Generally regarded as pioneers in Canadian industrial rock, Skinny Puppy centred around cEvin Key (real name Kevin Crompton) while he was still in Images In Vogue. Although originally intended to be little more than a side project that was different from the new wave/synth pop sound his current band was doing.
Along with vocalist Nivek Ogre (real name Kevin Ogilvie), they began recording some material with Ogre’s brother Dave “Rave” Ogilvie as producer and unofficial third member in late ’83 and finished up the following spring, releasing the self-financed seven-track EP, BACK AND FORTH shortly thereafter. Although it was only intended to be a run of 50 cassettes, only 35 were actually produced. Despite the lack of product on the market, word got out quickly, due in part to a series of energy-filled concerts around the Vancouver area once they’d assembled a touring group.
The fusion of techno and industrial music with often dark and brooding lyrics in songs like “Sleeping Beast,” “Dead of Winter,” and “Edge of Insanity” was new and different, and they were soon being courted by several labels around Vancouver. They signed with Nettwerk Records and before the year was up they released a second EP, REMISSION, which featured future favourites like “Smothered Hope” and “Far Too Frail,” as well as a re-recording of “Sleeping Beast.”
With Key now having severed ties with Images In Vogue, he was able to concentrate on his side project full time, and they released BITES in the fall of ’85. With Bill Leeb helping out on bass under the pseudonym of Wilhelm Schroeder, Tom Ellard of Severed Heads lent a hand on the production of the lead-off “Assimilate.” Along with “The Choke” and “Last Call,” the band’s underground notoriety grew through their dark electro-pop style, and they found themselves in the opening slot of Chris & Cosey on their Canadian tour. As a publicity stunt, Key and company (which included Schroeder) billed themselves as Hell ‘O’ Death Day, and played primarily unknown songs which would wind up on later Skinny Puppy albums. They also did select dates around the country, headlining another underground favourite called Water. This came in handy a year later, when Water’s keyboardist Dwayne Goettel (also ex of Psyche) came on board when Schroeder left to form Front Line Assembly.
They scored a major distribution deal with Capitol Records in 1986, and released MIND: THE PERPETUAL INTERCOURSE that September. It was the band’s first album to gain any conventional exposure, with “Dig It” becoming their first single and video, getting significant play in pockets around the country, including Toronto and Edmonton. “Chainsaw” and “Stairs & Flowers” (complete with dialogue straight out of an excorism) followed as singles, and though none of them set the world on fire, they were hailed by the critics for their textured sound, sparking several knock-off groups, including Nine Inch Nails. They toured for the next two and a half years, making several stops at radio stations throughout Canada, and found themselves on the road throughout North America and Europe. Their 1987 show at Toronto’s Concert Hall was released on VHS in ’89 and two years later on disc as AIN’T IT DEAD YET?
1987’s CLEANSE FOLD AND MANIPULATE album came and went without a whimper, though embraced by the hardcore fans. “The Mourn” was based on the horror film, “Flower of Flesh and Blood,” while “Draining Faces” was later used in the “Blair Witch Project” soundtrack. Touring was limited, as members were also engaged in outside projects, including the start of Key and Goettel’s involement with The Tear Garden (a collaboration with British-based Legendary Pink Dots) – both in the studio and on stage.
They found time to hit the studios for their own projects again in early ’88, releasing VIVISECTVI that fall. An element of the band’s music that set them apart from Images In Vogue was Key’s choice of topics, this time dealing with many social and environmental issues, everything from pollution in “Harsh Stone White” to animal research in “Testure” – to chemical warfare in “VX Gas Attack.” The album’s aggression was a departure in many ways to the band’s previous efforts, as well, filled with what would become their trademark samplings throughout the album. The lead-off “Dogshit” was released as the first single, but due to obvious reasons had to be changed, to “Censor.” Another North American tour was undertaken, but wasn’t without controversy, when a Cincinnati audience member called the police after thinking Ogre was dissecting a real dog on stage. Key and Ogre were arested for disorderly conduct, but were later released.
Around the same time Key and Goettel started up Doubting Thomas and then The Flu (which evolved into Hilt), a pair of side projects which served as outlet for some music that didn’t fit the Skinny Puppy mold but good for several releases over the years. Ogre also began working with Ministry, but came back on board in time for RABIES in 1989. The album was more electric guitar oriented than most of their previous works, and the singles “Tin Omen” and “Worlock” (complete with a sampling of The Beatles’ “Helter Skelter” and singing by Charles Manson, much to the general public’s ire). There was no tour in support of the album however, as musical differences were causing occasional outside projects to become more time consuming, including Ogre joining Ministry on tour.
