Sunday, September 17, 2017

Ministry Made a Song Called "Antifa" and it is Kind of Sweet

Content note: This entry contains descriptions of violence including racist and misogynistic violence and racist slurs. Please take care while reading.

Also note, I wrote this at like 3am after my night medication had kicked in and I should be in bed. So, please forgive parts of this that are incoherently written.

Image: 5 protestors from NYS Antifascist Alliance stand in the grass holding up a banner that says their name and "100 NAZI SCALPS," referencing the movie Inglorious Bastards, with the anarchy circle-a symbol and the three-arrows antifa symbol on each side. Behind them 3 more protestors are holding up the black and red anarchist antifa flag and holding their fists in the air. 
Ministry has made it to this blog before both as an example of ways industrial videos/lyrics can be radical and ways industrial imagery can be misogynistic. I was more of a Ministry fan in my younger years. That is not to say I've grown out of them but more to make a point that I haven't kept up with them as much. I hadn't heard about anything new until I saw a post about their new song "Antifa" on the Great Lakes Antifa facebook page.

If you have been on the internet at all in the past month you probably know about the rise in visibility of neo-naziism and white supremacist organizing in the United States. I say visibility because they've always existed but have been braver lately due in part by the rise of the Trump administration, Richard Spencer, and others.

In Charlottesville, VA, a group of torch wielding white supremacists marched shouting chants such as "Jews will not replace us" and "Blood and Soil" eventually surrounding and attacking counterprotestors while police did nothing. We all know that leftist protestors with torches would be treated differently. At a later event, one (warning graphic link >) Nazi intentionally drove his car into a group of anti-racist protestors, murdering one and severely injuring many others. During this, police blocked roads and pointed guns at the injured protestors, delaying EMTs being able to give medical care to the group. Anarchist and other leftist street medics were the only medical care available for far too long. In another part of Charlottesville right next to a police station a group of white supremacists beat a Black man on the ground with pipes. In another part of the city a KKK imperial Wizard shot his gun at a Black man while calling him a n****r and a white boy with nazi tattoos and a slayer shirt punched a woman in the face.

Police stood and did nothing through this. Police are notorious for protecting white supremacist groups. This is why you can see white supremacist militias show up with semiautomatic weapons and live to tell about it, while unarmed Black men are shot while laying on the ground with their hands in the air. But, it's not just the cops and conservatives that are at fault.

Image: A meme with a bunch of american flags and the ACLU logo with lettering in different fonts that says "The ACLU pretends that if they were to just let a Nazi's plea for help go to voicemail then the first amendment would magically disappear because they care more about masterbating to how 'principled' they are than American Civil Liberties." source: bottom leftist memes

The ACLU regularly sues on behalf of Nazis and other pieces of human garbage (using the donations of people Nazis want to murder) and liberals decry any kind of violence towards Nazis as if hugging it out with them would stop their murderous tendencies. The same people that would quickly destroy all civil liberties if they gained enough power are allowed by the ACLU to use "free speech" as a carte blanche for cruelty. The media demonized Antifa and the government labeled them a terrorist organization. Yet, they did not label any of the nazi or other white supremacist groups who were beating and killing people as terrorists. During hurricanes, antifa members were doing volunteer aid work while "white nationalists" (white supremacists) were threatening to shoot people looking for food and supplies for survival. Cornel West even said that anarchists and antifa saved him and the clergy in Charlottesville, but many white liberals still sat at home criticizing movements they know nothing about. This same story plays out with both mainstream political parties and the US government with every movement against oppression.

Ministry in this video is obviously quite new to what antifa is and doesn't really understand their long history worldwide. I find this kind of sweet and dorky. I like dorky. But, they made a song called "antifa" to support anti-fascist movements. And, that's pretty cool in my book. Maybe this type of thing will lead Ministry away from ever putting out an album with cover art as misogynistic as that bullshit we wrote about before. That would be nice.

Here's one video (all of them are live as it has not been released as a track yet:)

You may also be interested in learning more about WHAT ANTIFA ACTUALLY IS. It can be difficult to wade through all of the sensationalist garbage in mainstream media. These are a couple quick and accurate things:

Sub.Media Trouble #2: Bash the Fash

Article: “They have no allegiance to liberal democracy”: an expert on antifa explains the group

Video: Mic Inside Antifa

 And finally, for my favorite fancy video on modern fascism:

Note: If you feel really defensive reading this article, ask yourself one question: When thinking about the struggle between anti-fascists and anti-racists against white supremacist groups, do you see more of yourself in the white supremacists?

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Chatty review of Cosey Fanni Tutti's new memoir: Art Sex Music


Tutti, Cosey Fanni. 2017. Art sex music. Faber And Faber.

If you're reading this, you presumably already know who Cosey Fanny Tutti is: a remarkable artist and musician who's been churning out important, challenging, and hashtag controversial work for nearly half a century as part of, and also apart from, Throbbing Gristle. Now she's blessed us with her memoirs. This book is 502 pages, but I read it in 4 days (busy days at that!). The publisher was kind enough to provide Strig with a review copy last month, but I only read library books. It took my library long enough to buy it, but here we all are.

Cosey is a lifelong diarist, and she drew upon these materials to write her life as she lived it, when she lived it. Here's a video from her publisher wherein she describes her methodology. Below is a condensed, edited conversation Strigiform and I conducted across emails and gchat.

Anarchiteuthis: I was kinda astonished that she started this incredibly active independent life in art and music at age 18.

