An Attempt to Explain
Just about all Industrial music has relied upon some kind on some kind of electronic instrumentation somewhere in the creative process. However, it has also, from time to time, relied on guitars, drums, bass, various orchestral instruments, old washing machines, angle-grinders and a number of custom-made devices.
There’s therefore a distinct (though not as distinct as some) subgenre of Industrial which is primarily (or entirely) based around synths, drums machines, effects, wave generators and various other things which only make noises if you plug them in.
As a definition-of-convenience, no official origin of the style exists, but I think I can safely say that it all starts with Skinny Puppy – a Canadian collective that started out as an approximate equal-parts hybrid of Kraftwerk’s machine music and the dysfunctional creativity of the early industrial experimentalists.
They might have made themselves sound and look pretty scary, but at the heart of the project was two guys named Kevin and (for most of their existence) one called Dwayne.
And there’s no shortage of bands practising the style. Numb (another Canadian project), X Marks The Pedwalk, Plastic Noise Experience (Germany), Leæther Strip (Denmark) and Mentallo and the Fixer (USA) were just some of the many projects that appeared in the latter half of the 1980s.
One of the most noted of these projects was actually a Skinny Puppy offshoot. Bill Leeb formed Front Line Assembly shortly after leaving Skinny Puppy, producing a variant of the style that drew more heavily from Techno and Electronic Body Music, whilst not exactly hiding the fact that it was Puppy spawn.
The genre was now firmly targeted at the dancefloor. Hybrids with Electronic Body Music were exceptionally common – bands such as Funker Vogt, Lights Of Euphoria (Germany), Suicide Commando (Belgium), Project-X (Sweden), Aghast View (Brazil) and Hocico (Mexico) would all emerge during the mid-to-late 90s and early 00s.
The variant of the sound practised by Hocico and Suicide Commando, featuring horror-movie synths, pounding 4-beats and heavily distorted vocals would become exceptionally popular and much copied, especially when Combichrist arrived on the scene in the mid 00s. This variant hasn’t actually got an official name anyone can agree on, but we've summed it up under ‘Aggrotech‘.
Throughout the 1990s, the number of Electro-Industrial bands grew further, and so did it’s variants. The reclusive German musician Rudy Ratizinger began his :Wumpscut: project, his own variation on the genre that earned itself it’s own cult following, despite (or maybe because of) his complete lack of any live action. Other German projects like In Strict Confidence and Project Pitchfork straddled this genre with more Gothic styles, providing the ill-defined ‘Darkwave‘ genre with it’s more Industrially-influenced variant.
Germany provided us with another variant of the style in the form of YelworC. A few other bands (Trial, Tri-State, Seven Trees) practised this variant, which is sometimes referred to as ‘Dark Electro’, but a few minutes Googling reveals that it’s often taken as a synonym for the entire genre.
The Klinik (Belgium) developed a cold, minimal take on the genre, a sound Dirk Ivens would develop further following his departure from the project, under the guise of ‘Dive’. The heavily distorted rhythms dominated the sound of the project, sometimes to the exclusion of everything else. This, combined with the grating sonic experiments of long-running Spanish project Esplendor Geométrico, would give rise to power noise. Power noise would eventually scurry off to become an especially elitist sub-genre of it’s own, though there are some acts (Xotox, SAM, KiEw and even the first Combichrist album) remained accessible enough to have appeal elsewhere in the scene.
Some Electro-Industrial groups still saw use for their guitars, though these were often treated with similar effects to the bands synths and thus not-being-able-to-tell-if-its-a-guitar-or-a-synth became something of a feature of the style. Some of these recordings (such as Ministry’s ‘The Land Of Rape And Honey) would form one of the strands that gave rise to Industrial metal.
At the styles peak, even scene innovators Skinny Puppy (on the ‘Rabies’ album) and Front Line Assembly (on the ‘Millenium’ album) were making prominent use of guitars, though this was scaled back in subsequent years. The outcomes of this stylistic hybrid can be neatly grouped under the ‘Coldwave‘ genre. (The American one. Not the French one).
So What’s ‘Dark Electro’ Then?
This is either an synonym for Electro-Industrial music and all it’s offshoots, or it’s a very specific subset. The subset in question is mix of hammering rhythm, morbid keyboard tones and guttural vocals – like a forgotten older brother to Aggrotech and a cousin-once-removed from Darkwave.
It’s the kind of thing put out by YelworC, Placebo Effect, Seven Trees and suchlike. Of all the subgenres featured here, this one is probably the hardest to collect. Virtually all the releases in the style are long out of print, and not even the legal download sites have bothered to get it licensed. Maybe the genre was dreamt up as a discreet pigeonhole purely to draw attention to the fact that you can’t actually buy any of the music any more?
The Key Practioners
Plastic Noise Experience
Honing It For The Dancefloor
Lights Of Euphoria