As Spring tries very hard ( but not hard enough ) to arrive, some boys are said to turn their fancy to love. Well in Chicago on Memorial Day weekends, there's very little emphasis on "boys" or "turning" anything "fancy." IML/Memorial Day weekend is primal and manly, and as someone who's DJed the main room for our beloved Leather weekend, I'll tell you, it's the biggest time of year to refer back to the industrial music of old. Maybe it's the poppers, or all the sexy Germans in town, but industrial music sees a renaissance every IML. If you're hosting your own get-together this weekend, or just want to chat with Klaus about culture but are too young to be down with the '80s musical movement, here's a quick beginner's guide to the genre.
While the roots of Industrial started in the '70s with Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire, for me it all starts with Einstürzende Neubauten. The German band was literally industrial as many of their instruments were tools and machinery, often played to sound like construction work. It's not as daunting and pretentious as it sounds, and is often quite fascinating and sexy, but usually won't fill a dance floor.
By the mid-80s the majority of the gay club community started embracing the genre on the dance floors as influences from New Order and Kraftwerk filtered into the scene. Chicago's own Ministry started out as a very frothy ( and enjoyable ) synth outfit on Arista before turning the tables toward the industrial metal sound with subsequent releases.
In the gay clubs, Front 242 had two huge hits on Chicago's Wax Trax with the very aggressive "Headhunter" and the religiously provocative "Welcome To Paradise," which filled the floors every time. British act Nitzer Ebb for the first few albums also fell into the gay club vibe with "Control I'm Here" and "Join In the Chant," the latter even a hit remake by drag superstar Kevin Aviance.
Then there was the campy side of industrial. While still sexy and aggressive at times, bands like My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult, KMFDM, and Lords of Acid never took themselves as seriously as the previously mentioned acts, often ratcheting up the religious iconography, sexual exploitation and drug references to the max, almost to the point of John Waters' proportions. Even Waters' ingénue Divine had a single on the Wax Trax label.
Industrial eventually did what EDM is doing now and got more and more greedy and major-label-oriented, veering away from the gay underground and into Lollapalooza with Nine Inch Nails having top 10 hit albums and Nitzer Ebb signing with David Geffen, leading eventually to its demise and back to the underground. Now industrial is a shadow of its former self and newer acts blend with old retro stars sitting on the same shelf with metal and goth: an underground, but passé sub-genre waiting and hoping for a breath of life. Until then, '80s industrial still sounds as fresh and groundbreaking as it was thenthe sign of a truly great moment in music history.