Industrial Principles
by Jon Savage

Reprinted with permission from the introduction to RE/Search #6/7: Industrial Culture Handbook

The presentation of this article as part of the Epsilon web site is intended to be taken in conjunction with Peter Werner's Ambient Industrial article and permission for its reproduction was granted in that context only. If you wish to reproduce this article, you must contact V/Search Publications.

Quite apart from the impact on mainstream popular music, "New Musick" had opened Pandora's box. Out flew all manner of ideas and mutations. In England, in 1978, these were best exemplified by Throbbing Gristle in London, and Cabaret Voltaire in Sheffield who were also benefiting from punk's protracted regionalism. These two, in particular, used the space offered to them to develop the ideas which I, in my purism, would prefer to call, for the sake of argument, "industrial." These included:

1 ) ORGANIZATIONAL AUTONOMY The choice to record for their own, or independent labels was partly enforced, but mainly voluntary. It was felt that the major record companies were both tainted and unnecessary. This period saw the rise of the independent network to its peak of 1980: some independent labels like Mute and Some Bizarre--who both touch on "industrial" ideas--are still having a commercial success thought impossible six years ago.

2) ACCESS TO INFORMATION. At this time, the phrase "Information War"--meaning that the struggle for control was now not territorial but communicatory--came into currency. With the limited access then available, Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire extended as far as was possible Burroughs' precepts about control into the popular media-- the former in particular, as disseminators of information and propagandists par excellence. For example, their Industrial News [a periodical] would contain all manner of details about control techniques among more conventional information and listings. The French magazine Sordide Sentimental produced packages which, in a happy marriage of form and content, contained outstanding examples of "industrial" and affiliated music--like Joy Division's "Dead Souls"--allied with detailed and illumillatory philosophical and spiritual treatises, often written by Jean-Pierre Turmel or Yves von Bontee. In this way, music was the key to a level of information and discussion which had not previously existed in this arena. Taboos were being openly examined: control, in a small sphere, challenged.

3) USE OF SYNTHESIZERS AND ANTI-MUSIC. This is self-explanatory. Although music was the means to an end, rather than the end in itself, there was still the necessity of matching form to format. In this, Throbbing Gristle's Second Annual Report (1977) with its reliance on synthesizers and non-musical sounds, was prototypical. Punk's predilection for amplified noise--as well as works like "Loop" or "Sister Ray"--was refined into a new approach to "music." This development was taken (and is still being taken) to its fullest extent by the profoundly disturbing and haunting work of certain "industrial" artists, whose occasional records provide perhaps the true soundtrack to the final quarter of the twentieth century.

4) EXTRA-MUSICAL ELEMENTS. Much of this comes under "Access To Information," but there is more besides. Introduction of literary elements in a thorough--as opposed to typical pop dilettantism--manner: the full debt was made clear only long after "Industrial" had passed, in the Final Academy held in London in October, 1982. Another element was the use of films and videos, simultaneous to musical performance: this last is perhaps the most relevant, as television becomes a far more powerful agent of control than popular music. Both Cabaret Voltaire and Psychic TV, to name a couple, are producing their own television, and will concentrate upon this area more and more.

5) SHOCK TACTICS. A time honored technique to make sure what you have to say gets noticed. Lost in press reaction to TG and CV's more superficial aspects (and in audience reaction also, as on separate dates I saw both forced to stop a performance because of audience violence against them: true Performance Art Success!) was the industrial precept-- carried out most faithfully by the Industrial label-- of self-determination and self-control . . . to name but a few.

You will, by now, have noticed that the situation has changed. As with punk rock, many of "industrial's" preoccu- pations have been shown to be fact: as often, these days, art cannot compete with "life." Many of the strands first isolated five or six years ago have been fully unraveled, to the extent where the term "industrial" is now obsolete and useless. except as an example. YOU will hear cut-ups played freely on the radio, in popular "scratch" and "rap" music; you will hear groups with synthesizers at the top of the American charts. The apocalyptic feelings of 1977 and 1978 have burned out: what has replaced them is a grimmer determination to translate that desperation into positive action, in our slide to the depths of decline. The context has shifted: pop is no longer important: temporarily, television is. It is there that the next round in the Information War is being fought.

--Jon Savage, London 1983

Further references:

A Prehistory of Industrial Music Brian Duguid (ESTWeb, 1995)

Re/Search #4/5: William Burroughs / Throbbing Gristle / Brion Gysin V. Vale and A. Juno (eds.) (Re/Search, 1982).

Re/Search #6/7: Industrial Culture Handbook V. Vale and A. Juno (eds.) (Re/Search 1983).

Tape Delay Charles Neal (SAF, 1987).