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Industrial Strength

The short-lived union of film and a hardcore electronic music genre

Made for Les Films du Garage, Industrial Soundtrack for the Urban Decay is the first documentary to trace the origins of industrial music, beginning in the late Seventies with the formation of the British band Throbbing Gristle and their umbrella label, Industrial Records. Co-directors Amélie Ravalec and Travis Collins produced, shot, edited, and distributed the documentary on their own and, as such, the production credits that tail Industrial Soundtrack list only a handful of names, while the licensing information for the music and video clips scroll on for several minutes.

For such a small-scale production, Industrial Soundtrack boasts an impressive roster of interview subjects, but Ravalec and Collins do their film a service by keeping it concise and not digressing too far beyond the genre’s first wave. Inspired by avant-garde art and literature, mail art, and literary cut-ups, the early industrial groups produced music that was abrasive and confrontational, characterized by a distinctly metallic percussion that in the following decade would evolve into a pulsing, danceable beat.

Coinciding with the rise of the genre, there was an extended moment during the first half of the Eighties when industrial music briefly gelled with the underground film scene in Europe, creating an obscure mini-wave that merits a quick survey, beginning with Throbbing Gristle’s soundtrack for Derek Jarman’s In the Shadow of the Sun (81), a fruitless early attempt. Described by band member and industrial pioneer Genesis P-Orridge as an experiment with formlessness, the disappointingly ambient soundtrack is drowsy, meandering, and lacking the group’s trademark aggression.

Industrial Soundtrack for the Urban Decay

Composed and recorded in traditional form, Cabaret Voltaire’s soundtrack for Peter Care’s short neo-noir Johnny Yesno (82) was a more stimulating effort, highlighted by the inventively percussive track “Taxi Music.” No odder than a routine Danny Elfman score, Johnny Yesno’s music was still innovative for its time; a dark and idiosyncratic example of Cabaret Voltaire’s particular brand of industrial dance.

Following Trance (aka Der Fan) in 1982, The Gold of Love (Das Gold der Liebe, 83), stands out as the middle entry in director Eckhart Schmidt’s underappreciated trilogy of West German avant-horror. It also showcases the band D.A.F. (Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft) at their most abrasive in a series of concert scenes that are chopped up and fragmented throughout the film, alternating with disorienting chase sequences and hallucinatory gore. Like Trance, which starred the charismatic frontman of the new-wave band Rheingold, The Gold of Love casts its musicians in an ominous light: D.A.F. are unforgettable here in their roles as ghastly, quasi-demonic svengalis.

In Klaus Maeck’s Decoder (84), FM Einheit of the band Einstürzende Neubauten stars as an anti-Muzak crusader intent on effecting political change with a modified cassette tape swiped from his local burger joint. Featuring cameos by William S. Burroughs, Genesis P-Orridge, and the poster child of heroin chic, Christiane F., Decoder embodies many of the unspoken principles of industrial music, from the anti-establishment ethic to urban disillusionment and politically motivated noise.

Industrial Soundtrack for the Urban Decay

Sogo Ishii’s Halber Mensch (Half Man, 86), titled after Einstürzende Neubauten’s third album, is a fantastically nightmarish portrait of the Decoder star’s band on tour in Japan. The film oscillates expertly between spontaneous performance art and bizarre music videos that incorporate the band members into disturbing tableaux of rotting animal carcasses, piles of worms, and menacing Butoh dancers.

Rounding out this cursory list from his outpost in Tokyo, Sogo Ishii’s heir apparent Shinya Tsukamoto took his precursor’s fascination with the industrial “half man” a revolting step further with the seminal cyberpunk film Tetsuo: The Iron Man (89). Nonstop body horror tempers the fun of Chu Ishikawa’s propulsive score in this gut-wrenching fever dream, drawn out on screen as the graphic fusion of man with metal.