Monday 17 June 2013

Book Review: S. Alexander Reed – 'Assimilate: A Critical History Of Industrial Music'

'Assimilate: A Critical History Of Industrial Music' 

There are plenty of books available regarding musical genres and prominent bands. Some more journalistic orientated and others with some academic grounding. But until now, as a genre in its own right, industrial has languished as somewhat of a footnote in the annals of musical history with only certain bands being picked out for deeper academic study (see 'Interrogation Machine: Laibach & NSK' by Alexei Monroe for example). 'Assimilate: A Critical History Of Industrial Music' is the first book to look at, and therefore academically legitimise, the equally loved and loathed genre classification as a whole. Most importantly though, this book contextualises the genre.

S. Alexander Reed is Assistant Professor of Music Theory at the University of Florida and has also released five albums with his own gothic-industrial band, ThouShaltNot. The book as a result is written in a manner that ticks all the boxes for a good critical history by providing close readings of genre-defining works, extensive footnotes and quotations. But most significantly, there is a palpable passion to the book as well, which resonates through the breakdowns of song structures and thematic continuity throughout the works of various bands.

Cabaret Voltaire founding member Stephen Mallinder effectively sums up the issues surrounding the “I-word” in his forward to the text and vocalises the case for a retrospective appraisal. Starting in the early twentieth century, Reed traces the evolution in philosophical and theoretical ideas – by way of Antonin Artaud, William S. Burroughs, and Guy Debord – and their effect on pre-industrial artists and musicians. As well as the social and cultural catalysts that ultimately culminated in the heterogeneous spectrum of music and bands we have today.

Reed is frank in his criticisms and fair in his affections and so remains relatively objective, especially when he looks at the aesthetics of the genre which have often flirted heavily with religious, sexual and political themes.

This is an exhaustive and very well researched book that doesn't so much solidly unite all the various disciplines and ideas at work in the genre as a musical style. But it does show how a cryptic and disparate umbrella term such industrial is held together by tenaciously linked ideologies. There are no real revelations to be found in the book, but it is insightful and it does tidy the whole thing up to make sense of it all beyond a simple tag used by journalists and labels.

As an academic text, this will probably not appeal to those who want to read purely journalistic content such as rare interviews and reviews. But those who have an interest in industrial music or the development of subcultures in the twentieth/twenty-first centuries will find this to be a very valuable resource.

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