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Assimilate: A Critical History of Industrial Music

June 9, 2018

A music theorist deep dives into a genre often dismissed as having no substance.

With 1980s fetishism full tilt, it’s only a matter of time until “industrial” music is back in vogue. For me, this Paris never stopped burning. Industrial’s love of synths, mechanical beats, and creepy themes tickle the tenderest of my fancies. If you think you’re too cool for school but like the music of Stranger Things then you’re hanging out in same goth club as me whether you know it or not. Stay right there on that bar stool. I’m just getting started. I’m pretentiously serious and unpopular. If I’m into something, I want to read an academic monograph about it.

Enter Assimilate: A Critical History of Industrial Music by S. Alexander Reed. A musician and teacher, Reed’s focus is the formal evolution of the genre. His emphasis is song structure. Formlessness calcifies into mechanical beats which soften into pop songs and then a genre dies. Reed charts this evolution and contextualizes it with other music from both the club and the academy. If industrial music was a novel, the plot was thickest with Skinny Puppy’s 1987 single “Assimilate.” It clanks but you can dance to it. That track ties all of Reed’s threads together—hence the title. The vast majority of Skinny Puppy’s thirty-year discography is on Hoopla. Pair this book with services like Freegal and Hoopla and you can rock out with your library card out all summer long. You'll earn enough Summer Reading Challenge points to someday be a burned out talking head in a documentary about your own band. Goals matter. And those creepy themes? Upon closer examination, they appear to be just kid stuff.

You may enjoy We Have a Technical podcast's interview with Reed.

You may also enjoy DJ Adam's Body to Body radio show which features "current and classic ebm/industrial/dark ambient/synth pop/noise/synth wave." That's on WXNA, Nashville's gnarliest nonprofit radio station.



Bryan is a librarian at Nashville Public Library. Bryan enjoys board games, bikes, and free software. His only star is Trek.


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