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Industrial Music Is Problematic

I've had a post brewing in the back of my head for a while on Industrial music,and its problematic aspects, but kept putting off writing it.

Then Jairus did this. Which gives me a topical push to discuss this before the Internets move on.

I like Industrial music. I like the aggression, the speed, the way it fits with the way I like to dance, the way I move. I like the darkness in it and the edginess to it. I like the way it discusses taboo(ish) subjects like depression, oppression, kink and violence. I also like that it's got a solid stream of nerd running through it.


There's a line, a fuzzy line, but still a line. A point at which it stops being edgy and dark and becomes flat out offensive and beyond "problematic", moving into "a problem". Of the two bands Jairus discusses, I have two Combichrist albums, and one Nachtmahr album. My review of Combichrist's Everybody Hates You does mention the discomfort I felt about some of the lyrics, while with Nachtmahr, I just don't have enough German to really know what they're singing about (see review).

It seems that Combichrist has gone further; somehow, I feel "I am a bitch/ How do you want me?" is just barely okay (because I can imagine consenting adults happily playing out that scene), while "You feminist cunts know you want it/ Give head if you got it" is way, way over the line. I hadn't been paying attention to the last couple releases from Combichrist, because what I'd heard on podcasts hadn't thrilled me.

After liking a few of their tracks, I picked up Mordacious's recent large album Dead Inside, and was fairly disappointed that nearly every song was about violent sex. And while I don't necessarily disapprove of violent sex, if it's all about punishing dirty whores and giving it to bitches - that shit's misogynist, yo. I sometimes wonder if the music I listen to isn't just the German equivalent to the rap music I turn my nose up at, with the popping of caps in asses, the acquisition of bling and bitches and hoes (is that the correct plural form? Why is this a thing I need to know in my life?). Is Industrial really just that plus some Depeche Mode covers? One of the few German words I can readily identify is the word for "slut", thanks to Industrial music.

Similarly, I loved Suicide Commando's "Bind, Torture, Kill" when I heard it in clubs; it's great for the aggressive way I like to dance. Sure, it's clearly a song about violence, but darkness and yes, violence is part of what I like about Industrial. When I did some reading while trying to find out who the artist was and how I could get the track, I found out about BTK, a real world serial killer who murdered at least ten people. Is that something I want to celebrate? Not really. Apparently my line is "imaginary, non-specific aggression and violence: cool" and "actual real world violence/violence against targeted social groups: not cool".

I'm going to toss in a quick reference to Hansel Und Gretyl here, but leave it at that since I've got another half-written essay on "Pop Culture Nazis" in another file.

I can happily continue to ignore Combichrist's new work, because I happen to not really like it. Nachtmahr is harder. The band is really just Thomas Rainer, who is involved in something like half the bands in the genre; IIRC, he worked on the latest Covenant album (which I loved), he's also the lead for L'Ame Immortale, and I seem to recall something about him joining up with one of the classic Industrial outfits, though I can't find a reference to refresh my memory on that one.

I'm not the only one who worries about this stuff; apparently Jairus got applause form the crowd at Kinetik, and the biggest (only?) Canadian distributor of Industrial music, Storming the Base came out with a "Misogyny Is Not A Music Genre" button. Though STB does still carry music and merch for bands like Combichrist, Nachtmahr, Mordacious, etc.

What is a poor confused fan to do? Give up on the genre entirely? Since that would more or less mean "give up on music", I hate that option. Research each band to make sure the sexism and violence are at levels I find tolerable? Better, but given how much collaboration and crossover among artists, the level of effort required to vet everything comes back to "give up on music" again. Especially once I consider clubs and podcasts, if I listen to Industrial, there's going to be problematic stuff.

On one hand, sometimes I just feel like throwing up my hands and going on a permanent culture fast; everything is problematic! Industrial music, rock music, Joss Whedon's Avengers, the kink scene, every movie, book, tv show or song I have ever like: almost certainly at least a little problematic. We live in a problematic culture and the only way to not endorse it is to opt out. Entirely. Any art created will be created by a person with kyriarchical baggage that will pollute their work. "Fine, I just won't like... things!"

Which of course, leads to the opposite extreme. At other times I feel like I have hit Peak Outrage. I just can't maintain the level of upset with all the wrong things in the world all the time. Maybe it's time to give up, stop worrying and love the Patriarchy? Go join the masses of derailing fanboys telling people to shut up because "it's just a joke!" or "that's censorship, yo!" Which I guess lets me like things, but I don't think I would really like myself much at that point.

There is also "How To Be A Fan OF Problematic Things". Which is a start, I suppose. What I am left with is pretty much the same as my approach to porn. Acknowledge that yeah, a lot of it is problematic, and icky, even though I like it. Try to avoid backing the ickier stuff, and try to endorse and back the stuff that manages to be good with less ickiness. Listen before reacting if I get called out on something I like. This is not a real, long term solution, for either porn or music (or anything else in our culture), but it's the best I can come up with.



( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 19th, 2012 05:24 pm (UTC)

One thing for me is separating the point of view and the author, as it were. I can read a book or listen to a song full of sexual violence if I feel like the *narrative* knows it's fucked up. This is what gets me through She Wants Revenge: the deconstruction element is there.

