During the span of their career, Skinny Puppy established themselves as one of the key founders of “industrial” music, a grinding, metallic, danceable, electronic sound. Though they never reached chart-topping popularity, the group accumulated a large, word-of-mouth fan base and influenced many other bands in the genre with their keyboard and sampling-based collection of aggressive, angry, and colorful songs. Skinny Puppy also had a message. “They try to shock people out of the societal comas they live in,” Charlie Katagiri wrote in RadioActive. “Disturb them by calling attention to the self-destruction we are condoning. And, most important, provoke them to stop ignoring it and do something about it.”
Their large body of dark, distorted, electronic music stemmed from a variety of influences, including Cabaret Voltaire, Chrome, Suicide, and Throbbing Gristle. “Skinny Puppy has dedicated itself to making the most brutal, grating, discordant noise that can be construed as rock,” Jon Pareles wrote in the New York Times. “But as a band of dedicated extremists, Skinny Puppy has gone further than just about any other band around.”
The Canadian group began in 1983 with singer Nivek Ogre and drummer Cevin Key in Vancouver, British Columbia. They released the first Skinny Puppy EP, Remission, in 1984 on Canada’s Nettwerk Records. A year later Nettwerk released the group’s first full-length album, Bites, which included all the songs from the EP along with new material.
Keyboard and sampling master Dwayne Rudolf Goettel joined Ogre and Key on Mind: The Perpetual Inter-course in 1986. After the release of the album, to which he contributed four songs, Goettel decided to become a full-time member of the band. As the group developed a following in the United States, Capitol Records took over the domestic distribution of Mind, and Skinny Puppy’s industrial sound began to spread. In Keyboard magazine, one reviewer described the album as “dance music for people who like sticking pins into themselves.”
In 1987, after the release of Cleanse, Fold, and Manipulate, Key formed a side-project called the Tear Garden with Ka-Spel from the Legendary Pink Dots. Ogre also contributed to that group’s first studio effort. This began a long-standing trend of Skinny Puppy members’ engaging in outside work. But, at least throughout the 1980s, Ogre, Key, and Goettel always returned to make music as Skinny Puppy.
For the Record …
Members included Dwayne Rudolf Goettel (died of a heroin overdose, August 23, 1995), keyboards, electronics, and sampling; Ccvin Key, drums; Nivck Ogre (born Kevin Ogilvie), vocals.
Band formed in Vancouver, BC, 1983; signed to Nettwerk Records; released Remission EP, 1984, and Bites LP, 1985; signed to Nettwerk-Capitol Records; released seven albums, 1986-92; signed to American Recordings, 1993; group disbanded, 1995; record company released The Process, 1996.
Addresses: Record company —American Recordings, Inc., 3500 West Olive Ave., Suite 1550, Burbank, CA 91505.
Outspoken antivivisectionists (meaning they took a stand against animal experimentation), the group stirred controversy and attention with their 1988 release VIVI-sectVI. The album delves with angry conviction into Skinny Puppy’s views on many social and political topics. The artwork on VIVIsectVI depicts overlaid animal X-rays, and the songs’ lyrics condemn abuse of the planet and all of its inhabitants. The group’s live shows often included animal blood and graphically violent portrayals of vivisection. Animal rights became Skinny Puppy’s most often addressed and favored message.
Continuing to expand their sound and disseminate their messages, Skinny Puppy joined efforts with Ministry’s Al Jourgensen on Rabies. Jourgensen contributed to the album on guitar and vocals, and he also assisted Rave (aka David Ogilvie), Skinny Puppy’s regular producer, with the album’s production.
The new decade brought a culmination of Skinny Puppy’s music of the 1980s in the form of Twelve InchAnthology. Released only on Nettwerk, the compilation included the A- and B-sides from four 12-inch singles the group had released between 1985 and 1989. Most of the tracks never appeared on any of their previous albums.
Later in the year Skinny Puppy released their next album, Too Dark Park, followed by an anticensorship video that Capitol Records found too offensive to market. In 1992 the band came out with their last recording for Nettwerk-Capitol, Last Rights. “The heartbeat that haunts its way through every track is the sadness of our over-mechanized society, and our eventual and inevitable implosion because of it,” Katagiri observed in Radio-Active. “The songs are uniformly strong and heavy-set, graced with their trademark (and often copied) gritty, resonating vocals.”
