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It's Over: Industrial Music Peaked in 1946, folks!

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We enjoy reading blog articles and Facebook debates as much as the next guy, but sometimes the empiricists in us pine for a bit of good ol' numbers and facts. Not everything boils down to numbers, I know, but numbers help. And so this won't be the first time we broke out our favourite linguaphile tool, the publicly accessible Google Ngram viewer. Longtime blog readers will recall an earlier rant in which the Ngram made a cameo, and we're happy to have another shot of vodka with it again.

The last few weeks have seen a flurry of excitement and anger surrounding discussions about the meaning of "industrial music," the genre's popularity, what the genre represents, and what it's for. I need not mention that a book-length musicology study was recently published on the subject, and several well-read blogs butted heads on key issues. One of those issues, and one which has gotten a lot of ink lately, is the supposed resurgence (or re-acceptance?) of 'industrial music' by people and press who erstwhile couldn't care less.

However, whether you like empirical data with your fish n chips or not, it is helpful to at least check these sorts of things before making claims like "you couldn't utter the term industrial a few years ago, and now everyone is using it." So we checked...

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The Ngram graph is pretty striking, and it does confirm a rise in usage. But it does not confirm a resurgence or rebound of the term. In fact, it shows pretty clearly that since 1987 (an industrial break-out year), the term's usage has been steadily increasing. If the argument that post-NIN the term 'industrial music' entered into public usage has any truth to it, it's also unsurprising that there's been a steady increase since then. After all, many new terms exhibit similar behaviour, and it's not that often that a term explodes into usage and dies immediately.

So, sure, the term 'industrial music' was used last year more than the previous year, but that can also be said for almost any of the last 20 years. And, to put it blatantly, it's not the hipsters, unless they were responsible all along. It's a term that describes a movement, and it's been increasingly relevant (at least in some contexts) for two decades.

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PS. We're aware that the term might be used to describe something other than the industrial music we all know and love. Indeed, it does seem like 'industrial music' was twice as popular in 1946 than in any year since (har, har). So, no, we haven't combed through the data to create sub-groupings of meanings (heck, isn't that part of today's controversy?), but we can leave that to an enterprising scholar.