Strigiform: Yes! I lived a really rowdy rockstar sex/drugs/rocknroll life at a very young age, but I did not keep it together AT ALL in any way even close to the way she did.

Ana: She credits much of her toughness and her approach to brutal logistical and emotional situations to being from Yorkshire. She admits that her family was doing economically better than most of their neighbors, but also she describes playing in bombed out sites, engaging in hooliganism, mischief, and petty crime. During her teen and early adult years she vividly describes the scene in Hull- or rather, the array of scenes. She acquaints you with everyone from the skinheads and Hell's Angels to the radical feminists and gay liberation movements. She said she felt more in line with gay liberation than with feminism. Even though she's a straight woman, I wasn't mad, cuz she doesn't strike me as the kinda straight girl who is annoying at gay bars.

Strig: Agreed.

A: Gay liberation was more party-themed, raucous, and its message was more fun and inclusive (in message if not in practice). Meanwhile one of the defining features of feminism of this era was its prescriptivism and trying to identify, define, and enforce the "Politically Correct" way of life (yes, you can blame lesbians for this. On behalf of lesbians, I apologize).

S: A femme dyke friend of mine was kicked out of a feminist bookstore for wearing lipstick and I knew others who had to keep their strap-ons on the down low because they were a no-no in those communities then. So, I agree with you, that some feminists of that era likely made her feel unwelcome as they did other feminists, women, queers, lesbians, etc.

A: Also she put on "phony lesbian" shows for money, hashtag ally.

S: LOL. I admit there were some cringy straight person things in there. But I mean, she's a straight person, so... haha no higher standard deserved than anyone else.

A: But Cosey's theme in life is just like, don't fucking tell me what to do. I don't blame her for feeling alienated from feminism, particularly as it was practiced then. I wouldn't wanna hang out with Sheila Jeffreys either. Plus Cosey's all about the practice (praxis?). She doesn't have time for idle theory when she's got shit to do.

Meanwhile, her compassion for animals is another theme.

S: When she applies for a job at an animal laboratory right out of high school, the researchers ask her if she likes animals. She says she "adores" them. They, of course, deny her the job. There are also many stories about various animals that Cosey adopted throughout her life that are unfortunately in danger in proximity to Genesis, which we will discuss more later.

A: But also when Wax Trax! assumes she and Chris are vegetarian and send them a request for a track along with animal exploitation literature. And she's like, "well, we weren't, but after that we were!"


S: I love that they were assumed veg and turned veg by Wax Trax!

A: But also where she hides and ultimately gives away her childhood rabbit cuz her asshole dad threatened to eat the creature? And she didn't even have the top tier of worst dads, but bad enough to cause enduring logistical and emotional damage throughout her life.

S: Even while doing all of the domestic tasks, her art work, her sex work, other paid work, dealing with the band, and visiting friends in prison, she's also caring for, and often protecting, the animals she has taken in.

A: THAT FUCKING KILLED ME. All "the boys" got to sit around making art, meanwhile she's out quomodocunquizing, busting her ass at factory work, breathing noxious fumes, taking in piece work, doing office work, sex work, and generally selling her time, labor, and precious energy to keep the band living indoors, eating, and making art.

Then she goes home and has to cook food for everyone, do their shopping, wash their goddamn clothes, clean up after them, and basically be everyone's live in maid. AND she's making art on top of all this, which no one would even acknowledge at the time. Even now, she is robbed of credit for so much of her life's work. She writes, "Home didn't feel like home but like more work."

S: The image of her lugging the cart of laundry up a hill in cold weather is in my head forever. Most of us who have ever struggled know what that is like, but to be doing it alone while an entire group of adults leaves you to it?

A: The "pram" that she uses to haul their laundry gets turned into art and then she's like, "but how do I laundry now?"

S: YES. JEEZ. I know Cosey doesn't want us to be sitting here portraying her as some helpless victim so I hope that is not how this all is coming across.

A: This would be a good time to quote some things she says in a really good Jezebel interview that asks basically everything I wanted to know while reading. Asked about events she describes in her book that a 21st century reader would freely describe as abusive, she all but dismisses it: "I felt strong enough to deal with it. It wasn’t a huge problem to me. It was upsetting at times and I couldn’t understand it, but it wasn’t something that I couldn’t deal with. [...] My problem was making sure I could carry on."

S: I think her approach to modeling and sex work was fascinating. It is interesting because her sex work WAS work. Like, she had very little money and was fiercely independent, so it wasn't some sort of poverty tourism for art. Yet she simultaneously was utilizing the experiences to create art.

A: She doesn't say when she left the sex industry. She just says she resumed stripping 5 months after the birth of her son. I don't know about you, but I pulled up all the songs she mentioned stripping to. It gave me great amusement to imagine how a spooky 70s art lady would dance to those tracks.

S: Oh my. I didn't think to do that! I don't even remember what they were.

A: Just check this one.

S: Amazing. Reading this book and this stuff about Gen I was thinking "Jesus Christ, what a tool! I wonder if everyone else is also a massive tool including my beloved members of Coil." And I'm ok with the truth. Like, even if the truth ruins my two Coil tattoos for me, I still wanna know. In short, I was very relieved when we get to meeting Peter Christopherson (who got his nickname Sleazy FROM COSEY) and he becomes one of her old dear friends. I do think Sleazy should have done a way better job, as I believe all of the people around Gen should have, in standing up to that twerp, but we'll get into Gen later.

As far as I am concerned, Chris, Cosey, and Sleazy were Throbbing Gristle's core, and Genesis was the part time singer and stage performer- an important part that Gen was good at, but one that audiences tend to give way too much credit.