Combichrist... yeah. Problematic. KMFDM, problematic.

I try to acknowledge the problematic aspects--because not talking about them doesn't make them go away--and then release... until they get to the point where I'm just not interested in listening anymore.
May. 24th, 2012 03:39 pm (UTC)
Okay, I must ask: what is problematic about KMFDM? The only thing I can think of that they take seriously are politics.
May. 24th, 2012 04:09 pm (UTC)
There's a lot of whores in the lyrics, and sexuality stuff that seems to me insufficiently deconstructed.

Opinions, of course, may vary.
(Deleted comment)
May. 19th, 2012 06:16 pm (UTC)
I do think that being constantly outraged by everything is a recipe for burnout - I certainly couldn't keep that up, and the people I've known who do manage to tend to end up being difficult for other people to be around, and don't seem to be living very happy lives, either. But as you say, retreating into apathy and defensiveness isn't a great option either.

Acknowledge that yeah, a lot of it is problematic, and icky, even though I like it. Try to avoid backing the ickier stuff, and try to endorse and back the stuff that manages to be good with less ickiness. Listen before reacting if I get called out on something I like. This is not a real, long term solution, for either porn or music (or anything else in our culture), but it's the best I can come up with.

I suppose it depends on what you mean by a "real, long-term solution". There aren't any definitive individual solutions to widespread cultural problems - there really can't be, because when a problem is bigger than any one person, no one person can solve it. So on an individual level, I think what you've described there pretty much is the best solution, and is about as "real" as it gets.

Personally, my level of tolerance for music with icky lyrics is relatively low. I don't mind stuff that's just angry/angsty in general, but when it crosses over into being misogynistic or racist, I get turned off very fast, unless I feel reasonably confident that the artist is actually attempting to satirize or critique those views. I actually returned a CD once because I couldn't deal with the lyrics. I don't remember now who the artist was, but it was some industrial band I'd heard played at clubs and liked musically, but the lyrics weren't that easy to make out by listening. However, the CD had a lyric sheet inside and once I read the lyrics, it was like a switch just flipped and I couldn't enjoy the music any more, at all. I took the CD back to the store, and told them why I was returning it (I'd contemplated lying and claiming it had a scratch, or even scratching it myself on purpose, but then they'd probably expect me to exchange it for another copy of the same thing). I wasn't sure the staff would consider that a valid reason for returning it, but to my surprise they did.

Even when oppressive imagery and ideas are used satirically it can be problematic -- one band I do somewhat like that does that is Laibach, who've based concept albums around various ideologies from Stalinism to Naziism. Now, I think it becomes clear to anyone who takes a good look at the range of their work (particularly the fact that they can flip from extreme right to extreme left from one album to the next), the campiness of (at least some of) their live shows, and their bizarre in-character approach to interview (in which they've been known to present themselves as some sort of political secret society rather than a band, and taken personal credit for various historical events like the breakup of Yugoslavia), that most of this is done heavily tongue-in-cheek, and that they're basically appropriating the imagery of authoritarian ideologies in a satirical way. But it certainly doesn't look that way at a casual glance - so that kind of thing can very easily either offend/hurt/trigger people who've been hurt by those ideologies, or encourage people who actually believe in them. The first time I saw them live, there were a handful of Nazi skinheads in the audience, who obviously thought the band's use of Nazi imagery was more sincere than it was. Mind you, seeing the looks of dawning horror on their faces once the band started to play was worth the price of admission alone... :-)
May. 19th, 2012 09:18 pm (UTC)
Everything is problematic, though. I mean. I listen to Wagner, ffs. I went to an interesting talk last weekend about Neue Slowenische Kunst, and how it's deliberately problematic and actually isn't a ringing endorsement of its own imagery. I admit that I'm frequently unaware of the dimensions of this stuff, particularly when it's not in English. Like, I wouldn't even think of industrial as a particularly problematic genre compared to, say, classic rock or rap or country, or opera. "Everyone else is doing it" is not an excuse when it comes to misogyny or anything else, but it does mean that there are going to be problematic bands and songs (as well as hopefully good ones that you can wholeheartedly support) in any genre.

I am hugely into neofolk, which I'd argue overall has more problematic shit in it than industrial. I mean, with industrial, for every Combichrist, there's something like Skinny Puppy, who have pretty progressive lyrics overall. Whereas there's a lot of neofolk that's just unapologetically balls-out fascist, and then there's the rest that doesn't do a hell of a lot to disavow the unapologetic fascism prevalent in the genre. Also I'm Jewish. And female. And communist. Taste is a funny thing, is what I'm saying.

I can manage to be outraged all the time about culture, but pragmatically, I have a certain amount of separation between creator and creation, otherwise I could never be into anything except earnest folk music and Against Me. But mostly I think it's important to acknowledge the problematic, to encourage the progressive, and to have the kinds of discussions that Jairus has sparked with this piece.
May. 20th, 2012 04:19 am (UTC)
There is actually such a thing as overtly anti-fascist neofolk...

May. 20th, 2012 01:10 pm (UTC)
Oooh, good to know!
May. 24th, 2012 03:41 pm (UTC)
The answer is Das Ich.
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )

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