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6 ways to recreate an industrial '80s sound in your DAW

Throbbing Gristle
(Image credit: David Corio/Redferns)

What we think of as ‘industrial music’ has been around since at least the 1970s, but by the end of the 1980s and into the 90s its influence was felt everywhere - the pioneering work of bands like Throbbing Gristle and Einstürzende Neubaten was incorporated into the sounds of more mainstream acts like Depeche Mode and Nine Inch Nails. 

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Industrial music also made a difference to dance styles as well as invigorating a tired rock scene; as a genre it’s hard to define, but you know it when you hear it! It draws on sounds from nature and man-made sources, as well as taking a philosophical cue from artists working in other media. 

We’re looking at industrial music as a genre based on low-tech sampling, machine noises, hard drum machines, rock instrumentation, and angry or otherwise-processed instruments. 

Like other genres born in the '80s, industrial has never gone away – there’s still excitement and creativity to be found in using primitive sampling methods, big beats, and blasting unsuspecting listeners with noise. So nobody can blame us for asking – what tools were behind those original records and performances, and how do we reproduce them now?

1. Roland R8 samples

Arturia

(Image credit: Arturia)

Truthfully, the Roland R8 drum machine might be more 90s sounding, but it was released in 1989 so it qualifies, and it’s an industrial classic. It has a library of drum kits that are perfect, including the aptly-named power kit. Samples of this beat beast are easily found online and many hardware or software options exist including Arturia’s Spark 2.

2. Tape simulators

u-he satin

(Image credit: u-He)

Early industrial music, like all other music of the time, would be recorded onto reel-to-reel tape, if working in a studio, otherwise onto cassette tape if working at home or in a demo setup. Some of the best tape sims include u-He’s Satin (shown) and Slate Digital’s Virtual Tape Collection.

3. Atari ST emulation

Atari st

(Image credit: Atari )

Meanwhile, sequencing and composition had begun moving to computers. The Atari ST was the first home computer with built-in MIDI ports, and it was the original home for music applications such as Creator/Notator (later to become Apple’s Logic Pro). Want to emulate it? Try Hatari’s app at their website.

4. Arturia CMI V

Fairlight cmi

(Image credit: Future)

Sampling blew up big in the 1980s, at all levels. We must mention the Fairlight CMI, which was released in 1979 and you can use the Arturia emulation for that. It appeared on records by Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush, and Art of Noise, to name a few. Quickly, though, sampling became more democratic and affordable. 

5. Togu Audio Line TAL-Sampler

Togu

(Image credit: Togu)

Akai are more known for their MPC samplers, but their S-series rack samplers, first appearing in 1985, were widely used by artists such as Nine Inch Nails, Front 242 and Depeche Mode. Shockingly primitive by modern standards, they were hugely influential. Get an idea of how they work by way of this Togu Audio Line TAL-Sampler.

6. Mathieu Demange RX950

S950

(Image credit: Akai)

As you can see we can reproduce these instruments and their workflows in software. There’s even a plugin – the Mathieu Demange RX950 – that imparts the lo-fi characteristics of the Akai S950. As usual with music technology, the challenge now is to filter out the distractions and embellishments.