A: I uphold your assessment.

S: To have a glimpse into those things was really good for me as a huge Coil fan. And also understanding just how bad John's alcoholism was. Near the end of the book, Cosey details her experiences at the funerals of both John Balance (Geff Rushton) and Sleazy (Peter Christopherson) and I read these parts with tears in my eyes. These accounts were beautiful. The Coil song played at John's funeral, Going Up, has been a song that has meant more to me than I can really express. I got really into Coil shortly after John had died. Ironically, I got into them right after I got clean, which is funny to me. And it was somewhat sad to know I could never meet them or see them live. But I have watched lots of videos thank you internet.

But any time it looks like cool people are cool and together, everything is probably terrible for them too. Because everything is terrible and the world is terrible.


S: Because:
1. Gen fronts bands and is therefore near immune to criticism
2. Music culture lifts up shittastic abusive behavior as does most popular culture.
3. Gen is a whiny baby narcissist who wanted the spotlight while the other members were more interested in the art.
4. Narcissists and abusers often make themselves out to be victims and make people care for them while they abuse.

A: Also Gen is merely a minor cult icon, so information is scarcer than it might be for, like, Christian Bale or Johnny Depp and other celebrated famous men who hit women for fun. Without giving too much away for anyone who hasn't read it yet, Cosey describes violent, manipulative, and generally despicable behavior from Gen, including the use of self-harm/suicide threats as manipulation, cat throwing, and at least two events Strig and I recognize as attempted murder. I can't say that any of it really surprised me once I read it, but JEEZUS FUCK.

S: Her story shows how people in abusive relationships are often forced to choose between abuse and dissolution of everything in their life. Basically she had to choose between leaving Gen and losing all the art shit with COUM, TG, etc., or staying there and getting to be present with that stuff.

A: As she responds to Jezebel, "What was I supposed to do, give everything up? [...] It was an extremely complicated situation and I was out there on my own. I had no family or anything. That relationship was my family, so I protected it."

No reason to believe Gen will ever change. Gen slapped Cosey & Chris with a frivolous lawsuit in 2013. And in 2006 Gen was publicly taking credit for all of Cosey's modeling and tampons!

S: Oh yes, the lawsuits! And the tampons. Seriously. SERIOUSLY TAMPONS. Gen believed they owned Cosey's body so much that Gen literally owned the cotton used to mop up menstrual blood. Are you fucking kidding me?

A: The whole thing is nauseating. The financial stuff especially infuriates me. Cosey, Chris, and Sleazy were POURING out their time, energy, and money from their own pockets to make the TG reunion work, and Gen could barely be arsed to show up. When Gen DID show up, it would be with a demand for extra special payments, clauses counter to everything the group had previously agreed to, it was just endless.

S: And here's where I get angry at the other men. Sleazy and Chris and all other men- I knew you were all also under Gen's grip and manipulation, but when you see someone doing this to a woman over a period of years, how could you stand by and do nothing? I mean, at least Chris talked to Cosey and stuck up for her a little bit. But overall, they didn't do enough. That's normal, though. No one ever does enough.

A: Yup! Abysmal that that's just what you get for building your life around men.

S: I wish she said what heart condition it was! I want us to be heart electric abnormality friends. That doesn't sound very fun actually.

A: You mentioned you saw people on the internet talking about her book? And they're all mad that she's "grudging" and "trashing" Gen?

S: On goodreads there are some men on there upset by the book. They say it focuses too much on the abuse, or is "one-sided," or is "grudge" bearing, or didn't focusing on the technical aspects enough. I guess these bros wanted her to be like, "everything was good and nice! Then we plugged this synth into this thing and this other thing made noise. Then we did this, and then we made noise with this. And then we did an interview here, and then we played this show."


S: And yes, there was some of that, but how fucking boring would that have been without context? I don't know if they are coming from fanboyism or if they just wanted a computer science book, but I found their comments to be annoying and showing a lack of comprehension. I am annoyed by gossip when it is only for the sake of gossip or shit talk.

A: I love gossip and shit talk. It's why I'm so attracted to the genre of memoir!

S: But Cosey is obviously not doing this to ruin Gen's life. She did this to tell the story of these art forms and her life- her actual story that includes all the artists and the obstacles they faced. One of the biggest fucking obstacles was Genesis P-Orridge.

Part of the problem with these men: Cosey is only allowed to function as a part of TG. Which is exactly what Gen wanted her as- a tool.

A: And a used tampon generator. CUZ THAT WAS ALL GEN'S IDEA.

S: Art Sex Music was Gen's idea, I am sure we will find out.

A: "But you're my battery- I feed off you," she quotes Gen as saying when she's trying to leave their relationship. Shudder.

Early into the book, it was quite obvious to me that she was trying to fairly redistribute credit and attribution for COUM and TG works wherever it was due- even for her own name. While she'd been going by Cosey, short for Gen's naming her Cosmosis, it was one of her mail art buddies who took to calling her Cosey Fanni Tutti (a reference to Mozart's 1790 comic opera Così fan tutte, which is about how you and your buddy can seduce each other's fiancees if you dress up as Albanians).

S: I thought about the name a lot and I am very glad that a mail art friend rerouted Gen’s culty name bestowal. She recounts such fun exchanges between her mail art friends, in stark contrast to Genesis’ Manson-esque re-naming.

A: Right? Like naming someone is generally an act of ownership.

