Justin Broadrick’s Industrial Impact

As a key figure in shaping industrial metal through Godflesh, Justin Broadrick has expanded his artistic reach, influencing a multitude of genres with his innovative approach to music.

A black and white photo of Justin Broadrick performing on stage. He's captured mid-song with a microphone close to his mouth, eyes closed in a moment of musical passion. Justin is playing a guitar, dressed in a simple black t-shirt, and the stage lighting casts dramatic shadows, highlighting the intensity of the live performance.
Justin Broadrick (Roadburn Festival 2018)
Key Takeaways
  • Justin Broadrick’s journey in music began with his early involvement in bands like Fall of Because and Napalm Death, leading to the formation of Godflesh, which blended metal with industrial and hip-hop influences​​.
  • Broadrick expanded his artistic scope through various collaborations, including remixing works for bands like Pantera, and contributing to genres like electronic music.
  • Since the 1990s, Broadrick has pursued a parallel career as a producer and solo artist under the moniker JK Flesh, exploring techno and demonstrating his versatility and continuous evolution as an artist​​.

From Grindcore to Melody

Justin Broadrick stands as a kaleidoscopic figure in the realm of music, renowned for his ability to creatively rearrange elements, thereby crafting new, unexpected patterns in his work. His musical journey, characterized by a remarkable versatility, has spanned from the cacophony of feedback blur overload to the tranquility of serene contemplation. This multifaceted nature is vividly displayed through his various projects, including his notable work with Godflesh, Jesu, and as JK Flesh.

Justin Broadrick’s varied musical projects, from the industrial intensity of Godflesh to the melodic expanses of Jesu, highlight his unique ability to fuse different genres and emotional textures.

His music is recognized for its intensity and emotional depth, seamlessly traversing a spectrum of genres that includes grindcore, industrial, electronic, and post-punk. Broadrick’s most visible projects, Godflesh and Jesu, stand as testaments to the ambiguities and contradictions that fuel his creative process.

With Godflesh, Broadrick broke new ground, pioneering a unique hybrid that fused metallic guitars with drum machine beats, drawing influence from diverse genres such as hip hop, dub, and post-punk. In contrast, Jesu allowed Broadrick an avenue to explore the realms of melody and harmony, striking a chord with fans of shoegaze and alternative rock.

Despite their distinct musical directions, both projects mirror each other in their synthesis of aggression and vulnerability. This duality showcases Broadrick’s exceptional capacity to blend seemingly disparate elements, a hallmark of his expansive and influential body of work.

A Foundation in Music

Born Justin Karl Michael Broadrick on August 15, 1969, in an inner Birmingham council estate, England, Broadrick’s early life set the stage for his expansive musical journey. For the first four years, he was raised by his mother, Gabrielle Fern (a.k.a. Lucy Nation), and stepfather, Robert Fern (a.k.a. Bob Allcock), in a hippie commune in Shard End, Birmingham. His upbringing was steeped in music, with his mother and stepfather being members of Anti-Social, a band known for controversial live shows.

From a young age, Broadrick was surrounded by punk-rock and drawn to non-standard music. At age eight, he was playing albums like Lou Reed’s “Metal Machine Music,” showcasing his early inclination towards unconventional sounds. His early influences were diverse, ranging from Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath to Can, Pink Floyd, Hendrix, and Crass, whose concert he attended at about 11 years old.

Broadrick’s early exposure to a wide spectrum of music, from punk-rock to industrial, laid the groundwork for his diverse and explorative musical career.

By age 11, Broadrick recorded his first demo tape, and by 12, he delved into early industrial music, influenced by Throbbing Gristle and Whitehouse. He began experimenting with his stepfather’s guitar, who was a fan of Roxy Music and Brian Eno, further diversifying his musical influences.

In 1982, Broadrick, alongside his friend Andy Swan, who had a synthesizer, started publishing tapes. Their first project, named Atrocity Exhibition after a Joy Division track, marked the beginning of his foray into music production. Their first recording, titled “Live in the Studio,” laid the groundwork for their musical exploration.

