Skinny Puppy is a prominent industrial band, formed in Vancouver, BC, Canada in 1982. Initially envisioned as an experimental side project by cEvin Key (born Kevin Crompton) while he was in the new wave band Images In Vogue, Nivek Ogre (born Kevin Ogilvie) soon joined as vocalist and Skinny Puppy evolved into a full-time project. Over the course of a dozen studio albums and many live tours, Key and Ogre have been the only constant members. Other members have included Dwayne Goettel (1986–1995), Dave "Rave" Ogilvie (long-time associate, producer, and "unofficial" fourth member until 1995, no relation to Ogre), Mark Walk (2003–present), and a number of guests, including Bill Leeb (1985–1986, under the pseudonym Wilhelm Schroeder), Al Jourgensen (1989), and many others.
Self-releasing their first cassette in 1984, Skinny Puppy soon signed to Vancouver label Nettwerk, anchoring its early roster. From their Nettwerk debut EP Remission in 1984 to their 1992 album Last Rights, Skinny Puppy developed into an influential band with a dedicated cult following, fusing elements of ambient, noise, new wave, electro and rock music and making innovative use of sampling. Over the course of several tours of North America and Europe in this period, they became known for theatrical, horror-themed live performances and videos, drawing attention to issues such as animal testing and chemical warfare.
In 1993, Skinny Puppy left Nettwerk and long-time producer Rave, signing with American Recordings and relocating to Malibu, California, where drug problems and tension between band members plagued the recording of their next album, The Process. Ogre quit Skinny Puppy in June 1995, and Goettel died of a heroin overdose two months later. The album was completed with Rave and released in Goettel's memory in 1996. Key and Ogre, already active in a number of other projects, went their separate ways, reuniting for a one-off Skinny Puppy concert at the Doomsday Festival in Dresden, Germany, in 2000. Reforming Skinny Puppy in 2003 with Mark Walk, they have since released two albums on the German label Synthetic Symphony, and toured extensively.
Style and themes
Inspired by the music of Nocturnal Emissions, Portion Control, and The Legendary Pink Dots, music which had been accessible to the band primarily via tape exchange, Skinny Puppy experimented with analog and digital recording techniques, composing multi-layered music with synthesizers, drum machines, acoustic percussion, tape-splices, found sounds, distortion, samplers, and conventional rock music instruments. They also incorporated samples from films and radio broadcasts into their songs, and applied liberal amounts of distortion and other effects to Ogre's vocals, which were often delivered in the stream of consciousness style. Lyrical themes included animal rights, politics, religion, horror, drug abuse, disease, and environmental degradation; these themes were often lyrically and conceptually intertwined. Skinny Puppy's often informal, improvisational approach to musical composition is indicated by use of the term brap, coined by them and defined as a verb meaning "to get together, hook up electronic instruments, get high, and record".
Skinny Puppy were noted for theatrical and confrontational live performances that blended performance art with music, especially in an ambitious period that spanned their Head Trauma (1988), VIVIsectVI (1988), Too Dark Park (1990), and Last Rights (1992) tours. Live performances involved periods of musical improvisation, film projections, and elaborate stage props and machines. On-stage theatrics included Ogre being suspended from racks and cables, play with a hangman's noose, Key cutting steel with an angle grinder, and mock executions of Ogre and George H.W. Bush. The band also worked with directors such as William Morrison and Jim Van Bebber on a number of music videos, the themes and style of which typically mirrored their live performances.
Back and Forth
Skinny Puppy formed in 1982–1983 from the partnership of cEvin Key (Kevin Crompton; instruments) and Nivek Ogre (Kevin Ogilvie; vocals) in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Key was dissatisfied with the pop direction of his then-current band Images in Vogue, and began Skinny Puppy with the intention of doing something more raw and experimental. Initially Key had planned Puppy to be a side project while he continued his work in Images, however, when Images in Vogue relocated to Toronto, Key made Skinny Puppy his full time project. Key had already created the name of the project and the concept of music from a "dog's eye view" when Ogre joined, and it was with this idea that they recorded their first cassette Back and Forth (self-released, 1984) with help from Dave "Rave" Ogilvie. This was the beginning of a long partnership between Skinny Puppy and Rave, who would serve as their producer until 1993, and again in 1995, and was occasionally listed as a member of the band in album liner notes. Back and Forth drew the attention of Vancouver startup label Nettwerk, who signed the band later that year. The first live Skinny Puppy show was at Unovis in Vancouver in February 1984.
Remission – Cleanse Fold and Manipulate
The dark electro-pop styles of their debut EP Remission (1984) and first album Bites (1985) earned the band a fan base. Tom Ellard of Severed Heads lent a hand to the production of the Bites track "Assimilate", which, with its chorus of "rot and assimilate!", became one of the band's first underground hits. Other popular songs from this period included "Smothered Hope", "The Choke", "Dead Lines", "Last Call", and "Far Too Frail".