Meanwhile, you and I talked about how to reconcile Gen's lived trans-ness with a long docket of bad deeds that men do, and the fact that Cosey calls Gen "he." Indeed, everyone close to Gen I've heard or read, including Lady Jaye, called Gen "he." It's probable that Gen doesn't give a fuck. The Jezebel interviewer asks Cosey about this, to which she responds, "I know some transgender people and they’re not like Gen." I giggled, cuz basically yeah. Also this whole thing makes me feel dirty for appreciating the Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye documentary when I saw it, and also for attending a Psychic TV show last fall.

S: As the Resident Trans Person on the Panel who speaks for all Trans people,* all trans people are different and come from different backgrounds. Some trans people have fluid genders- meaning that their gender changes throughout their life whereas other trans people have a more static gender identity.

Transgender people, like all people, can also be horrifically shitty despite their marginalized status. So, I do think Cosey walks a very dangerous line by claiming Genesis cannot be X gender since Genesis was/is abusive. She doesn’t directly say this but gets close. But, there also seems to be a common thread in Genesis’ “Pandrogyne” identity that opens it up to this kind of criticism.

We discuss trans people's life experiences through cisgender lenses. Often, in trying to make cis hets** and gatekeepers*** believe we are real people deserving of respect and validation, we reduce our lived experiences to shorter soundbites. Our actual experiences tend to be long ranges of nuanced events with big changes throughout that cis people don't have, even though we use their gendered narratives as our guide for validation of our genders. Gen was allowed to act that way because Gen moved through the world as a white man, facilitating, allowing, possibly motivating Gen’s abusive actions toward women. I know it is dangerous to talk about that way because Gen now moves through the world being seen as a trans feminine person. But there is no way Cosey would have been allowed to act the way Gen did in TG. That's just a fact.

A: Ha! This is the first I'm seeing of it. But yeah, this book is amazing, Cosey is amazing, read the fucking book, and don’t let its heft frighten you because it goes quickly. 
*This is a joke alluding to the reality that randos often assume a marginalized person is representative of their entire demographic.
**“Cis hets” is LGBTQ slang for “Cisgender Heterosexicals” and means people who identify with the sex and gender they were assigned at birth (for example: a woman who is not intersex who was assigned female at birth) who are straight.
***Gatekeepers are mostly medical professionals, along with some other authority figures, actuated by an interest in making trans people fit normative gender roles and parrot specific trans narratives to gain acceptance.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Youth Code

If you haven't become acquainted with Youth Code in the past 5 years, you should. Excellent radical politics. Sara Taylor's lyrics are inclusive of marginalized humans of many identities and of nonhuman animals, rather than sticking to generalized leftist themes of a lot of EBM historically fronted by men (and I love that shit, too, don't get me wrong.) Really fun aggressive sounds and vocals that definitely represent older industrial and EBM influences (as well as punk) without simply mimicking them. They have a sound and vibe that is all their own. They toured with Skinny Puppy and I missed that tour (health and other restrictions make stompy concerts difficult) but would have loved to be there.

Also, I would like to thank Ryan George for sporting the rivethead undercut after assholes like Richard Spencer made anything like it have an association with nazis again. And for the beats, of course.


I am not a fan of PETA's history of racism, misogyny, ableism, and so forth. But, I am a fan of this interview (content note: if you're a fellow human with animal cruelty trauma, this contains undercover footage. I listened instead of watching.):

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Racists and Misogynists Walk Among Us: Side-Line Magazine's Bernard Van Isacker

I'm well aware that this is one of those posts that may result in a flood of fanboys coming to attack me, like all of the trolls Daniel Graves sends over every once in a while (despite deleting the post about him long ago because I am just plum tired of fending off "tra**y bull dyke" and "fuck ni**gers" comments.) That said, a lot of this person's online behavior has been brought to my attention by several people. So, this post has to happen.

I don't know much of anything about Bernard Van Isacker other than that google says he's the Chief Editor of Side-line Magazine and the manager of the Alfa Matrix record label (I'm purposely not linking so they don't get money from clickbait) and that he posts a lot of racist, xenophobic, and misogynistic shit on the internet. That, for me, is plenty reason to call him to your attention. What happens behind the scenes matters, especially when you purposely put it out there to the public.

Alfa Matrix's facebook page, with all of it's cat pictures interspersed with pictures of women cropped for cleavage in just about the same way for every single woman, seems pretty run of the mill for an industrial page. Bernard's facebook page and twitter are full of Islamophobic, racist, xenophobic, misogynistic, and insensitivities to the atrocities of terrorism. ISIS has killed more Muslims than any other religious group of people, yet plenty of white racists are blaming Muslims for terrorism. He has a French flag overlay on his profile photo, like many white folks who think that when Western European countries are attacked, they deserve solidarity, but when other countries are attacked, often with higher death tolls, they deserve it.

It has also been reported to me that he has defended nazis, maligned black folks, and promoted the refusal of helping Syrian refugees. But, let's just focus on the screenshots that took me less than 10 minutes to obtain. I'd probably have more if I wasn't monolingual due to my lack of decent language education in the US.

The two posts of his that have been sent to me are both anti-Arab posts. One is making fun of refugees as if they are lounging around while white people go to war. The other is a video of a Palestinian woman (who Bernard the misogynist unsurprisingly refers to as a "cunt") at a vigil covering an Israeli (zionist) flag with a Palestinian flag. Earlier, he posts a video of a boy uncovering a Palestinian Flag that had been covered up by an Israeli flag. He refers to this as an anti-semitic action. Despite the fact that most folks understand that being against Israeli apartheid and the genocide of Palestinian people does not = anti-semitism, he continues these racist tropes throughout his page. He frequently associates anything Arab or Muslim people do with either terrorism or anti-semitism, regardless of if they are at all related.

