Unheralded Industrialists - Industrial Nation #19, 2004

by Todd Zachritz

Hello and welcome back. This issue, I'd like to take you on a bit of a field trip, away from the current experimental sounds and into the past. This time, I'm going to focus on the old-school industrial and experimental music--stuff that seems to have been all but forgotten and neglected in these days of futurepop and industrial/gothic metal. Sure, everyone should be more than familiar with THROBBING GRISTLE, CABARET VOLTAIRE, BOYD RICE, COIL, CHRIS & COSEY, WHITEHOUSE, CURRENT 93, NURSE WITH WOUND, TEST DEPT, and the likes. These were important artists, to be certain, but there were many more from the same period making truly bizarre and decidedly non-commercial sounds, often to a very small and insular audience. These 'missing' legends of the 'Wild Planet' scene are what I will focus on here. Step right up..


From what basically seems to be the birthplace of what is historically termed 'industrial' music, England, came the BOURBONESE QUALK. From 1980 to 1987, members Simon Crab, Steven Tanza, and Julian Gilbert (and later guitarist Miles Miles) were to release 5 now-classic LPs, from 'Laughing Afternoon' to the self-titled 'Bourbonese Qualk'. The versatile band moved effortlessly from aggressive and noise-laced rock sounds to cinematic tribal-ethno-percussive experiments to emotive soundtracks without films. Equally as influenced by CAN as by THROBBING GRISTLE, the QUALK's electronic programming gelled with live instrumentation into a seamless mix that would herald the work of later Wax Trax!-era artists. Later releases (like the landmark 1987 release, 'My Government Is My Soul') even brought in elements of funk, dub and techno to the mix. A dark outlook permeated the group's many recordings, and politics and shock value didn't so much define the group as season it. BOURBONESE QUALK's recordings may now be difficult to find, as they were released in many formats on many obscure European labels through the years, but any of their work merits attention.
For details on their releases and free MP3s, visit http://www.bourbonesequalk.com

KONSTRUKTIVISTS formed in 1982, based around Glenn Michael Wallis, who was a roadie/touring mate of THROBBING GRISTLE and sometime member of WHITEHOUSE. KONSTRUKTIVISTS were a psychotronic group that focused on spacy electronic reverberations and more accessable beat-oriented material that was unquestionably a major influence on some of the later 'industrial dance' acts. Having recorded the now-sought-after early vinyl LPs like 1983's 'Psykho-Genetika' on underground labels like Third Mind, the group eventually went into a sort of hibernation from 1985 to 1990. Emerging in 1990 with refreshed lineup, the group released a stream of electronic CDs on labels like the UK's Jara Discs and World Serpent. These were more techno-influenced works that were met with mostly indifference, likely due to lack of promotion and publicity. KONSTRUKTIVISTS continue on today with Wallis being the sole member. A variety of CD reissues of their early work have been released, so the wonder of KONSTRUKTIVISTS can be felt all over again. http://www.klanggalerie.com/konsort/

From San Francisco, there was FACTRIX -- a group of artists including Bond Bergland, Cole Palme, and Joseph P. Jacobs who formed in 1978 from the ashes of another seminal post-punk act, MINIMAL MAN. As FACTRIX, the group released a number of subversive and 'dangerous' recordings back in the early '80s. Their incredible 'Scheintot' LP was a document of morbid, moody, and subtle experimental rock that is as eerily unsettling today as it must have been way back in 1981 when it was initially released. Their 1982 LP, 'California Babylon', was recorded live with vocal contributions from the notorious MONTE CAZAZZA, and remains a rough and violent selection of guitar-noise deconstructions and primitive machine-noise rumblings. Conversely, the 'Empire Of Passion/Splice Of Life' 7" was a marvelously sinister bit of apocalyptic sound-poetry and industrial soundscaping. All of these releases have been criminally out-of-print for years, but fortunately, the fine Tesco label has released a double-CD collection of FACTRIX's legendary recordings, entitled 'Artifact'. This compiles tracks from the group's many cassette and vinyl recordings at last onto digital format for a new audience to hear and appreciate. Order the CD or read more about FACTRIX at Tesco's website, at http://www.tesco-distro.com.
(Editors note-- For more about FACTRIX go to Factrix: Industrial Music Pioneers (fan site); for Factrix mp3s, visit http://music.download.com/factrix.)

