Videodrome: A Lasting Legacy on Industrial Music & Outsider Art

[dropcap]In[/dropcap] 1983 Canadian director David Cronenberg released a masterpiece of the body horror genre titled Videodrome, a quasi-cyberpunk vision of the future where video transmissions could be used to control viewers. While generally well received by critics, the film was a complete financial failure owing to its grim outlook and a story inaccessible to most mainstream movie goers at the time. It instead gained a cult like following and is the 10th most sampled film thanks largely to rivet heads the world over.

Videodrome’s profound impact on the darker side of electronic music can be measured by a selection of legendary industrial and EBM acts who’ve been coerced by its transmissions. This includes sampling by the likes of Skinny Puppy, Front 242, Psychic TV, The Klinik, Snog, Cyberaktif, and many others over the years. (An annotated list of examples is attached at the bottom of this article)

The film’s premise revolves around a TV executive’s desire to raise his channel’s late night ratings by constantly seeking out evermore sexually perverse and violent programming. He conscripts the help of a tech lackey to hack an errant satellite transmission carrying distorted images of sex, torture and death, which he also begins to record for his own personal consumption.

Visual Music & The Real Life Videodrome:

Videodrome’s lasting creative influence doesn’t stop with dark electronic musicians looking for prophetic samples to round out their tracks. In the early 2000s an art collective from Toronto, Canada by the name of FameFame began to apply the conceptual tenants of Videodrome to audio / video art. Using sampling, montage theory and borrowing ideas from Burroughs and Gysin’s cut-up technique they began to develop a unique “visual music” style where each microscopic sample maintained its audio/video link. It’s hard to explain in words but imagine a techno or rhythmic noise track made entirely of samples from a horror film (i.e. a blow to head sampled for a kick drum, a gunshot for a snare, and a scream finely chopped down for high hats). Now picture in your mind each of these samples maintaining their corresponding image.

Jubal Brown, live excerpt 2011

These samples would be layered and sequenced in video editing software much in the same way musicians would sequence samples in a DAW. FameFame organized and threw underground parties throughout Toronto, hypnotizing audiences and probably inducing several seizures along the way. It’s fitting that such a group of weirdos was spawned from the same city where the film was premised, and where Cronenberg himself was born and grew up in. The collective was started by OCAD alumnus Jubal Brown, Josh Avery, Ellie Chestnutt, Tasman Richardson and Alana Didur but eventually folded by the mid-2000s. These “Videodrome” events, however, have continued yearly under Brown’s organizational and curatorial supervision.

“HIT ME” SARIN, 2013

For most of the last decade the events have been held at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, an institution that’s remained receptive and loyal to the sensory overload nature of the event and its sometimes offensive content. Each MoCCA event has featured wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling projections and powerful sound systems, turning the vast empty interior into a strobing and rhythmic barrage of synaesthesia. Filled with several hundred fixated as well as writhing bodies the event becomes an almost religious experience where audiences bow before the altar of the Cathode Ray Tube. Sonically it can be described as ranging from industrial, techno, rhythmic noise to break core and visually as a PCP trip gone horribly wrong. The themes of the Videodrome event often end up staying true to the film’s tenants of sex, violence and speed but are also highlighted by brief moments of light hearted humour – depending on the producer.

“Plant Bomb & Carry On” Nwodtlem, D-Trash Records

The acts comprise of a core collective of local regulars (who also double as organizers) and a revolving roster of international a/v producers, including members of the V-ATAK collective from Paris, Tzii from Berlin & Madame Chao from NYC to name a few. Dark electronic musicians are often involved as well, such as HUREN‘s headline performance during the 2012 Videodrome, SINS in 2013 & bossFYTE in 2011.

Huren at 2012 Videodrome event.

“Long live the new flesh. Death to Videodrome!”

Sadly the Videodrome event is coming to a close this year despite continuously growing interest and attendance, with the final deathgasm happening on August 21st at the venerable Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art. The folks at MoCCA are shutting their doors permanently at their downtown location soon after the event and are being forced out of the property for a condo development. It seems unlikely that Jubal Brown and the other organizers will be re-hosting the event elsewhere after having such a reliable and rewarding partnership with MoCCA and its staff. Spin off events will no doubt attempt to fill the void left by one of North America’s most successful and enduring audio/video art events. An event that owes its spiritual founding on Cronenberg’s great piece of Canadian horror cinema.

The final Videodrome event:

List of notable EBM & Industrial tracks sampling Videodrome

Skinny Puppy – Draining Faces : at 0:03
Front 242 – Masterhit: at 0:27
The Klinik: at 0:58
Psychic TV – Scared to Live: at 0:10
Snog – Evil Mother: at 1:13
Front 242 – Television Station: at 2:36
Meatbeat Manifesto: at 5:12
Apoptygma Berzerk: at 0:00
Cyberaktif: at 0:00
The Fourth Man: at 0:00 

Notable a/v producers involved with the event:

V-ATAK Label
Tasman Richardson
Pete O’Hearn
Hopkins & Duffield
Daeve Fellows
Video Samurai