BFI, London
8 May 2015

The world premiere of a new feature film about industrial music brought out members of Throbbing Gristle and Test Dept, along with a tattooed and booted audience keen to see footage of TG, Non and Z’ev. What they got was a 52 minute trawl through the archives, original interview footage, a live Q&A with the film-makers and Chris & Cosey, and a DJ set from the original British metal-bashers.

imageIndustrial Soundtrack for the Urban Decay is a French independent production, created by Amelie Ravalec and Travis Collins. Its premise is that industrial music – the experimental style that is characterised by harsh sounds, cut-up lyrics, the use of found sound, and so on – was born amidst urban decline as the counterculture of factory workers or unemployed youth. The story is told by many of the prime movers from the scene, including Genesis P-Orridge, Chris & Cosey, Boyd Rice, Stephen Mallinder, Graeme Revell and Dirk Ivens. Most of the interviewees are from the UK, so their reactions to the Thatchist police state of the 1980s are key to the narrative, but there is also space given to Vale from Re:Search and the Belgian founder of Sordide Sentimental, who publicised the industrial scene for the love of its art.

The term, industrial music, came from Throbbing Gristle, who created the Industrial Records label to issue their own music and that of artists like Thomas Leer and Robert Rental, Monte Cazzaza or Sweden’s Leather Nun. Adopting the communications style of corporations and popular culture reference points like Greatest Hits albums, they subverted the mainstream by injecting themselves into it. In the film, P-Orridge explains the coining of the term as a branding exercise, alongside the adoption of the band’s lightning flash logo, but the film and its participants steer clear of any pedantic discussion about what is truly industrial.

There is little in the film that will surprise long-time followers, and footage from the Rough Trade tour showing Robert Rental perfoming with Daniel Miller or clips of Cabaret Voltaire’s TV appearances, promoting their first album for a major label, can be easily found on Youtube. Fans who know the music will appreciate hearing “their” genre used in a feature film, but it rolls past quickly in a blizzard of clips that don’t always correspond to the soundtrack. Completists will point out that the film misses the chance to look at artists like Zoviet France, Muslimgauze or Severed Heads, so that the picture is somewhat distorted for less-informed viewers, but the producers explained that they were constrained by their budget and chose to focus on the artists they were able to interview.

The choice of several tracks from CV’s Crackdown album invites questions about the interface between industrial music and pop, but the opportunity is passed over. That is unfortunate, as many of the artists being highlighted made material intended for a more commercial audience – SPK’s “Metal Dance,” much of CV’s later output, Chris & Cosey’s “October Love Song” or Test Dept’s “New World Order” all provide examples – and it would have been interesting to hear their views about the creative limits of each genre.

Those quibbles aside, Industrial Soundtrack for the Urban Decay is an entertaining, accessible and informative run-through of industrial music’s history. Its running time means it can be squeezed onto Sky Arts, but for now look out for it on the festival circuit.