Stainless Steel Providers
By 1985, New Wave music was on the decline. With the rise of jangle-pop and hair metal, teenagers who once proudly waved the New Romantic flag were driven back to the pale shelter of their Hello Kitty-theme bedrooms, where they could listen to synthpop in peace.
Then, suddenly, across the scrappy airwaves of college and pirate radio stations, came a blast of plinky keyboards, programmed drum kits, and a bass line that sneakily carried a melody, embedded in which were the lyrics: "Any time, any place, anywhere that I go, all the people seem to stop and stare./They say, 'Why are you dressed like it's Halloween? You look so absurd, you look so obscene.'/Because to me every day is Halloween/I have given up hiding and started to fight! I have started to fight!"
In a worldwide simultaneous awakening, a faction of goth kids who were rocking the thrift-shop black clothes, Kabuki makeup, and pipe-cleaner hair yet wondering if these Renaissance fairies weren't a little too, um, inert and passive for their more rambunctious natures had found the messed-up messiah they craved: Alain Jourgensen, a Cuba-born musician who moved to Chicago as a teen and basically made that city the keystone of a movement with the establishment of the band Ministry and the Wax Trax! record label. The American version of industrial music was hatched if not born at that moment, and as Ministry developed and morphed, its once-mopey tween fans became politically motivated Jourgensen's acolytes adopting his anti-Bush I and II fury (while Skinny Puppy devotees took up animal-rights activism and KMFDM's army became outright anarchists), becoming muscular, athletic moshers and they still wore the Stagelights eye shadow.
Jourgensen's lengthy career and massive output over the past twenty years could fill several volumes of tales and more than a gig of downloads. "Halloween" was really just a launching point for much better, and different, work. The album Twitch, which followed in 1986, continued to hew to synthetic production while lending to the slow breakup with with New Wave. The single "Over the Shoulder" is moved along by multiple layers of drums and a droning keyboard that sounds like a giant mosquito; the video for the song shows some kids stealing a car, trashing a grocery store, making a nails-and-gasoline omelet, and driving off with no apparent consequence.
Jourgensen, who had just turned 30 and was nursing addictions to heroin and crack, kept up a feverish pace and returned to the studio. Several important things happened during the recording of The Land of Rape and Honey, released in 1988. Paul Barker, a Seattle producer and bass player, joined the band and effectively became Jourgensen's creative partner for more than fifteen years. This amazing album, considered the benchmark of industrial music, contained the underground hits "Stigmata" and "You Know What You Are" (replete with samples from the film The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly), as well as the title track. There was the addition of very aggressive guitar-playing layered over dense polyrhythmic drum machine sequences, film dialogue snippets, and distortion-heavy, ominous, and noisy production. The Land of Rape and Honey also contained a more overt anti-capitalistic message and nascent criticism of the U.S. government.
During this fruitful period, Jourgensen was in extreme overdrive. As a (somewhat) more light-hearted diversion, he launched Revolting Cocks with Belgian DJ Luc Van Acker, Chris Connelly of Finitribe, and drummer Bill Rieflin (who went on, perplexingly, to play with R.E.M.). Lard was Jourgensen and Dead Kennedys frontman Jello Biafra; PTP was a one-off with Skinny Puppy's Ogre and Connelly's deadpan delivery; and Acid Horse Jourgensen plus the members of Cabaret Voltaire released one cryptic single, "No Name, No Slogan."
Most of these songs are heavy and dark, tinged with scattershot absurdity silly lyrics, shouts out to William Burroughs and J.G. Ballard, screamed asides of Beach Boys hits but some are simply exquisitely, ornately beautiful anthems the anti-right-wing-religious-fervor showstopper "No Devotion" moves and unites a crowd as few twelve-minute songs can, propelled by an irresistible bass line and culminating in a physically relieving crescendo.
RevCo's video for "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy" is the Lazy Sunday of industrial music, laugh-out-loud hilarious (check it on YouTube.com) but also incorporating the genre-critical elements of horror-movie references (Edwin Neal and the grandma corpse from Texas Chainsaw Massacre have key roles), kooky sex, liberal violence, and the iconographic dusty cowboy. (Chris Connelly's "performance" as a slack-jawed country fella is a total crackup.)
Jourgensen whose current tour in support of the new album, Rio Grande Blood, is basically one long anti-Bush administration screed has devoted the past years of his career to opposition to George W. Bush, continuing his anti-Bush passion from the Gulf War days. ("N.W.O." from 1992 is about that conflict; he retooled it into this year's "N.O. W." No W., get it?)
But some songs are less aggro. Jourgensen really likes machinery; there's nothing more complicated than that in his Harley homage "Stainless Steel Providers" and his collaboration with Gibby Haynes of the Butthole Surfers on "Jesus Built My Hotrod."
Ministry's recent work has, ironically, surprised and alienated some early converts. Barker left the partnership a few years ago, right before the release of 2004's Houses of the Molé, and Jourgensen's dark-side tendencies have received full death-metal exploration on Filth Pig and The Dark Side of the Spoon (though Al's taste for puns and levity Filth Pig contains a cover of Bob Dylan's "Lay Lady Lay" remains intact).
A Ministry concert is a revelatory, transformative (and sometimes dangerous) experience. So far this year, special onstage guests have included Jello Biafra and Martin Atkins from Pigface. For sheer decibel output, possibly only Tool and Sunn 0))) equal Ministry's output. And Jourgensen is an extraordinarily charismatic stage presence, darkly gorgeous, athletic, and wry.
Jourgensen says he will release his last Ministry album next year and then teach college (he's working on a Ph.D. in history) in his beloved Chicago.
"Well I let their teeny minds think/That they're dealing with someone who is over the brink./And I dress this way just to keep them at bay/Because Halloween is every day! It's every day!"
Editor's note: Jourgensen is a friend of the writer's family; her brother-in-law, Jeff Carey, of Atlanta's longtime goth-industrial club Masquerade, is Jourgensen's frequent fishing buddy. The writer also sustained the first of many industrial music-related injuries acquiring a broken wrist when swinging from a palm frond into the chicken-wire screen in front of the stage at a Ministry show in 1991.
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