The weird crossover of furries and industrial music: Part 1
Industrial music is aggressive, exciting and ominous, with futuristic themes of dystopia and urban decay. As art, you might call it the cold, metal shadow to the light side of nature, animals and furry things. It's a big contrast to the sunny electronic pop that furry con-goers may expect. (Does music have anything to do with animals, anyways? Well, heavy metal gets associated with Wolves...)
It's a challenge to make this weird connection and wonder who wants to read about it. (Not coming soon: my article about Furries and Juggalos.) It might be oil and water to many, but let's shake it up and see if anything mixes. In Part 2, I'll be posting interviews with DJs.
I've been a fan of industrial music since the early 1990's, for old school, EBM, industrial rock and other flavors. I used to bike around on a suburban paper route with a tape Walkman tuned to the angry robotic beats of Front 242 and Nitzer Ebb. (Rawr! Tough, right? Also, I liked cartoons and books about unicorns.) My interest has varied over time, with the ability to find good new music and the tidal fortunes of a small and independent scene, but it keeps giving me reasons to come back and check it out.
How's it doing now? Despite losing airplay since the 90's, its influence earns respect in movie soundtracks. Meanwhile, fans complain about clichéd formulas, stale audiences, and clubs stuck in the past that signal its demise. But at the core, it's always been for adventurous listeners and makers. Newer cousin styles of electronic music (like Dubstep or Witch House) have lovers and haters keeping up the conversation about branching out and moving forward. Some fans sense a deliberate split between derivative backward-looking bands, and "New Dark Indie" bands inspired by industrial music, who sound like it, but don't look like it or associate with it. Meanwhile, core fans honor the genre's underrated classics, and keep things cooking under the mainstream during times of music industry uncertainty.
My most recently renewed interest came through the Side-Line forum, in 2011. In the 90's, I knew Side-Line as a music news publication, but my late arrival to the forum caused me to miss years of gossip, drama and fun. I joined shortly before it dissolved due to proprietor indifference (at the same time as I went to my first Furry con, and loved it). A committed section of its members regrouped onto a new forum named after a Nitzer Ebb song: Violent Playground.
Violent Playground is a great place to connect with the best and brightest of industrial musicians, DJ's, promoters and supporters, old and new. Surprisingly, Furry fandom is, at worst, ignored when brought up on there. (It's usually brought up by me, because I'm shameless.) Even while posting photos or links to my silly hobby, I've never felt less than completely welcome. That's a sign of a rare level of respect among members. I feel they understand what small scenes are about, and appreciate support, no matter where it comes from. It's the best place I know to learn news of this scene. Every day, the forum enjoys posts from dark electronic music luminaries from bands such as Haujobb and Distorted Memory.
Let's stack this scene next to furry fandom. They're both small, underground scenes, driven by personal passion with little mainstream support. They're usually far apart on a spectrum from kitschy to arty, but both can be considered fan-based DIY niches in the bigger scheme of things. Industrial music has some mega-stars like Trent Reznor. Furry fandom has none like that (just a few artists who gained modest fame in comics, or "names you see all the time on con guest lists.") Industrial music has a network of clubs, and a few international festivals that I suspect aren't growing bigger than they are. Furries are seeing healthy growth with conventions as real-life social glue, where most often, you'll hear some flavor of electronic pop music at their dances.
Sub Level 03 performs "Music For Dogs" at Further Confusion 2007.
Industrial music fans can be less than respectful to the influence of rave, trance, and "cybergoth" club music (often considered cheesy and not real industrial, but it fills dance floors anyways). Purists like to poke fun at glowsticks, pool-noodle hair extensions, fur legwarmer fashion, and "cyber-furry Tae Bo dancing". But go to an industrial club, and you'll see wild punk-inspired costumes that are way more theatrical than everyday fashion. They're not as serious as they look.
One of the most respected industrial bands since the early 1980s is Skinny Puppy, known for theatrical horror stage shows that bring up animal rights and the future of species. Anime is a frequent interest for both kinds of fans. Another movie inspiration is director David Cronenberg (who I've mentioned here before), known for cross-species "body horror" movies like The Fly (1986). "Transhumanism" is a topic I've seen represented at a furry con panel, in a crossover between both scenes (but not in a good way. Did I mention drama? Never mind!) Here's the "Industrial Furs" group on Fur Affinity. You can find a few small furry-friendly industrial or darkwave acts.
(I've had nice responses to offers to help fill a stage with fursuiters, to bring thousands in show value for a band with a sense of humor. It hasn't happened yet, but ask me!)
DJ 5arah came to my attention this way. One of my joke furry posts on Sideline drew her response about doing an industrial music DJ set at Further Confusion. She called it one of her best experiences. It led me to her excellent podcast, where she spins new music every week with an expert paw: Altered Beats.
I'm a huge lover of the monthly furry dance party in San Francisco, Frolic. When I started going, I wasn't that familiar with the mainly techno-based club music (EDM) played by the organizer, Neon Bunny, and other DJ's, but it was great for a live show with costumes and fursuits. After a while, I made some requests for industrial, EBM, goth or darkwave music. That's how I discovered that DJ Neshamah sometimes spins it for Frolic, and has done sets at Further Confusion too.
When I found scene-crossing DJ's, it seemed like an article waiting to happen! A quick search led to a few more, including Quell Ironheart, a DJ who has been featured at Anthrocon. I sent out requests for interviews for Furry readers, and I can post responses in Part 2.