Written by Parisa Eshrati
Four Industrial/Goth Gods walk into a room – and the outcome is, in this writer’s humble opinion, one of the most brilliant collaborations she’s ever experienced.
A few summers ago, my friends and I would have concert DVD marathons to cure our sorrows of not being able to afford going out to shows. After watching the Nine Inch Nails Fragility 2.0 (2000) tour concert (more on that footage in a future blog), we decided to delve into that drug-fueled era of NIN and spiral down a series of YouTube videos when Trent was at the lowest point of his depression. This era began after the release of The Downward Spiral but peaked during the Fragility tour. It was during this era that Trent’s grandmother passed, after which he mistakenly purchased china white heroin thinking it was cocaine. The mistake caused him to overdose and he had to be resuscitated in a hospital in London. Though it can be a difficult trip to revisit those years of NIN due to the intensity of Trent’s emotions, combined with nostalgia for my teenage years, we found some great clips including this video of Trent breaking shit. Eventually, we came across an in-studio performance with Trent Reznor, Jeordie White (aka Twiggy Ramirez, previously of Marilyn Manson and A Perfect Circle), Atticus Ross (post-industrial composer and producer) , and Peter Murphy (Bauhaus). I was already intrigued just knowing that all of my idols were in the same room at once, but upon watching it instantly became one of all-time my favorite artist collaborations.
The artists switch off honoring Nine Inch Nails and Bauhaus songs in this short four-song in-studio performance and manage to throw in some other covers as well. Each artist is compelling to watch since they are all masters of their domain, but Peter Murphy naturally commands the room with his grandiose presence and booming, haunting vocals. The first video we watched was of them covering David Bowie and Iggy Pop’s “Night Clubbing”. Murphy still carries Iggy’s nonchalant attitude but exaggerates it with a deeper register that rises from deep in his chest. Until I started doing some research for this blog, I never connected the fact that NIN’s “Closer” features a modified sample of the bass drum from “Night Clubbing”, so it’s pretty stellar to see that history connect there as well.
The mood completely shifts as Atticus and Trent sit back and let Jeordie and Peter do a stripped-down, strictly acoustic version of Murphy’s “A Strange Kind of Love”. It’s a beautiful song regardless of who is doing the instrumentals, but what is so awe-inspiring about this video is hearing how Murphy has still sustained so much power and emotion in his voice after all these years. He has probably sang this song in front of world-wide audiences hundreds of times, but he still delivers it with so much raw emotion and tenderness – and there is not so much as a crack in his vocal delivery.
I think what really gives me chills every time I watch this is thinking about the context of where Trent and Murphy were in their career when this was made. Though they are both honoring one another throughout the in-studio, it’s obvious that Trent would not be who he is without the music of Bauhaus and Peter Murphy. In a way these covers are also a way of Trent paying his respects. There is, however, somewhat of a reversed role in their lives at this point in time. At the end of that Fragility 2.0 tour, Trent checked into rehab and at the point of this in-studio had been sober for about six years. On the other hand, Peter would be arrested a few years later for meth possession charges. So although Peter is the forefather amongst these musicians, he is showing this vulnerability while singing that humbles him alongside his protégés.
This role-reversal is interestingly juxtaposed by the fact that Trent is completely sitting out during the song and allowing the spotlight to be placed on Peter. It’s revealing that the directionality of who is inspiring whom becomes blurred at this point. Peter is their predecessor but now Trent, who has already battled his demons, is the one who is able to sit back while Peter gives this stirring rendition of his own song and exposes his vulnerability.
The most significant song of this session, in my opinion, is their cover of NIN’s “Reptile” that transitions into Love and Rockets’ “Haunted, as the Minutes Drag”. Love and Rockets was the project of ex-Bauhaus members after the group split and Peter went on to do his solo project. (They are hugely underrated, I might add.) As Trent pays his respects to Peter by allowing him to take the lead vocals on his own song, Peter is similarly paying respects to his former Bauhaus members in this absolutely excellent rendition. The original versions of “Reptile” is an industrial track that pushes you at a hard-hitting and mechanical pace, as if you’re being pushed through a meat grinder. “Haunted When the Minutes Drag” is a softer track with a ghostly melody, almost like a gothic lullaby. The fact that they were able to throw an entirely unique spin on these contrasting songs and then make them seamlessly transition into each other is mind-blowing.
I feel like the technical mastery is at its high point in this song. You see Peter owning the microphone perfectly and knowing exactly when to lean out and let his voice echo out. My absolute favorite part is seeing Peter scream his fucking guts out at 5:28 minutes and then go straight back into his ghoul-like vibrato like nothing phased him. Meanwhile, Atticus, Jeordie and Trent are keeping a watchful eye on each other and beautifully building to the crescendo that makes the song into the masterpiece that it is.
When my friends and I watched that last video, it was about 4:30 in the morning. The series took on a cathartic role, for me at least. This was the first summer after we had all moved away for college, so here we were coming together again and bonding on artists that brought us together in middle school. I mean, there they were in a dingy little room, just like us hanging out in my friend’s parents’ living room, with an audience of like ten people (also – who were those lucky bastards that got to sit in on that?) and modestly creating a historic moment for industrial-gothic music. This video doesn’t even have a million hits but I don’t feel that “likes” and “views” are what makes something significant. I think the significant moment comes from watching the sunrise with your friends and geeking out about music that brought you together. Overall, I still find this collaboration to be brilliant, and the unique history between artists and emotions pouring through each song is what makes it legendary.