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[personal profile] sabotabby
[livejournal.com profile] jvmatucha asked a tough one:

In regards to Assimilate, the book you've read and that I'm very much enjoying, can you give me examples of your criticism of Reed's work and of industrial culture in regards to unadmitted mainstream western influences, gender, and ethnicity?

(I'm already working on my own rant! One theme: Industrial, the whitest music on the planet!)

Or just give me a rant about sexism in counter culture music!


So, first up, if I hadn't also read a book about Communist mysticism in Central Europe, S. Alexander Reed's Assimilate: A Critical History of Industrial Music would rate as the best non-fiction book I've read this year, and, indeed, in quite awhile. It's fantastic and I highly recommend it.

Secondly, no post about sexism and racism in industrial music would be complete without a link to Ad•ver•sary's We Demand Better, which is both a great introduction to and critique of some of the issues we're dealing with here. He's also interviewed in the book, by the way.

Thirdly, a disclaimer of my own: I'm white, I'm female, and I haven't personally encountered any more overt sexism or racism within the industrial music community than I have in any other circle I travel in, and possibly a bit less, though that's largely a factor of preferring music identified with radical left politics. (Though not exclusively. I like a lot of really problematic, vaguely right-wing music as well. But there are some bands where I wouldn't go to their shows because they/their audience scare me.) I have encountered individual people who have shitty gender/race/class analyses and are also into industrial, but correlation isn't causation, etc.



My main problem with Reed's analysis is that he feels there needs to be one—and it's definitely an important topic—but he doesn't seem to really identify either root causes or solutions. He's definitely correct in that there's a problem. See the link above. Is industrial's whiteness primarily, as Reed argues, because its aesthetic concerns are a function of privilege? I disagree; I think there's a lot of avant-garde art made by people of colour that shares similar themes, particularly in regard to the body's relationship to technology. I'd posit that industrial audiences and musicians are primarily white because a) the genre initially emerged in the UK and Germany and drew from already white-dominated musical styles, and b) the scene itself was/is really off-putting to people of colour and loaded with unexamined privilege. The first factor is unavoidable and arguably value-neutral; the second is not inevitable and could actually be corrected. The solutions he suggests sound disturbingly close to cultural appropriation, which I don't think is the answer. Cross-pollination, taking risks in regard to promoting new artists and particularly artists of colour, experiments like the Sisters of Mercy/Public Enemy tour (God, I'm old), and not doing stupid racist shit would be a start.

I'd also add that there's a difference between unexamined privilege (I'm white, all of my friends are white, everyone at this show is white) and overt racism (use of racist imagery, ironic or not, political ties to right-wing groups), and it's not entirely productive to conflate the two. I find it vaguely heartwarming that Reed had to extend the discussion of racism in industrial music to neofolk, because there weren't that many examples of influential right-wing industrial bands. Even the apolitical stuff—analyzing VNV Nation's politics based on their music is a bit weird, and I'm someone who looks for political messages in everything—is pretty solidly anti-fascist. Which is, admittedly, a low bar to set for a scene.

Let's talk about gender—I'm probably better equipped to discuss gender issues anyway, and Reed's gender analysis was stranger than his race analysis. I've had the experience of going to industrial shows and feeling like the only woman there who wasn't someone's girlfriend, and why is everyone else in the audience a six-foot-plus white guy with a shaved head who works in IT and is filming the whole thing on his cell phone? So yes, I've noticed that industrial also has a gender problem.

In this case, I think I can speak more decisively as to where this is coming from. Women are conditioned to be passive, to turn our rage inward, and to approach music as consumers rather than as producers, none of which is a good foundation to be either an industrial musician or an industrial fan. Little boys may fantasize about becoming rock stars and identify with them; little girls can only fantasize about fucking them. (The music that women are socially permitted to create is inherently passive; women can be on stage singing, but primarily songs written by men and created with the intervention of male sound engineers. How many women outside of Brecht/Weill cabaret music get to have truly ugly voices?)

Which segues into what I thought was Reed's weirdest thing, which was that the discussion on gender in industrial music focused not so much on female industrial artists like Cosey Fanni Tutti (granted, he talks about her a lot elsewhere) or Gudrun Gut (I actually didn't see a mention of her at all, despite her having once been a member of the Greatest Industrial Band Of All Time FFS!) but on a male industrial artist, Nivek Ogre. And that is an interesting discussion and I could probably go on about Ogre all day.