The woman replacing the flag isn't the only woman Bernard slings misogynistic insults at. This is unsurprising, but still gross.

Bernard makes many posts that are Islamophobic or otherwise racist as shit. Looks like friends try to call him out on it but he never listens. I'm not sure who would want to be friends with someone who mostly posts Islamophobic racist things in the wake of tragedies and terror attacks but that's none of my business.

I'm not wasting any more time reading his tired racist profile but you get the picture. I remind you, this is me spending 10 minutes on his recent posts. He posts almost entirely racist garbage. This is who you're supporting when you support Sideline magazine and Alfa Matrix. You're also buying him multiple vacation homes.

It's unfortunate to see that there are some decent bands on that label that don't deserve association with this douchebag. Hopefully, they made the choice to be on his label without seeing his personal pages. Either way, if you're radical enough to be subscribed to this blog, you're radical enough to understand why this guy doesn't need any more support.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

My German Hasn't Been Conversational Since 2003 But I'm Pretty Sure This Is Badass (Wulfband)

I have been thinking that I have gone a little soft on you all, bringing you postpunk or dancey dark electronic music that meets my political standards, while laying off the dood-laden stompy music that many of us love and crave. Yet, what shall those of us do when we need some ridiculous, over the top, hypermasculine, rolling EBM basslines with DEUTSCHE lyrics shouted in our face till it falls off, but we don't want to listen to that Portion Control's "Amnesia"  for the 5 billionth time (yeah, I know it's not auf Deutsch, though that song does deserve it's own post, I don't have a reason why I have never given it one), enter Wulfband.

These guys are fairly new but not 2016 new. The great folx over at idieyoudie already did a piece featuring them, so I am gonna link you to that since my current knowledge of them is slim. But, in my early listening, I do have to agree with this article when it says:

Wulfband is hyper-aggressive to the point of parody, and the boneheaded lyrics yelled in German just take it over the top. Proof positive that if you take every EBM cliché and amplify it, you might end up with something that goes beyond ridiculous and transforms into the spectacular.

Though, I'd replace "boneheaded" with "FANTASTISCH," personally.

As the title of this piece indicates, I can only make out so much of the lyrics with my really schlecte(r?) Deutsch so if you notice something absolutely oppressive and jacked in this music or videos, please let us know in the comments (even if it DOES ruin my new FAVE.) I would not call this band radical in terms of politics because I don't know their politics. But, as far as I can tell currently, this is how you do (what so many defenders of shitty bands that have made it to this blog call) "artistic" and "edgy" and "it's just a joke" things with the kind of satirical skill that holds my attention (and makes me laugh- which might be more important) . Take note, nachtmarzis and combichristians, I'm lookin' at you.



And, there's even one you'd think I might not approve of, but I do, if only for the ridiculousness of the lyrics.

If I don't stop, I will post them all. So, check out their youtube for the rest.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

O. Children

As usual, I am many years late getting into newer (to me) music. And, in my older years, I continue to like more and more gothy influenced than stompy influenced music. Since we haven't posted in a bit and we like to keep the trend going of posting music that is "not oppressive and jacked," I have a big queer love affair going on with O. Children right now. Here is a 2012 interview.



Monday, June 22, 2015

Book Review: Assimilate: A Critical History of Industrial Music

S. Alexander Reed, Assimilate: A Critical History of Industrial Music, New York: Oxford University Press, 2013. A reader drew my attention to this book via facebook, about which, more later. Corvus had already heard of it. Picked it up from the library and observed from the cover that the author, S. Alexander Reed, is an academic musicologist/professor who is also responsible for ThouShaltNot. From the cover blurb, the scope of the project piqued my interest, for it notes that bands subsumed under Industrial range from Einstürzende Neubauten, Throbbing Gristle, Skinny Puppy and VNV Nation, despite the fact that they don't sonically share much in common. Thus, "The stylistic breadth and subcultural longevity of industrial music suggests that the common ground here might not be any one particular sound, but instead a network of ideologies." Whereupon I'm like, tell me more.

Indeed, there would be more Žižek before the book’s end.

Disclaimers. 1. I have rarely and not recently been the type to learn anything about the people making the music I listen to. 2. I truly regret my hideous in-text page number citations. Asterisks denote endnotes.


The book features a precious foreword from Stephen Mallinder of Cabaret Voltaire, who begins by admitting he tends to "bristle" at the term industrial. As the book progressed I would learn that many musicians associated with the genre outright reject the term, presumably because they feel too special for it. *1*

Early on the author attempts to establish the intellectual, artistic, and political backdrop for industrial music, an effort I appreciate greatly cuz I’m a history geek and I’m into context. Reed first takes us through modernist thought, his version of which presents a laminated "get out of responsibility free" card to whiteness/western hegemony and devolves into individualist quandaries, for if "no single nation or economic class was to blame for western culture's biggest troubles and identity crises," then "the central problem lay in the act of cultural programming itself, revealing the mind as a new battlefield." (7) Thx bro. Thus he sets the stage for his political discussion, about which, more later.

