"Alone, even doing nothing, you do not waste your time. You do, almost always, in company. No encounter with yourself can be altogether sterile: Something necessarily emerges, even if only the hope of some day meeting yourself again." (E.M. Cioran)

Friday, July 06, 2012

Electro-Industrial Dreaming

Winter procrastinating. The short days and long, cold nights are very conducive to this. Sydney is known as a warm place, but this winter has a kick that I am constantly cocooning myself against. Layers of clothing and even sleet-like rain at times, but it would never snow here, of course.
Procrastination has me wandering in my mind back to late 1970s/early '80s New Zealand days - a time when everything seemed possible and open. It had become ok to be "not normal" (and no one would've then anticipated how ultra-conservative life would be 30 years later!). Punk was pretty much the pop-cultural reference point, but - to me, at least - the really interesting stuff, most particularly in music, was happening (as per usual) somewhere else - in a less commercial (underground) realm. You had to look for it. Interestingly, much of the music that grabbed my attention around this time still sends tingles up and down my spine today. I'm thinking of electronic acts such as Thomas Leer and Robert Rental, The Normal (I've previously posted 'YouTubes' of at least one of these bands' tracks), early Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire, that all had a sparsely melancholic, so-called 'industrial' quality to them. The music conjured (and still does!) stark images of bleakness - industrial wastelands, urban decay and social isolation and the sound was dark and gritty, clattery and rhythmic, repetitive and hypnotic, sometimes atonal, sometimes kind of ambient and always beautiful to me. Vocals were most often bored-sounding and tended to be more spoken than sung.
Moving ahead to the late '80s, when house music and techno had established themselves as the Zeitgeist, an interesting fusion was taking place, which I think of as the start of electro as we now know it. Rap music (following in the footsteps of groups such as The Sugarhill Gang and Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five) - in what seemed like a most natural progression - started to incorporate this 'industrial' sound. Producers such as Dr Dre, Egyptian Lover etc were sampling rhythms from Kraftwerk and rapping about street violence, urban crime and/or boasting about sexual prowess. What I loved about the sound of these guys was the rawness - the fact that it was a cut-up music made of samples skilfully manipulated on record turntables, which in itself reflected an earlier aesthetic of the post-punk late '70s/early '80s industrial sound - the cut-up techniques developed by artist Brion Gysin and writer William S. Burroughs. The music was made by black artists, but it wasn't your typically smooth R&B. It was edgy and minimal and it rocked!
I still love electro - certainly not all, but I love the minimal stuff that continues to display these basic aesthetics. Here's a full track from my most recent record purchase - on sexy all-blue vinyl - by Ekman.