View Full Version : Origins of Industrial

Lazarus and the Gimp
06-09-2007, 20:32:23
Wrote this for another site. I know we don't have many Rivetheads here, but it might be of some interest-


Pierre Schaeffer

A story's got to start somewhere. This one starts in 1940's Paris, with Pierre Schaeffer.

Schaeffer was a radio broadcaster who spent a lot of time in a recording studio testing what he could achieve with the new tape recording technology (tape was invented in 1938). This new invention allowed the incorporation of "natural sound" (as opposed to sound produced by musical instruments) into compositions. Schaeffer started pushing the existing boundaries by working with looped tapes, and tapes which he had manipulated in order to alter the sound. He then used these loops and tapes to create compositions- in doing so, he invented the genre of musique concrete.

You can see where this is going, can't you? Schaeffer effectively invented sampling. His work influenced other composers in the electronic field, most notably Karl-Heinz Stockhausen. However this isn't really Industrial, is it? This is all beard-stroking big-brained boffin stuff- strictly for the Classical buffs. There's not the vaguest trace of angry Germans banging pipes, or ragingly gay English lunatics screaming about bumholes. So you can't really credit Schaeffer as the genesis of Industrial music, because he just didn't bridge the gap into what the kids were listening to. What you're looking for is someone who took Schaeffer's early breakthroughs, turned it into something nakedly menacing, and then rammed it down the public's throat. The missing link, if you like.

The missing link turned out to be a surprising one. It was a young lady in England, who had recently graduated from Cambridge with a degree in Mathematics and Music. She was the legendary Delia Derbyshire.

Delia Derbyshire and White Noise

In the late 1950's, a screamingly-eccentric department was formed at the BBC. It was the Radiophonic Workshop- a department funded by the state in order to make strange noises for radio plays. That's got to be a defining point of the English- no other nation on Earth could have come up with something quite so flamingly mad as a concept and deem it worthy of the public's funds. It was a fairly tame little operation until Derbyshire hit it, and started producing music that will still sound futuristic 5000 years from now.

At this point, you need to listen to a piece of music. It's the original 1963 theme to "Dr Who", which was one of Delia's. It has been re-recorded several times, but ignore those because they're all rubbish. All pale imitations of the monster Derbyshire created in 1963. Using just one plucked string, 12 oscillators and a shit-load of tape manipulation, she turned a vague and innocuous Ron Grainer composition into a nakedly menacing musique concrete masterpiece. It sounds incredible. There are sounds tearing out of it that defy any modern technology to reproduce- and this was nearly 45 years ago.

"Dr Who" was a colossal hit- you'd get about 20-30% of the total population of Britain at the time viewing it, and in doing so millions of impressionable kids were listening to savagely avant-garde electronic music created through sampling. It was music that drew on left-field experimental leanings, but turned it into brutal rhythmic music that the kids lapped up. And among those kids were little Carters, Christophersons, Fruttis, and Orridges.

Outside of her day job, Derbyshire formed the group White Noise with David Vorhaus and produced the landmark experimental album "An electric storm" in 1968. "An electric storm" consisted of seven songs largely contructed from a blizzard of samples, ranging from the playfully bonkers ("Here come the fleas") to the really scary ("The Black Mass- an electric storm in hell"). Predictably enough, this was way ahead of the rest of the field- I could write an essay on this album alone, but there's a better review already in existance over at Head Heritage (http://www.headheritage.co.uk/unsung/review/1143). Suffice to say that it's a classic album and if you have even the most cursory of interests in the place of sampling in rock/pop you need it in your collection.

Unfortunately, after blazing a trail Derbyshire watched the music scene fail to folow. Electronic music and sampling was squandered by the Prog Rock scene, which treated it largely as a novelty embellishment rather than an art form in its own right. Disillusioned and depressed, Derbyshire quit the music industry in the early 70's.


So Schaeffer's Musique Concrete ushered in sampling. Derbyshire's work brought it into the wider public consciousness and made it work in rock/pop settings. What we need now are bands who took those early steps and turned them into evil sounds you could dance to. It wasn't going to be the Prog scene, but fortunately Punk cleared the way and let new sounds emerge. One of these was formed by a loose movement of synth-pop bands that produced alienated and bleak tracks, often influenced by the work of J G Ballard- such as The Normal, Suicide and The Human League (note to the kids- if you think The Human League were just a fluffy pop band, you're wrong. Listen to "Being boiled" and be amazed). Synth-pop was, of course, a cross-pollinating influence on Industrial at more than one point, and at a later stage (via the EBM development) helped shape modern Industrial music.

At round about the same time, a group of performance artists going by the name of COUM were looking to branch into music. COUM were, to be blunt, nutters. There are accounts over the web of what they used to do on stage, but as kids may be reading this I'm not going to dwell on it too much (chicken blood enemas were among the milder stunts). COUM took the name Throbbing Gristle and chose their influences carefully. In came the confrontational stage presence and wild rock experimentation of The Velvet Underground and Can, and they then looked back to the musique concrete pioneers by setting their synths over churning and scary loops and samples. Their live shows were notoriously wild, while their studio albums are works of sick genius. For a sampler, head straight for "Hamburger lady".