Key and Ogre opened for Chris & Cosey on their 1985 Canadian tour as Hell 'O' Death Day; some of this material appeared on later Skinny Puppy releases. Bill Leeb (working under the pseudonym Wilhelm Schroeder), an early friend of the band, was never listed as a member in album liner notes, but contributed bass synth to a handful of tracks and was a touring member in 1985. By 1986 he had left the band to form Front Line Assembly. Dwayne Goettel (synthesizers and samplers) joined Skinny Puppy in 1986; his band Water had opened for Skinny Puppy in Edmonton the previous year. Classically trained as a pianist/keyboardist, Goettel had previously worked with the synth pop band Psyche, among others.
Their audience expanded with a distribution deal with Capitol Records/EMI, while Play It Again Sam issued a number of their releases in Europe. Their production values continued to improve with the addition of Goettel on Mind: The Perpetual Intercourse (1986) and Cleanse Fold and Manipulate (1987). Skinny Puppy performed live in-studio on CBC Radio's Brave New Waves program in September 1986, while M:TPI's "Dig It", the band's first single and video, received a fair amount of airplay on Toronto's CFNY-FM. Other prominent songs from this period include "Addiction" (remixed by Adrian Sherwood and released as a single in 1987), "Chainsaw", (released as an EP in 1987), "Stairs and Flowers" (released as a 12" single in the US in 1987), "Deep Down Trauma Hounds", and "One Time One Place".
Skinny Puppy toured in 1985 (North America), 1986 (North America and Europe), and 1987 (North America); a live performance at Toronto's Concert Hall in 1987 was released on VHS (1989) and CD (1991) as Ain't It Dead Yet?.
VIVIsectVI – Rabies
Over time, the band became outspoken advocates for animal rights, and used the Head Trauma tour (Europe, 1988) and VIVIsectVI tour (North America, 1988) to draw attention to the issue. The title of the album VIVIsectVI (1988) was a pun intended to associate vivisection with Satanism (ie. the "666 sect"). The album's lyrics dealt with criticism of pollution, chemical warfare, deforestation, rape, cocaine addiction, and the promotion of sexual abstinence to stop the spread of AIDS/HIV. Lead track "Dogshit" was released as a single in 1988 under the name "Censor", while the single "Testure", which denounced the vivisection of animals for research purposes, reached #19 on Billboard's Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart in 1989. A music video was produced for "Testure", featuring footage of a man being tortured by monstrous-looking surgeons, augmented with clips from The Plague Dogs and Unnecessary Fuss, and included a statement denouncing vivisection. Key and Ogre were arrested for "disorderly conduct" at a 1988 concert in Cincinnati, Ohio after an audience member, believing the stuffed animal Ogre was "vivisecting" to be a real dog, called the police.
During the late 1980s and early 1990s, the band members also worked on various side projects. Key and Goettel were involved with The Tear Garden (a collaboration with The Legendary Pink Dots), Doubting Thomas (an outlet for their non-Skinny Puppy instrumentals), and the rock band Hilt. Ogre struck up a friendship with Ministry's Al Jourgensen, and joined Ministry and some of its side projects on their live tours. For the next Skinny Puppy album, Rabies (1989), Jourgensen joined Rave as producer. The album, featuring Jourgensen's electric guitar work on several tracks, drew mixed reviews, although the singles "Tin Omen" (which referenced the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989) and "Worlock" (which paired a riff sampled from The Beatles' "Helter Skelter" with a clip of Charles Manson singing the song) became enduring favorites among many fans. A video produced for "Worlock", featuring spliced-together footage from dozens of horror films, and a statement denouncing censorship of the genre by the MPAA, was circulated widely as a promotional and bootleg item.
This period marked the beginning of divisions within the band, as rather than tour in support of Rabies, Ogre joined Ministry's The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste tour as an additional vocalist. Key was later quoted as saying of Ogre's involvement with Ministry and Martin Atkins' Pigface during this period that he sometimes felt "like a wife that's been cheated on".
Too Dark Park – Last Rights
Their next album Too Dark Park (1990) built on the harsh electronic rock of previous albums, yielding the spastic singles "Tormentor" and "Spasmolytic". Environmental degradation was a major theme on songs such as "Nature's Revenge" and "Shore Lined Poison", while layers of background noise grew to a crescendo on the album's closer "Reclamation". The Too Dark Park tour (North America, 1990) included the band's most graphic backing film to date, featuring everything from Budd Dwyer's televised suicide, to animal experimentation, to nerve gas attacks in the Iran-Iraq War. Ogre was restrained in a stage piece called "The Chair of No Cares" and injected with various substances, then prowled the stage on large metal stilts. Similar sequences were featured in the "Spasmolytic" music video, directed by Jim Van Bebber.
