By: Scott Feinblatt
Skinny Puppy's music has always been inspired by the domineering view that corporations and the government are out to get us. Specifically, vocalist Kevin “Nivek Ogre” Ogilvie has said that he's always empathized with tyrannized people and animals; thus the quintessential image of the band is of a loving and sensitive creature that has been pushed to the extent that it bites back. The other principal puppy is Kevin “cEvin Key” Crompton, who performs and engineers the typically vicious and nightmarish soundscapes.
Meanwhile, their music, their philosophy, their lyrical style often reflect the social issues that grab them at the moment, though the songs still retain the same fire they've had since the early days. Together, the pair will take the stage tonight for a rare OC performance at the Observatory.
The inspirations for the band's initial sound came from early electronic and industrial bands such as Cabaret Voltaire, Throbbing Gristle and Portion Control. After a brief collaboration with Wilhelm Schroeder (aka Front Line Assembly's Bill Leeb), Skinny Puppy was joined by keyboardist / sampling artist Dwayne Rudolph Goettel, and their sound evolved into a unique and seamless hybrid of music, drum rhythms, film samples and found sounds. Producer Dave “Rave” Ogilvie was also a key player in helping the band develop its identity. Early recordings of the band still reveal the group's experimental, abrasive approach to creating music.
Although cult musical figures such as Syd Barrett and Ian Curtis were lyrical inspirations to Ogre, he has cited the book Les Chants de Maldoror by the Comte de Lautréamont (a pseudonym for Isidore Ducasse) as the blueprint for his goals with Skinny Puppy. The book consists of the nihilistic tales of the title character, Maldoror, who recognizes beauty and goodness but for various reasons spends most of his life spitting in the face of God and committing evil deeds. This philosophically challenging tome was also one of the principal inspirations of Salvador Dalí, André Breton, Antonin Artaud and other members of the revolutionary Surrealist movement.
The band's theatrics are typically just as innovative and challenging as their recordings. Their early shows featured a stage bedecked with skulls, stylized props and televisions depicting shocking footage of animal experimentation (Ogre and Key are ardent animal lovers and animal rights activists). Additionally, Ogre's theatrics have run the gamut from disturbing shadow play to graphic evisceration to interaction with torturous set pieces. Over the course of the group's career, Ogre's conceptual stage designs, backing films and costume designs have illustrated the various themes of the shows – any of which would leave a memorable impression.
In the 30-plus years that Skinny Puppy has been around, their lyrical content has challenged numerous social and political conventions. Some of the issues that they've addressed include: animal rights, the raping of the environment, drug addiction, chemical warfare, and, consistently, right-wing politics. Due to internal struggles, Ogre left the band in 1994, and he, Key and Goettel proceeded to work on side projects, including: W.E.L.T (which would ultimately surface under the band name “Ohgr”), Tear Garden and Download.
In 1995, Goettel died of an apparent heroin overdose, and the recordings that had been made prior to the group's breakup were released as the album The Process. In addition to The Process being the final collaboration with producer Rave, it also demonstrated a dramatic departure from the style of their previous albums. It featured Ogre singing without vocal effects, acoustic guitar melodies and the beginnings of a new sonic trend which morphed their original sound into an influential entry in the cyberpunk arena.
In 2000, Ogre and Key reunited to play the Doomsday Festival in Dresden, and following the dawn of George W. Bush's terrorist [fighting] regime, a new wave of inspiration resulted in the recording of a new studio album: The Greater Wrong of the Right (2004). On, TGWOTR and on the two subsequent albums, Mythmaker (2007) and Handover (2011) Skinny Puppy continued to embrace the cyberpunk aesthetic hinging on dynamic, experimental sounds. Given the social and political climate of post 9-11 America, the band has had no shortage of inspiration.
Last year, they released The Weapon. And whereas The Weapon attacks gun culture – and dares listeners to wake up and face the fact that we live in a police state – sonically, it is a fairly conservative Skinny Puppy album. It abandons some of the glorious mayhem that had more-or-less characterized the band's sound for the past 10 years in lieu of returning to a stripped down homage to their earliest work. In fact, one of the tracks is a re-visitation of the song “Solvent” from their first EP, Remission. Their return to this form further illustrates their desire to constantly adjust, refine and reflect upon “the dog”.
Skinny Puppy's prolific live and recorded work continues to demonstrate that they are as vigilant as ever. They have always provided their audiences with aggressive soundtracks to the plight of underdogs plagued by social and political threats. Not dissimilar from a shaman, they don the scary mask that allows fellow tribesmen to see the unholy reflections of real life horrors. They offer empathy to those of us who recognize the tyranny of our times, and when we see that distinct logo (designed by Jimmy “I, Braineater” Cummings, who designed the artwork for the brilliant albums Too Dark Park and Last Rites) fans know that we are not alone in our disgust with the corruption and injustice inherent in our political masters, and some of us howl along.