A style of electronic music usually featuring heavily distorted sounds, atonality, and usually an overall mechanical feel. Industrial traces its roots back to experimental musicians of the '50s and '60s, who often used actual industrial machinery and tools (e.g., jackhammers, drills, and stamping machines) and artifacts (e.g., mechanical parts used as percussion instruments) to produce music. However, the practical limitations of using industrial machinery in a recording studio or on stage, as well as a desire to explore different sounds, led to the use of synths and electronics starting in the 1970s. The pioneering band Throbbing Gristle set the pattern for this style in the late '70s, using electronic noisemakers and applying distortion to nearly all of the sounds in each track, including vocals.
Some musicologists consider that industrial music proper ended in the 1980s, with what came after being labeled "post-industrial" as the style begin to branch out in different directions. Whatever the label, the style gained major attention when Trent Reznor formed the band Nine Inch Nails, which released their first album, Pretty Hate Machine, in 1989. The popularity of this album and the airplay that the songs "Head Like A Hole" and "Down In It" gained on MTV led to a creative and commercial explosion, with some bands that had long labored in the style, such as Skinny Puppy and Front Line Assembly, suddenly becoming popular.
It may have been too much, as by the late '90s, the style reached a commercial and creative crossroads that left many performers and fans feeling that nearly everything that could be done in the style had already been done. And it did not help that some tyros were attracted to it because they considered it an easy style to work in ("it's just noise!") or who had no real interest in the music but just wanted to use it as a vehicle for extremist politics. Several of the leading performers either moved on or left the music business; Reznor himself started to go in a different direction with the release of the Ghosts albums.
Today, the labels "industrial" and "post-industrial" describe a collection of disparate styles. Some bands remain true to the noisemaking roots, but others have gone in the directions of dance music, or have merged the style with heavy metal, or have done other less likely things such as combining industrial with folk music.