The next album Last Rights (1992) pushed the dark noise of Too Dark Park further into experimental territory. The stage show of its accompanying tour (North America, 1992) was built around a detailed narrative that involved Ogre interacting with a backing film, a "virtual reality" machine, a bleeding crucifix, and a large, rotating device called "The Tree of No Cares" from which dangled severed heads and pornographic magazines. The 1992 single "Inquisition" included the b-side "Lahuman8", one of several pieces commissioned by the contemporary dance group La La La Human Steps for their 1991 production Infante C'est Destroy. A second single, "Love In Vein", was never released, although some of the remix and b-side material intended for it later appeared on Brap: Back and Forth Series 3 & 4 (1996). The "Killing Game" video and tour backing film were directed by William Morrison.
A track titled "Left Handshake" was excluded from Last Rights, leaving a blank track 10 on some copies of the album. Clearance for a lengthy vocal sample from Timothy Leary's Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out (1967) was approved by Leary, but denied by the copyright holder. The song, in which a crazed Ogre responds to Leary's instructions for avoiding a "bad trip", was eventually released on the initial European edition of Brap (1996) and on a limited edition single called "Track 10" sold at the Skinny Puppy reunion concert in Dresden (2000).
The Process – breakup
Ogre, Key, and Goettel signed a contract with American Recordings and moved to Malibu, California, in 1993 to record The Process, a concept album inspired by 1960s cult The Process Church of The Final Judgment, with Roli Mosimann producing. The recording sessions were beset by everything from fires to the Northridge earthquake, and Mosimann was eventually replaced with Martin Atkins. Atkins' presence exacerbated the rift that was forming between Ogre on the one hand, and Key and Goettel on the other. The band's bickering and excessive drug use made the recording process so long and costly that American reduced Skinny Puppy's contract from three albums to one. In 1994, Key and Goettel returned to Vancouver with the master tapes, but Ogre remained in Los Angeles and quit Skinny Puppy in June 1995. Goettel was found dead of a heroin overdose in his parents' home two months later. The Process was eventually completed with Rave, released in 1996, and dedicated to the memory of Goettel. It was an overall stylistic departure from their previous albums, prominently featuring untreated vocals, guitar, and more accessible song structures. The liner notes that accompanied the CD included thank-yous to "Electronic Music Lovers" and "Puppy People", followed by the words "The End" in bold type.
During the Process era, a loose-knit art/philosophy collective also known as The Process was formed, with early contributions from Ogre and Genesis P-Orridge, among others. P-Orridge and Larry Thrasher of Psychic TV jammed with Skinny Puppy during this period, a recording of which was eventually released as Puppy Gristle in a limited edition in 2002. These jams partly inspired the creation of the Download project, which Key and Goettel formed with Mark Spybey and Phil Western in 1994. Download explored everything from electronic improvisation with spoken vocals to minimal techno and IDM, and toured in 1996. Earlier, in 1993, Goettel and Western had issued a breakbeat hardcore single on their own Subconscious Records, and after Goettel's death in 1995, Subconscious evolved into a recording studio and record label imprint that Key used to release a number of his own and Skinny Puppy's recordings. Key also continued to work with The Tear Garden, produced ambient techno and chill out music with Western in the side project platEAU, and released his first solo album in 1998.
Ogre had toured extensively with Martin Atkins' industrial supergroup Pigface since 1991, and toured with them again in 1995 after leaving Skinny Puppy. He recorded material for his side project W.E.L.T. with Ruby's Mark Walk before quitting Skinny Puppy, but due to legal issues with American Recordings, this would not see release until 2001 under the new name ohGr. In the meantime, he guested with KMFDM in 1997 and 1999, and released an album with Martin Atkins under the name Rx (also known as Ritalin). The ohGr and Rx releases included some of Ogre's most pop-oriented songwriting to date. Ogre and Mark Walk also contributed several tracks to the Descent II game soundtrack.
Several collections were released while Skinny Puppy was dormant, including Brap: Back and Forth Series 3 & 4 in 1996 and The Singles Collect and B-Sides Collect in 1999. Nettwerk commissioned a remix album in 1998; titled remix dystemper, it featured classic Skinny Puppy tracks re-worked by a diverse range of artists, including IDM pioneers Autechre, alt-metal band Deftones, rapper/hip hop producer Guru and Industrial mainstay KMFDM. Ogre and Mark Walk also took part, contributing a breakcore remix of "Dig It" and an updated version of Remission's "Smothered Hope" with new vocals by Ogre.
