But Listen: 155: Signs of life in British Industrial?

Perhaps this title is a little unfair. But in recent times, British industrial acts have, rather like European acts to a point, played second fiddle to a burst of creativity and style from North American acts, who seem to be dominating stages and DJ sets everywhere. As is often the way, these things happen in cycles, so in a couple of years time this may not be the case and we’ll see something totally different.

But Listen: 155
Signs of life in British Industrial?

Artists Featured

Matt Hart
Randolph & Mortimer

The lack of exposure for many UK acts perhaps is also a symptom of the times. There are few outlets for acts to get their music out to wider audiences, for a start. Clubs are on the decline, there seems to be less gigs to be a support act on than there were (and there are less gig venues), and with the loss of Resistanz from the calendar – and Whitby having shown little or no interest in the industrial scene for many years – that leaves just Infest as the only multi-day festival in this country (and they have five UK-based bands on their bill this year).

And in terms of online coverage? To my knowledge, the only explicitly “industrial” leaning websites based in the UK are this one and dsoaudio.com, although Brutal Resonance and, to a lesser extent, I Die: You Die also cover the UK scene from further afield, and there is some occasional, more mainstream coverage from the likes of The Quietus and Louder than War.

But really, this is an under-represented, under-critically assessed scene, and perhaps that goes hand-in-hand with a scene that seems unable to grow.

I’m only a participant as a writer and observer of the scene, and I certainly have no answers on how we change things. But what I can do is write about the music that I hear, and this is about three very different UK-based artists, at different stages in their musical careers, who are all releasing music across the industrial spectrum.

The first of these is the newest of these three to release music. Matt Hart will be a familiar name to the London industrial scene at least, having been part of brutal industrialists Concrete Lung in their earlier days, and since leaving that band has made a name for himself as an effective industrial DJ in the clubs that remain, particularly at Slimelight.

Not too many DJs make the hop across to being a recording artist successfully (the most notable in our scene in recent years being Modulate, where Geoff put his years of DJing to good use in understanding what made industrial-dancefloor music work), so when I heard news that Matt was making the leap, I was intrigued to hear what he’d come up with.

His first proper release (there have been a few demos previously) is a tentative step, a five-track EP that is really three full tracks and an intro and outro. There is a concept to it, too, that of “chaos rising around us as we go about our daily business“, combined with some futuristic sci-fi-esque concept, too, of an alternate world that seems to owe a lot to The Terminator.

Uprising (Prologue) provides a suitably grandiose intro to this complex concept, all synth strings and (later) thumping, grinding beats that offer a military tattoo of sorts. One odd thing is that the momentum built up by it is rather squandered by the following Fall of Humanity, which rather than flowing, starts afresh and thus takes a while to get going.

Matt has been open about his love for 3TEETH (indeed he was at the same Cold Waves that I first went to, to see the band for the first time – Memory of a Festival: 023), and this track more than ever betrays it, with cold, heavily-treated vocals and stuttering, glitchy-as-fuck rhythms and processed synths that could well be guitars.

Chaos Designed shows me much more about where Matt wants to be heading with this project. There is still the nods to other artists, but the background synths, metallic rhythms and jagged guitars make for an intriguing track that provides an unexpected and successful link between aggrotech and industrial metal, but not leaning too heavily on either – especially as there is a sense of melody retained within it, too.

Resolution tilts the balance, perhaps, more towards the dancefloor, keeping the metallic beats and guitars, but they are very much in thrall to the beat which is the key here. The other thing is that this one of those tracks that I could well imagine a variety of artists re-interpreting in remix form. Get on it, folks.

The EP closes with Dead in Fields (Epilogue) being a nod to the past, with dark ambient electronics providing a backing to a reading of part of First World War poem In Flanders Fields, a poem that has lost none of it’s power in the century and more since it was written, and despite it sitting well outside the concept of the album as a whole, it is an elegant and heartfelt close to an interesting EP.

It’s not perfect – at points it is in awe of the influences rather than being inspired by them – but this is a solid start, and I can only hope Matt will follow this up with more material in the future.

An artist with more of a recording history is Randolph & Mortimer. R&M came to my attention five years ago now, and I talked to them a year later on Talk Show Host: 005 about their influences and principles.

