Metal Machine Music: Technology, Noise, and Modernism in Industrial Music 1975-1996

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Hanley, Jason James
The Graduate School, Stony Brook University: Stony Brook, NY.
The British band Throbbing Gristle first used the term Industrial in the mid-1970s to describe the intense noise of their music while simultaneously tapping into a related set of aesthetics and ideas connected to early twentieth century modernist movements including a strong sense of history and an intense self-consciousness. This model was expanded upon by musicians in England and Germany during the late-1970s who developed the popular music style called Industrial as a fusion of experimental popular music sounds, performance art theatricality, and avant-garde composition. As a result, the first generation of Industrial music (1975-1983) can be understood as a modernist endeavor that connected philosophical ideals, including a Marxist critique of contemporary capitalist society and author William Burroughs' concept of the information war, with specific musical techniques mined from the past including the use of noise, indeterminacy, timbral exploration, and electronic and tape-based music. Throughout the dissertation I focus on how Industrial musicians, journalists, and fans worked to construct an active, self-conscious history for themselves in a subculture that viewed musical sound as a form of political action. This dissertation traces both the creation and breakdown of a modernist ideology within the history of Industrial music. I illustrate how the various modernist strands that led to the emergence of Industrial music in the 1970s were understood and combined, and how the eventual breakdown of that modernist paradigm in the mid-1990s resulted in the deterioration of the subculture. I do this by examining what I have labeled as three separate generations of Industrial music, mapping out the sound of each using phenomenologically based musical cues that musicians combined to compose a series of musical archetypes. The first generation (1975-1983) assembled the past into a unified subcultural and musical style. The second generation (1983-1989), including Front 242, Skinny Puppy, and Ministry attempted to assimilate contemporary popular music styles into the modernist framework in order to diversify their sound and reach a larger audience. During the third generation (1989-1996) bands like Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson worked with music producers who had devised a sonic formula for the creation of Industrial music that eventually led to the music's absorption into the mainstream of the popular music industry.