Film Review: Industrial Soundtrack for the Urban Decay

Nearly 40 years have passed since British art-noise agitators Throbbing Gristle founded the seminal label for experimental music, Industrial Records, which established an entirely new, eponymous genre of “industrial” music. Industrial Music for the Urban Decay is a documentary film by Amélie Ravalec and Travis Collins that presents an overview of the genre’s origins. Following in the footsteps of RE/Search magazine’s Industrial Culture Handbook, the filmmakers combine interviews with members of Throbbing Gristle and other key contributors (SPK, Cabaret Voltaire, etc.) and historical documents (i.e. album covers, photos, news and concert footage) to create a condensed view of a complex subject.

As a creative response and commentary on the culture, politics, and technology of the 20th century, industrial music embraced Dadaism as a postwar model for the identification and interrogation of codified values and ideologies to incite positive change.

And that’s where the film ends.

In the present era of information and internet virality, any attempt to cinematically document and encapsulate all the complexities of such an influential movement is understandably challenged by the dwindling attention span of viewers accustomed to three-minute YouTube videos full of quick edits and sound bites. And, while a 52-minute film may make a comprehensive viewing experience for TV audiences (and one assumes this is the reason why the film does not explore the subject further), its value as an investigative historical document is undermined by its vetting of the marketplace.

Despite its influence on popular and especially electronic music, the history of industrial has never been specifically explored in a feature-length documentary (with the notable exception of Kill Yr Idols, a film about New York’s no-wave scene, which shares several founding influences of industrial music.)

Still, Industrial Soundtrack for the Urban Decay collects firsthand accounts with those creatives who were directly responsible for the birth of industrial music, and one assumes there is much more valuable interview footage that did not make the final cut – perhaps this is an intentional strategy on the part of Les Films du Garage, to market-test a niche topic with an eye towards further releases, (similar to Banger Films’ elaboration on the documentary film Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey, which yielded a sequel and a subsequent episodic series.)

One hopes that this is not the final word from Ravalec and Collins on the subject, but the beginning of a comprehensive exploration of industrial music that will appeal to a new generation of fans and creatives.

Industrial Soundtrack for the Urban Decay screens again tonight at Cinematheque Vancouver. Check here for viewing times