SP’s Guide to Becoming a Music Wanker:
For someone who has always considered themselves into music, I have recently come to the realisation that actually I don’t know anything at all.
For the hundreds of playlists that I have on Spotify, hardly any of them are organised in a formal, genre-based manner. They have names like Sleepy Sleepy Woman and Magnum Schlong Energy and 3 Redbulls On An Empty Stomach. Of course, the way in which they are organised makes perfect sense to me – Bittersweet sounds like the last day of school, Cowboys at Dawn is for when it’s very cold, and I feel like I am a lone ranger on a deep blue morning, armed only with Portishead and Nick Cave by my side. Sniffin Glue surely doesn’t need much explanation – if I was to sniff glue, I imagine that this would be a first-rate soundtrack to do it to.
However, I’m now entering my second year at Texture Magazine, and the time has come for me to learn some actual musical terminology, like Downtempo and Breakbeat and Acid House, and not to just collate songs based solely on whether I think they would be good to inhale solvents to. Although thematic organisation of music is not a lesser approach to musical categorisation, I would personally like to have some understanding about this organisational style, even if I never use it beyond charming micro-celebrity DJs into buying me free drinks after I compliment their *checks notes* “Yorkshire Bleeps and Bass inspired set”.
I’m going to share my findings here, in a manner that is hopefully legible enough for other interested beginners to the field. We’ll go on this journey together: It’s high time that we stopped passing such philistine criticism – “I thought that album was shite.” It’s time to start passing accurate, specific, scholarly critique – “I thought that Acid House album was shite.”
Fellow aspiring music wankers, welcome.
ISSUE 1: INDUSTRIAL HIP-HOP
What does it sound like?
Industrial hip-hop is a fusion of two genres: Hip-hop, I’m sure you’re familiar with. Industrial is a bit more niche, referring to a mixture of aggressive rock and electronic. It is generally characterised by ‘dissonant sounds’ – dissonance is when two notes that don’t go together (discordant) are played at the same time and is academic terminology for saying that it basically sounds like shit. I saw it described somewhere as like the sound that a cat jumping on a piano can make – usually quite weird and can make you feel a little on-edge. The other two terms that you’ll see floating about in relation to industrial are Noise and Distortion. Noise does what is says on the tin really; it pertains to anything loud and intense, from heavy drums to less traditionally ‘musical’ sounds like clanking and grinding. Distortion happens when an instrument or a piece of software exceeds the limits of volume, and it mangles the audio, producing a distorted sound, hence the name. Basically, if it sounds like you’re listening to hip-hop while walking through a building site, it’s probably industrial hip-hop (sometimes interchangeable with the term Noise Rap).
Have I heard it before?
If like me you have an embarrassing penchant for Kanye West, you will have heard industrial hip-hop before on his album Yeezus. The chopped-up beats and off-key, ear-scraping sounds on ‘On Sight’, ‘Black Skinhead’ and ‘I Am A God’ certainly qualify as Industrial, overlayed with West’s intense, dark lyricism (referring here to the racial and religious context covered on ‘Black Skinhead’, rather than the lyricism of ‘I Am A God’ where he says “In a French-ass restaurant / Hurry up with my damn croissants”). You’ve probably dipped your toe in the industrial hip-hop waters if you’ve ever listened to Tyler the Creator’s Cherry Bomb or Brockhampton’s Iridescence. Even artists like M.I.A., most known for her poppier, mainstream work like ‘Paper Planes’ and ‘Bad Girls’ has produced some blazing industrial hip-hop on her album MAYA.
What is it?
