Alternative industrial act
Pigface defies categorization. Less an actual band than a recording and performing ensemble of well-known musicians in the alternative/industrial genre, it is also, in a way, a political statement. Founding member Martin Atkins had tired of the “rock” star attitudes he witnessed as a member of successful bands like Public Image Limited and Killing Joke; in addition, despite the fact that both acts presented groundbreaking, anti-establishment-themed sonic artistry, both remained under the thumb of record label executives. Sandy Masuo, writing about Pigface in Option magazine, equated it with “a savvy, calculating brand of post-punk punk attitude—one that’s all about recapturing the means of production that was supposedly seized in the 70s” with the birth of the punk movement.
Pigface was formed in the wake of several musicians—already acquainted with one another’s work—who remained in Chicago after the end of a Ministry tour (Ministry founder Al Jourgensen as well as his band-mates are Windy City residents). The founding members coalesced around William Tucker from and William
Consistent members include Martin Atkins (born in England; married; wife’s name, Leila Eminson Atkins), William Rieflin, William Tucker, En Esch, Nivek Ogre, and Chris Connelly. Occasional members include Trent Reznor, Lesley Rankine, Fuzz, Flour, Andrew Weiss, Paul Raven, Mary Byker, and Genesis P. Orridge, among others.
Band formed c. 1990; Atkins was the original drummer for Public Image Limited (PiL) and later for Killing Joke; after falling upon hard times in the mid-1980s, during which he worked as a landscaper, he founded his own label, Invisible Records, in Chicago with wife Leila Eminson in 1987. Rieflin was a veteran of Ministry, as was Tucker, who also played in My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult; En Esch was a founding member of KMFDM, and Ogre was a founding member of Skinny Puppy; Chris Connelly was part of a Ministry side project, the Revolting Cocks.
Addresses: Record company—Invisible Records, P.O. Box 16008, Chicago, IL 60616.
Rieflin, both from Ministry; Skinny Puppy’s Nivek Ogre; Chris Connelly from the Revolting Cocks, a Ministry side project; German musician En Esch of KMFDM, an opening act for Ministry on that tour; and finally, guiding force Martin Atkins. Rieflin and Atkins had met as dual drummers for the Ministry tour. It was Atkins who came up with the name Pigface for the collective; long ago, he had been in a band of the same name that played strip shows. Moving on to better projects, he later served as the original drummer for PiL, the group formed by John Lydon (formerly Johnny Rotten) in the aftermath of the Sex Pistols’ demise. After leaving the group in 1984, he became an occasional drummer for the British band Killing Joke, considered the forefathers of today’s alternative/industrial genre. In 1987 he founded his own record label, Invisible, in Chicago with wife Leila Eminson.
The aforementioned six musicians recorded Pigface’s debut, Gub, bringing on board legendary Chicago sound engineer Steve Albini, creative mind behind the band Big Black. It was recorded in less than a week. David Yow of the Jesus Lizard as well as Paul Barker, Connelly’scolleague from Ministry and Revolting Cocks, joined them in the studio; an up-and-coming Cleveland musician named Trent Reznor also helped out. Atkins then went on tour with Killing Joke, and nearly a year after the recording of Gub, contacted the other members and suggested a tour. (Standard practice holds that bands tour at the time of a record’s release, in order to boost sales.) The tour line-up was slightly different, with Atkins, Connelly, Ogre, Tucker, Matt Schultz, and Paul Raven, another Killing Joke alumnus. Sharon O’Connell, writing for Melody Maker, caught a London date of the European leg and described the supergroup as “all muscle, mean, chewed sinew tensed to the point of rigidity, but somehow still with room to get funky. Well, as funky as a machine punch can get, I guess.”
All shows from the first Pigface tour were recorded on DAT (digital audio tape, a superior butexpensive recording technology introduced in the mid-1980s), and Atkins assembled them into the live album Welcome to Mexico, released in 1991. The sheer logistics of recruiting members of various bands to assemble for a specific block of time—then winning permission from the various labels involved—was difficult. Joining the party were various other musicians picked up along the way for a show or two, including members of Silverfish, Front Line Assembly, Devo, and GWAR. “Yet a cohesive unit they are turning out to be, and a particularly fine and confrontational one,” wrote Melody Maker’. Neil Perry in a review. “As a document of chaos in motion, ’Welcome to Mexico’ is scorched around the edges but well worthy of your attention.”