So why do the ladies like Skinny Puppy so much? Reed posits Ogre as the first industrial rock star, which very well might be true, and thus, theoretically, its first socially acceptable target of female fantasy. Also the relationship between the band and their fans was much more intense than with most industrial bands. (This remains true, BTW; have you seen cEvin Key's Facebook?) His main argument, though, is that women identify with SP, and particularly Ogre's, masochistic, body-debasing imagery. I'm not sure if I agree with this, but it's a better argument than the first (Ogre is certainly dreamy, but he was hardly the first industrial musician to be dreamy, nor is he the dreamiest. Also, I had no idea what he looked like for the longest time because he tends to perform in costume.) This said, Cosey Fanni Tutti also had a lot of physical debasement going on, and is a woman, so why wouldn't we identify more with her? I'm not sure I have an answer to this—at a personal level, yes, I do very much identify with SP's music and imagery, and in fact that was probably what drew me to them in the first place—beyond that some of it has to do with exposure. One can't identify with music one doesn't hear, and SP got a lot of women into industrial music for the same reason that Nine Inch Nails did—because it was the first industrial music to reach any kind of a wider audience at all.

There's also, of course, the giant glaring issue of violent sexual imagery in industrial music, of which, yes, there is a lot. It's not something that ever bothered me, personally; there's violent sexual imagery in a lot of music, but in most industrial it reads as parody, sampled from horror movies and such, and meant to be awful, whereas in mainstream music it's just part of the cultural fabric. I'd prefer to have that dragged out in the open and addressed directly. Does it alienate some women? Probably. But I think the issue is not whether it should be used but how it is used, and who is fetishizing versus who is critiquing.

That's a lot of words and I'm not sure they entirely answer the original prompt, but I'm happy to discuss further in the comments.

So that's it for Blogcember, unless anyone would like to suggest more topics.

Date: 2013-12-14 12:24 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jvmatucha.livejournal.com
He! I suppose I could've asked you a question about cats, but I was in the midst of reading that tome when I was thinking of a question.

I enjoyed reading the first part of the book, but I felt he was perhaps being overanalytical. And I thought he was ducking some other questions, but just when I was expecting 120 more pages of academic masturbation, lo and behold he tackles the very topics I was thinking about!

My main problem with Reed's analysis is that he feels there needs to be one Tah dah! My thoughts exactly.

loaded with unexamined privilege. Spot on!

The industrial scene in the Bay Area is a lot more mixed. Equal parts women and men, and women at shows and in the scene are not seldom perceived as "the girlfriends". Even so, I have yet to see an analysis of how the mainstream influences the indsutrial music scene, such as the overriding cool component, where industrial bands and imagery are obsessed with being cool, cutting edge, and macho. (Even so with a lot of bands with female influences.) As far as characterizing it as a rebelious form of music, it's attack comes out on symbloic levels.

You can listen to Neubauten go on about feeding an ego, but let's face it, most of their fans listen to that stuff becuase they think it soudns cool, not because their deconstructing any meanings or messages. Punk and hip hop don't mince words. I can tell you that The Exploited wrote a song called "Fuck the USA", and without hearing any more lyrics or getting any more background on the song, you can pretty much figure out where it's going. (Also "Fuck the Police." No analysis needed. Rebellion on steroids!)

And I could go on. I think he hung around race longer than gender, but the one thing I didn't read was that gender gaps in industrial music follow the same gaps in all other genres. And yeah, I could go on there as well...

Date: 2013-12-14 01:11 am (UTC)
the_axel: (Default)
From: [personal profile] the_axel
You can listen to Neubauten go on about feeding an ego, but let's face it, most of their fans listen to that stuff becuase they think it soudns cool, not because their deconstructing any meanings or messages.

That may be true for their North American audience but I don't think that was the case for their British audience, let alone their European one.

For one thing, remember how back in the day records came with lyrics on the inner sleeve?

Date: 2013-12-17 12:24 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] princealberic.livejournal.com
I'd also add that there's a difference between unexamined privilege (I'm white, all of my friends are white, everyone at this show is white) and overt racism (use of racist imagery, ironic or not, political ties to right-wing groups), and it's not entirely productive to conflate the two.

I agree, a lot of the genres I like probably have the first, though not the latter. At the same time, I also think there's some foggy middle-ground between the two. Where I live, Industrial music is pretty much a part of the Goth scene, and that whole scene creeps me out because it attracts a lot of far-right types or sympathisers. I've met left-wing or at least non-gross people in it, too, but I feel like it's easier for them to feel safe going to shows, clubs, and festivals because they're white so they won't really get picked on by gigantic guys with neo-Nazi tendencies unless they openly display their political stances.

I don't really know a lot about Industrial music, I was curious about it around the time I was interested in metal, but I never really followed through with it. I just looked up Cosey Fanni Tutti on YouTube (lol) and I liked what I heard.

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