Unplugged & finally understood?

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Grunge is a fascinating genre that creates a specific mood and feel like no other type of music does that I’ve heard. Much like the industrial sounds of the late 80’s, I think that the core of grunge and it’s rise in popularity can be found in the general attitudes of young people during that time. As the economy was slowing down and outlooks didn’t look so bright for the newly graduated students that grew up viewing the wealth and prosperity of the 80’s, I think grunge was an expression of that feeling of frustration in the most gloomy part of the country – the Northwest. In combination with the dissatisfaction over the economy, I think other forms of anger and annoyance found themselves being expressed through grunge. Most notably, annoyance with sounds of the 80’s which many began to feel were over-edited and staged, as well as other more general dissatisfactions with society, such as Kurt Cobain’s irritation with the traditional male figure in America. I agree with the argument in the video, and was surprised to learn of Cobain’s blatant critiques of established masculine roles in his music. After watching Nirvana’s Unplugged, I found myself relating it to the argument about Cobain’s feminism because I thought that the Unplugged setting was a more feminine version of Nirvana’s music. Without the screaming electric guitar, or the booming speakers and massive crowds, Nirvana’s music took on a softer, more intimate feel. Despite Cobain’s messaging and artwork expressing his standpoints on feminism rather directly, the sound of Nirvana in concert or on their records comes of to me as rather masculine, which may have blurred the message. I thought if there was one setting where some of Cobain’s critiques could be understood and absorbed in a more commoditized setting, it was the Unplugged concert. I think this was important for Cobain and Nirvana at the time, and was an interesting example of how altering a setting for an artistic or musical performance can change so much about it.

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Progression of Nine Inch Nails

Earlier work of the Nine Inch Nails, compared to the group’s later works, was more experimentation heavy. However, as they progressed in their music career, the works of Nine Inch Nails became more electronic music heavy. For example, from their first album released in 1989, “Pretty Hate Machine” is a song titled “The Only Time”. Then in one of their most recent albums is “Hesitation Marks” is a song titled “While I’m Still Here”. After comparing these two songs, I can definitely see that the songs contain elements of both electronic music and experimentation as Woods had explained. However, it seems that over time this industrial music group has shifted to more of a electronic music heavy style. In fact, the song mentioned in from their recent album, “While I’m Still Here,” has some elements similar to “Wall Fuck,” a song by an electronic dance music (EDM) artist, Flume.

Despite the slight shift of style for Nine Inch Nails, I think they could still be considered as industrial. As I had mentioned in a previous discussion, music genres often change over time. For example, what is now considered as pop 30 years ago is much different from what pop is considered now. This being said, this could definitely apply to industrial music; the genre could have been defined as electronic music and experimentation in the past, but could have changed over time. Thus, making Nine Inch Nails a group which is still in the scope of Industrial Music. On the other hand, because I do not listen to industrial music, I could be completely wrong. However, I still stay strong to the idea that the definition of certain music genres can be fluid and thus change over time.

Ktaftwerk, a visual preformace

When listening to Kraftwerk my first impression is robotic, them maybe alien or futurist.  The lines between electronic and industrial are unclear, but Kraftwerk seems to lean towards more electronic.

I know when I was listening I did not know what to expect, now that could be because I have never been exposed to the genre, but it could also be the “shock tactics” referenced by Woods.  I was caught off guard.  I listened to their live performance of RADIOACTIVE and I did not know how to react to the introduction, I was almost uncomfortable, but also curious.

A big part of the music is live, it the visual representations that go along with the music.  Sometimes it feels like the music is coming from the visuals, not the musicians themselves.  The lighting coming from above, how the group is arranged on stage, and the images that are portrayed on the screen the screen behind them.  In a way, it almost reminded me of MTV, just how visual the music is, you can not just hear it, you can see it too.

Group 4, Suck

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I think this phenomenon helps to explain a lot of the anger and other emotions that ended up being present in music over the next decade. I think of other artists like System of a Down (even though they came a little later) and bands like that that helped to express this emotion. The rust belt being hit by economic hardship continues even to this day so I thought them mentioning that in the video was really interesting. I want to know more about how they were “overeducated and underemployed”. Maybe they just beat the technological revolution and had lots of computer skills that there weren’t exactly jobs for yet? They did use a lot of tech in their music. For the song, I analyzed I used “Suck” by Nine Inch Nails released in 1992. The start of the song has these lyrics

There is no god up in the sky tonight
No sign of heaven anywhere in sight
All that was true is left behind
Once I could see, now I am blind
Don’t want your dreams you try to sell
This disease I give to myself

I think this explains very well their thoughts. Their parents had grown up in the 50s and 60s where things were very prosperous for America. Everybody had jobs and even factory jobs had good pay with great benefits. American corporations were roaring and everybody was good. That had changed significantly by this time. American corporations certainly weren’t as big and successful as they are now. I could see why they would have some angst about their future. They were probably nervous and maybe even scared and they choose to interrupt these feelings as anger. I am still a bit confused though so I hope our class today can help clear my thoughts on this.

