Get a Masterclass in Industrial Music From Adam X
No goths or gravers allowed.
Adam X, like so many New Yorkers, has only one volume setting—loud. That had been my limited experience with the Brooklyn-born, Berlin-based DJ/producer during two early '00s exchanges that both ended in someone shouting at someone (stick around to find out who). That abrasiveness nature (some would call it ballsy) served him well, from a youth spent bombing New York's subway system to throwing the legendary Storm Raves in the early-90s with his brother Frankie Bones.
That golden-era of mid-80s to early-90s New York has been the focus of much attention in recent year, with several articles about the brothers exploits appearing in the media. But what happened during the halcyon days a quarter century ago is only a small part of a narrative the includes a subsequent two decades of humble, hard work and musical growth, that by the mid-'00s, turned Adam into one of the leading proponents of full-flavored industrial techno—or EBM, if you like—during a time when "minimal" meant the most to cool clubbers.
That industrial techno has been on the rise in recent years (in no small part thanks to the factory fashion of Berlin's most notorious club) is an unintended effect of Adam's endeavors, as well as like-minded peers like fellow NYC-Berlin talent Function and London's Perc. His current focus, the ADMX-71 alias, fully embraces the grit and grime of industrial music, and challenges expectations by slowing down the tempo to a distinctly non-danceable amble. A new album, Coherent Abstraction, is his third since 2009, and the first full-length for Ron Morelli's L.I.E.S. Records, following the Redacted Files EP released in 2014.
Adam talked extensively about industrial music and how the sound favored by disenfranchised suburban kids in the 80s and 90s made it's way to the fore of this hard-scrabbled Brooklynite's thoughts. And no one raised their voice this time!
THUMP: You've received quite a bit of press attention lately, including an elaborate piece in The Daily Beast that paints your career arc as graffiti/hip-hop into rave/techno. How does industrial music (which you've also become known for in the techno context) come into that picture?
Adam X: I've always liked darker, deeper-edged music. My all time favorite band as a child, up until this day, is Black Sabbath. I also grew up as young kid loving Kraftwerk. Though at one time I was quite immersed in the Golden Age of hip-hop, I lost my interest in the genre by the start of the '90s. I lost all feelings of relation to it once I became firmly involved in techno.
Techno tinged with Industrial sounds and rhythm was always a big interest of mine. I played very hard, dark techno in the beginning of the '90s, such as early Aphex Twin, PCP and a lot of hard, 150BPM-plus, acid tracks. Unfortunately, I was very naive to the real Industrial genre at the time due to people calling bands like Ministry and Nine Inch Nails industrial music in the USA. I had no interest for acoustic instrument and vocal elements in music at that time. Plus, I also found a lot of what was called industrial to sound more like alternative rock, or even thrash in the case in Ministry's '90s productions, so I turned a deaf ear towards it.
It was until end of the '90s when techno was stuck in boring loop mode that I became bored of it and was digging deeper into other forms of electronic music. I was soon introduced to the sound of proper Industrial music as well as it's brother, EBM (Electronic Body Music). It was like discovering the electronic music parallel of Black Sabbath for the first time. I was instantly hooked!
Industrial music is one of three points of a musical triad that also includes Electronic Body Music (EBM) and Goth. Can you explain the nuances of each, and how they inform your new record?
I don't tend to mix Goth into the triad, though it is quite common to go to events, especially in America, where you can often hear these sounds played in the same venue. Personally, I don't see much connection with Goth, which is very Emo in nature and Industrial and EBM which are quite aggressive in nature.
In Europe, the scenes are way more divided than in the USA. Also, many Industrialists do not agree that EBM has much to do with Industrial let alone Goth—though I tend to disagree on EBM. Artists like Chris & Cosey, who split from pioneering Industrial act Throbbing Gristle, went on to fuse industrial into a more electro-based sound in 1981 with their debut album Heartbeat. This was years before the term "Electronic Body Music" came into play in the late '80s, when the mighty Belgian electronic label Antler-Subway released a few compilations entitled such.
The EBM sound prior to this was called "Electro" and is still often called the same in Europe. However, it's not the same Electro sound that came from NYC in the early '80s hip hop era (like Afrika Bambaataa's "Planet Rock"), or was continued upon with Miami bass or by Detroit techno artists like Drexciya and Aux 88. Though both forms of Electro can be traced back to Kraftwerk, each tend to be far apart from one another. The electro sound that was later called EBM was a darker version of New Wave, mixed with a Kraftwerk-ish feel, and layered with noise and rhythmic Industrial elements. Check out The Klinik box set on Antler which was a compilation of recordings from around 1984. This is, by far, my favorite example to win the debate about EBM also being Industrial.
On my latest album, as well as the previous two ADMX-71 albums, I weave in and out many of these elements of Electro/EBM, Industrial, Rhythmic Noise, Techno, Dub and Ambiance, all set at a tempo in the low 100 BPM range.
A lot of techno veterans from the 90s (particularly white Americans) had formative clubbing experiences in Alternative-Goth-Industrial clubs, which were easier to access at the time than the house music clubs (which were mainly black and gay). For some reason, these clubs don't have historical reputations. Was this part of your youth in Brooklyn, and if so, can you tell us about these places and experiences?
I agree, I know a lot of artists and people who came into techno through this scene in the early '90s. Until that time, I was completely unaware of it.
