Earthly Delights (1988)
Ten industrial albums
YOU must own.
PART 3: Nocturnal Emissions – Spiritflesh (Earthly Delights, 1988)
"'Ambient' means background music. My music shifts from background
to foreground, so I wouldn't consider it ambient. I consider what I do
to be a subversive music, because it messes with people's heads in unexpected
I think this selection may come as a surprise to many. It certainly did
to me, but having listened again to many of the so-called "classic" industrial
albums I found that many of them had utterly failed the test of time,
whereas much of Nocturnal Emissions’ output was far far better than I
The Noccies (as we will not call them) have an impressive history dating
back to the late 70s. I think for many people (myself included) there
was a tendency to dismiss them as yet another group who contributed tracks
to every compilation going and who you would get around to investigating
further... eventually. In retrospect this was to everybody’s loss.
In fact this is a key point – Nocturnal Emissions didn’t contribute tracks
to compilations because nobody would release their stuff as an album,
but because collaboration, networking, and participation in collective
action was always a primary part of their modus operandi. As Nigel Ayers
(the main, and mostly the only "member" of the "group")
once said of the early days of industrial:
my own work in two contexts, one is for me to do the work I personally
find satisfying and rewarding. The second is to undermine the structures
of capitalism. So I have both individual and collective aims in my work.
They may seem to be contradictory, but if you think about it, they aren't.
Whether I shared these motives with the ‘industrial movement’ is debatable.
While many of the early industrialists dealt with ‘transgressive’ material,
I think the effect has been that rather than public consciousness being
raised, sado-masochism has become far more marketable. I think time has
shown that the motivation for most of the so-called ‘industrial movement’
was essentially careerist."
"The cultural phenomena that interested me, was a very much an ‘underground’
thing that worked through a number of informal networks of tape exchanges,
squats, mail art, zines, etc. The ‘successful’ industrial bands had little
to do with this phenomena, and instead participated in issuing the kind
of ‘style sheets’ of correct listening, reading and thinking that you
get in the Industrial Culture Handbook."
It is also quite telling that Nocturnal Emissions' output was never tainted
with the totalitarian chic exhibited by many of their contemporaries.
Indeed, whilst clearly being interested and involved in many of the diverse
currents flowing through the underground, Nigel never let this detract
from the music:
is a means of communication. The point is to make it, to use it, to listen
to it. Not to study or theorise about it."
As with anarchopunk, many of the denizens of industrial culture collapsed
under the weight of their own ideologies (or failing that, mythologies).
Albums became impossible to just listen to* – the whole intellectual context
had to be weighed up. Various industrial acts would announce in interviews
that they were giving up music to work on books which explained their
worldview – but none appeared.
It is somewhat galling, having waded through acres of cutting edge dark
mysticism** as a young man, to find Nigel being so bang on and pragmatic
from the outset:
company advised me to emphasise the 'magick' side of my music, in order
to sell more records. I know this is a strategy adopted by many of the
other groups they distribute and it seems to work for them. Personally,
I don't know that I have an aspect to my life that isn't magick or even
magic. As a practising occultist, I'd describe my belief system as sceptical."
Nigel is also slyly aware of being ahead of the game so many times over
the last few decades that his past regularly comes back to haunt him.
Most Nocturnal Emissions interviews are peppered with references to their
influence on progressive or experimental music, which vary from the hilariously
every major musical movement in the past 20 years was all my fault. I
am to blame for it all."
...to pure statements of fact: Nocturnal Emissions were arguably the first
group to use metal bashing, produced early "scratch video" before
the name was coined, were cited as an influence on everyone from the Prodigy
to Bjork and bizarrely seem to have somehow influenced the lyrical content
of Boyzone's biggest hits.
And so, without further ado, to the music. By the time Spiritflesh was
released in 1988, Nocturnal Emissions had already produced several albums
of electronic music which varied from noisy to funky. Displaying his usual
perversity, Nigel chose to ditch electronic dance music immediately before
the acid house revolution and produce a series of utterly compelling atmospheric
albums which are often referred to these days as being "ambient industrial".
Spiritflesh includes drones, birdsong and other recordings of animals,
percussion, effects. It is by no means the assault on your ears that industrial
music is supposed to be***. I am sure that if you described those elements
to most people they would dismiss it as new age cobblers. In fact, the
album is incredibly involving... enveloping. I think this is because Nigel
is able to combine the white light of ambience with a darker undercurrent,
so the whole carries just enough weight and intensity. Too little and
it would be cheesy in the same way that the whooshing positivity of trance
is cheesy. Too much and we enter camp "hammer house of horror" cliches
or the outright nastiness of much of the industrial scene.
I’m reluctant to get into a track by track dissection. The album sucks
you into its own world but allows you the freedom to wander about. It
is easy to forget that nobody else was producing music quite like this
at the time, because so many people have been producing derivative versions
ever since. The original vinyl version will probably set you back about
a hundred quid these days, but it’s been rereleased on CD in a variety
of editions, including a "two for one" with the "Stoneface" LP (which
I am ashamed to admit I have never heard).
* Perhaps the best example of this was groups presenting their work as
"research" and huffily stating that they should not be viewed
** Although this was useful to me for a whole swathe of reasons probably
best not gone into here.
*** But check this, Nigel on his earlier, harsher, work: "My first records
had birdsong, cat purring, sounds of weather, acoustic instruments only
they were structured with different emphasis and perceived differently.
I think ‘the media’ is an integral part of nature and real life, and real
life has always been the source of my raw material. It’s just using it
with different emphasis in different products."
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