Every Dog Has Its Day
For nearly 15 years, Vancouver's Skinny Puppy have been finding and playing with sound, deconstructing and reconstructing it. Although they've always been favourites on Canadian soil, the reach of Skinny Puppy extends far beyond the confines of our shores. Probably the most visual of industrial bands, the band's focus was always more than just the music. Although Skinny Puppy's founding member cEvin Key sums up his career with Puppy as "lucky," fans see them as a living, breathing, pulsating work of art, constantly blurring the boundaries between music, performance and media, forcing us to question our perceptions and misconceptions, and spawning intelligent, innovative music that will forever be etched into the walls of anything we dare call "alternative."
Kevin Crompton plays drums and percussion in Vancouver synth pop band Images in Vogue. Crompton begins experimenting more with sound, specifically synthesisers and tape loops, and looks to branch out into a different project. He meets Kevin Ogilvie and Wilhelm Shroeder (later to become Bill Leeb, of Vancouver industrial unit Frontline Assembly), and Skinny Puppy is born. Kevin Crompton assumes the name cEvin Key, and begins jamming with Ogilvie, who changes his name to Nivek Ogre. Key works primarily on the instrumentation and rhythm, while Ogre steps forward as lead vocalist, and also contributes some percussion and synth work. Shroeder is brought in as a keyboardist for gigs and is listed as "guest artist" for much of their studio work. Influenced by bands such as Throbbing Gristle, Kraftwerk and Nocturnal Emissions, the experimental side of music production serves as a driving force behind the mechanics of Skinny Puppy. Late in the year, a self-produced limited-edition cassette entitled Back and Forth is released independently. Apparently, only 35 copies are printed, but more are rumoured to have circulated later.
Skinny Puppy signs to newly-formed independent Vancouver label Nettwerk. While recording at Vancouver's Mushroom Studios, the band becomes acquainted with record producer and sound engineer Dave "Rave" Ogilvie (no relation to Ogre). Key had worked with Ogilvie during the Images in Vogue sessions, and as Puppy's producer, engineer and live sound technician, Dave "Rave" would remain an integral part throughout the band's career; he's often referred to as the fourth member. Their first official release, an EP entitled Remission, showcases Skinny Puppy's emerging signature sound — a collage of aggressive, "effected" vocals, layers of sound, and sampled fragments of dialogue and sound. Shortly after, Key leaves Images In Vogue. The band makes their debut live performance by breaking into a Vancouver art gallery. cEvin Key explains, "It was at a speakeasy art gallery without any art, just a bunch of party people. It was at a place called Unovis. Our friend who had the key to the place went away that day, so we broke in and set up. We went to see Alien Sex Fiend play, and then at three a.m. we played to about 300 people, including Alien Sex Fiend. It was the birth of the live SP."
Bites, their debut full-length, is released on Nettwerk. From the outset, the band demonstrates a strong connection to the animal kingdom; Bites is supposedly written from the point of view of a dog. The band quickly makes a name for themselves as mood-makers; their music evokes nightmarish images while exposing the underbelly of an imperfect world. With songs such as "Smothered Hope" and "Assimilate," their audience learns that filling the dance floor is not Puppy's primary objective; the agenda is more about creating thought-provoking music with a potent message. Bites helps them move beyond a tape-trading community and with Nettwerk's international push, the band begins to build a loyal following. They embark upon their first North American tour, where their visual and performance ambitions first mesh with the music. The tour incorporates huge stage sets, including deranged-looking props and buckets of home-made blood. Their true nature as performance artists begins to emerge.
After the tour, Shroeder leaves to form Frontline Assembly, and is replaced by Dwayne Rudolph Goettel, a former member of Edmonton bands Voice and the Pinstripe Club (later known as Psyche). He is a classically-trained pianist, and his presence in the new line-up adds a more melodic element to Skinny Puppy's work. In the studio, the band continues to experiment with musical technology, now digital as well as analog. Mind: The Perpetual Intercourse is quite different from their previous work; it very obviously showcases Goettel's influence. The album is initially successful and will, in retrospect, be widely accepted as ahead of its time. The band tours North America even more extensively. More successful than Bites, the Mind:TPI tour helps establish them globally in the electronic/experimental and underground music scenes. For the first of what will be a long and varied list of side projects throughout Skinny Puppy's career, cEvin Key hooks up with Edward Ka-Spel of industrial band the Legendary Pink Dots. Key does sound for a Ka-Spel solo show (as he opens for Puppy) and the two begin recording less abrasive, ambient efforts together as the Tear Garden.
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