Blu-ray Review: “Industrial Accident: The Story of Wax Trax! Records”

Written by Blu-ray Reviews, Music

Starting this weekend, trendy music genres like trap, EDM, trance house, crunk, or whatever the hell else the kids are listening to these days will step aside while their dark overlord, Industrial Music, takes a fast and furious encore in the national zeitgeist. After making its way through the festival circuit for the past year, Julia Nash’s celebrated feature-length documentary, Industrial Accident: The Story of Wax Trax! Records, finally makes its way into home theaters with the official Blu-Ray/DVD release (April 16), and an accompanying soundtrack that’s out this weekend in time for Record Store Day.

Adding to the terror, Ministry will be performing a Wax Trax! era set list at select film screenings in Brooklyn, Toronto, Austin, San Francisco, and Los Angeles; the tour kicks off April 13 at the House of Vans in Chicago. A Q&A with Nash, Al Jourgensen, and other film participants will accompany these events. For people like me who grew up in and survived this era, Wax Trax! tickets are arguably the hottest score of the decade.

While I won’t be in attendance, parenting duties will keep me sleepless in Seattle, I have seen the film and can easily say it is must-see TV – not just for former scenesters, but for their kids who may be shocked to learn their parents were ever this edgy, dangerous, or cool.

Much like how last year’s Bad Reputation told the unlikely (platonic) love story of Joan Jett and her longtime producer/manager/BFF Kenny Laguna; a beautiful love story sets Industrial Accident into motion. The film begins with the discovery of a treasure trove of lost music and artifacts in a run down barn in Hope, Arkansas and steadily makes it way to Denver, then Chicago, and eventually around the world as the relationship between Jim Nash and Dannie Flesher unfolds.

The film nicely fills in a few hundred gaps in my understanding of a scene I was quite obsessed with at the time, but since there was no Internet in the mid to late 1980’s, and acts such as Pailhead, A Popular History of Signs, and Cassandra Complex weren’t splashed on the covers of mags like Smash Hits and No.1, my friends and I pretty much had to rely on fanzines, record store clerks, club DJs, and left of the dial radio hosts to turn us onto these bands.

Were the Revolting Cocks named after a chicken uprising or a nasty phallus? Did KMFDM really have it out for Depeche Mode? Was Wax Trax! Al Jourgensen’s vanity label similar to Prince’s Paisley Park? I need to know! Industrial Accident is the gateway to answering all of these questions and more.

My first taste of industrial music came from WMNF-FM in Tampa, Florida, courtesy of a post punk radio hosts Chris and EJ Ford; I taped their show every week and soon amassed quite the collection of the industrial classics that packed the dance floors on dark wave nights at the London Victory Club and Ybor City ‘s post-apocalyptic Pulse nightclub. By the time I landed at Kent State University in Ohio, Wax Trax! releases were regularly landing on the 1988 and 1989 new release pile at WKSR-AM. The Wax Trax! label alone warranted heavy rotation – if there were radio friendly mixes.

Until this documentary came out, I could not name a single member of KMFDM or Front 242; and while I could name every member of Revolting Cocks, I really had no idea who they were or what they looked like. Industrial Accident puts faces to the names; their first-hand accounts help fully explain how the scene took root and where it all went to hell.

Director Julia Nash (Jim’s daughter) tracks down virtually everyone who is still alive, along with people who inspired Jim and Dannie (members of Dead Kennedys, Bauhaus, and Throbbing Gristle) or those who took inspiration from their store or sonic output (Dave Grohl, Trent Reznor). Reznor, oddly enough, profited most from the scene, harnessing its most visceral and commercial elements into Nine Inch Nails’ debut Pretty Hate Machine.

I went to school with NIN’s founding drummer, Chris Vrenna, and one of my favorite memories was when a bunch of us (I’m pretty sure he was there) went to see Wax Trax! militarist dance band, Laibach, in Cleveland’s Flats district. Word got out in the Slovenian community that a band from the motherland was in town, so peppered into the crowd with the goth kids were elders in authentic garb, ringing bells instead of clapping. Most of them wound up on the dance floor at Lift soon after the show. I am grateful the movie includes Laibach, one of a few Trax-era bands still going strong, for I’ve always wondered just how the hell such a band came to be (Opus Dei is one of my fave albums of the era, featuring “Geburt einer Nation” the world’s most bizarre Third Reich anthem that turns out to be a loving cover of Queen’s ‘One Vision’).

Industrial Accident makes a good companion film to New Order Story and the fictionalized 24 Hour Party People, two movies that told the story of the rise and fall of Factory Records. Sadly, the “we have no contracts” independent spirit of both labels led to their ultimate demise, but this film and its soundtrack remind us of why it all mattered so much anyway.

Ministry’s brief sojourn to Arista Records where they released the dark pop classic, With Sympathy, is briefly alluded to in a blink and you missed it portion of the film – perhaps that story will have to wait for another documentary (suggested title, Without Sympathy: Bat Into Hell). But Uncle Al Jourgensen is front and center in this story, along with former member Paul Barker, to explain how major label money from both that deal and one with Sire Records also gave rise to a ton of the most beloved Wax Trax! acts. One of the most interesting segments in the film tells of a happy accident – collective failure to understand how Al’s pricey Fairlight sequencing machine worked – led to the creation of the propulsive rhythms that made the genre so sinister and danceable.

There’s a quote in the film – I forget who uttered its brilliance – “Nothing ends unless you say its over.” So perhaps, 2019 will usher in a new dawn for Industrial Music. My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult recently dropped a new album (In The House of Strange Affairs) and Meat Beat Manifesto will release Opaque Couché, their second new album in as many years, on May 10. Jourgensen’s metal version of Ministry has been raging against the machines of George W. and Donald J. for two decades now; perhaps this brief tour will re-ignite his desire to produce music angry kids of all ages can dance to. As his acoustic cover of the Dead’s ‘Friend of the Devil’ a while back proved Al can sing as well as he can scream. There’s millions to be made in the sonic ear candy space between Ministry’s early Wax Trax! hits and Pretty Hate Machine, someone’s got to make it, why not the godfather? Side note, writing this up for Popdose inspired me to plunge $80 into Ministry’s 7-disc Trax! Box (worth every penny).

In the meantime, the Industrial Accident soundtrack reminds us why we cared all along. Album highlight “Animal Nation” by Revolting Cocks is given a run for its money by powerful rarities and reissues by Ministry, Mussolini Headkick, KMFDM, Laibach and Thrill Kill Kult. The CD releases promises to include some mystery tracks; I will update this post as soon as I know what they are.

Pick up Industrial Accident: The Story of Wax Trax! Records on Blu-Ray or DVD April 16.