Industrial music is very much Punk’s intensely clever difficult older brother. The movement was born out of austerity, the academia of post war Europe and young musicians on the dole needing something to do with their time. This thoroughly experimental and perhaps difficult music is captured in a new documentary by filmmakers Amélie Ravalec and Travis Collins. They focus on an admittedly small selection of artists – in particular Industrial giants Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire. It’s all quite hands off with the musicians (and the occasional academic) telling the stories of their music rather than have the movement dictated to us by the filmmakers.
Whilst it’s easy to sigh and grown when musicians reference avant-garde art movements there’s little pretention in acknowledging Industrial’s indebtedness to Dadaism, Futurism and other post-war movements. The Dadaists embraced absurdity at the beginning of the 20th century – understandably considering the situation in Europe at the time. Bizarre video of ladies in beards, urinals as art and razorblades that’ll really want to make you screw your eyes up were rife.
Similarly Industrial music embraced absurdity due to deprivation in urban environments (see the title of the film), Thatcherite Britain and the accessibility of modern electronic music instruments. Noise is celebrated in Industrial music with scrap metal, dilapidated factory parts and heavy machinery contributing rhythmically to the music. In the film we are treated to archive footage of several of the musicians digging around scrap yards looking for their next sound.
For such intimidating music the interviewees come across very approachable and the film avoids the hero worshipping tropes so many documentaries fall foul of. Stephen Mallinder of Cabaret even jokes about the romantic idea of Industrial music as a working-class anti-Thatcher movement which sort of undermines the rest of the films narrative in a charming way.
The film has little interest in documenting more recent superstar Industrial Rock outfits such as Nine Inch Nails and Rammstein. Considering Ravalec and Collins’ background in Techno this is understandable and probably for the best. Whilst offshoots of the movement do get a nod (Perc and several contemporary Techno and ambient artists in particular) the film focuses very much on the roots of the movement.
With austerity still encroaching on Europe, labour almost exclusively being sent off to developing countries and gentrification eating cities from the inside with Starbucks and cereal cafes, the Industrial aesthetic of the 70s and 80s still has great relevance in our world today. For Industrial newbies Industrial Soundtrack for Urban Decay is as good a place as any to learn about one of the most radical movements of the 20th century.
Words: William Warren
Industrial Soundtrack for Urban Decay is currently on a screening tour around Europe. You can find a full list of upcoming screenings on the film’s website.