In both sound and content, the lyrical content is a lot more intense than on standard hip-hop. Whispering, spoken, shouted, there is a good deal of experimentation within the genre (good example here is when Kanye goes apeshit on ‘I Am A God’ and lets rip several blood curdling screams). The content of the lyrics is equally intense – hip-hop has its origins as an anti-establishment genre, with the lyrics often covering the black experience in urban areas. Themes within industrial music also tend to cover topics outwith the establishment, but branching more into war, BDSM and weird cult shit – anything to make you say “That’s Weird!” Although industrial is designed to provoke in a more disturbing manner, the provocation and strong imagery often found within hip-hop means that the two genres lyrically blend well together. As well as vocals, industrial hip-hop will use guitar, bass, drums, drum machines, keyboard, synthesizers, electronics and turntables. Although you can basically use whatever you want, as long as it’s noisy – The Beatnigs, who were one of the OG industrial hip-hop bands, used a rotary saw on a metal bar in 1998 in their performance in New York. Anything that would make your Fleetwood Mac stanning father ask you to “turn that shite off” has a special place within industrial hip-hop.
Basically, every site that I visited in my research redirected me to Sugar Hill Records, which was a late 70s/early 80s rap label (best known for Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five). In 1985, their house band collaborated with Mark Stewart to produce a really fucking weird album called As The Veneer of Democracy Starts to Fade which features songs like ‘Bastards’ which sounds like a robbery on a spaceship. Only a few tracks like ‘Hypnotised Remix’ and ‘The Resistance to the Cell’ bear partial resemblance to modern day industrial hip-hop tracks, so it’s perhaps not the best guide to the genre.
Biggest name arguably is Death Grips. You may have heard their song ‘Get Got’ which was weirdly popular on Tiktok for a while, but go and check out the rest of their album The Money Store. Two OG’s that I have to mention are Dälek and Techno Animal, who moved the genre forward in the 90s and 00s. Other big names include clipping. (don’t forget the lowercase and the full-stop or all the Anthony Fantano fanboys will come for you), JPEGMAFIA, Moodie Black, Cannibal Ox, Shabazz Palaces, Food for Animals, Danny Brown and Saul Williams, though of course there are loads more. Sorry if your favourite niche industrial hip-hop artist isn’t on here. Why are you even reading this article if you have a favourite industrial hip-hop artist? Get fucked.
What am I gonna get it mixed up with?
Lots of people on Reddit forums are going to chew you out for classing some tracks as industrial hip-hop, whereas they would personally class it as experimental hip-hop. In my entirely unqualified opinion, there appears to be a lot of bleeding between the two genres regarding terminology: I wouldn’t worry about it too much. I had this problem when collating the playlist, wondering as to whether I would put Run The Jewels on there, but then sometimes I think you have to say fuck it and make up your own mind about it. Other terms that can get muddled will be triphop (less clanky, jazzier, specific to the UK), illbient (this is basically the same thing, and arguably exists under the umbrella term of industrial hip-hop), digital hardcore (faster, with more punk elements) and breakcore (more electronic). Getting super concerned about genre terminology doesn’t matter because no-one frigging agrees anyway. Genre construction can be super pigeon-holey and reductive, so try and use genre markers as signposts rather than anything too intensive.
Given hip-hop’s origins in voicing the experience of marginalised and underrepresented black Americans, it is disappointing that a pocket of actual racist bastards exists within the industrial hip-hop sub-genre. Author Delusional Melodrama points out that “early Noise musicians used fascist and Holocaust imagery in a tasteless attempt to shock audiences… this created a space in Industrial, Power Electronics, and Metal communities for actual neo-Nazis and racists more generally to organize.” Melodrama identifies the key culprits as being Mayhem, Sol Invictus and Death in June, so just watch out for that and keep ‘em off your playlists. Equally, the experimental leanings of the genre don’t make it immune to some of the misogynist legacies of hip-hop as an overarching genre. Even my own personal industrial hip-hop GOATs like Danny Brown have some pretty dubious lyrics on tracks like ‘The Black Brad Pitt’ and ‘Outer Space’ (“I got them Penis Psalms for your Vagina Monologues / Love a feminist bitch, oh, they get my dick hard”…). Despite being somewhat impressed that Brown is familiar with Eve Ensler’s seminal feminist play The Vagina Monologues, the overtness of the sexism can get a bit uncomfortable at times. Just bear it in mind and if you choose to listen, listen consciously!