Industrial rock outfit Skinny Puppy knows its music unnerves people. It's dissonant, jarring and harshly beautiful. That's always been the point. But according to cEvin Key, co-founder of the Canadian band along with Nivek Ogre, they're not too pleased with the U.S. government's use of Skinny Puppy's music on Guantanamo Bay prisoners — a sort of "musical torture," if you will, to obtain information. One can envision an interrogator leaning over a captive, yelling, "Tell us what you know or we'll turn this up to 10. We've got a dozen discs by the band and..." Well, you get the picture.
That doesn't mean fans attending the band's Feb. 10 show at Amos' Southend should expect to undergo any kind of torture. Skinny Puppy may not get a lot of mainstream airplay, but its records manage to break into the charts and, for more than 30 years, the band has influenced countless electronica and industrial bands and musicians. Nine Inch Nails, check. Ministry, check.
Skinny Puppy is a pioneer of gothic industrial rock and dark electro-dance. Key (drum kit, guitars, bass guitars, synthesizers) and Ogre (vocals, lyrics) formed the band in 1982 in Vancouver. The duo remains the only constant members, with revolving comrades appearing on recordings and tour support. Ogre's distorted rasp and socially inflected lyrics spar with the buzz of guitars, synth, samples and drums to create something eerily organic and otherworldly.
The duo's live shows are sensory overload, with spastic visual images and film clips populating the backdrop and the lights swirling and flashing incessantly. All the while, Ogre paces back and forth on the stage, like a pissed-off, bloodied Rottweiler looking for a fight. The volume, of course, is set close to max. It's multi-layered performance art that's been breaking ground since the early years.
"When we started, we were at the height of the New Wave era," Key says. "There wasn't any techno or hip-hop or industrial music. Interesting to see how the music world has evolved."
Asked how the process of composition happens in his mind, he says, "I've always felt that making electronic music is collaboration with the universe, affected by possibly other sources than your fingers. I don't know if that's auditory hallucination or some sort of expanded electro-magnetic energy that winds up on tape."
With three decades in the rearview mirror, Skinny Puppy continues on the path, unabated by trends. The most recent album, last year's Weapon, is a mix of recording techniques they used in the early years interwoven with New Wave-ish songs that churn into heavy dance grooves before devolving into industrial-strength noise.
Key explained their modus operandi of years past — make a demo and then recreate the demo — but unlike the older albums where they would do a song in a day, the band took its time unwrapping the sound on Weapon. The ensuing tour — on this routing they're joined by drummer Justin Bennett — checks in on all three decades.
Both Ogre and Key have numerous side and solo projects under their belts, along with an Internet radio station, subconradio.com. This is where they play music they dig by eclectic bands and obscure musicians from around the globe. Skinny Puppy even checks in and does live relays on occasion, as they did for six hours from the desert around Tempe, Ariz., while on the current tour.
So far this century, the band has produced several varied works, including the album HanDover, which took a couple of years to release after recording due to their label's business woes and filing for reorganization. "We didn't want to give a record to a label that was a sinking ship," Key elaborated.
Regardless of who puts the music out, or even who is listening, Skinny Puppy continues treading down the long path forward.