I have chosen to analyse Skinny Puppy because they are one of the most underrated electronic bands out. They took what Cabaret Voltaire were doing to new heights with a bigger, harder hitting drum sound and more melodrama. In the early stages using little more than a Roland 909 and a Prophet One to create sounds that are still as fresh and hard-hitting today as they were in 1984. The term industrial was used to describe earlier bands such as Throbbing Gristle or Einsturzende Neubauten, but Skinny Puppy to me is the quintessential industrial band. The band that introduced the big heavy percussive sounds associated with industrial music and that paved the way for acts like Ministry,
Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson.
Sequential Circuits Pro One
Song: Skinny Puppy - Solvent
Genre: Industrial, Goth, EBM
Key - G
Bpm - 158
Time Signature - 4/4
Verse, Bridge, Chorus
Verse, Bridge, Chorus
Verse, Bridge, Chorus
Nivek Ogre - vocals, synthesizer, percussion
cEvin Key - synthesizer, drums, percussion, production
Dave Ogilivie - production, engineering
The lyrics are like a collage of words. I believe this was written using the cut-up technique as established by Brian Gysin and William Burroughs. A technique in which the writer cuts up words and then pieces the words back together. This is not to say that the words are without meaning, on the contrary, the words have a great power but have been removed from a linear interpretation. The themes that are apparent in these lyrics are desire, guilt, judgement and morality. The meaning is intentionally elusive allowing visual imagery without direct connotations and a strong focus on the sound and flow of the words to create visual imagery and ideas rather than to tell a story. This technique and aesthetic has been widely used throughout alternative art and music and is in particular within the industrial genre. The Cut-Up Technique in Music
There is lots of sub bass due to the Roland 909 which much like the Roland 808 has a very nice low end in the kick sounds due to the boosted lows, the kick comes in at 50 Hz, the snare comes in at 200 Hz each snare hit lifts all frequency across the spectrum suggesting added white noise. It also lowers the most prominent elements of the synth frequencies. With each snare hit the prominent frequencies in the main synth riffs drop in volume right as the snare cracks. The bass sits between 100-300 and the main synth riff spikes at 1k, 2k and 3k and the ghost like shrieking synth line sits within a similar space, slightly higher but is separated by panning there is quite a good balance for such a harsh sounding track. With only a few elements there is lots of space, but the main elements fill a fair amount of the frequency spectrum. Audio Spectrum Explained
The panning is actually very reminiscent of earlier electronic music such as Kraftwerk, OMD or John Foxx. Keeping the drums and bass in the centre with the main synth Riff to the left and a trailing more random synth sound to the right. The panning is pretty solid giving you a basic stereo image but without a lot of movement.
Reverb & Delay:
There is a huge reverb sound on the drums which really makes the song pop and the vocals have a really unique effect which established a particular style of industrial music and has been widely emulated.
Most the elements in this song may have been achieved with a reverb or delay unit. I actually feel like due to the type of presence heard in the elements of this song that they may have used delay set to a shorter reflection like 100ms - 500ms as the reflections sound way more direct, like a sound bouncing off a wall, rather than the reflections from every surface in the room. I also believe the input gain was driven to overdrive the signal.
Tempo and delay to time and frequency calculator
The bass synth line is quite low in the mix just kind of gluing everything together, The drums are nice and prominent but still leave room for the other elements to sit on top of them, this is achieved with reverb and volume the main synth riff that drives the song is quite prominent and with the driving ghost sound just a little lower in the mix and with more reverb. The Vocals have a very eery effect. It is loud but distant and distorted. The song overall has great dynamics coming in hard at the start, breaking down in the verse and smashing back into full throttle in the chorus. Great dynamics that showcase David Ogilivies mixing prowess at such an early stage in his career.
- The Roland 909 has 16 beats to a bar, set to 79 (half of 158) I consider the song to be in 158 because of the main driving synth riff being 158 while the drum beat is playing half time at 79.
- I played around with a 909 and found I could achieve this drum beat with a Kick on beats 1, 3, 4, 7, 9, .11, 12, 15 and Snare on beats 7, 15 with the accent turned up. It was not nearly as massive sounding as this drum sound and I believe they achieved this with the use of outboard reverb or delay units.
- The lead riff I believe was created on the Prophet One with a Saw wave Oscillator combined with a Square Wave Oscillator with Low Pass Filter, Noise on output. I also believe it is possible that they ran the drum machine through the synth to sequence the rhythm, because the 909 was one of the first instruments with MIDI capability and the synth riff sounds quite percusive. It sounds sequenced rather than played.
- The shrieking synth sound I also believe was created on the Pro one. They are playing longer notes an octave up, possibly with a softer saw and triangle, the settings are being messed with during the take for harsh effect and drama.
- I really wanted to learn how they achieved this vocal sound, It’s distant and gritty and kinda scary. After much research, I found out that this was done using a Lexicon PCM 41 delay unit and overdriving the input gain.
Vocals Lexicon PCM 41 delay unit
In conclusion, Skinny Puppy were a band ahead of their time creating unique new sounds using minimal equipment. They had a particular aesthetic that has resonated and left its echo on modern music. They achieved this by experimentation, using their ears and overdriving analogue equipment to get harsh and interesting new sounds.
For good measure and as an added bonus here is the 2013 version of the song.