Among the multitudes of sociological and cultural analysis yet to be performed is a breakdown of the sex appeal of goth and industrial subcultures. It’s a vacuum in knowledge that, if filled, would provide a key to understanding a great deal of these scene’s adherents. Sure, you could talk about angst, anger, aggression, isolation, depression, and violence in these subcultures as well, and certainly these are factors that cannot be overlooked, but leaving out any mention of the complicated sexuality of these scenes is a mistake.
I’d undertake the task in the name of science if I had the requisite background and intimate understanding of the genres, but I don’t. However, I do know sexiness when I see it and hear it, and even without being a member of the goth and/or industrial community, I can appreciate its manifestations there. It’s the dark side of the sexual animal, the side drawn to the perverse, the psychological, and the dangerous. And whether you dress up in corsets and pale make-up, wear tight leather pants and a chain collar, or go about your day in your office-casual attire, buying your clothes anywhere from Target to Nordstroms, it’s a part of you.
Case in point: Kidneythieves. The joint project of Bruce M. Somers and Free Dominguez, Kidneythieves strikes that balance of sinister and sexy that appeals directly to goth/industrial fans, but also has a broader rock appeal thanks to the considerable physical and vocal charms of Dominguez. Kidneythieves have already drawn many comparisons to Curve in their short existence (The band debuted in 1998 with their LP Trickster and have released a handful of EPs and singles since), particularly to the relationship of a male-female duo that manifests a distinctly sexual aggression, as did Curve’s Dean Garcia and Toni Halliday. Then there’s the fact that Halliday somewhat resembles Dominguez. The shot of Dominguez’s face on the cover of Zerospace easily recall’s Halliday’s striking image from the “Fait Accompli” video. Dominguez has also been favorably compared with Shirley Manson of Garbage, but Dominguez’s is a lot less “pop” of an image—more like the dark-haired, worldly, slightly scary little sister who makes people nervous and aroused simultaneously.
Of course, Free Dominguez is only half of the duo, and the remainder of Kidneythieves’ sound and fury can be attributed to the compositional efforts of Somers. An industrial enthusiast since the mid-‘80s, Somers credits much of his musical direction to his involvement with Sean Beavan, most well known for his work with Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails, so it’s not hard to imagine that the sound is similar. In fact, Somers claims that Pretty Hate Machine was his biggest influence in terms of opening up the industrial sound to a more accessible, more musical arrangement of juxtapositions. Truthfully, Zerospace bears more resemblance to Pretty Hate Machine than Kidneytheives’ first album, Trickster, reversing the musical timeline and mirroring the career of NIN. If Trent Reznor increasingly picked himself apart and slipped down the spiral, Somers and Dominguez spit out the better part of the bile and vitriol on Trickster and have since built themselves up until the arrangements on Zerospace reflect one the high watermarks of industrial music.
And let’s face it, Pretty Hate Machine was the best thing Reznor’s ever produced because it balanced all of the angst and aggression with a palpable sexiness, a combination sure to be a hit with the teens. That Zerospace aspires to this same balance can only be a good thing, even better if it pulls it off. And for the most part it does. There’s a duality of deep texture on the album. Dominguez manages to cover a lot of range in her vocals, both in her singing and in the tone and delivery. “Arsenal” is as sexy a Matrix-like, secret agent woman song as has ever been written, while the title track finds Dominguez up in your face, talking tough in a rapid fire near-rap, and sounding every bit as intimidating as her male counterparts. But then there’s “Serene Dream”, a lovely song that eschews industrial guitars for string arrangements and pushes the upper ranges of ethereal singing, stopping just short of reaching Kate Bush territory.
For his part, Somers lays these tracks down thick, and with Beavan’s assistance in the mixing, develops these songs as multi-layered and chunky, rather than just the wall of noise approach that many others take with industrial rock. The album opener, “Before I’m Dead”, sets the stage that Somers will use for the rest of the album, concentrating equally on beats, keys, grinding guitars, loops and the odd studio effect or five. Nearly every song on the album is so replete with hooks that if you tear yourself away from Dominguez’s sultry voice, you hear Somers in the background tweaking the songs as if the hooks were an instrument in their own right. If the lilting strings of “Serene Dream” provide a different direction and a break from the grind, then the power-chord assault of “Black Bullet” and “Dyskrasia” provides the counterbalance example. Just when the heaviness of the album reaches a saturation point, Somers as producer slows things down and takes things off course in a new direction
And then there’s the dark sexiness of the whole affair. This is, after all, the band that produced the sexy/angry “S&M (A Love Song)”. On Zerospace, “Spank” and, to a lesser extent, “Glitter Girl” take up some of this sexual tension, as well as the overtly erotic video for “Zerospace”. When approached directly, sex is seen as tragic, but the overall mood of the album, and Dominguez’s image, is of a powerful femininity loaded with stilettos—both boots and knives. It’s a complexity of character, even if it’s as time-worn as black lipstick and silver ankhs. If I can’t offer a sociological analysis of how this image came to be and what it means, I can at least say it offers a welcome, gender-equitable counterpoint to the endless parade of male, antisocial-posturing bands that have characterized so much of recent hard/heavy rock/metal, ushering in a new generation of cock-rockers. Zerospace isn’t quite Pretty Hate Machine, but it’s pretty close, and Kidneythieves achieve everything they set out to do with this album. Listen and learn, boys.