Chase (Cargo Records/Re-Constriction/If It Moves). There are a bounty of accolades I could bestow upon Chase, but in the interest of time I will credit him simply for these material improvements to Industrial Revolution; and for the equally entertaining editorial contributions he made to my staff at Interface Magazine and via his “Choking on Staples” column for Industrial Nation. (Also, thanks for that fine ReCon tattoo, pal.)

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Chase’s columns always served up equal amounts of scene knowledge and humor.  His role in shaping my career in the music business cannot be overstated. Few others have ever been as likable, as smart or as humble.

To this day, the book remains a rare peak at a scene that hasn’t spent a lot of time in the sun (and, conversely, seems a lot more adept at shade). It was an honest effort, nonetheless IR left many longing for more.

Chapter Two: INDUSTRIAL STRENGTH

I have previously told the story of the 1997 College Music Journal Music Marathon. While all CMJ’s enveloped their own highlights, this particular marathon was of import to the scene because it marked the first ever discussion panel dedicated to industrial music in the event’s history.

Enabled by the support of magazine staffer Vicky A., in September of that year I assembled a panel of experts to join me in testimony to the love and passion we held for this style of music. As moderator, I lectured on the scene’s importance, deferring to the experiences of a star cast of panelists: the Godmother of industrial music, Genesis P-Orridge (Throbbing Gristle); electronic music pioneer Wolfgang Fleur (Kraftwerk); Michelle Anderson (Anderson Publicity); and my fellow NYC DJ BENT!

As it was the publication’s first foray into the subject, no one could have anticipated the kind of turnout the event received. It was standing room only, presuming you could actually get into the room. The Virus 23 crew was constrained to the far back, so frequent call-response interchanges between myself, BENT! and V23 ping-ponged back and forth across the audience. I concede that maybe I’m colored by nostalgia, but the room felt electric. The buzz was exactly the kind of ferocious, impassioned energy characterized by the music itself.

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This did not go unnoticed by Billboard editor Bob Nirkind, who was in attendance.  As convention-goers filed out of the room for photo ops with Genesis and Wolfgang, Bob approached Vicky and I to congratulate us on the event. An avid music historian, Bob wanted to know whether or not the genre had ever been given any editorial treatment. We discussed Industrial Revolution briefly – its merits and shortcomings – and exchanged phone numbers (in a world before email) and a mutual interest in continuing the discussion.

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I spent the next several weeks preparing multiple drafts of both a proposal and a pitch. With the encouragement of Billboard Books, a tentative title was slated: Industrial Strength: The History of Aggressive Experimental Electronic Music. Personally, I thought it was a little wordy but Bob held the position that the broader scope might engender broader interest. From the very beginning, I feared the authenticity of broad interest in the genre. What I mean is, industrial had been maligned for so long by so many, I hedged my excitement with the recognition that things in life don’t usually go the way we’d like. (Anyone who ever doubts my credibility as a “true gothic” should re-read that last sentence.)

Bob was excited, though. “Thanks for the revised proposal – it looks great!” he wrote in a letter dated October 16, 1997. “You’ve done an excellent job fleshing out your ideas for this project, and I think our Editorial Review Board will be impressed with the thought that’s obviously gone into it.”

I have always been a fan of collaboration and giving credit where credit is due. Which explains my decision to solicit Jo-Anne Greene (that key collaborator to the Industrial Revolution book I previously asked you to remember). Women in this genre have always played a critical role and in the time since the publication of IR, Jo-Anne had become a free-lance contributor to Interface (penning a great piece on Duran Duran for a late issue).

For the prologue, I enlisted former Metropolis Records publicist Michael Mahan to add a first person perspective to the genre’s 60s and 70s era, an epoch to which I in my youth obviously could not relate. Mahan was an eccentric character and a captivating storyteller in his own right. If you’d let him, he could talk for hours about Walter/Wendy Carlos and experimental electronic music of an altogether different order.

Sadly – like many things – it wasn’t meant to be. Nirkind was excited, it’s true; but the rest of the Editorial Review Board didn’t think as highly of our idea. In the end, it was decided that industrial music was too small to commercialize and that potential profits were insufficient to justify the projected expense. So ended the dream. (Pass the tissues.)

Chapter Three: ASSIMILATE

“Man, that sucks….but couldn’t you still write that book?”

interfaceAfter the book deal fell through, my “told you so” attitude eclipsed any immediate desire to rekindle (no pun intended) that flame any time soon. Instead, I focused my editorial instincts on Interface Magazine. That story has been told, too, and some day I still hope to scan a few copies of it for those who never had a chance to see it.

We really strove – Andy, Dave & I – to produce the highest possible quality content: a magazine about electronic music for the electronic musician, as it were. As Managing Editor, I controlled the editorial content: who we featured and how. My musical tastes are wide, but they’re not infinite. Neither is my time nor my composition skill. In addition to Jo-Anne Greene and Chase, I had the great privilege to administer over several talented writers.

The youngest one, by some measure, was a kid by the name of Alex Reed – who must get increasingly disparaged by my continual re-telling of this story.  At the time, Alex was hosting a specialty show at a college radio station in New England. He was the only one adventurous enough to play the records that I would send to the station through my former marketing company, RazorBurn, which is how we met.

Though the discussion of our shared musical interests, it became quickly apparent that not only did Alex’s intellect far exceed his years, but his passion for the genre was easily as great as mine. I solicited his involvement as a writer for Interface; first a handful of (exceptionally well-written) reviews, then features.