Youthful Angst and Music

In the seven-part documentary posted on Youtube, Nine Inch Nails and the Industrial Uprising (2009) explains the conditions that shaped the style and aesthetic of Industrial-type bands like Nine Inch Nails, expressing angst and dissatisfaction with the economic, social, and pop culture trends of the 80’s and 90’s.

The pure crux of the aggressive-style by which Nine Inch Nails performed (and others under this genre of music) was through frustration; the recession at the time provided the near-future of a financial downturn for future generations, meaning that the standard of living would decrease for younger generations who had little to no control over what older generations were doing to the economy. In addition to this frustration, young people were equally as “fed-up” with mainstream rock and popular music brought to the public by bands like New Kids on the Block because the music reflected no part of reality but rather typical or ridiculous situations of puppy love. Reznor’s frustration and dissatisfaction, for instance, was felt through his music, as his struggles with his band and record company were verbalized in “Broken” and “Add Violence.” These albums were more of a representation of the collective attitude of the 80’s and 90’s youth, as Reznor made aggressive music that reflected on his own poor economic situation following his immediate success, mixed with hard core punk and heavy metal. They drew strong emotions of anger, hopelessness, and frustration with lyrics like: “Shut up, silence / Add a little violence /And offend and pretend and defend and demand my compliance” (Less Than in the album Add Violence). The heavily aggressive and frustrating nature of Nine Inch Nails was attractive for its relate-ability, and it quickly gained them popularity and success in a time of major angst.

Less Than by Trent Reznor

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Kraftwerk’s Elements

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Kraftwerk’s music is more electronic than industrial because of their focus on synthesizers, and lack of focus on anti-music.  Bret Woods, in his article “Industrial Music for Industrial People: The History and Development of an Underground Genre” defines four “core fundamentals of what makes industrial music a standalone genre,” two of which are “the use of synthesizers and anti-music” (41).  Kraftwerk is however more electronic than industrial because it does not feature many elements of anti-music.  For example, there aren’t many random and non-electronic or non-vocal sounds in the music of kraftwerk.  They do constantly have a stream of music coming from synthesizers to keep the beat of the song, making the music electronic.  The group Kraftwerk did display shock tactics as seen in the above image and in their public dress.  While they weren’t as abominable or shocking as some other bands and artists, their actions were noticed and purposeful.  They were decidedly independent from popular music and made sure to be seen that way.  One element of anti-music is completely absent from Kraftwerk music that I listened to– industrial sounds and purposeful silence.  There are some strange synthesizer sounds in kraftwerk music, but they don’t seem to go against the trend of popular music to the extend that those sounds do.

Sources:

Woods, Bret. “Industrial Music for Industrial People: The History and Development of an         Underground Genre.” 2007. Florida State University.

Challenging the Social Order Through Industrial Music

2. “The members of Throbbing Gristle were dedicated performance artists who vigorously challenged social order through deviant acts not only on stage, but in their imagery as well” (Woods 39). What kind of social order was prevailing at the time of Throbbing Gristle’s beginnings, and what were they hoping to change or bring to the public’s attention with their performances?

At the time of Throbbing Gristle’s beginnings during the 1970’s, Americans were still critical of the government and searching for new means of expression. As Bret Woods describes in his thesis Industrial Music for Industrial People: The History and Development of an Underground Genre, “The Futurist movement began to challenge the conventional notions of music, sound, and noise” (38). Here, the “Futurist movement” is defined as the pre-cursor to industrial and electronic movement. The main goal of futurism and industrial music was to experiment with unusual, often mechanical sounds to create a new understanding of music. Artists such as Throbbing Gristle wanted to change the traditional idea of music from soft, beautiful instruments to incorporate harder, every-day sounds, while still being enjoyable to listen to. One of the early influencers of modern electronic musicians, Luigi Rossolo, wrote a letter that mentions “humans’ collaboration with machines is most likely among the first acknowledgements of technology with expressive art” (38). The innovative music, coupled with the bizarre performance art of many artists, attracted the public’s attention. “The logo for [Throbbing Gristle’s] record label itself is said to depict a chimney stack at an Auschwitz death camp–a clear provocation of social order” (39). The experimentalist nature of industrial artists were meant to call attention to a dystopian reality that many people experienced, but few were openly discussing.  Additionally, “[industrial] acts were rooted in synthesizer and electronic music traditions, not rock,” which made it even more difficult to fully integrate industrial music into a mainstream culture that was so accustomed to rock-based music and idealized realities. (40) Essentially, industrial musicians were attempting to de-stigmatize “ugly” sounds and images, as well as assert their individuality as a genre.

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