After Last Rights, Nivek Ogre and ex-Killing Joke member Paul Raven officially formed W.E.L.T. after years of discussion and trial and errors with different members. From the beginning this side-project became a bone of contention among the members of Skinny Puppy; it would eventually act as one of the catalysts for the demise of the band.
In 1993 Skinny Puppy signed a contract with American Recordings. By October of the same year the band had moved into Shangri-la, an old historic residential recording studio near Malibu, California. The relocation marked the beginning of a series of foreshadowing disasters. When the members first moved into the house, they had to evacuate almost immediately due to the threat of fires spreading in the area. Once they moved back in, natural disaster soon returned with wintertime floods. In retrospect, the band considered these the first signs of trouble.
Skinny Puppy began recording their next and final album, The Process, in January of 1994. In the past each member of the band had recorded his contribution separately with longtime producer Rave. This time, they lived and worked together at Shangri-la and collaborated with producer Roli Mosimann instead of Rave.
Adversity struck again when 1994’s tragic earthquake rocked Los Angeles just a few weeks after the band started recording. And not long into the recording process, Ogre, Key, and Goettel began arguing over everything from equipment choices to artistic direction. After a month and a half, Skinny Puppy fired Mosimann and replaced him with Martin Atkins. “It just wasn’t working out,” Ogre said in the band’s bio. “It’s not the easiest thing to work with Skinny Puppy. There’s a psychological abuse standard one has to maintain. One has to be able to either take it, submit, or choke it down. You can get tangled by that.”
By May of 1994 the group had finished recording the basic tracks, but Key and Goettel had expressed their dissatisfaction with Atkins’s work and took the masters back to Vancouver. They started to finish the record with their friend and producer Greg Reely, but after months of little progress they turned back to their old collaborator, Rave. “As soon as we got together, the idealism was back,” Key told Dave Thompson in Spin. “We redid all the Malibu songs to a point where they were true to Skinny Puppy.”
In the meantime Key and Goettel had formed another side-project called Download, which eventually signed with Cleopatra Records, and Ogre continued working with W.E.L.T. After American Recordings had spent more than $650,000 on The Process, label owner Rick Rubin initiated a renegotiation of the band’s three-album contract, taking it down to one album. Ogre and Key disagreed on how the group should handle the situation, and on June 12, 1995, Ogre announced his resignation from Skinny Puppy. Ogre decided to devote himself full-time to W.E.L.T., which signed a contract with American. Since the band’s breakup negated their recording contract, American formally dropped Skinny Puppy in July.
But the continuing turmoil didn’t stop there. On August 23, 1995, Dwayne Goettel died of a heroin overdose in the bathroom of his parents’ home in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Key sent messages over the Internet blaming the record company for Goettel’s death, but he later retracted his accusations. “Looking back,” Ogre reflected in Spin, “everyone has their reason why all this happened. I think this is what affected Dwayne the most, that after ten years, we couldn’t work it out. Dwayne was looking for a home, and we gave him a war zone.”
A week and a half after Goettel’s death, Key handed in the final version of The Process, although he remained adamant that the record was never completed to the band’s satisfaction. American Recordings released the last Skinny Puppy album on February 20, 1996. Key and Download went on to sign a record contract with Nettwerk Records, and Ogre remained with W.E.L.T. Despite the tragic end of Skinny Puppy, their contributions to both industrial music and their sociopolitical causes have continued to make their mark.
Remission (EP), Nettwerk Records, 1984.
Bites, Nettwerk Records, 1985.
Mind: The Perpetual Intercourse, Nettwerk-Capitol Records, 1986.
Cleanse, Fold, and Manipulate, Nettwerk-Capitol Records, 1987.
VIVIsectVI, Nettwerk-Capitol Records, 1988.
(With Al Jourgensen) Rabies, Nettwerk-Capitol Records, 1989.
Twelve Inch Anthology, Nettwerk Records, 1990.
Too Dark Park, Nettwerk-Capitol Records, 1990.
Last Rights, Nettwerk-Capitol Records, 1992.
The Process, American Recordings, 1996.
The Trouser Press Record Guide, edited by Ira A. Robbins, Collier Books, 1992.
Alternative Press, March 1996, p. 39.
Billboard, January 17, 1987.
Keyboard, April 1987; April 1989; February 1990.
New York Times, June 11, 1992.
RadioActive, April 29-May 12, 1992; August 20-September 2, 1992.
Seattle Times, December 21, 1990.
Additional information for this profile was taken from American Recordings press material, 1996.
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