Later, Broadrick and Swan formed Final, a project heavily influenced by the industrial tape culture and fanzines of the early ’80s. Final embraced the power electronics subgenre of industrial music, a testament to Broadrick’s early fascination with the more experimental and abrasive aspects of sound.

From Fall of Because to Godflesh

In 1984, Justin Broadrick embarked on a significant chapter in his musical journey, joining Fall of Because as a drummer and additional vocalist. The band, originally named O.P.D. (Officially Pronounced Dead), was formed by G. Christian Green and Paul Neville in 1982. Broadrick’s tenure with the band was marked by the recording of the “Extirpate” demo cassette in 1986, featuring songs that would later be reworked for Godflesh, such as “Life Is Easy,” “Mighty Trust Krusher,” and “Merciless.” Although Fall of Because disbanded in 1988, their influence persisted with the release of the “Life Is Easy” compilation album in 1999, showcasing their demo and live recordings.

Broadrick’s early years with Fall of Because laid the foundational sounds that he would later refine in his influential project Godflesh.

The following year, 1985, Broadrick met Nicholas Bullen and joined Napalm Death, a union influenced by his guitar work. Together, they recorded the first side of Napalm Death’s debut album “Scum. However, Broadrick’s time with Napalm Death was brief, as he quickly lost interest in the group and left shortly after the recording. His musical explorations continued in 1987 when he joined the industrial metal band Head of David after they had played live with Napalm Death. This association, however, was short-lived, lasting about six weeks, and was highlighted by a John Peel Session for Radio One. Broadrick’s departure from Head of David in 1988 was due to artistic differences.

In 1988, Broadrick formed Godflesh with G. C. Green, initially reworking songs from Fall of Because. Influenced by hip-hop artists such as Public Enemy, Beastie Boys, and Run-DMC, Godflesh’s sound was a novel blend in the genre. They released their debut self-titled EP on Swordfish Records and their first album, “Streetcleaner,” in 1989 on Earache Records, marking a significant evolution in Broadrick’s musical expression.

Broadrick’s collaborative spirit led him to meet Kevin Martin of the band GOD, resulting in various joint projects. He played guitar for Sweet Tooth, co-writing all songs for their 1990 album “Soft White Underbelly.” Following this, Broadrick and Martin collaborated to record the debut album ‘Ghosts‘ as Techno Animal in 1991, and the experimental “Slavestate” EP with Godflesh. 1993 saw Broadrick form Ice, delving into a mix of industrial, dub music, and hip-hop beats. During this period, he also revived the Final project, focusing on ambient guitar experiments, and produced records for Pram, Terminal Power Company, Lull, and Cable Regime.

Diverse Collaborations and Ventures

In a significant foray into mainstream metal, Justin Broadrick remixed two songs, “Fucking Hostile” and By Demons Be Driven,” from Pantera’s album “Vulgar Display of Power.” These remixes were part of an EP titled “Walk Biomechanical.” Broadrick described this experience as daunting, considering it was his first major remix project. Having had minimal exposure to Pantera’s music prior, he worked in a relatively primitive studio setup, utilizing real tape and reel-to-reels for the remixes.

Broadrick’s extensive discography includes providing remixes for various bands, notably Isis, Mogwai, and Pelican. His technical expertise extended beyond studio work; for Pelican, he worked as a live technician on their “After the Ceiling Cracked” project in 2007 and was involved in live mixing for Isis on their “Live V” project in 2009.

Since the 1990s, Broadrick has also maintained a parallel career as a producer and collaborator across various genres of electronic music and hip-hop. His contributions, especially under the Godflesh title, have significantly influenced the industrial and extreme music scenes, showcasing his ability to bridge different musical worlds.

Since 2012, Broadrick has been releasing hard techno music under the solo moniker JK Flesh. This venture represents a distinct direction in his career, showcasing his versatility and continuous evolution as an artist. Under JK Flesh, Broadrick explores the realms of techno, further diversifying his musical output and demonstrating his wide-ranging talents.

