Skinny Puppy are one of the most influential bands in the field of Electronic Music. However, their mainstream success has been modest at best (a few hits on the dance music charts during The '80s). The impact of "Skuppy" comes primarily from the amount of artists they in turn have influenced.
The band was formed when Kevin Crompton (a.k.a. cEvin Key), drummer for the Synth-Pop band Images in Vogue, got bored with making Synth-Pop and wanted to make new and groundbreaking Electronic Music. He got his friend Kevin Ogilvie (a.k.a. Nivek Ogre), to provide vocals. Along the way, various other members have provided the role of third member, such as Bill Leeb (who went on to form Front Line Assembly), and most famously Dwayne Rudolph Goettel (who died of a heroin overdose in the mid-90s, causing the band to break up for almost a decade), and most recently Mark Walk.
Skinny Puppy are widely considered the band responsible for the more popular vibe Industrial has today, as opposed earlier Industrial, which was largely inaccessible to the average audience. Basically, they took the experimental and bizzare approach pioneered by bands such as Throbbing Gristle and applied it to almost-entirely electronic music. Unsurprisingly, their first releases, "Remission" and "Bites" (their first full album, released in 1985), sounded like experimental, angry Synth-Pop. Think of Skinny Puppy as "Kraftwerk (Trope Makers for Synth-Pop) + Throbbing Gristle (Trope Makers for Industrial)" and you'll have a good idea of what they sound like.
Skinny Puppy were not the first band to take Throbbing Gristle's attitude and approach Electronic Music with it. Arguably, Throbbing Gristle did this (albeit their work was more eclectic and less electronic than Skinny Puppy's), and Cabaret Voltaire (as well as many other acts associated with early '80s Synth-Pop) did it as well. But Skinny Puppy took these ideas into much Darker and Edgier territory and were easily the most influential partly because they had a truly gruesome stage act and never refrained from the use of Nightmare Fuel.
The band's second album, Mind: The Perpetual Intercourse, added Dwayne Goettel to the lineup. Goettel was a classically-trained keyboardist who also had a knack for extremely demented synthesizer and sampler programming. This is the classic lineup that defined the band during their golden age.
Their output was released on the Nettwerk record label and managed to influence a very large number of artists. One of these artists was Trent Reznor, who decided to combine Skinny Puppy's style with heavy riffs and rock-style vocals and lyrics (and, at times, increased use of guitars). The result was Nine Inch Nails. Trent Reznor himself acknowledges his inspiration, and the song "Down in It" off of "Pretty Hate Machine" is very similar to Skinny Puppy's "Dig It" from Mind: The Perpetual Intercourse. At one point in Trent's early career, Nine Inch Nails was the opening act for Skinny Puppy.
In 1989, Skinny Puppy released the album Rabies, which was (upon release) considered a New Sound Album because it contained metal-style guitar riffs on three tracks, courtesy of Ministry's Al Jourgensen (who had struck up a friendship with Nivek Ogre when the two bands were touring together). In hindsight however, most Skinny Puppy fans have got over the 'surprise' and embraced the album, partly because the song "Worlock" is considered one of Skinny Puppy's Crowning Moments and to this day remains one of their Signature Songs. Unfortunately, it was during this era that Al introduced the band to heroin.
In 1990, the band released Too Dark Park, which is arguably considered their artistic high point by the majority of their fans. The album is not the most bizarre and inaccessible of their works (that honor is reserved for 1988's "VIVIsectVI" (pronounced "Vivisect Six"), but it manages to approach it, with tighter songwriting, catchy basslines, and surprising sonic range that went from pure Mind Rape rhythmic noise (songs like "Convulsion") to dark ambient (like "Reclamation") to danceable, melodic and bizarre industrial (like "Tormentor") to darker and more minimal industrial (like "Nature's Revenge") to going between all these various different styles within the same song (like "Shore Lined Poison").