In the feverishly adventurous post-punk era, other bands quickly started pushing similar influences in new directions. Boyd Rice took sampling far further into noise territory, while Nurse With Wound introduced powertools as instruments in a berzerk Dadaist meltdown. Industrial was drawing its first breaths. All the ingredients were now out there and ready for the next wave of bands to push it further.

Scabrous Birdseed
08-09-2007, 17:26:07
Interesting. As you probably know Industrial isn't really my sphere of knowledge so it's great to see some more detail on its history. I have a few questions though:

(1) No Luigi Russolo?

(2) I'm curious - is Delia Derbyshire (although a brilliant and pioneering musician) generally credited with this much influence? Was she name-dropped by Industrial pioneers?

(3) There was a hell of a lot of stuff happening in music in the second half of the seventies. Are you sure the development of synth-pop was directly correlated to the emergence of punk?

Looking back, in the space of a few years you have the commercial break-through of synthesizer-based music (novelty hits like "Popcorn", "Frankenstein" and "Autobahn"), the emergence of the "epic" synthesizer genre (Jean Michel Jarre's "Oxygéne" in 1976 for instance), Krautrock, Bowie's Berlin period, Synthesizer-heavy eurodisco from Moroder, Cerrone and the band Space, the most heavy-hitting material by Kraftwerk, Yellow Magic Orchestra and Parliament-Funkadelic, the birth of Hi-NRG...

As well as punk and post-punk obviously, but change (and synths!) was in the air.

08-09-2007, 18:26:16
I got this quite amazing CD collection of electronic music


Very cool, but you can only listen to it in small doses. Too bad it's the non-DVD edition ...

Lazarus and the Gimp
09-09-2007, 08:04:43
Originally posted by Scabrous Birdseed

(1) No Luigi Russolo?

Like it says on the tin, it's a brief history. It's also largely aimed at teenagers. Had I been writing a longer piece (or a more academic one), Russolo would have made the cut. However, as a theorist he doesn't have the same impact as the practical breakthroughs achieved by Schaeffer. Ultimately, kids can actually listen to Schaeffer and hear the birth of familiar concepts- they can't with Russolo.

(2) I'm curious - is Delia Derbyshire (although a brilliant and pioneering musician) generally credited with this much influence? Was she name-dropped by Industrial pioneers?

Most of the actual sampling within Throbbing Gristle's sound was the work of Peter Christopherson, and he's a Derbyshire fan. That means you get her influences coming across in TG, Psychic TV and Coil- all three of the most important early UK Industrial bands.

They're rarely cited as influences on TG because Christopherson and Carter were the quiet blokes at the back, and Orridge/Frutti tended to cite the Velvets and Krautrock as their own influences.

(3) There was a hell of a lot of stuff happening in music in the second half of the seventies. Are you sure the development of synth-pop was directly correlated to the emergence of punk?


The bands that really drove synth-pop actually owed very little to Jarre and the prog scene. Their minimalist DIY independent approach was pure punk, and the same goes for the bleak aesthetics. Daniel Miller always described himself as a punk with keyboards, not as any sort of descendant of Jarre.

Lazarus and the Gimp
09-09-2007, 08:10:00
Vincent- here's a recommendation back for you-


It's a great one.

C.G.B. Spender
10-09-2007, 07:01:04
Not available in Germany tho. Darn, this country sux

Fergus & The Brazen Car
10-09-2007, 09:17:11
This comes highly recommended.

By me, because I have a copy....

RE/Search #6/7: Industrial Culture Handbook

Published in 1983. 8 1/2 x 11", 140 pp, 179 photos & illustrations. NEW HARDBACK LIMITED EDITION $35.00

Essential library reference guide to the deviant performance artists and musicians of the Industrial Culture moment: Survival Research Laboratories, Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire, SPK, Non, Monte Cazazza, Johanna Went, Sordide Sentimental, R&N, and Z'ev.


Loved the descriptions of early Throbbing Gristle 'art' events. What a wag Genesis P. was...

Scabrous Birdseed
06-05-2008, 19:05:17
I've got a classmate who's writing an essay on Delia Derbyshire in the context of experimental music in general (including Industrial)- got any tips I could suggest to her?

(I'm writing something similar on Dub. Suggestions would be welcome there, too.)

Lazarus and the Gimp
06-05-2008, 19:39:06
Tips as in music, or articles?

Scabrous Birdseed
06-05-2008, 19:41:42
More in the context of ideas/topics for research/articles - I assume she'll be listening through as much as she can of Derbyshire's material.

Lazarus and the Gimp
06-05-2008, 19:47:28
You could look into the work she did with EAR. Pete "Sonic Boom" Kember was largely resposible for drawing her out of retirement in the 90's.