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


’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.