Bands signed generally had some ties to Pigface, such as Murder, Inc., featuring members of Killing Joke. In 1992 Atkins’ Invisible label released Fook, Pigface’s second full-length studio LP. The line-up consisted of Atkins, Mary Byker (from Gaye Bykers on Acid), Ogre, Connelly, En Esch, Flour, Tucker, Raven, Lesley Rankine from Silverfish, Rollins Band alumni Chris Haskett and Andrew Weiss, Barbara Hunter on cello, Sean Joyce, and David Sims of the Jesus Lizard. Atkins’ former Killing Joke mate Geordie Walker also helped out. Christina Zafiris, writing for College Music Journal, called Fook “more diverse” than the previous effort, and the newer members “[gave] the songs a deeper perspective.” The tour roster for live dates was even more unwieldy.
As Pigface grew to achieve cult-like status among the more dedicated fans of the major-label bands, some members of the press began referring to it as a “supergroup.” Atkins has voiced mixed opinions about the use of the term. “We are a ’super group,‘not a bunch of old has-been dinosaurs wheeled out in oxygen tanks trying to recapture old faded glories,” as Atkins told Alternative Press writer Jason Pettigrew, but also he dispelled any notion of Pigface as simply a big-name-ridden grasp for money. “Having the glorious position of being the guy who writes the checks on tour, I can tell you that if Pigface was a money-making scam, a picture of Trent Reznor would have been on the front cover of Gub…” Atkins told Pettigrew. In another interview, this time with Jon Seltzer of Melody Maker, Atkins explained the positive aspects of such a stellar amalgamation of musicians. “It’s a reaction and a result of all the things that all of us have done,” Atkins said of Pigface. “In some ways, it’s like a rejuvenation for everyone who’s in it. There are so many levels. We all get together, and we’ll talk about who’s getting what for tee-shirts, or which promoters are ripping who off. We check out each other’s production techniques, each other’s way of living, and it’s great.”
In 1993 the double LP Truth Will Out was released overseas. Cathi Unsworth, reviewing it for Melody Maker, asserted Truth Will Out called to mind “a bleak, frozen landscape,” and declared in conclusion that “numbing repetition and a sterile lack of humanity make an agonising truth drug.” The next Pigface effort was Notes from Thee Underground, released on Invisible in 1994. Like the other releases, Atkins was responsible for both percussion and production. Guests included Genesis P. Orridge, founder of the seminal bands Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV; Jello Biafra, formerly of the Dead Kennedys; Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and even diminutive Japanese girl-popsters Shonen Knife. In their press release for the record attempted to sum up their vision: “Have you ever left a show and thought about the way things could be? So have we. Have you ever felt cheated by the half-baked regurgitations of automatons? So have we. Have you ever wondered what’s the point? So have we.” Option magazine ’s Masuo called it “eclectic, eccentric, smart and beefy”; Atkins concurred, telling Masuo “it’s userfriendly Pigface for sure.”
The tour line-up for Notes from Thee Underground was even more complex. Permanent road players included Atkins, Byker, Taime Down (of Faster Pussycat), Meg Lee Chin (from Crunch), Charles Levi from My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult, Skinny Puppy alumnus Pat Sprawl, James Teitelbaum of the Evil Clowns, and Joe Trump of Elliot Sharp’s Carbon. Coming aboard for certain dates were Orridge, Paul Ferguson (of both Killing Joke and The Orb), Danny Carey from Tool, Caspar Brotzman of German band Massaker, and Ogre. Again, the logistics of coordinating such a roster were nightmarish.
In 1995, Pigface again recruited legendary industrial godfather Genesis P. Orridge, who claimed that when Atkins originally contacted him about participating in the Pigface line-up, “I didn’t want to do it,” he told Pettigrew in Alternative Press. “To be honest, I thought, ‘That sounds horrible, all those people from all those bands in one place, at one time.’ And that’s why I did it. Out of spite to myself. I really enjoyed not being in charge of the band.” Such sentiments are common to Pigface’s dedicated participants. “We have been dubbed the Alternative Traveling Wilburys,” founding member Chris Connelly told Melody Maker’. Perry — referring to the late 1980s supergroup that included Tom Petty, Johnny Cash, and the late Roy Orbison— “and it’s easy to say that, but that definitely isn’t the point. One of the greatest things about Pigface is that there is total freedom, and allowances are made…. Pigface never went out to follow a certain path, and a year ago we never would have thought it could sound like this. William and I were thinking it would be great if in two years time none of us were in the band and it was a whole new set of people.”
Albums; all on the Invisible label unless otherwise noted
Welcome to Mexico (live), 1991.
Truth Will Out (import), Devotion, 1993.
Notes from Thee Underground, 1994.
Also contributed tracks to the Invisible compilation Feels Like Heaven.
Alternative Press, November 1994.
College Music Journal, November 27, 1992.
Melody Maker, November 9, 1991, p. 26; November 23, 1991; December 12, 1992; November 6, 1993, p. 30.
Option, July/August 1994.
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