Skinny Puppy’s reunion tour in 2004 was a big production. Founders Nivek Ogre and cEvin Key were properly outraged by the war in Iraq, and The Greater Wrong of the Right, the band’s first new album in eight years, was an anti-Bush polemic. The stage show aimed to match the album’s political content. Elaborate, expensive-looking CGI videos were projected behind the band: during one number, hydraulic oil drills hammer to the beat, their scaly phalli fucking the mechanical butterfly vaginas of engorged pupae. The big budget show got a deluxe, two-DVD treatment, with coverage from six cameras, a surround sound mix, and plenty bonuses, including an original documentary about the Iraq War. The concert itself is pretty good, but cEvin Key’s keys are lost in the mix (maybe because the tour’s guitarist, William Morrison, directed the movie?), Ogre’s performance has a weird swagger, and the Alex Jones “colossal world government” case against the war might not have been the strongest one to make.
The Greater Wrong of the Right
The new Skinny Puppy DVD, Eurosolvent, is a free download shot and distributed by Hungarian fans with the band’s blessing, and it’s much better than the fancy one. Filmed in Budapest in 2010, it captures Ogre and Key on a club stage, playing as a trio with drummer Justin Bennett. Key’s beats, chords, and sound collages predominate, as they should, and Ogre moves differently in this show. Performing on large stages in 2004, Ogre put on a display of physical fitness that, while admirable, was hard to reconcile with Skinny Puppy’s grotesque imagery and noise. But on the smaller stage of Club Diesel in Budapest, Ogre doesn’t have to play to the cheap seats, and so is able to act out the debility and degradation in the music. Wearing a mask, a huge conical hat, and strips of white cloth, Ogre hobbles out on the club’s stage with the aid of a walker, looking like the undead mummy of Dada poet Hugo Ball. At this show, the video—now a wash of blurry, abstract color, without the agitprop specificity of the antiwar images—isn’t projected on a screen behind the band, but on the band itself, transforming its members into constantly changing chameleons.
Ogre has always been too handsome for his guttural, nasal vocals, which are usually so processed as to sound like the transdimensional sneer of a disembodied hell-fiend who has gone to all the trouble of penetrating the barrier of souls just so he could puke his disgust on you. It’s quite a voice, if you go for that sort of thing, but the effect is diminished by his piercing blue eyes. The mismatch is particularly jarring in old Skinny Puppy footage from the band’s big hair days, and Ogre has since used a variety of makeup, masks, and costumes to obscure his good looks. He spent most of Skinny Puppy’s first live home video, Ain’t It Dead Yet, hidden beneath layers of mud, grease, grime, and blood. (I am not sure where Trent Reznor gets his ideas, but I think he must come up with them all by himself.)
Skinny Puppy performs “Assimilate” in 1986
Ain’t It Dead Yet
One of the pleasures of sampling is that you, the artist, get to make anyone from Charles Manson to the President of the United States a helpless prisoner of your song, forced to sing along. This was, for a time, a key feature of the industrial genre. The appeal of Ministry’s “N.W.O.” was less about a dire warning of one-world government than it was about President Bush being made to sing the chorus of an especially gnarly tune. Sampling technology allowed you to choose from the constant onslaught of signals in the media and recontextualize them—or that was the idea, anyway. The industrial music of the 80s and early 90s wasn’t a form that lent itself to tears-in-my-beer songs, because you couldn’t make out the lyrics through all the effects, and even if you could, the samples of soda ads, TV preachers, and horror-movie dialogue demolished any sappy content. The form’s ideal singer would be as anonymous onstage as on record, a kind of puppet of the music, whose voice and movements were not presented as marks of identity, but as samples. Eurosolvent keeps faith with this lost tradition.
Previously – Keep Your Feelings Out of Industrial, Pansy