Dresden reunion – Mythmaker
In 2000, Ogre and Key reunited and performed live as Skinny Puppy for the first time since 1992 at the Doomsday Festival in Dresden. This unique concert was professionally filmed and recorded, and while a DVD never materialized, live clips of "Testure" and "Worlock" were broadcast on the Crazy Clip Show in Germany and "Worlock" was included on a VCD compilation by German magazine Sonic Seducer in 2002. The live album Doomsday: Back and Forth Series 5: Live in Dresden was released in 2001.
Key joined ohGr on drums for its 2001 tour, while Ogre appeared on the track "Frozen Sky" on Key's 2001 album The Ghost of Each Room. The first new Skinny Puppy track in several years, "Optimissed", appeared on the Underworld soundtrack in 2003. Ogre, Key, Mark Walk and various guests, including Danny Carey (Tool) and Wayne Static (Static-X) recorded the new Skinny Puppy album, The Greater Wrong of the Right, released in 2004 on Synthetic Symphony (a sub-label of SPV, their European distributor since the mid-1990s). The new Skinny Puppy sound was in a similar vein as The Process, with a somewhat more rock-oriented style. "Pro-Test", the band's first music video since 1996, was rather different than any of their previous video work, featuring a showdown between rival breakdancing/krumping crews.
Skinny Puppy toured North America and Europe in support of the album in 2004, joined by William Morrison on guitar and Justin Bennett (ex-Professional Murder Music) on drums. Shows in Toronto and Montreal were filmed for the live DVD Greater Wrong of the Right LIVE, which was released in September 2005. The DVD included Information Warfare, a documentary about the U.S.-led wars in Iraq made by Morrison. The anti-Bush administration stance taken by the band at their live shows drew the ire of PABAAH (Patriotic Americans Boycotting Anti-American Hollywood), which attempted a boycott of college radio stations that played Skinny Puppy. Skinny Puppy toured Europe again in 2005, and returned to the studio to complete their twelfth album, Mythmaker, which was released in January 2007. While some fans longed for the sounds of their earlier days, the band stated their intention to move forward rather than dwell in the past, and played a mixture of new and old material at their shows, including material from the back catalog that had never been performed live before. The band's next tour of North America and Europe, titled Mythrus, began in May 2007.
Despite little mainstream airplay, several Skinny Puppy releases have charted in North America and Europe, and their influence on industrial and electronic music is considerable. Widely considered originators of a unique sound and live performance style, Skinny Puppy are also known as pioneers of industrial rock and electro-industrial, genres in which they may be seen to have spawned "a litter of like-minded bands". Their influence extends from independent acts like Tin Omen, to mainstream stars Nine Inch Nails, who opened for Skinny Puppy for a short time on their 1988 North American tour. Nine Inch Nails also acknowledged that Skinny Puppy's "Dig It" inspired the very first Nine Inch Nails track written, "Down in It". Cleopatra Records released a tribute album titled Hymns of the Worlock in 1998.
Key and Ogre are active in a number of other projects. Key has released several solo albums, and major side projects include Download, platEAU, and The Tear Garden. Key also works as Scaremeister, his film scoring alter ego, having previously contributed to John Debney's score for End of Days (1999).
Ogre's main project outside Skinny Puppy is ohGr, which released two albums, Welt (2001) and SunnyPsyOp (2003), and toured in 2001. Ogre toured with KMFDM in 1997 and contributed vocals to their albums Symbols (1997) and Adios (1999). He also toured extensively with Pigface (1991–1995) and Ministry (1987–1990) and appeared on a number of Pigface and Ministry-related recordings during this period.
- Ain't It Dead Yet?, 1991, VHS/DVD
- Live performance at The Concert Hall, Toronto, Ontario, May 31 and June 1, 1987.
- Video Collection (1984-1992), 1996, VHS/DVD
- Includes videos for "Dig It", "Stairs and Flowers", "Far Too Frail" (live footage 1985), "Smothered Hope" (live footage 1985), "Deep Down Trauma Hounds" (live footage from the 1987 Ain't It Dead Yet? performance), "Testure", "Spasmolytic", and "Killing Game".
- Brap: Back and Forth Series 3 & 4, 1996, 2-CD
- Includes a number of video clips on those editions which included a CD-ROM portion.
- Greater Wrong of the Right LIVE, 2005, 2-DVD
- Live performances in Toronto, Ontario, and Montreal, Quebec in late 2004. Also includes videos for "Pro-Test", "Spasmolytic" (live footage 1990), and "Love In Vein" (live footage 1992).
- A number of other, promo-only videos were released, including "State Aid" (live footage 1988), "Worlock" (1990), "Candle" (1996), "Curcible" (1996), "Hardset Head" (1996), and "Haze" (2007).