Information Society: ’90’s Industrial Rock Has Not Aged Well’

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’80s new wave/dance/pop act Information Society recently returned with a new album, ‘Orders of Magnitude,’ which is comprised of cover tunes of other artists – including Devo, Gary Numan, Human League, and others that InSoc fancies. Although best known for their electro-dance hit singles “Pure Energy (What’s On Your Mind)?” and “Walking Away,” such early tunes as “Running” seem to have more in common sonically with the early direction of Nine Inch Nails and Ministry. Long-time InSoc member, Paul Robb, was kind enough to answer some questions for Alternative Nation, and discuss why 90’s industrial rock has not aged well.

Alternative Nation: There are some interesting songs choices to cover on ‘Orders of Magnitude’…how were they selected?
 
Paul Robb: ‘Orders of Magnitude’ grew organically over the year that we worked on it. One thing we wanted to make sure of was that none of the tracks were obvious choices. Even “Don’t You Want Me” by the Human League we even thought might be a surprise, because it’s the song most associated with that group, so who would dare to cover it? Most of the songs on the album were originally performed by artists that were influences on our own work, sometimes musically, sometimes just with their approach to pop. Snakefinger, for instance, was a weirdo-guitar god, so in that sense, we weren’t hugely influenced by him musically, but his style and his association with the Ralph Records empire made him a hero to us. Devo, Fad Gadget, and Heaven 17 were huge heroes of ours. The other songs were mostly spur of the moment decisions, based on hazy and sometimes terrifying memories from our teen years and childhoods.

Alternative Nation: How did Devo’s Jerry Casale get involved?
 
Paul Robb: Our manager was an old friend, and when we told him we wanted to record “Beautiful World,” he put in a call to Jerry. It turned out that he lived a few blocks from me in Santa Monica and was way into the idea of a cover, so he came over and recorded the vocals with me. The whole process was a breeze. He was a true professional. He also came and played a show with us at Pershing Square in LA, and that was pretty much a peak moment in all our lives.

Alternative Nation: How much of an influence did such classic synth-heavy/new wave artists as Devo, Gary Numan, and even Kraftwerk have on InSoc?
 
Paul Robb: A huge amount. Like most bands, we started out by imitating the bands we loved. If you add Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft, the Residents, and Soul Sonic Force to the three groups you mentioned, you’d have a pretty accurate recipe for our main influences.

Alternative Nation: What are your thoughts on the industrial rock movement of the late ‘80s/early ‘90s?
 
Paul Robb: I wanted to be a fan, and I tried to be a fan at the time, but I have to say the genre as a whole has not aged well. As a group, we were always more into electro-industrial, and as guitar haters, we felt like the terms “industrial” and “rock” were sort of mutually exclusive. And sure enough, it ended up morphing into just another awful sub-genre of metal.

Alternative Nation: What about Nine Inch Nails, who you can say took what the aforementioned artists – as well as bands like InSoc – a few steps further?
 
Paul Robb: Notwithstanding what I just said, we’ve always been fans of Trent. He used to be in a Cleveland band called Exotic Birds, who opened for us a few times, strangely enough. I’ve enjoyed a lot of his recent stuff.

Alternative Nation: Do you agree that early InSoc tunes such as “Running” may have helped pay the wave for bands like NIN (particularly their early direction)?
 
Paul Robb: Possible. Probably more true to say that we were both influenced by the same groups and labels, and he went in a slightly different direction. I think he took the whole Wax Trax! vibe more to heart, whereas we went in a more groove-oriented direction. Also, our approach to songwriting has never been of that “confessional” nature that Trent loves so much 🙂
 
Photo by Wil Foster.

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Bio: After having his articles posted from other outlets on Alternative Nation (and before that, Grunge Report) for years - heck, he was even interviewed by GR back in 2009! - Greg Prato finally began contributing articles to the site in 2014. He has written for various sites/mags over the years (Rolling Stone, All Music Guide, etc.), and is the author of quite a few books. And as evidenced by such titles as Grunge is Dead: The Oral History of Seattle Rock Music, A Devil on One Shoulder and an Angel on the Other: The Story of Shannon Hoon and Blind Melon, and Too High to Die: Meet the Meat Puppets, he also has a deep fondness for alternative rock n' roll music. You can check out info on all of Greg's books here, see what he's up to on his Twitter page here.
  • dakotablue

    They’ve got an uncontrollable urge…to re-live the 80s. So they’d better whip it good.

  • Felonious Punk

    Meh, give me 90s industrial over pretty much anything happening in music today.

    • Exactly. I still listen to Broken and Downward Spiral and they still sound fresh.

      • Trovoid

        Yeah, not outdated at all. Even The Fragile holds up. Pretty Hate Machine is debatable but that has a lot to do with the production.

        • yeah good one mate, the fragile is also fab

    • Trovoid

      For real. Only stuff I get excited about nowadays is older artists newer stuff. You a fan of Patton’s stuff by any chance? I really enjoyed Tomahawk’s “Oddfellows” from 2013 and Faith No More’s “Sol Invictus” (from what I’ve heard of it).

      • Felonious Punk

        Patton is pretty great, yea. I have a friend in Australia who is an absolute Patton freak, so she keeps me up to date on his constant projects. Oddfellows was indeed great; Sol Invictus was just alright to me.

        I think there are a lot of great “newer” bands out there; it just takes some digging because music is a much more fickle thing than it was 20 years ago. Gone are the days when a musician or band could release an album and keep it in the public consciousness for a year or longer, with a new single every three months and a series of tours. Nowadays, most new stuff is forgotten about a month after its been released.

        So it’s really a listener’s market now: you find what you like and it’s up to you to support it and keep yourself apprised of what’s going on with that particular band or musician.

      • we also say cunt lol. i love Patton he is mega! I’m like you I don’t really have any interest in new only the older artists. I find that most of the new music is a load of bollocks

        • Trovoid

          Lol people don’t respond to cunt too well around here but I must say it’s one of my favorite words. I admire Patton’s work ethic and how he’s open to experimentation. Yeah funny thing is I avoid having this conversation with people in real life. They assume that if you say you don’t like today’s music you’re not “looking hard enough” or “forgetting all the awful stuff that came out back then.”

          • What a shame. Cunt is fab. It’s an odd perspective, but one I also share. I hate all the new rubbish. No soul, no style, no originality, nothing unique. All the lads are brainwashed by their phones. A giant brainless cult.

  • Joe Cogan

    They lost me at “guitar haters”.

    • teufelwaffen

      Exactly. What a dumb statement.

  • For Bleep Sake

    Liverpool’s The Farm covered “Don’t You Want Me” by Human League. INSOC is hardly the first to think of it.

  • Brian Fitzgerald

    Chemlab, 16 Volt, The Young Gods, Ministry, Filter, Rorschach Test, Kidney Thieves, Acumen Nation, Circle of Dust, Sister Machine Gun, etc? Industrial rock was a great movement. I think it holds up very well today.

    What hasn’t aged well? Information Society.

    • KB

      Fuck, I love Kidneythieves. I love how Free and Bruce change up everything from album to album. The Mend is going to be amazing.

  • ITURBIDE

    maybe not all artist survive over the years the way they wanted to but…an awful sub genre of metal?

    indsutrial rock and industrial metal are very different things. NIN, Manson, Rammstein, Ministry, Zombie…all of them are relevant and healthy.

    who the fuck is Information society anyway?

  • Nunya

    I think he feels shafted by the 90s that never happened for him. Which is ironic because their 1996 album… Don’t Be Afraid, has a lot of 90s industrial elements and though I like it, definitely sounds influenced by other artists of that time.