A new documentary investigating the origins of industrial music gets its premiere in the UK tonight.
Industrial Soundtrack for the Urban Decay traces the development of one of music’s most quietly influential genres from the post-industrial cities of Europe to America’s avant-garde scene, and features contributions from members of pioneering outfits like Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire, Clock DVA and Test Dept, among many more.
Directors Amélie Ravalec (Paris/Berlin: 20 Years Of Underground Techno) and Travis Collins will be DJing and taking part in a Q&A at the film’s world premiere at London’s BFI Southbank tonight (May 8) accompanied by TG’s Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti and DJs from Test Dept. After that the film will embark on a screening tour in cities across Europe and North America before settling in for a season at the ICA in London.
Ahead of tonight’s big event we asked Ravalec a few questions of our own about her latest feature – read on below while listening to a brand new mix by Cabaret Voltaire’s Stephen Mallinder.
Why did you want to make a film about industrial music?
I had the idea of doing an industrial music doc for a few years. I thought this genre and artists deserved to be documented on film and I was rather surprised that no one did a full documentary on the subject before, so I thought I would do it myself. I was busy with my first film, Paris/Berlin: 20 Years Of Underground Techno, but a few months after releasing it I was eager to get started on a new project, so I started shooting. I collaborated with Travis Collins, who’s a journalist, and we spent the last two and a half years working on Industrial Soundtrack For The Urban Decay. We had literally no budget and did everything ourselves, from shooting to editing, post-production, distributing and marketing and it’s a very big job.
What’s your own relationship with industrial?
I discovered industrial music through techno. I was into the harder, more industrial side of techno with artists like Adam X, Ancient Methods or Regis, who were mixing industrial with techno. The first industrial track I really enjoyed was Throbbing Gristle, ‘Convincing People’. I also started listening to other artists like Cabaret Voltaire and Coil and started buying a lot of old secondhand records. Industrial music really appealed to me as a melting pot of influences, such as writers Burroughs and Ballard, and art movements like Dada, Surrealism and Futurism.
What do you think was going on in 1970s society that contributed to the emergence of industrial music?
The late 1970s and early 1980s were a bleak period politically in the UK. Thatcher and her government forced the closure of many mines and factories, leading to mass unemployment for the working class. Surprisingly, this had somewhat of a positive effect, allowing young people the time to focus on creative activities, and was a catalyst for starting bands and the birth of industrial music.
A similar situation was happening in industrial cities around the world and many artists actually started doing similar music without being aware of one another. Some of the first industrial musicians met through mail art, letters and mixtape exchanges. V.Vale helped categorize the genre a few years later, publishing the Industrial Culture Handbook in 1981 which featured many of the industrial music pioneers like Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire, NON, Z’EV, Sordide Sentimental, Clock DVA, all of which are featured in our film.
What do you think the legacy of industrial has been?
Industrial music is finally getting the credit it deserves. Many magazines like FACT, Rolling Stone and Mojo have put industrial music albums into their top albums of all time. Industrial music is also a very collected and sought-after genre, with records often making Discogs’ most expensive items sold for the month.
Industrial music also spawned many sub-genres, like rhythmic noise, dark ambient, martial industrial, neo-folk, EBM, industrial techno, etc. Artists from underground scenes to pop music claim its influence, and early industrial bands are still inspiring people 40 years later. A good example of that is Graeme Revell of SPK, who started as an industrial band in the 1970s and went on to compose over 100 soundtracks for major Hollywood films including Sin City, Blow, Spawn and The Crow.