There was never any doubt that Alex was meant to do great things, nor that he might lack any of the qualities intrinsic to the task. So, when Assimilate: A Critical History of Industrial Music arrived some 15 years later – Oxford Press, 2013 – it was a proverbial 51EUMNyvLIL._SY346_microphone drop from someone rich in both the authority and the aptitude requisite to objectively evaluate a genre centered on the principal subjectivity of art.

Could I still write a book on the genre? Sure, but I can’t be any more intellectual or eloquent and I don’t aspire to produce derivative content in the shadow of superior precedent.

As for writing about it differently, I’m just not sure what it would accomplish. I could throw shade for days about the scene or the people I’ve met in it.  Hell, I could line list all my  own greatest failures; detail every salacious moment when my ego or insecurity got the best of me. But why? Isn’t the goth scene dark enough already?

So, if you want to know about industrial music, live it. Alex’s treatise is a hell of a start, but institutional learning isn’t the sum total of life experience. You won’t find the meaning of industrial in a book. It’s not just a music genre, it’s a lifestyle. I know it sounds cliche, but that doesn’t make it not true. If you want to understand industrial you have to go deeper…to the gut…to the truth of it.

Thanks for listening.

rexx

 

Talking Points: The Industrial Music Panel at CMJ

RazorBurn Business CardIn the Fall of 1997, my newly formed college radio promotions business at RazorBurn was in full swing. I had recently left the team led by Eric Rosen at Radical Records to restart the independent promotions work I had done in the late 80s and early 90s with Club Hate Productions.  Being on my own again, I was able to focus exclusively on electronic music promotions and regularly worked records to college radio for such labels as Wax Trax/TVT, Nothing, Cleopatra, Invisible, Fifth Colvmn, Decibel, 21st Circuitry, Pendragon, COP International, Tess and many others. 

College Music Journal (CMJ) is the undisputed leading trade magazine on university broadcasting, but had no genre chart specific to “Industrial” or even “experimental” music. Alternative electronic music that wasn’t popular enough to target to the Top 100 (exceptions being acts such as NIN, Gary Numan or Pigface) was targeted instead towards the specialty RPM Chart.  There were different schools of thought on this practice, but the most prominent split was between those camps who considered the RPM Chart to be designed exclusively for reporting “techno” styles of music and those who thought it represented a broader spectrum of computer/synth music that included industrial, noise and experimental.

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Photo by SHEILA ROCK

My opinions involving music during this era were no less passionate than they are today, so it might surprise few that I took a very hard stance on this issue with the magazine. In the Fall of 1997, CMJ’s Vicki A. extended the opportunity to assemble a discussion panel on the origins and ethos of Industrial music. I immediately set to work and so became the first ever Industrial Music panel at the College Music Journal Music Marathon.

On Saturday, September 6th, 1997, we took our seats on the riser: fellow NYC DJ BENT! (pre-Hellraver) to speak on industrial club life; Michelle Anderson of Anderson Publicity, to speak on rivet zines; myself, as moderator; Wolfgang Fluer (Kraftwerk) to represent computer music; and Genesis P-Orridge (Throbbing Gristle), the Godmother of Industrial. To an over-capacity audience, we testified to the music we loved. It was righteous. There have been some great moments these last thirty years, but few can match CMJ Music Marathon ’97.

Sadly, all that remains of this moment is this archival advertisement from the commercial radio bible, Gavin Magazine, from 1997.

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Music Television, Literally

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Back Alley was a local origination television show broadcast via Adelphia Cable in Syracuse, NY in the early 1990s. The show was directed by Greg Haney and co-produced and co-hosted and produced by Rexx Arkana and Michelle Mance (Massacre). The show was awarded top honors in the “Entertainment News” category at the Hometown Video Awards in 1994.

Segment clips from the HVA submission reel are available on YouTube:

Big Strong Remix: Rexx Reclaims a Scene Classic

Tanz WaffenRexx recently dug deep into the Arkana archives to update and modernize a special Rexxtended Mix of the underground club classic “Big Strong Man” by former ZYX Records recording artist Tanz Waffen.

The project, whose name translates from German to “Dance Weapons”, was formed in Austin, Texas around 1984, born of the ashes of another act, Secret Six.

Oriented around founding and principal members Jeff Campbell and Nanz Campbell, the band often augmented frequent live shows with additional percussionists  and multimedia.

Like so many other electronic dance projects of the day, Tanz Waffen can partially attribute their success to exposure gained from their involvement with

lene-lovich-tanz-waffen-frank-kozik_1_c9315dbfba64aa4c6f8d05a938f7a158leading DJ record service Razormaid, whose legendary producer/partner Joseph Watt remixed four of the bands tracks for inclusion on sampler releases.

In 1988 the duo met and befriended new wave star Lene Lovich, marking a pivotal point in the young band’s career. The two would team with Lovich as part of her touring band, a union which also afforded them the opening slot on her tour and introducing them to a nationwide audience.

 

 

A single 12″ release, 1990’s “Big Strong Man” on ZYX, is all that would surface officially from the band’s catalog. (A single-sided self-released cassette featuring five tracks from the act in their 1984 infancy is highly-sought after early synthpop collector’s gold.)

By 1991, Tanz Waffen had evolved to Voodoo Dali, which integrated fellow Razormaid obscurity Mark of Kane (their “Heavy Cross” is Xymox-esque genius and a staple in Arkana’s playlists for nearly 30 years) into a new project performing songs from the TW repertoire.

 

 

Tanz Waffen - Big Strong Man (Rexxtended Mix by DJ Rexx Arkana)

 

Stream the special Rexxtended Mix of “Big Strong Man” directly from the band’s Soundcloud page:

https://soundcloud.com/jeff-campbell-43/tanz-waffen-big-strong-man-rexxtended-mix