1992 saw the release of Last Rights, their last work for Nettwerk. This was a bizarre, dark album with lyrics influenced by Nivek Ogre detoxing from heroin, which caused tensions within the band as the other band members had not yet done so. Because of this, the lyrics were not released with the album. Clearance issues also prevented the planned inclusion of the song "Left Handshake", due to its lengthy sample of Timothy Leary navigating the listener through an acid trip (Leary himself was OK with the band's use of the sample, but did not own the rights); as a result, the liner notes state, "SONG 10 IS MISSING?" "Left Handshake" was ultimately released as a limited-edition single (although with its title slightly misspelled as "Left Hand Shake") that has been heavily subject to Keep Circulating the Tapes. Last Rights' first half is relatively conventional (by Skuppy standards) and its second half is substantially more experimental and chaotic. The lengthy final track, "Download", is also notable for featuring some of their hardest music in its first half and some of their most serene in its second half. Last Rights is one of their most acclaimed albums and was their first to crack the Billboard 200.
In 1996, the band suffered another Creator Breakdown after switching to a new label. They released what was believed to be their final album, The Process (a Concept Album about a psychotherapy cult known as the Process Church of Final Judgement), after Dwayne Goettel's fondness for heroin caught up with him and left him as a corpse at his parents' house.
In the early 2000's, Skuppy did a one-off reformation show in Dresden at that "Doomsday" festival. The two Kevins performed in front of a screaming crowd of goths and rivetheads; they left a spare spot on stage for Dwayne out of respect. This reformation resulted in new albums; 2004's The Greater Wrong of the Right followed by 2008's Mythmaker, 2011's much delayed hanDover, which incorporated more minimalist IDM elements, and 2013's Weapon.
In February of 2023, Skinny Puppy announced that they were embarking on their final tour, which coincided with the 40-year anniversary of the band's existence.
Tropes Applicable to Skinny Puppy:
- Album Title Drop: "Left Handshake" was intended to drop the title for Last Rights, but due to legal troubles, it was left off the album.
- The Band Minus the Face: Subverted during their live reunion in Dresden; it was The Band Minus the Keyboardist.
- Canon Discontinuity: The Too Dark Park backing videos: The band made 14 high quality music videos songs performed on the Too Dark Park tour, most of which were songs that lacked an official video. Many fans consider the videos (God Gift Maggot, Tin Omen, etc.) to be official music videos for said songs, a view not shared by the band sadly.
- Concept Album: The Process is about a religious cult called The Process Church of Final Judgement. Last Rights is a loose concept album based around life and death as well.
- Darker and Edgier: The basic concept of their work is Darker and Edgier (in the sense of being more bizarre and experimental) Synth-Pop.
- Drugs Are Bad: Ogre's use of heroin was what started tensions between the band members. Goettel ended up getting hooked on it too, which led to his death and the band's dissolution.
- '80s Hair: Yes◊.
- Epic Rocking: The live noise jam "Spahn Dirge" is 16 1/2 minutes long. The final track on Last Rights, "Download," while not really so an example of rocking due to the fact that it's mostly ambient, certainly is epic at eleven minutes long. "Puppy Gristle" also falls into this territory. 40 minutes.
- Freudian Trio: Especially in this interview, it's easy to see Ogre as The McCoy, cEvin as The Spock, and Dwayne as The Kirk.
- Gaia's Vengeance: "Nature's Revenge."
- Gorn: The stage show and most of the music videos. And sometimes the lyrics.
- Harsh Vocals: The growling, raspy sound of Ogre's voice arguably counts, helped by the indecipherableness of most of it. And they were doing it a while before Metal bands were, to boot. This was dropped for The Process and The Greater Wrong Of The Right but brought back for subsequent works.
- Hemo Erotic: Their live shows often involve quite a bit of that, yes.
- Important Haircut: Much like Layne Staley, Dwayne Goettel cut his hair after he started using heroin.
- Improv: A frequently-used compositional technique. Often done on drugs in a process the band called "Brap."
- Indecipherable Lyrics: And HOW!
- Instrumentals: "Riverz End," "Stairs and Flowers," "Download", and other examples.