I do remember in the early techno years, when we use to go to our record distributor for new records, that sometimes Industrial/EBM Records would be mixed in the new releases. I often thought they were techno releases and every now and then an EBM record that had an instrumental cut might make it into the shop. Some labels, like Music Research (Zoth Ommog, New Zone), and Antler had techno sub-labels and we also get promos of Industrial/EBM stuff. Plus, the Frankfurt Techno scene had a lot of elements of EBM in their music as many of these artists came from from an EBM background. So I wasn't completely oblivious to it. I just found what I did hear at the time to be stiff and rigid in comparison to techno.
Coincidentally, I headlined a Washington DC rave in1992 as a DJ after Frontline Assembly. I had no clue who they were at the time. I found the flyer 10 years later and was in disbelief because, by that time, I had become a huge fan of their first few albums. At the gig, all I remember was seeing a band on stage with a vocalist, so I became quickly uninterested. At the time, I had no interest in exploring any other forms of music. Techno in this period was completely fresh and innovative and also rapidly moving and expanding. So I had no reason to seek other forms of music out. My hands were full with techno. I had all I needed.
From my later experiences of going to Alternative-Goth-Industrial clubs in the NYC area in the 2000-2006 period, I could say much of the audience and people I befriended were from the suburbs and outer-lying areas of the city. Most were not born and bred in the five boroughs of NYC. In my youth, during the 1980s, it was not common to meet people in their teenage years on the streets of NYC who listened to this music. I traveled the city from Bronx to Brooklyn painting my name on thousands of subway cars and had hundreds of friends from different backgrounds. No one I know ever mentioned this music to me.
That's not to say there wasn't a scene for it in NYC. There were some very long standing clubs in the area that played this music, starting with the legendary Danceteria in the '80s , then Communion at Limelight, Batcave on West 30th St , The Building on West 25St, The Pipeline in Newark and the longest standing club left, QXT, also in Newark.
Sadly, most Industrial clubs nowadays play an overwrought trance (gravers). Have you come across that? Any thoughts?
Ha ha! Don't even get me started on this. This music makes me cringe and the people who listen to it and call it EBM or Industrial are completely ignorant. They have the nerve to disrespect hard techno that has roots connected to Industrial, yet they love this cheesy trance music. In my opinion, it's near to the lowest common denominator of electronic music and has not one iota to do with Industrial music. I've been subjected to this garbage many a time while going to hang out with friends at a party or while waiting for a band or DJ who plays something I want to hear to go on. It got to the point I stopped going to these events. Fortunately, the Industrial scene in Europe is mostly separated from this nonsense.
You and your brother recently brought back the Storm Rave concept for a party with Red Bull Music Academy in NYC. Were you happy with the result? Would you consider doing something like that again?
I was most definitely happy with the event. The vibe was great. The sound system and space great. It was a close feeling to the old days, but I was largely against the 4AM closing time. It was definitely too early of a time to close and event. I would of never allowed for that if I was in control of doing it. The current underground scene in NYC doesn't even peak with attendance until 4AM. I might consider to do it again but there would have to be several things done my way next time I was proposed again.
I also caught your "Brooklyn House set" with Function at Panorama Bar a few years ago. Do you like working creatively within set parameters, be they historic or stylistic?
Oh cool! That gig was such a blast. I love doing special sets like this every now and again. For me it's important to stay true to the objective and timeline of the sub-genre I'm showcasing. In a sense, I feel like I'm teaching a history class and I want it to be an accurate portrayal. I really go all out to do these sets. It takes me days of preparation. That set took weeks to piece together.
The ADMX-71 sound also departs quite a bit from the usual L.I.E.S. style. I assume this was discussed as the project was readying release. What was Ron's take on the departure?
To be honest, nothing was ever discussed in this regard. Ron told me he loved my previous album two years back. I told him I was down to do release future works of this project with him. So last year I did the Redacted Files EP. Then the plan was to record the album over this past winter. Stylistically, Ron let me do my thing.
Do you plan on performing as ADMX-71 in the future? What sort of events/venues do you envision working best for the project?
Yes for sure. I will only take offers to play at Experimental or Industrial-based concert events for this project. I played the Atonal Festival last year in Berlin. That was great and I hope other festivals of this ilk, such as Mutek, Unsound, Decibel, will come through at some point. I'm definitely not interested in playing regular club nights with this particular project. I will let my alter ego handle that side of things.
I once yelled at you for talking too loudly in my car while I drove you and Mark Krux around Detroit. I few weeks later you yelled at me for drunkenly trying to talk to you while you were DJing. Not like I expect you to remember these incidents, but gotta ask if you've yelled at anyone recently?
Don't be upset with me but I do not recall either of those episodes! As far as yelling at people, hmm, lets see. I flipped the fuck out just last night on the phone to T-Mobile while trying to sort a bill out for my American phone number I use when visiting. I had to deal with three separate agents who passed me onto the next one without advising the next agent what the issue is or of my identity. This, while making me wait 15 minutes in between each agent with hold music that was beyond dreadful. The music would sway in and out pitch as if it was played on an old belt driven turntable that was worn to pieces.
When it reached 45 minutes into the call, the third agent finally picked up and, like her predecessors asks my name and social security number and the reason of my call. By this point I had enough of the beyond torturous music and of repeating myself four times (including having to speak into the computer voice system which also asked for same info in the beginning of call). So Agent #3 received a mouthful of fury and vitriol from for a minute or two as there was no way in hell I was getting pushed further to Agent #4.