Known for its genre-bending albums, performance-art live shows and a history marred by tragedy and internal struggle, Skinny Puppy is the act people most associate with industrial music. Drawing from the work of Cabaret Voltaire, Can, Throbbing Gristle and Yellow Magic Orchestra, Skinny Puppy was formed in 1982 by cEvin Key (aka Kevin Crompton) and Nivek Ogre (aka Kevin Ogilvie). Original keyboardist Bill Leeb abruptly left Skinny Puppy (to start his own act, Frontline Assembly) after the release of Bites (Nettwerk, 1985), and his replacement came in the form of technical whiz Dwayne Goettel. That would prove to be the most significant change in Skinny Puppy's history.
Prior to Goettel's arrival, Skinny Puppy explored the gloomy side of dancefloor music. “The Roland TR-909 was really the first machine we used for the first records we made,” Key says. “We were using it right at its infancy, and it was a great breakthrough at the time.” But Goettel's vast knowledge of music sampling and production took the act's sound into more varied terrains. Goettel's impact was immediate as Skinny Puppy embarked on one of the most creative and critically lauded periods of its 25-year career, with releases including Mind: The Perpetual Intercourse (Nettwerk, 1986), Cleanse, Fold and Manipulate (Nettwerk, 1987) and VIVIsectVI (Nettwerk, 1988). “cEvin had a good sense of melody, but Dwayne was classically trained, and then he could fuck things up,” Ogre says. “It was part of their duality in that Dwayne shared his vast knowledge of music, and cEvin showed him how to fuck it all up.”
Key adds, “Dwayne brought us a whole new sense and aesthetic that we didn't have. Up to that point, we were really punk rock in our approach. He had an incredible knowledge of equipment and at a very early stage was really the master of sampling, which had really just begun.”
While Skinny Puppy continued to push the envelope musically, the group's live show became a major draw and a calling card. The star of the show was Ogre, who envisioned a show full of horrifying costumes, fake blood and a wide array of props. Many of the band's supporters even helped to create the live show. “Some of our fans were welders and metal-shop workers, and they helped to build stuff for the live show,” Key says. “Still, I had no idea what to expect when we did our first show. I had a hard time playing. I wanted to see what was going to happen next, and it was really bizarre.”
A crucial part of the Skinny Puppy story and the development of industrial music had to do with Ogre and Key's side projects and collaborations. Ogre toured with Ministry in support of The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste and The Land of Rape and Honey and was a member of industrial supergroups The Revolting Cocks and Pigface. Key's side projects included The Tear Garden, Hilt and Download. However, when Key and Goettel questioned Ogre's devotion to Skinny Puppy, a major riff soon started between the bandmates. These frustrations came to a turbulent head during the recording of their Def American (later named simply American) debut, The Process (1996). Creative differences between the band and dissatisfaction over the work of two producers (Roli Mosimann and Martin Atkins) and the label put a halt to the recording process. Soon thereafter, Ogre announced he was leaving Skinny Puppy to concentrate on his own projects. But in August 1995, Dwayne Goettel was found dead of a heroin overdose, and in tribute, Ogre and Key put aside their differences to complete The Process. “It's been 11 years [since Dwayne died], and it feels like it happened two weeks ago,” Key says. “I always thought you get over something like that but really, you just start getting used to dealing with it. It's the worst thing that ever happened in my life.”
Skinny Puppy called it quits following Goettel's death, but Key and Ogre reunited for a one-off appearance at 2000's Doomsday festival in Dresden, Germany. The show was so inspiring that it led to the reformation of Skinny Puppy and a new album, The Greater Wrong of the Right (Hunter, 2004). In January 2007, Skinny Puppy returned with its newest album, Mythmaker (SPV, 2007), and plans to support it with a lengthy world tour. “There's this huge debate whether we should be doing what we were doing before,” Ogre says. “Some people think that the stuff we do now is a pale imitation of the past. All of the older stuff had a time and place, and we decided to move forward to where we are now. We never wanted to make this a nostalgia thing or re-create the past.”