Music Education

Industrial 101

I’ve had a long term suspicion that many people are interested in noise and industrial music but intimidated by where to start. “Heavy” music has a kind of adolescent fascination to it, with everyone racing to find the most brutal and unforgiving music so they can say they like it. I’m not above this, adrenaline seeking is an excellent pastime, but I expect many people get turned off from these styles by the machismo of that culture, which is a shame because there’s some nuanced and even beautiful music underneath.

However, there isn’t a lot of easily accessible information on how to get into industrial and noise music. The best I could find when I went through my noise phase was this Pitchfork article. While it does a good job of highlighting industrial’s roots in the queer community and addressing some of the style’s faults, it does little to give you an entry point, as it puts some of the heaviest albums available next to party music, with little guidance as to where to start. There is another guide published a few months ago, but I think it’s a little rigid in its definition of noise and lacks diversity, so I’m making my own.

I’m going to give you a number of different paths into industrial music that suit a wide variety of tastes. Look for the one that meets your listening habits best and give these albums a try. Start with the first bullet point and work your way down each list, as they’re sorted by accessibility.

The Standard Route

Good for someone with a background in electronic music and a decent stomach for abrasive music. Contains the most classic releases by the so called “3 Old Gods” of industrial and a few of their immediate contemporaries. This was my intro and it’s what you’ll get from the Pitchfork and most other articles

  1. Coil – Horse Rotavator: Often considered the starter album for industrial music. It’s just edgy enough to be interesting but still restrained.
  2. Throbbing Gristle – 30 Jazz Funk Greats: This ironically named album is the greatest album by the first industrial band. All four members would form other bands in the 80s (Including Coil, which was a collaboration between “Sleazy” and his husband) so they’re a good touchstone.
  3. Cabaret Voltaire – Red Mecca: This is the second of the old gods, who started out as a post-punk band. They’re the worst of the original three, but this album is still a classic.
  4. Einsturzende Neubauten – Halber Mensch: This is the final old god, and the most abrasive. It’s LOUD.
  5. Nurse With Wound – (Whatever you can find on streaming): A less prominent group, but this husband and wife team are true originals and were the first to blend industrial and ambient.

The Alt-rock Route

Industrial purists will hate me for calling this music industrial, it’s industrial rock, which is its own thing, but many rock fans have gotten into classic industrial this way. These are by far the most famous “Industrial” artists, but make sure you check out the classic list as well.

  1. Scraping Foetus off the Wheel – Nail: Despite the ridiculous name, this is actually one of the most accessible industrial bands. There’s a lot going on, it’s every genre at once, and perversely fun.
  2. Nine Inch Nails – The Downward Spiral: Probably the most famous industrial record ever. It can feel a little dated at times but it’s an essential for industrial rock.
  3. Ministry – The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste: Ministry is a metal band, and if I knew enough about metal I’d give the genre its own list, but Ministry is good even for non-metalheads.
  4. Skinny Puppy – Too Dark Park: This band straddles the line between classic industrial and 90s industrial rock. Be warned that their music was used as a torture method by the U.S. government before a cease and desist lawsuit, so it’s a little rough.
  5. Killing Joke – Killing Joke: You can hear this band’s influence in a lot of genres. I wouldn’t call it good per se, but it’s an excellent gateway into a variety of experimental genres, it’s a good capstone for the rock track.

The Dance Route

These are some of the most fun and NSFW bands on earth, won’t give you a bridge into the harder stuff, but still slaps

  1. My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult – Hit and Run Holiday: This album is styled after B-movie surfer flicks from the 60s, and it is every bit as campy as those films.
  2. KMFDM – Naive: It’s club music with a dark edge that still manages to keep the vibe up. No one knows what the acronym stands for but my theory was always “Kill myself for dance music.”
  3. Lords of Acid – Voodoo U: This album has a song from the perspective of a pubic louse, that is all.
  4. Revolting Cocks – Beers Steers and Queers: This album is a little heavier than some of the earlier entries on this list, courtesy of Ministry frontman Al Jorgensen.
  5. Front 242 – Front by Front: Continental Europe brought us “EBM,” or electronic body music, in the mid-80s. This isn’t really dance music featuring noise so much as it is noise that makes you want to dance for some inexplicable reason.

The Contemporary Route

Many bands are playing around with industrial sounds these days. If you want more modern bands, give this a try

  1. 100 gecs – 1,000 gecs: It may sound a little silly but hyperpop owes industrial music a lot in terms of making abrasion fun. A good starting place if you haven’t heard it already.
  2. Special Interest – The Passion Of: While still accessible, Special Interest are a bit harder than the gecs. The rock backing will make them a little more palatable.
  3. Black Dresses – Peaceful as Hell: This is one of the most innovative noise albums in recent memory. It’s undeniably melodic but punishing at the same time.
  4. Lingua Ignota – Caligula: This is one of my favorite albums ever. It is breathtakingly beautiful but heart-wrenchingly emotional. CW for abusive relationships and eating disorders, but honestly if you have been there this is a truly cathartic experience.
  5. Pharmekon- Abandon: This is a more avant-garde piece, but it’s still technically contemporary. It abandons song structure like a lot of noise music, but if you have some patience it’s rewarding.

Baptism By Fire

This is the route I took a friend of mine through. She’s almost forgiven me for “ruining her music taste forever,” so if you’re looking to just jump right into the scary stuff here you go.

  1. Uboa – Origin of My Depression: this 2019 album makes me feel like I’m drowning every time I listen to it. It’s not that well constructed in terms of songs or lyrics but the noise is the most utterly brutal Power Electronics I’ve ever heard.
  2. Merzbow – Pulse Demon: Merzbow is the patron saint of the “Japanoise” subgenre. He’s published hundreds of albums over the years, and is generally considered the final destination for anyone going through a noise music phase.
  3. Deathpile – GR: Often considered the best Power Electronics album, this is a character study of the Green River serial killer. It avoids the cheap capitalization, instead forcing you to empathize with the vulnerable women he prayed upon, and consider the horrors of violent misogyny on a level beyond what you’ll get in the standard true crime podcast.
  4. Prurient – Pleasure Grounds: This album is about as abrasive as noise can be. It’s so deeply unpleasant to listen to that the silence after you listen feels unnatural. If you can get through the first song on this (Which is literally just a ringing sound modulated for 10 minutes) and still want more I’m deeply worried for your mental health.
  5. Gnaw their Tongues- Genocidal Majesty; No caption needed.

By Delusional Melodrama

Former Dj and long-time contributor to the WKNC blog. Specializes in all music that sounds like a lawnmower swallowing a rock.