by Dave Chamberlain
Sister Machine Gun keeps plugging
It wasn't that long ago, before the Verucas and the Pumpkins and the Phairs, that Chicago's musical output was defined by the staccato agitation of Big Black and the clink-clanking of Wax Trax's industrial army. But trends in music last only a bit longer than trends in fashion, and the city's industrial scene lies rusting like a forgotten West Side factory.
Still, industrial didn't die after laying the groundwork for the Prodigys of today. Despite a plunge in its underground appeal, there are still industrial bands chugging away. Among these, Chicago's Sister Machine Gun unabashedly keeps the candle lit.
Chris Randall, founder and creative bullet in Sister Machine Gun since its inception in New York in 1988, was drawn to Chicago as an industrial mecca. "I first moved there in 1991 because if I wanted to be involved in the industrial scene, I had to be near Wax Trax," Randall says on the phone from Grand Rapids, Iowa. "You just had to be in Chicago." That idea lives on among younger industrial fans around the country. "I still talk to kids," he says, "who have the impression that the industrial scene is huge in Chicago."
But Randall isn't blind to the current state of industrial. "I have to re-think our strategy," he notes. "Much like the metal bands in the late eighties who were suddenly not making music that was cool, we need to contemplate a new direction." Randall attributes part of the problem to a lack of new bands, saying, "There just aren't any new KMFDMs or Die Warsaus." Not necessarily ducking the industrial tag, Randall has come up with a better description for Sister Machine Gun's music: "Aggropop. That's what we like to call ourselves now. It's such a good word. I just can't believe I didn't come up with it before."
Whatever the label, Randall and Sister Machine Gun keep working. In July they released "Metropolis," a new record on TVT/Wax Trax, and will play the Vic Halloween night before launching a co-headlining tour with art-metal journeymen Prong.
The tour's not exactly a bill made in heaven. Randall knows Prong's Tommy Victor and the bands share a booking agent, which helped ease the way, but as far as Prong's music is concerned, Randall says, "If it has heavy guitars, I don't like it."
It's not the first time Sister Machine Gun has been paired with a metal band -- the group once played an extensive North American tour with Type O Negative. "We can appeal to metal fans if given the right opportunity," says Randall. "When we were with Type O, every night we played a really hard, fast set."
Randall looks forward to returning to Chicago, on a number of levels. "So far on the tour, attendance is down -- which is pretty much happening to the music industry for every band. We have some good nights, some bad." But in Chicago, where Sister Machine Gun's new record is selling three times better than it is in the rest of the country, the band should have no trouble filling up the Vic. "We still get good audiences in Chicago," Randall says. "And the Vic is my favorite place to play."
But beyond record sales and performance venues, Randall continues to speak highly of Chicago as a music town. "Once you get out of the Chicago area," he says, "the music industry really bugs me. The people you deal with in the clubs are just ingrates and they are terribly unprofessional. But on top of that, Chicago just loves music the way few other cities do. We've had a good time in a couple of other cities, like Nashville and New Orleans, but those cities are few and far between."
And contrary to popular opinion, Randall refutes the notion that Chicago's audiences are too jaded. "Especially," he says, "compared to L.A. or New York. When you play in those two cities, like the first twenty people in the front row are stalkers, and the rest just watch you quietly and think about how they can improve what you're doing."
Despite Sister Machine Gun's records selling well overseas, the band has yet to do a European tour. "Not that we wouldn't like to," Randall says, "but TVT has never been really hot on the idea. Plus, it would be really time consuming to get over there since I don't fly."
How's that? "Well, we've always had pretty bad luck as a band," he explains. "So I decided to remove anything that can, quite honestly, kill me. I've flown more than 800 times. I figure I've already beaten the odds."
Copyright 1997 New City Communications, Inc.