Since then, the $OCIAL £UTURES €P, a few remixes of the tracks, and then some exceptional remixes of other bands (particularly 3TEETH – the rebuild of Consent was better than the original) have been released, and there was a small set of live shows that started out as the band finding their feet (Talk Show Host: 187) and then making their mark (Talk Show Host: 189).

There was meant to be a live return earlier in the year, an eye-catching support to Richard Kirk as Cabaret Voltaire in most unusual location that turned out to be a technical challenge too far.

Which with the clear frustration of the band in scuppering their chance of such a support, did make me wonder what was to come next from R&M, until this EP appeared without advance notice last week.

The time away seems to have been a time for reworking the sound a bit. The origins of R&M actually come from the underground techno scene, and this is reflected more here than on previous releases, as lead track Society is a seven-minute industrial techno workout that is nicely paced, hard-hitting and importantly retains the political ire that made some of the earlier tracks so notable (as the UK that R&M and I both reside in has changed so much politicially in the past few years, they aren’t exactly short of targets either).

The other two tracks are possibly even better. Shorter, snappier, and heavier, the rolling beats of The Light are interspersed with samples of preachers (in a similar way to previous track Body, and of course the likes of 242), while Apply Yourself throws itself headlong into techno, dispensing with the vocal samples and hitting peak after acid peak – and despite being six minutes or so long, feels like it is over way too quickly.

An impressive return from an artist that has, as yet, made no wrong turns, and has kept a distinctive sound despite dabbling in other areas. I hope there is more to come, and hope to catch up with them soon to talk in more depth.

I’m actually rather late to the party with Ventenner, a band I’d seen live a few times across London that I’d only ever really paid cursory attention to, I must confess, until more recently. Their support slot with Skinny Puppy in May (Into the Pit: 196) really opened my ears to what this band could do – potentially because they finally had a live sound that actually did them justice, and it got me digging out their recent album Invidia that had been on my “to review” list for perhaps too long.

Ventenner are unashamedly industrial rock. Like me, it’s obvious that they grew up in the nineties listening to the seemingly-never-ending supply of such bands from the US in particular, and listening to the album there is that distinct feel of Filter and Stabbing Westward in particular.

Break In Two opens with a gloriously nasty bassline, and a chugging, unstoppable momentum, which the soaring vocals fit well with, and Saligia hits even harder while using a similar idea (the hammering riffs of the late-song breakdown work even better live), and Charlie really lets loose with his voice, too.

It can get frustrating at points on some tracks, where the band seem to be holding something back, even if Charlie isn’t with his vocals, which have rather more of a range than many of his peers, that’s for sure – but that cannot be said of Enemy, where the hounds and most of the rest of the inhabitants are unleashed for a track of punishing intensity. Similar fury is unleashed for the similarly impressive, and hard-hitting Dividing Seed, which makes clever use of tempo changes to make its mark, while Bruxism stomps harder and heavier than anything else here, the drumbeats pushed right to the fore with everything else in the mix broadly left to fight out for the remaining space (and remarkably it works, as does the surprisingly melodic, airy breakdown).

One point that had me raising eyebrows was during the otherwise impressive Only the Empty Remain, something of an industrial-rock-power-ballad, where I could swear that it sounded awfully close to Misery Loves Co.’s masterful No Exit, and by the time of Anamnesis (now there’s a word I’m not familiar with), the howled, slowed-down chorus had perhaps been used one time too many.

That said, the mellow, piano-led closer Omega, after all the aggression and fury that had come before, is a surprise, Charlie’s histrionic vocals and the guitars all seem like they are down the hall, as the piano and drums continue their stately progress to a gentle close-out.

Ventenner are a surprising proposition. They’ve been around a while, particularly gigging in London, and were playing a style that was rather “out of time”. With the release of this album, and the bounceback and return of bands like Filter, Stabbing Westward and Nine Inch Nails – not to mention the domination generally of the style within industrial right now – Ventenner may have unexpectedly found themselves with a far greater potential audience than they might otherwise have done.

Once again, this isn’t a perfect album, but it is a very good one, and if your tastes still stretch to industrial rock, give it a go.

Ventenner support RevCo in London on Saturday, and then on tour with KMFDM in September.

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