At every mention of theory and art movements, the author takes pains to point out that he's not arbitrarily imposing these frameworks and histories on artists, as any number of artists themselves, listed and cited, acknowledge and affirm these very lineages. "The genre itself is at least on occasion consciously engaged in literary discourse," Reed asserts. (26) And apparently Laibach and Žižek have collaborated, which, what, why >_<
The Italian Futurist art movement, dedicated to "the aesthetics of the machine," undeniably pervades the industrial aesthetic as we know it, and Reed quotes Brian Williams of Lustmord remarking in 1996, "It is appropriate to attribute the actual origin of modern sonic experimentation to the writing of the Futurist manifesto 'The Art of Noises' by Luigi Russolo." (23) The accounts of Futurist sonic experiments scarcely register as dated, for Luigi Russolo and Ugo Piatti built an ensemble of Intonarumori, hand-cranked noise machines which “hissed, cracked, and clattered for dubiously receptive audiences." A 1913 performance they gave in Rome incited a riot. *2* Poignantly, the Einstürzende Neubauten vid for Blume is set among replicas of the Intonarumori, whereupon I clutch my bosom and murmur something about continuity. *3* Speaking of continuity, presciently, "the movement's admiration of war and brutality, tied in with its peculiar Italian nationalism, led many of its adherents ultimately to Fascism." (21) About which, more later.

While Reed concedes that, "Tracing industrial music's aesthetic, ethical, and social inheritance isn't a simple case of attributing working-class grit to Northern England or nihilistic aggression to Berlin,” (121) we return to the theme hinted at by Mallinder in the foreword about the physical and economic environs of iconic early industrial music which were, fittingly, industrial, “closest to the real signs of industrialization, authoritarian control, and their negative effects.” (61) We take an instructive tour of the Rust Belt of Northern England (tho I don’t think they call it that there), Berlin, and to a lesser extent San Francisco, where we variously see decaying steel mills, bombed out buildings alongside clumsy new developments, high unemployment, squats, and, of course, drugs.

I took particular interest in the description of German youth: “Growing up in a state that mandated a social remorse for the war and the Holocaust induced both shame for the previous generation's complicit cowardice and more generally suspicion toward traditional values and aesthetics.” (85) As someone who studied German from 7th grade through college and still makes assorted forays into German proficiency maintenance, in my youth I was excited to first encounter Einstürzende Neubauten, whose singing in German was novel, even for a German band; Reed notes that German musicians singing in English has been the norm since the 1960s. (88-89) The accompanying discussion is not easily summarizable, saddles the German language with a lot of abstract baggage about tragedy and technology, and gets weirder with Reed’s list of non-German industrial bands who make use of the German language stretching from Italy to Japan. The low point is a toss up between a quote from Australian SPK's Graeme Revell *4* : "I'm shouting quite a lot in German because I like the language- it's a little fetish of mine," (90) and Reed's musicologist chart breakdown using college lit words like trochee and ictus to convince us that German is an aggressive language. Cool story, bro :-/

Page 120, Reed first acknowledges women: "The prevailing attitude hinted that women actively hindered the scene." Laibach dude says "girls are afraid of us." *5* A guy who ran a cassette shop out of a squat in Amsterdam in the early 80s says his shop attracted "pale male types. If there was a woman, she was someone's girlfriend, and they were like, 'Are you ready yet? Is this going to take long?' We considered making a special corner for them in the shop because they cost us because they were complaining." These comments were occasioned by Reed’s exploration of cassette culture, wherein the availability and affordability of cassette technology led to an explosion of interconnected DIY audio artists.

Reed uses the example of Foetus' Today I Started Slogging Again as politically appropriating pop to assert social commentary. Not a Foetus song with which I was familiar, I pulled it up on the youtube and got a kick out of Jim's opening address to his imaginary band, notably "Shut up! Shut up guitar!" (I seldom find guitar noises palatable myself). I pick up the book again and find Reed's throwaway remark about how this Foetus song, which goes on to invoke the Marquis de Sade (lyrics here), "exposes pop music's hidden prohibition against truly radical sexuality and politics." (130, emphasis mine) Marquis de Sade was an aristocratic kidnapper, rapist, murderer, and pedophile, which is why Leftist men will love him forever. *6* This marks the moment when I switch from itchy irritation to seething hatred at the author. Also the rapping on the Foetus track sounds like that time George Michael rapped about receiving public assistance.

News to me: Skinny Puppy broke ground in attracting female audiences to industrial. Reed concedes that women’s involvement in industrial music predates Skinny Puppy, but on women as creators of industrial, “they played an ultraconfrontational role that took their power from the fear they inspired in male audiences with their sexual assertiveness. To participate in early industrial music, women were expected to be formidable and ultimately inaccessible,” giving as examples Cosey Fanni Tutti’s sexually explicit performances, her work in pr0nography and stripping (recent-ish interview with her about same), also Jill Westwood and Diana Rogerson’s act Fistfuck, at whose live shows could be found “a female dominatrix ritually humiliating men, pissing on them and tying them to chairs, all to a soundtrack of extreme noise and sound collage.” (175) I couldn’t figure out what the hell Reed was getting at until I remembered this guy doesn’t know what gender/sexual power dynamics are. Put another way: women could only participate in industrial on sexual terms so men could beat their meat to the performance of women’s “sexual assertiveness.” How these performances “confronted” anything, or how sexualized presentation rendered female performers “inaccessible” (except in the sense that they prolly aren’t gonna bang men in the audience) or “formidable” in any meaningful sense remains unclear. Unless women on stage were doing or being sex, they weren’t allowed on. This largely remains true and it’s a pressure facing women in probably every musical genre, including soloists on the classical circuit- sexy violins and sexy trumpets bring you sexy Gubaidulina and sexy Bach. The women who get on stage largely know this and often go with it, and I’m not downing them for it, because this is a fucked up world we live in which leaves us few viable options for survival, let alone success. My takeaway point remains: it’s intellectually dishonest, however reassuring, to assert that power lies in being exactly what the dominant group expects and demands you to be.

