The Milwaukee stop of Skinny Puppy’s “Down The SocioPath” tour graced The Rave Monday night, with opener Youth Code in tow. Canada’s Skinny Puppy, touring as a four-piece, including original members Ogre and cEvin Key, took the stage to air thick with anticipation. The three-decades’ old experimental industrial band, which has cited groundbreakers including Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire, and Severed Heads as influences (and has been described by Key, who formed the band in 1982 as a side-project while he was part of Images In Vogue, as a collaboration between a human and a machine), performed tracks that spanned their career. The earliest selection was “Smothered Hope,” off of 1984’s Remission, which was used as the first song in the first of two encores.
The entire set told an underlying story of lead vocalist Ogre as the subject of human experimentation (a similar storyline was used for the video for “Testure”), and drew parallels to animal experimentation, which Skinny Puppy have made clear, in lyrics and visuals, that they are very opposed to. (The name “Skinny Puppy” is itself a protest against animal abuse). The last to enter the stage, Ogre emerged clad in a white hooded outfit and launched into “Jahya,” off of 1996’s The Process (the last album before the death of early keyboardist and third member Dwayne Goettel in 1995). During the third song, “Fascist Jock Itch” (reportedly about Ogre’s experience of being harassed by skinheads), a two-horned, masked figure with glowing red eyes made its first of many appearances and began to “experiment” on Ogre, which involved inserting oversized hypodermic needles into the vocalist’s extremities. “Tin Omen” found Ogre putting on a military-style hat while carrying an illuminated suitcase that turned out to be filled with more needles. This song embodies the politicized spirit of Skinny Puppy, as its stream-of-consciousness-style lyrics are in fact about the massacre of unarmed civilians at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989.
Behind the band was a video screen, often featuring images of environmental destruction. There was always something going on visually, be it the band’s theatrics, the video screen, or the lighting that was cast upon them. “The Choke,” off of 1985’s Bites, had the screen flashing pictures of various public figures, from politicians to the pope. Skinny Puppy closed their set with “Assimilate,” which included the projection of images ranging from a pentagram to the illuminati eye symbol on the American dollar bill, from the Freemason square and compass to a Christian cross—images that perhaps tell you all you need to know about the band’s political message.
Los Angeles-based two-piece Youth Code opened with what could perhaps be described as noise art. Their energetic stage show and sound made them a perfect opening act for the legendary industrial machine that is Skinny Puppy. Reminiscent of Nitzer Ebb or perhaps middle-stage Ministry, the performance found Ryan George fairly stationary behind a mixing setup, and Sara Taylor energetically commanding the opposite side of the stage. Bathed in colored lights for the duration of their six-song set, the duo proved they were a legitimate industrial band. (One track sounded inspired by Sister Machine Gun’s “Sins Of The Flesh.”) The images projected on the screen behind the two indicated that they likely share Skinny Puppy’s passions for political and cultural issues such as animal rights, while their sound clearly proved they also have a common love for using vocal effects.