Nine Inch Nails makes Charts on Industrial Zone

By Craig Rosen for Billboard Magazine on April 1, 1994

Los Angeles--The success of Nine Inch Nails may be opening the door to mainstream acceptance for other once-underground industrial-styled acts.

"The Downward Spiral", the second full-length album by the act, which essentially is Trent Reznor's one-man band, debuted at No. 2 on The Billboard 200 (Billboard, March 26, 1994), and SoundScan reports that as of March 20, the album had sold 188,000 copies. This week, the release is at No. 12.

This follows NIN's earlier success, "Pretty Hate Machine." That album, the act's 1989 debut, stands at No. 35 on the Top Pop Catalog after 29 weeks. Since January 1991, when SoundScan began tracking sales, the 1989 title has sold more than 1 million copies.

"Broken," NIN's 1992 EP, reached No. 7 on The Billboard 200 and has sold more than 645,000 copies to date, according to SoundScan data.

"Industrial used to be a subterranean or an underground category," says Al Wilson, senior VP of merchandising, for the 143-store Strawberries chain in Milford, Mass. "Now, similar to the way grunge has gotten accepted, industrial has found its way into the mainstream."

The genre, which takes its name from the foundry-like blasts of noise featured in the music, has been lurking on the fringe of rock mainstream for nearly two decades. Pioneering works, which receiving almost no commercial response at the time, included Lou Reed's 1975 album "Metal Machine Music" and early-'80's albums by the U.K. band Throbbing Gristle.

In the '80s, Chicago-based independent label Wax Trax! and Vancouver, British Columbia's Nettwerk were the chief purveyors of industrial, but their biggest acts, Ministry and Skinny Puppy, respectively, remained cult artists.

It wasn't until Nine Inch Nails' "Pretty Hate Machine" that the genre became a serious chart presence.

Judy Neubauer, retail advertising and promotions coordinator for the 16-store, Chatsworth, Calif-based Tempo Records web, says NIN has done extremely well at the chain. At a midnight sale at Tempo's Northridge store, the new NIN album outsold Soundgarden's "Superunknown."

Says Neubauer, "There's been a huge buzz. Everyone was waiting for Reznor's second full-length album."

Neubauer says a big part of industrial's move toward the mainstream has been airplay on modern rock KROQ Los Angeles.

KROQ is one of 24 modern rock stations playing the NIN track "March of the Pigs." APD Gene Sandbloom says "The Downward Spiral" "is going to be huge in L.A."

The station also is one of five modern rock stations playing "Closer", a second track from the album. Those stations have even gone out of their way to edit the track, which contains explicit lyrics, to make it suitable for airplay.

Mike Hallotran, MD/afternoon personality at modern rock XTRA (91X) San Diego, credits Nine Inch Nails with bringing industrial to the mainstream. "The word industrial is pretty off putting for some people," he says. "What Trent does is make pop songs that sound industrial. He takes a great pop song and destroys it, much the same way the Jesus & Mary Chain use feedback."

At KNDD (the End) Seattle, MD Marco Collins reports that Nine Inch Nails is a hot commodity. "At our station, the thing is going crazy," he says. KNDD is playing "March of the Pigs" more than 17 times a week, while "Closer" was the No. 2 most requested song at the station the week of March 14.

Collins adds that other industrial acts, ranging from Machines of Loving Graces to Ministry, also have been well-received at the station. "Maybe the masses are coming around to what the core has known all along," Collins adds.

Modern rock KITS (Live 105) San Francisco director of music operations Steve Masters notes that adding industrial to the mix gives the station an aggressive edge. "When we play a song in the industrial vein, people respond positively," he adds.

While Nine Inch Nails may be breaking down barriers at radio, not every industrial act is benefiting. TVT Records is having some difficulty working tracks by KMFDM and Sister Machine Gun.

"Right now we are up against Nine Inch Nails," says TVT national director of promotion Jim McNeil. "Even though programmers understand that there is a huge fan base for industrial, they only have one slot for it. They pigeonhole it into nighttime rotation, and often add it reluctantly. Their hands are forced because of the tremendous sales and phone response."


Another industrial act that has made inroads in the last few years is Ministry, whose 1992 album "Psalm 69" reached No. 27 on The Billboard 200 and went on to sell more than 634,000 copies. That act, however, remains largely an after-dark phenomenon. Says KROQ's Sandbloom, "Ministry's "N.W.O." is the quintessential nighttime KROQ record."

Like Nine Inch Nails, Ministry is an alumnus of Lollapalooza. NIN was part of the festival's debut line-up in 1991, while Ministry was a featured act in 1992.

"When booking Lollapalooza, we knew that industrial was a vital, important form of alternative music and that it should be exposed," he says. Geiger adds that NIN's exposure on Lollapalooza helped pave the way for Ministry.

"When Nine Inch Nails finally broke, there was a lot of talk not only about them, but the whole genre," Geiger says. "There was a lot of anticipation for Ministry, based largely on the success of Nine Inch Nails."

Front 242, an industrial act featured on Lollapalooza '93, however, failed to reach a broader audience and remains mostly an underground sensation.

American hopes to find success in the industrial market in August with the label debut from recent signing Skinny Puppy, formerly licensed to Capitol in the U.S. via Nettwerk. "The door is open," says Geiger. "If they make a good record, they will sell a lot more than they have in the past."

Yet Geiger doesn't expect an industrial revolution. "I don't think it's a trend like rap, where everyone is going to get in because the market is so big," he says.


Those close to the industrial scene have mixed feelings about the genre's newfound acceptance. Kim Traub, one of the staff of four that publishes Industrialnation, a fanzine based in the Chicago area, notes that Reznor is on the cover of Musician, B-Side, and CMJ. He's also a featured interview in the fanzine's next issue. "That's just the way the business works," she says. "There's always going to be quibbing over who's alternative and who's not."

Yet Traub sees a positive side, too. "It may be good to broaden the base of people that listen to this kind of music."

Brian Perera, label manager of the Los Angeles-based independent label Cleopatra, which has been specializing in industrial since opening in 1992, also sees positives to the success of Nine Inch Nails. "Every other major label is going to be looking for their Nine Inch Nails," Perera says. "Acts that normally wouldn't be looked at are definitely getting looked at now. It's breaking a whole new door open for new acts."

The label, which has issued one "Industrial Revolution" CD sampler and a book of the same name, is readying a second sampler.

"We're getting a free ride with Nine Inch Nails," Perera adds. "Magazines that wouldn't have the least bit of interest in us are coming around. I guess everything has its time."

Transcribed by Keith Duemling

View the NIN Hotline article index