Anyway, Reed produces a list of bands named after peens and quotes SPK's Graeme Revell’s admission in a 1991 interview, “I was always concerned that there was something kind of macho and therefore pathetic, about what we were doing because we couldn't quite access it to females.” (175) This has been self-awareness with Graeme thank you and good night. Indeed, it is an indication of the pathetic when men use “female” as a noun.

POLITICS. Reed provides a much-needed overview of the genre’s unclear political messaging, which issues vague excoriations and proffers no directions or suggestions for action. True, artists are on thin ice when they recommend political action, and it’s probably more true that subculture kids are like don’t fucking tell me what to do, but even artists firmly aligned with the left have found audiences confused by their messages- Ministry tracks piped into planes on bombing raids on Baghdad, Skinny Puppy tracks blasted to torture inmates at Guantanamo, VNV greeted with a Nazi salute at a 2001 show. Given an interpretive range, audiences can and will find the message they want, and industrial musicians are perhaps more likely to produce content legible from a right-wing, racist lens.

Reed's first foray into race occurs on page 147, addressing themes of “social Darwinism and fascist-derived politics” and how “Some of these acts have claimed this was all done in irony.” He quotes someone from Ramleh at length, who disavows any genuine right wing or racist affiliation, claiming their objectionable material arose in the spirit of audience-baiting, concluding, “we made an error in judgment in testing out the bounds of offensiveness.” Here and elsewhere, performers who spout right-wing, fascist, and otherwise oppressive shit, purportedly without sincerity, report getting freaked out when their fans take them literally. When your material can be perceived and enjoyed in the spirit of extant toxic political frameworks, any claims of irony are deluded.

Overall I found Reed’s discussion of fascism uninspiring, and his chapter on race similarly so. His willingness to pass value judgments vacillates throughout the book, and he frequently casts himself as “detached scholar” at inopportune times, like when it matters. The IAO reader who asked if I’d read this book asked in the same breath, “what did you think of the author's treatment of race?” specifically irritated by the opening remarks in the chapter on race where Reed declares that the whiteness of the scene is largely due to non-white people having Their Own music (206). My correspondent seethes, “of course he says this without referring to the opinions or experiences of any non-white person who may be in or attracted to the industrial scene ... the author does argue there are shit things racially in Industrial music but kind of half exonerates it/half condemns it and moves on.” My correspondent, having emigrated from a country destabilized by Western military powers (that narrows it down!), further avers that a more salient factor in the scene’s whiteness than non-white people having Their Own music can be found among “the kind of things that get fetishised in the Industrial scene,” which “are decontextualised by white people who are able to decontextualise them because of their own disassociation from their real meanings. For example the whole pseudo militaristic style, uniforms, boots, posing with guns, right down to the actual glorification of military culture ... I can tell you someone from any country that has been on the receiving end of military aggression in the past half a century is NOT going to get a kick out of that sort of thing. It’s not that we don't get it. We do get it.”

My correspondent further submits that, “this whole mindset only really makes sense if you see your audience as being EXCLUSIVELY white to begin with,” a point that Reed reaches and backs away from at every opportunity. Earlier he made the cogent observation that "Bodily pain thematically pervades this music as a suggestion that its listeners are anaesthetized, but beyond the near universal cry of ‘wake up!’ there is relatively little industrial music that directly rallies the newly awakened to action.” (135) In the context of race, Reed discerns that the exhortation to wake up is only effective on “those lulled into slumber to begin with- a condition predicated on certain privileges,” and that for people to whom such comfort is denied, “it's self-evident that the system is rigged,” (206-7) concluding that industrial “passively presumes whiteness, as evidenced by its cavalier use of caricature and exotica, both of which declare racial otherness to be a playground.” (223) *7*

Reed unleashes a parade of racist and exotifying imagery used by industrial acts and some of their questionable musical choices, guaranteed to alienate, disgust, and infuriate people from exotified and otherized cultural backgrounds. Less abysmally, he produces a list of POC involved in the making of industrial music (221), which doesn’t share tremendous overlap with Dana’s list and brings to my attention the all-Black industrial group Code Industry, circa 1990. Listening to Code Industry reinforces the technological matter that Reed raises, viz. that when a finite number of noise-making machines are commercially available, everyone using machines to make their music is going to have sonic similarities, which includes an astounding array of genres I won’t hurt myself trying to list. *8*

Despite Reed’s opening thesis of the chapter, that POC are mostly disinterested in industrial, he cites Front 242 attracting “massive audiences of African Americans” on their first US tour, attributing their appearance to the sonic similarities between Front 242 and the Black-created music these show-goers were in the habit of listening to. (218) Still later, Reed talks to someone who, in the late 80s in Detroit, organized mixed nights, techno and industrial, with techno audiences being (at least in this time and place) largely Black and industrial crowds being (as they so frequently are) mostly white. I wasn’t there- I was in a different bioregion learning not to eat my fists- but the existence of such a scene indicates possibility for harmonious (lol) coexistence and maybe even hope? Jk, there is no hope, for structural obstacles are real: "It's a very segregated city so it didn't last very long. The club owner got threatened that maybe something was going to happen [...] certain club owners, certain clubs didn't like it. They canceled a lot of nights. They didn't like the fact that black guys were walking out of the club with white women, and vice versa." (246) It’s as interesting as it is pointless to speculate about missed opportunities for racial understanding and healing, and painful to consider that interference from authority is credited with striking the fatal blow. Still, these are things that Reed himself presents, and he continues to maintain that POC disinterest keeps them out of the scene. Here’s another gem: “by the late 1980s leftist white musicians shared an understanding that however benevolent the intention, their overt critiques of racial power dynamics contributed little to what was an already exceedingly rich discourse [...] and in fact many felt that by speaking they risked silencing other voices in this dialogue.” (222) Many, eh? Citation please?

