S. Alexander Reed

S. Alexander Reed is assistant professor of music at the University of Florida. His book Assimilate: A Critical History of Industrial Music (Oxford University Press) is forthcoming. He has recorded and toured extensively with his industrial band, ThouShaltNot. Reed is chair of the American Musicological Society's Popular Music Study Group.



"Industrial Music, Urban Squatting, and the Berlin Wall"

Early German industrial music didn't just declare there was "no future"--it literally sought to tear down the urban physicality of the new and the old alike.

This paper identifies 1970s West Berlin as an outpost of cultural display, subvented by West Germany to flaunt its artistic vibrancy amidst the Eastern Bloc. Ironically, however, the generation of young artists in West Berlin were anti-capitalist, and given their parents' complicity under the Third Reich, many were anti-German. As new buildings arose alongside Berlin's war ruins, these artists understood that new authority did not replace the old, but continued it. Responding to urban space with rage, they repurposed buildings as anarchic hotbeds of music and filmmaking. Situationist tactics of derive and detournement collided with punk and a modernist desire to start anew. Bands like Einsturzende Neubauten were not only a starting point for industrial music, but amidst the Baader-Meinhof activities and the city's decrepitude, they embodied explosive responses to Berlin itself. As singer Bargeld says of the day's riots, "They drummed for hours on the metal fences and barricades. Ours was fundamentally the same music."

This spirited talk uses industrial music, German new wave, and vintage experimental film to show how found sound, power tool percussion, and the abjectly destructive attitudes of Berlin's late 1970s rock avant-garde is best understood in its urban context. The talk concludes by connecting these urban responses with today's leftist protests in America and beyond, suggesting this music's power to comment, to dominate, and ultimately, to change.

My Speakers Sessions

Saturday, March 24

9:00am EDT