Industrial Democracy 


Text by Charles M. Young

Photograph: Gary Gershoff






Who: Nine Inch Nails, Die Warzau, Chem Lab

Where: The Academy, New York

When: January 24, 1991


The last time I went to the Academy, a venerable Broadway theatre across the street from the New York Times, the place reeked of urine from the homeless men who and taken up residence in the absence of plays. Since the Butthole Surfers were performing, the miasma was somehow fitting. For Nine Inch Nails, I was hopping the place had been disinfected, even if the theme of the evening was the stench of post-modern culture, All I smelled were fresh sweat spilled beer and cigarette smoke, so I give the Academy’s janitors an enthusiastic thumb up.


Chem Lab had a Stooges-in-a-groove approach that held everyone’s interest far better than the average bottom of the bill. Their singer inspired the question, “What’s this guy’s problem?” which was the correct effect for this crowd of alienated – and why not? - college students. Like most “industrial“ bands was post-industrial. No one played the air conditioning duet ort he jackhammer, they just had a cabinet of electronic weirdness and a guitarist with incredibly bad posture.


Die Warzau did not inspire the question, “What is this guys problem?“ The singer said right up front exactly what it was: the war in the Middle East. He urged everyone not to register for the draft and, by rock n‘ roll exhortation standards was pretty coherent. Thus where Chem Lab created a late-‘7Os atmosphere of everyone being random atoms in a meaningless universe, Die Warzau wanted us to unite and defeat fascism, a friendly ray of solidarity from the ‘60s. Both riff and groove were mostly in the percussion, but couldn‘t tell if it was by design or accident. The guitarist kept kicking over the keyboard, so some of their electronic weirdness was apparently not working. The crowd clearly enjoyed feeling moral while dancing and chanting.


Nine Inch Nails were wonderful. They combined disco groove with screaming punk catharsis and imaginative song structures. People danced, and there was nothing “cool” or reserved or hierarchical about it. Leader Trent Reznor and guitarist Richard Patrick (a shaved wraith covered with cornstarch) immediately started throwing cups of beer and water at people, dissolving the invisible wall between audience and performer. I’ve never seen so much stage-diving outside of hardcore.


“When we turn up the  abusiveness we win over the crowd,“ explained Reznor after the set. “If I see someone staring at us with his arms crossed 20 rows back, I’d rather hit him with a beer and have him leave hating us for messing up his new-wave haircut than for him to leave with no reaction at all. What about security? “Every show is a battle, not with the crowd but with the security guards. Our crowd isn‘t out to hurt anyone. We don‘t want steroid-crazed security guards beating up our fans. We prefer a low stage with no barriers and maximum interaction.“


NIN kept their equipment inside a giant metal cage that both musician and fan climbed on as the spirit moved them. “We have a new drummer and he said he‘d kill me if I smashed up his kit like the Who,“ said Reznor, who was quite willing to smash his own guitar. “So the cage is functional as well as decorative.“


Reznor is adamantly anti-MTV, so your only chance to see these guys willl be live.


Photograph: Gary Gershoff/Retna