Another act that never received much notice stateside was 23 SKIDOO. Formed in England in 1979, this collective (led by Alex Turnbull, Johnny Turnbull, Fritz Catlin, and Sketch) released a small, but highly-influential amount of vinyl 12"es and LPs. Their LP, 'The Culling Is Coming', dared to combine post-TG noise and cutup work with meditational and rich multi-cultural percussive experiments. The track 'Mahakala', from 'Culling', is a solemn ritual piece that invokes some dark and contemplative spirits. Other releases, like the 'Just Like Everybody' LP, brought a virulent strain of mutant electro-funk later co-opted (and sampled prominently) by acts like THE FUTURE SOUND OF LONDON and the CHEMICAL BROTHERS. The cut, 'Gregouka', from their 1982 'Tearing Up The Plans' 12", blended ancient Moroccan music with dark electronics to creepy effect. After years of being out-of-print, 23 SKIDOO's back catalogue is supposedly now available on CD. And the group has since returned to performance and recording, reportedly in a more dance/hip-hop vein.

MAYBE MENTAL were another largely-forgotten post-industrial act in the late 80s. Likely best-known for their split 1987 LP with CONTROLLED BLEEDING (entitled 'Halved'), MAYBE MENTAL were formed in Arizona in 1982 by David Oliphant. The group mined the atmospheric industrial arena as well or better than most of their underground peers. Their 1985 cassette release, 'To Cease Burning', was a textural post-industrial landscape of tonal fragments, cinematic noise, and fractured collages--which still holds up next to any modern-day experimental outfit. Other early cassette releases veered into traditional noise and power electronics territories, but later recordings were spiced up with field recordings, found tapes, and other more subtle and diverse influences, culminating in their landmark 1987 LP, 'Lotuses On Fire', which heralded the group's interest in rich multi-cultural instrumentation and ritual textures that would later play a key role in the band's transition to the formidable LIFE GARDEN. As LIFE GARDEN, Oliphant and company went on to release a number of simultaneously meditational, tribal, and percussive tapes and CDs, including some collaborative works with the equally as transcendent VOICE OF EYE.

The mysterious German/English group GERECHTIGKEITS LIGA only released one LP, but 'Hypnotischer Existenzialismus' made some waves upon it's release in 1985 on Graeme Revell & Brian Lustmord's legendary Side Effects Records. This long out-of-print record featured a series of very industrial-sounding compositions recorded live. From percussive attacks with megaphone-style declarations to ritualistic ambience, G.LIGA influenced some prominent artists of their day, including cEvin Key and Bill Leeb. Fans of any of the classic, early industrialists would do well to seek out this fine recording from a time long past.

Almost as mysterious and fleeting was the group LAST FEW DAYS, who gained a measure of prominence for their early collaborations with LAIBACH. They released precious few recordings in the early part of the 1980s, but the LP, 'Pure Spirit And Saliva', was a compilation of live performances from 1983-1986. The group eschewed studio recordings in favor of live actions, and musically, LFD relied on drum machines, strange tape effects, and clanking percussion assaults to paint rough, feral onslaughts of environmental and urban sound. LAST FEW DAYS were one of the missing links between early avante-garde 'industrial' scene and the later beat-oriented dance and EBM splinters. 'Pure Spirit' is a marvelous and influential recording that has oddly escaped CD reissue to this day.

Finally, we have the obscure but very important DELIA DERBYSHIRE. Not an 'industrial' artist by any stretch, Delia worked at England's BBC Workshop in the 1960s and 1970s, creating some very early electronic and experimental music for TV and radio soundtracks. If you've heard the theme for the classic sci-fi series 'Dr. Who', then you have heard some of Delia's work. She took many chances and composed her themes using exotic sources (like animal sounds), often challenging her employers as well as her listeners in a time when electronic music was not accepted or taken seriously. Her interests and work in these avante-garde arenas led to encounters with many prominent rock and psychedelic musicians of the day, and it is certain that some, if not most, went away with new ideas borrowed from Delia. She passed away in 2001, but not before starting some new electronic musical projects with former Spacemen 3/Spectrum mainman Pete Kember (aka Sonic Boom). Her lovingly-crafted website has free MP3 samples available, as well as a complete bio of this visionary artist. http://www.delia-derbyshire.org

And there you have it. To see the future you must know the past. Or something like that.

[this article originally published in INDUSTRIAL NATION magazine #19, 2004]