Skinny Puppy pride themselves on being the soundtrack to your nightmares. Since forming in Vancouver in 1982, the legendary band have gained and lost members (one of which was Bill Leeb, whose band Front Line Assembly have joined Skinny Puppy as a main supporting act on their current tour), as well as collaborated with renowned industrial artists such as Genesis P-Orridge (Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV) and Al Jourgensen (Ministry). Through it all, though, they have maintained their status as a cutting-edge sonic leviathan.
While many people associate vocalist/lyricist Nivek Ogre (née Kevin Ogilvie) as the face of Skinny Puppy because of his grotesque and surreal performance antics, cEvin Key (born Kevin Crompton) has been behind the keyboards, guitars and drums in the studio and onstage for the past 30 years. In addition to performing with his numerous side projects, he composes music, is a sound designer and audio engineer, and tours the world as a DJ. Plus, he runs his own record label, Subconscious Records.
In the beginning, Key says, Skinny Puppy were influenced by the progenitors of industrial music, including Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire and Portion Control. However, there was no specific band that they used as their model. "There just weren't a lot of bands that we would aspire to be," Key says. "We had to really idealize what we all aspired to create." What they did borrow from other bands had just as much to do with technology as it did with music: drum machines (complemented with live drums), synthesizers, samples, distorted vocals.
By the early '90s, Skinny Puppy's music had taken such a radical form it was difficult to name any artists who made anything similar. Key reflects back to an era when he, deceased bandmate Dwayne Goettel and producer Dave "Rave" Ogilvie constructed the albums Too Dark Park and Last Rights using what was then the latest technology. "The Emax kind of brought this world where we decided we could make sounds on anything," he says. "We were sampling actual sounds, and then mixing them with screams or whatever for basses and stuff." The results have been called "audio sculpture"; it sounds less like music and more like an eccentrically crafted sonic fabric.
Almost as soon as the band had essentially perfected this musical form, they switched gears and started experimenting with newer technologies and incorporating additional musical influences. "It was the crossover of sort of like the new beginnings of EDM, you might say," Key says. "Dwayne had been exposed to the rave culture in '92, '93, and I think that heavily inspired him, so what you have is like a cross-polarization of, like, that rave-1993 area, sort of like butting heads with the Ministry/Skinny Puppy guitar. A collision happened which kind of created a . . . new form of electro-metal."
This sound, which is one of the core entries in the subgenre of cyberpunk, has more or less been the mainstay of the Skinny Puppy sound since.
Given the commitment the band have for exploring new forms and for aggressive attacks on topical issues, it's no wonder that Skinny Puppy inspire people in all walks of life. "It's not just in music," Key says. "I see the inspiration spilling over into all sorts of different things . . . like toys or just about anything that's creative. And, in a lot of cases, people come up to me and say, 'Hey! I listened to you guys!' So, it's been kind of cool to realize that we have played a soundtrack to people's inspiration [and] helped, possibly, shape their mind into what they've become."
One unlikely fan of the band has been the U.S. government. The interrogators at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp used Skinny Puppy's music as an "advanced interrogation technique" (a.k.a. torture). Prisoners would be shackled into a squatting position, and music would be played loudly for days at a time, causing disorientation, hallucinations and insanity. When they learned Skinny Puppy's music was involved, Ogre and Key were appalled and sent the Pentagon an invoice for $666,000. Key is not surprised the government hasn't responded.
Not only do the band keep current with technological innovations, but the Skinny Puppy show is as intense and nightmarish as ever, as well. Audiences can still expect to see Ogre wearing inventive costumes caked in blood and makeup, and the props, sets and multimedia aspects of the stage continue to morph to complement the current songs and themes.
Though the band have already finished their Live Shapes for Arms tour in support of their 2013 album, Weapon, Skinny Puppy–along with Front Line Assembly, Haujobb and Youth Code–will bring songs new and old to the Fox Theater Pomona on Dec. 20, Key says. Asked which rarities might be played, he responds, "I don't want to give away anything. You have to come to find out."
Skinny Puppy perform with Front Line Assembly, Haujobb and Youth Code at the Fox Theater Pomona, 301 S. Garey Ave., Pomona, (909) 784-3677; www.foxpomona.com. Dec. 20, 7:30 p.m. $35 in advance; $40 at the door. All ages.