Personal Challenges and Artistic Resilience

In April 2002, Justin Broadrick faced a significant personal crisis, suffering a nervous breakdown just hours before a flight from London to Los Angeles, where Godflesh was scheduled to begin a North American tour. This incident occurred during a period of intense personal strife for Broadrick, including financial difficulties and the end of his 13-year relationship. He described feeling paralyzed by stress that had been accumulating for several months, leading to a situation where he could not leave his bed and ultimately hid at a friend’s house in Birmingham, England, to avoid going to the airport.

Broadrick’s 2002 nervous breakdown, a result of mounting stress and personal challenges, marked a turning point in his life and career, impacting his music and mental health journey.

This breakdown had substantial consequences, affecting not only Broadrick but also the tour’s planning and logistics. The involvement of ex-Killing Joke bassist Paul Raven and ex-Swans drummer Ted Parsons, brought on for the tour, meant that the cancellation resulted in significant financial losses for all parties involved.

Originally from Birmingham, England, Broadrick later found solace and a new base on a farm in North Wales. From this location, he has continued his exploration and recording in the world of extreme music, contributing to various projects and sustaining his influential work in the music industry.

In a revealing turn of events, Broadrick disclosed in 2022 that he had been diagnosed with autism and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). His music, particularly the Godflesh album titled “Purge,” released in 2023, stands as a testament to how he utilizes music as a therapeutic outlet to relieve the symptoms of his diagnosed conditions. This album openly and honestly tackles themes of personal mental health, reflecting Broadrick’s journey through his struggles.

Broadrick’s Recent Collaborations

Justin Broadrick embarked on a new musical chapter in 2003 with the formation of Jesu, following the breakup of Godflesh. The band’s name was inspired by the last song on the final album of Godflesh’s initial run, “Hymns”. Jesu’s first release, the “Heart Ache” EP in 2004, saw Broadrick performing all instruments and vocals, followed by the full-length “Jesu LP.” This album introduced bassist Diarmuid Dalton and drummer Ted Parsons, though not every song featured both members.

Jesu’s debut marked a significant departure from the “dirty groove metal elements” of Godflesh, leaning towards atmospheric drone metal. This shift showcased Broadrick’s skillful fusion of heavy metal with electronic and drone elements. By 2010, Broadrick observed that Jesu had drifted more into electronica than the guitar-driven music he initially envisioned.

In response to Jesu’s evolving sound, Broadrick launched the Pale Sketcher project in August 2010 with “Jesu: Pale Sketches Demixed.” This project was an outlet for Broadrick to delve deeper into electronica-oriented sounds. The project reimagined Jesu’s 2007 release “Pale Sketches” and was a step towards segregating the electronica elements from Jesu, allowing Jesu to return to its guitar-driven roots. The first single from Pale Sketcher, “Can I Go Now (Gone Version),” released in August 2010, exemplifies the distinct electronic approach of this project.

Broadrick’s collaborative album with American indie folk act Sun Kil Moon, released on January 21, 2016, marked another significant phase in his career. This collaboration was the culmination of a long-standing relationship between Broadrick and Mark Kozelek, Sun Kil Moon’s frontman. Kozelek had first approached Broadrick in 2007, impressed by a live performance in San Francisco. This led to Jesu’s release of “Opiate Sun” through Kozelek’s label, Caldo Verde Records. The collaboration album featured guest musicians like Will Oldham (a.k.a. Bonnie Prince Billy), members of Low, Rachel Goswell of Slowdive, and Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse.

In 2022, Broadrick was involved in Hercules and Love Affair’s album “In Amber”. He provided a dramatic remix for the album’s second single, “Poisonous Storytelling,” infusing it with overdriven metal guitars. This work underscored his ability to seamlessly blend heavy music with electronic elements, further cementing his reputation for genre-crossing collaborations. Broadrick expressed his enjoyment of working within the existing structure of the song while adding his unique touch with guitars, highlighting his adaptability and respect for other artists’ work.

Reflecting on Justin Broadrick’s expansive career, it’s evident that he is not just a musician, but a visionary artist who has continuously pushed the boundaries of sound. From his early days in Godflesh to his diverse collaborations in Jesu, Pale Sketcher, and beyond, Broadrick has transcended genres, creating a legacy that resonates deeply across the music industry.