Similarly to how he dealt with race, Reed left a trail of crumbs and throwaway remarks indicating that gay shit has historically been more important to the industrial scene than he’s willing to textually give it credit for. Instead of grumping at Reed some more, I would like to elevate Natalie Reed’s exquisitely validating and resonant essay, Homophobia, White-Supremacism, and “Disco Sucks!” which addresses the perceived (and real!) gayness and racial politics of electronic dance music.

Winding toward his conclusion, Reed struggles to articulate a purpose for his work beyond chronicling and analysis (which are worthy goals in and of themselves, but try telling a thesis adviser or a publisher that). Is industrial dead? People have been saying yes since the early 80s. What became of the subversive politics? “Industrial music has come to signify transgression instead of actually transgressing.” (307) No disagreement here, as that’s basically a fancier wording of this blog’s purpose. Re: clubs, "it's hard to ponder a confrontational ideology when you're dancing and drunk" (244). Cf. how I left the scene when I developed a political consciousness and exiled myself among punks whose music I loathe, but who in many cases were introduced to liberatory modes of thought through it. Reed aptly submits, “it's laughable to suppose that a band from the modern industrial scene could ignite the kind of public fury that Throbbing Gristle or Laibach once did, or that critics from across culture would lionize them as they had Einstürzende Neubauten, or that they might outsell Nine Inch Nails' The Downward Spiral. ... one is compelled to ask if the legacy of industrial music's past is all it can offer to the future.” (305) Reed says he offers a reinvigoration rather than a eulogy, offering suggestions about how industrial can move forward, which, whatever.


There is much of value in this book in terms of tracing the social, historical and theoretical backdrops of this scene and its artists that I seem to insist on giving a fuck about. I found Reed’s overview of art history instructive, I appreciate the lineage he traced between industrial and the weird 20th century concert music I’ve been known to enjoy, and he told me things about bands I’ve been listening to for ages without knowing shit about them, as well as clueing me in on some figures and moments in industrial with which I was previously unfamiliar. I was amped to see his coverage of the 2012 Jairus Khan PSA, (204) which appropriately cites I Die:You Die. *9* I like his use of zines as sources and, because the bar is so low, I appreciate that he even broached the subjects of race and gender. I’m glad this book exists.

DISLIKES: I don’t like Reed’s assumptions (so many! So dumb!) and I don’t like his taste in social theorists. Considering the subtle oblivion which couches them, I’m suspicious of the smart things he says, because he probably heard someone else say them and isn’t giving them credit for it. He seems quite pleased with himself for broaching the topics of gender and race, however unsatisfactorily to people for whom these topics are of more than academic interest. Dude uses the term heteronormativity (7), a big word for the guy whose acknowledgments "owe special thanks to my wife [...] whose love, patience, proofreading, academic camaraderie, and smart conversation make writing, thinking, and music better every day." Thx bro. In the spirit of Adrienne Rich’s politics of location he writes, "It's doubtless that the authorial biases of leftism, of having grown up in the United States, and of having come to love industrial music early in the 1990s have indubitably colored perceptions of what's historically important.” (13) That's all he has to say on his biases. Not his manliness, not his whiteness, not his, ahem, heteronormativity, and certainly not his institutional support to pursue this project.

*1* I'm not sympathetic to people who "don't like labels."
*2* book says riots at their debut performance in April 1914, wikipedia says riots at their 2nd performance in March 1913. I believe wikipedia, which has a precious page I've consulted on other occasions for classical/western concert music riots.
*3* "Tradition cannot be contrived or learned. In its absence one has, at the best, not history but progress– the mechanical movement of a clock hand, not the sacred succession of interlinked events." -Osip Mandelstam. Got this quote from the memoirs of Japanese American ballet dancer Sono Osato, b. 1919.
*4* Reed misspells Graeme Revell’s name as Graham throughout the book, including in the index.
*5* I am aware of a lady folk punk band having covered Laibach's Whistleblowers.
*6* cf. Andrea Dworkin's Pornography: Men Possessing Women, which has a whole frickin chapter on the life and deeds of the Marquis and the Leftist men who love his raping aristocratic ways.
*7* I first heard this point advanced by punks of color here a few years ago, who also have to deal with oblivious white jerks in a white-dominated scene. In response to white punk performers’ defense of oppressive crap as being edgy or shocking, the punks of color hit back basically with, “how sheltered do you have to be from the real atrocities happening everywhere around you to feel the need to do shit for shock value?” The poor dears are now navigating someone’s recent bullshit blackface performance :-/
*8* I wish I still had access to academic databases, cuz this article Reed cites by Robert Fink sounds delectable: The Story of Orch5, or, the Classical Ghost in the Hip-Hop Machine.
*9* ID:UD has interviewed Reed about this book, but with audio, for which I lack the requisite technology and time.