- Last Note Nightmare: Inverted with the album Last Rights. The majority of the album is dissonant, terrifying industrial noise, but the second half of the song "Download" (the last song on the album) is serene ambient music that you could probably sleep to. The first half of the song, though, is some of the hardest music Skinny Puppy ever made.
- Lighter and Softer: Arguably their best songs: "Pro-Test," "Testure," "Nature's Revenge," are all more accessible than the majority of their songs and these songs are generally fan favorites.
- The Process and The Greater Wrong of the Right combine this with New Sound Album.
- Mind Rape: What many of their songs can induce.
- Mood Whiplash: "Scrapyard" has a break in the song with a sample from the movie Uncle Buck of Buck getting beaned by a bowling ball. And then the song restarts in all its nightmarish glory.
- Mr. Fanservice: Nivek Ogre in a nutshell.
- New Sound Album: "Rabies" was originally seen as one, but now isn't. "The Greater Wrong of the Right" is one however.
- To a somewhat lesser extent than either of those two, Mind: The Perpetual Intercourse is this as well- Goettel's joining made their sound more layered and noticeably darker than the more minimal and Synth-Pop influenced Remission and Bites were and set the stage for their signature sound.
- One-Steve Limit: Averted. The band has two Kevins.
- Phrase Salad Lyrics: If a song isn't outright Word Salad Lyrics, it's this. "Smothered Hope" is a good example.
- Protest Song: Tons of them.
- Pun-Based Title: Frequently. "Lust Chance," Last Rights, "Knowhere?," most of the songs from The Greater Wrong of the Right (even the album title is one!), VIVIsectVI (an association of vivisection with 666), etc.
- Real Men Eat Meat: Inverted with Key. Ogre was vegetarian until health issues forced him to incorporate meat back into his diet.
- Rearrange the Song: "Riverz End" from Last Rights is a remixed mash-up of the songs "Rivers" and "Chloralone" from Rabies.
- Sampling: Of any bizarre sound (but rarely other songs). Said sample is then warped to be made even more insane, then is spliced together with all the nasty bits from various Italian horror films, THEN a drumbeat and bassline are added, THEN you have a Skinny Puppy song. They also frequently incorporate samples from the film adaptation of Hell House in their works, while "Testure" from VIVIsectVI incorporates samples of dialogue from the animated film adaptation of The Plague Dogs.
- Scary Musician, Harmless Music: Zig Zagged. Their appearance is frightening, but their rig appears harmless... Until they play it. On the other hand, Ogre is a legitimately nice person.
- Sdrawkcab Alias: Nivek Ogre.
- Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll: Subverted, in that they're more Drugs Drugs And Industrial. Deconstructed tragically when Dwayne Goettel died of a heroin overdose. This deconstruction is subverted in a blackly comic fashion by the fact Goettel's overdose occurred at his parents' house rather than in an expensive hotel room or a supermodel's bedroom. One of Us indeed.
- Song Style Shift: "Download" has to be the most extreme example in their discography, going from borderline Harsh Noise in its first half to serene Ambient that you could probably sleep to in its second. The shift is almost instantaneous, too.
- Stage Names: Kevin Crompton = cEvin Key, Kevin Ogilvie = Nivek Ogre
- Stock Scream: A somewhat common female scream is used in the track "Brap" on Remission.
- Surreal Horror: Both their lyrics and music videos give off this vibe.
- Surreal Music Video: All of their music videos are this as well as terrifying.
- Surprisingly Gentle Song: Most of their music is borderline cacophonic, but "The Centre Bullet" and "One Day" (both from Bites) are mellow, ambient pieces that the listener could almost sleep to.
- Theremin: Occasionally one of these is used.
- Torture Cellar: Skinny Puppy is the soundtrack for locales such as these.
- Updated Re-release: The standalone CD of Bites features several avant-garde instrumental tracks not found on the original LP; these were originally composed under the name "Hell-O Death Day" and performed as an opening act of Chris and Cosey.
- Video Full of Film Clips: "Worlock."
- Word Salad Lyrics: All the time, the worst offender being "Worlock".