Why an industrial compilation, assembled and co-produced by Alternative Press magazine head Mike Shea and editor Jason Pettigrew? Well, why not? The magazine devoted a lot of head and page space to the genre long before and long after Rolling Stone was publishing cheeky nine inch nails reviews with up-to-the-minute reports on the music’s dangerous flirtation with self-parody. In fact, 1995 is where the timeline on this studious narrative ends – with nine inch nails’ "Gave Up." But since it’s 1999, Industrial Strength Machine Music picks a relatively quiet time in the mainstream (Haven’t heard Trent Reznor on the radio lately, have you?) to contemplate the origins of rock’s strange cousin – the Radio Shack geek who threw a power drill in the FM family picnic with self-consumed audio terror and clanking Joy Division covers.
The industrial story begins with Throbbing Gristle’s "Hamburger Lady" poised to smack a listener in the skull with an ambivalent, gruesome drone created by obscure legend (circa 1975) Genesis P-Orridge. Bloody hell, you know you’ve heard that name somewhere before. If only you could put your finger on it.
Well, let AP do the work for you – from the disco clatter of "Kooler Than Jesus (Electric Messiah Mix)" by My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult to lofty references to the Italian Futurists and John Cage found in the liner notes. A quick, ear-blistering education in industrial music must be the objective behind lining up Cabaret Voltaire’s "Nag Nag Nag," Einsturzende Neubauten’s "Yu Gung (Futter Mein Ego)" and "Anything (Viva)" by Jim Thirlwell in one of his many macabre manifestations, Scraping Foetus off the Wheel. Making noise out of music and music out of noise have fused to become one, just as experiencing terror and evoking it are indistinguishable in Ministry’s "Stigmata" and the aforementioned "Anything (Viva)," which confesses to yet another paradoxical and self-indulgent industrial conundrum. That is, industrial artists want to share their isolation with a one-way transmission. Thirlwell confesses to that selfish desire when he growls, "It takes two to tangle, but one to come."
It’s that sort of interesting and profoundly romantic brand of nihilism that keeps industrial music alive, albeit by artificial life-support – that machine metaphor that eats the human flesh and soul with steel jaws of absolute anxiety and longing. On the flip side of all this angst and hoopla is the temptation of dismissing the whole genre as some unfortunate genetic accident in rock – a bizarre mutant whose artistic expressions are as ordered and meaningful as a power surge at ABC Warehouse. And countering that cynicism with a closer look at the music is where AP’s documentary effort has done industrial music a far greater service than Filter or Orgy ever will.