The ’90s took hold and the band continued to crank out industrial records that produced minor chart successes but fuelled their underground cult status, including TOO DARK PARK in the summer of 1990 with its environmentally-themed “Nature’s Revenge” and “Shore Line Poison,” and LAST RIGHTS two year later, with “inquisition” and “Lahuman8” – one of several pieces commissioned by the contemporary dance group La La La Human Steps for their production “Infant C’est Destroy.”
After signing a contract wtih American Recordings, they moved to California to record their next project, but were plagued with problems from the start. Producer issues caused Roli Mosimann to be replaced by Martin Atkins, which in turn drove a wedge further between the band members. Bickering amonst themselves and the rock and roll lifestyle caused production costs to escalate. Further causing problems was the fact they initially wanted to sample a poem by Timothy Leary for the song “Left Handshake,” but couldn’t secure the rights.
Having lost much of their faith, label brass reduced their commitment from three albums to only one, and by ’94 Key and Goettel had enough, and packed up and moved back to Vancouver, along with the master tapes. They formed Download with Mark Spybey and Phil Western, releasing their first album, FURNACE in ’95. Ogre meanwhile remained in LA and quit Skinny Puppy all together that June. He was found dead in his parents’ from a heroin overdose two months later. Dave Rave eventually completed the project to fulfill their commitment to American Recordings. Released in the fall of ’96, the result was THE PROCESS, featuring “Blue Serge,” “Amnesia,” and “Cellar Heat.”
Another project Goettel was involved in was the formation of his own label, Subconscious Records, which evolved out of a group he’d formed with Phil Western called Subconscious. The new label served as catalyst for a number of his, and Key’s own project over the next few years, including several more albums from Download, Key’s first solo album in 1998, MUSIC FOR CATS, and several Plateau and Tear Garden projects.
Ogre meanwhile had hooked back up with friends and fellow industrial pioneers Pigface, and also formed a new project called WELT before the end of the decade. In 1999, he released an album with fellow Pigface alumni Martin Atkins, billed as Ritalin. In 2001, recordings Ogre had done with WELT years earlier but not released due to a sticky legal situation with American Recordings surfaced under the new name ohGr. He also contributed several tracks to the Descent II game soundtrack.
Ogre and Key reunited in 2000 for a one-off show in Dresden, California at the Doomsday Festival. After several compilations and remixed albums (some with bonus material) made their way on to the market over the years, they got back together again in ’01 when Key joined ohGr on drum for a tour, while Ogre appeared on Key’s album THE GHOST OF EACH ROOM that same year. In 2003, their first recording in nearly a decade under the Skinny Puppy banner came when they recorded “Optimissed” appeared on the “Underworld” soundtrack.
Their first full-fledged album together since their breakup occurred in 2004 with THE GREATER WRONG OF THE RIGHT, their first album ever not to have Dave Rave Ogilvie involved in the production. Heralded by the die-hard critics, the album showcased a subdued Puppy, and more commercially palatable, highlighted by the first video and single, “Pro-Test,” which pushed the album into the #176 slot on Billboard’s top 200 list. The subsequent tour stops in Montreal in Toronto were filmed and used for the live DVD concert called GREATER WRONG OF THE RIGHT LIVE the following September, which also included a short social documentary called “Information Warfare.” Never known for being close-lipped about their anti-war stance, the tour also raised the anger of several groups across the US, including PABAAH (Patriotic Americans Boycotting Anti-American Hollywood), which attempted a boycott of college radio stations that played the band’s music.
After a second European tour, they returned to the studio in the spring of ’05, which resulted in 2007’s MYTHMAKER album. It went almost completely unnoticed at home, and barely cracked Billboard’s top 200 albums list, but did manage to peak at #4 on their independent albums chart and #5 on their dance/electronic albums list, sparked in part by “Ugli” making its way to the “Saw 5” soundtrack, the third time they’d been used for the movie franchise. Additionally, the song “politikiL” was used for the Jackass video game. Once again they set out on the road, and their infamous stage show was beefed up with even more theatrics.
Concentrating solely on Skinny Puppy, they hit the road for the next year and a half, playing across North America and also landing some European dates. By October ’09 they’d recorded enough material for a new album, but production and distribution delays were coupled with the fact their new label SPV GmbH ran into financial problems, postponing its release until 2011. Like practically every Skinny Puppy project before it, HANDOVER was met with mixed reviews from the critics, who either loved it – or hated it. Still, tracks like “Brownstone” and “Noisex” (both initially intended for an outside project, along with “Ashas” (in tribute to longtime roadie Sasha Coon who’d died earlier that year), fuelled another world tour, highlighted by several European festivals.