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It's 7:30 on a Saturday night in September, and Asylum is already packed. The Tucson club is the only venue in Arizona that consistently caters to fans of industrial music, and this evening, it's filled to capacity with black-clad twentysomethings dressed like pallbearers from a Mad Max movie. Although night has barely fallen, a solid mass of bondage bracelets, fishnets, and knee-high combat boots fills the club.
Mike Jenney, founding member of Tucson industrial act Alter Der Ruine, bounces to the beats from his "drum-tar" and twiddles its knobs, modifying the rhythms coming out of it in real time. Behind him on Asylum's tiny corner stage, Jenney's three bandmates assail their instruments, beating the keyboards and electronic drum sets with furious intensity. Looped samples of steam-powered factory equipment and metal being pulverized pump deafeningly from the club's speakers. On a tiny portion of the dance floor near the stage, pierced and tattooed women with partially shaven heads stomp in time to the music while grayscale images of worms, insects, and suicide flash on a projection screen behind them.
This was Alter Der Ruine's most recent show, opening for Assemblage 23, at the same venue where ADR got its start just two years ago. Categorized as "powernoise," an abrasive, highly rhythmic brand of minimalist electronic dance music, ADR's sound is very different from that of the innumerable local metal groups that label themselves "industrial" because they happen to incorporate samples or feature a keyboardist. A rising force within its genre, the band has become a source of regional pride for members of the interconnected Phoenix and Tucson rivethead scenes.
One local industrial enthusiast who is especially proud of ADR is Stephen Holder. Holder owns Asylum, spins records there as DJ Cain, and invited the group to play their first show at his club, opening for an industrial/IDM project called Dismantled. "Alter Der Ruine is amazing," Holder says. "It's the anger. When Mike Jenney writes beats, he writes angry."
Holder, 36, grew up listening to bands like Throbbing Gristle, Kraftwerk, and Front 242. He said he's seen European powernoise and EBM (electronic body music) bands dominate domestic dance floors for decades, but ADR represents a rare exception to that long-running trend. "To be an American in an industrial band that gets recognition in Europe is a big thing," Holder says. "But they do that. Alter Der Ruine gets recognition."
As part of a new wave of up-and-coming American rhythmic noise bands that includes C/A/T, Caustic, Endif, and W.A.S.T.E., the members of ADR have played shows in the largest industrial dance clubs in the nation, as well as in Mexico and Spain. The group's songs appear frequently on play lists at industrial clubs and radio stations in Germany, Belgium, Ireland, and Italy, and their regular rotation in Europe has earned them a decent-sized fan base across the Atlantic.
With as much interest as ADR has generated, one would expect its members to take themselves and their music far more seriously than they actually do, especially given the notoriously gimmicky, image-infatuated nature of the goth/industrial scene. But Jenney (the primary songwriter), drummer Christopher Hoffman, keyboardist Jacob Rouse, and programmer and occasional singer Michael Treveloni are more interested in having fun than catering to what's considered cool. "We just make music that we want to dance to," Jenney says with a shrug. "We make stuff that makes us shake and bake."
The 25-year-old Jenney said he appreciates his scene's fatalistic obsession with misery and death, but although those themes dominate the interconnected worlds of goth and industrial music, they do not define his band or the personalities of its members.
"You definitely have to have a sense of humor if you're going to be doing this kind of stuff," Michael Treveloni says. Treveloni, also 25, is a wickedly funny self-deprecator. He became the light-hearted yang to Jenney's yin as soon as he joined the band, adding an element of quirky humor to the oppressively dark atmosphere of the band's hard-hitting and highly danceable sound. Not active in the recording of ADR's self-released debut, The Ruine Process, Treveloni did share songwriting responsibilities on the follow-up full-length, State of Ruin, which is scheduled for release this month by Sistinas Music.
"It's funny, because it looks like we're all really dark, gloomy people in the album artwork and everything, but then you look at the song titles and it's like this is the mullet of CDs," Treveloni says, referencing State of Ruin."It's serious in the front and party in the back."
Whether they are releasing powernoise covers of '70s disco hits online or reinterpreting theme songs from sitcoms like Fresh Prince of Bel-Airat their live shows, the members of ADR defy the conventions of their genre in sound as much as spirit. The band sets itself apart from its peers by frequently incorporating playful and irreverent samples that tend to contrast hilariously with the punishing rhythms in the music. The audio clips' origins range from decidedly atypical sources, like the film The 40-Year-Old Virgin,to seemingly random, self-recorded bits of homemade dialogue.
"There's this episode of [The Maury Povich Show] that Mike and I have both seen that is, like, the greatest thing ever," Treveloni says. "It's really sad, but it's about these obese kids. Like, 80-pound 2-year-olds and stuff like that."
Treveloni says he and Jenney used to sit around and quote the show to one another religiously, until their mutual infatuation eventually convinced them they should record a song in honor of the Maury episode. "Except we couldn't find the actual samples and had to record them ourselves," Treveloni says with a chuckle. "Hey, yo, your fat kid comes over here waving that fat fucking finger in my face and I'm going to snap it off and tell him to chew on that," he demonstrates, in a thick New Jersey accent. The resulting track, "A Nation of Phat Beatz (Fat Kids Remix)," sandwiched the self-made samples between the brutal beats that typify the band's savage sound. The song ended up on a sampler CD distributed at Sadisco*, the longest-running industrial club night in the Valley, and the same event at which ADR will perform this Saturday.
The show, part of an appropriately sadistic Charles Manson-themed evening, will serve as the four-year anniversary of Sadisco*, as well as a CD-release party for the caustic quartet's sophomore album.
For the members of ADR, everything they do is simply part of a larger effort to promote the music they enjoy, an effort that they began putting forth as fans. "I think there are a lot of people interested in noise and aggressive industrial who aren't in the scene at all. The music is extremely catchy if you notice that part of it," Jenney says, adding that if Arizona rivetheads promote the music they love instead of succumbing to scenester pretension, nothing bad can possibly come of it.
"The bigger we can get the scene, the better," Jenney says. "West Coast industrial, bitches."