Metal Machine Music:
Nine Inch Nails and the Industrial Uprising

Sexy Intellectual

When I interviewed Genesis P-Orridge last year, he told me about meeting some new neighbors who had moved in downstairs from him. One of the young men asked him what he did for a living, and when Genesis told him s/he was a musician, he then wanted to know what kind of music s/he made. Genesis replied that s/he used to make what had been called “industrial.” This answer caused the new neighbor to role up his sleeve to reveal a Nine Inch Nails tattoo. Needless to say, Genesis didn’t know how to explain that it wasn’t really the same thing.

Genesis also mentioned being interviewed for a documentary concerning industrial music and his new neighbor’s beloved Nine Inch Nails. That film, Metal Machine Music: Nine Inch Nails and the Industrial Uprising attempts to explain how the industrial music P-Orridge and his seminal band, Throbbing Gristle, created eventually spawned the more populist strain propagated by Trent Reznor and his Nine Inch Nails. As tenuous as that thread may seem, there is a reason that the term that once was used to describe the atonal and mechanical ruckuses created by TG, and later, Einstürzende Neubauten would also be applied to the beat-laden barrage of Ministry, Skinny Puppy, and eventually, Nine Inch Nails.

The film takes an intellectualized bent, which is emphasized by having a British narrator (always a sign of an intelligent, objective point of view). Interviewing a handful of music critics, the first third of the doc does a good job of showing how industrial music evolved to the point where Reznor could make his mark. Citing the influence of electronic artists like Cabaret Voltaire and Depeche Mode, as well as the rise of thrash metal, Metal Machine’s contributors put Nine Inch Nails’ ascension in context. They also dissect the differences between Reznor and his contemporary influences, and how his pop sensibilities allowed him to surpass them in terms of popularity.

It’s an interesting history lesson, with some lesser seen footage of Throbbing Gristle and others. The latter majority of the film, however, becomes an exploration of Nine Inch Nails’ own evolution. While interviews with former members Chris Vrenna and Richard Patrick provide some insight into the workings of the band in its early stages, most of what is presented is just conjecture by a few geeks placing far too much importance on Mr. Reznor and his songs. In short, it doesn’t make for a thrilling viewing. Instead, it feels like one long multimedia record review, a bunch of hyperbole filmed pouring directly from the horses’ mouthes. While the film begins with an interesting premise, it ends up seeming like nothing more than just a prop for the pedestal on which the musician is placed. Interesting, but hardly crucial viewing.
Stephen Slaybaugh