Throbbing Gristle were formed by Genesis P’Orridge and Cosey Fan Tutti in 1975 amid the soon-to-be disbanded art performance movement COUM Transmission which P’Orridge founded in 1969. Having opened for Hawkwind and after impressing John Peel, they recorded their first album in 1977 and the rest, as they say, is history.
Well not really.
Despite being credited as the inventors of ‘industrial’ music – Gristle recorded on their label Industrial Records – and being pioneers of sampling, their refusal to compromise or exist outside of a single-minded pursuit of don’t-do-as-you’re-told, do-as-you-think has kept them pretty much underground, mainly due to controversy generated by typical Gristle subjects. Prostitution, pornography, serial killers, occultism and heaps of relative imagery can be found in sleeve notes and gigs.
Put it this way, they were never going to be on Rolf Rules OK. It’s worth mentioning that COUMT were already notorious. The now infamous Prostitution show in 1976 at the ICA in London included, on display, Tutti’s pornographic images from magazines as well as erotic nude photographs. The show featured a stripper, used Tampax in glass display and transvestite guards. Prostitutes, punks, people in costumes and general curiosities were hired to mingle with the gallery audience. The show caused debate in Parliament about the public funding of such events. In the House of Commons, Scottish Conservative MP Sir Nicholas Fairbairn demanded an explanation from Arts Minister Harold Lever and proclaimed P-Orridge and Tutti to be ‘wreckers of civilisation’ (!)
Gristle disintegrated four albums later in 1981 after he and his partner and band member, Cosey Fanny Tutti, split up. Genesis went on to form Psychic TV, which remains a more fiscally commercial venture. The 2006 PTV album, Hell is Invisible… Heaven is Her/e features Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Gibby Haynes of Butthole Surfers guesting on some tracks.
In 1993 Genesis settled with his second wife Lady Jaye and in 1999 both began experimenting in body modification, aimed at creating one androgynous being named Genesis Breyer P-Orridge. Genesis P-Orridge received breast implants and began referring to himself as s/he, though he kept his manhood. Sadly, Jaye died in 2007 from a previously undiagnosed heart condition, which is thought to have been connected with her long-term battle with stomach cancer.
In 2004, Gristle reunited and recorded a new album. Since then, the original band members have been tentatively playing live. I have to say, I never thought I’d see them play and, to be honest, whilst I wasn’t that surprised to see P-Orridge in his revived state of petulant transsexual, he adds an element of the other which is quite beautifully disturbing and, at times, terrifying.
The band came on at 6pm. The house-lights remained on for the duration of the gig which lent an informal air to proceedings. The creepy Persuasion kicked things off, building into a crescendo of sound that made it hard to stand. What followed is virtually indescribable, like the contents of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s brains being pounded by a steam-hammer. The quality of sound was immense, swirling mixed-up noise forged into clanging explosions – live samples gleaned from violins, trumpets, electric guitars, vocals and thrown back with devastating force. At times it was overwhelming.
I’ve never seen or heard anything like it quite frankly.
Peter Christopherson and Chris Carter sat at the back twiddling. Cosey, a presence in her own right, stood passively at the front with a guitar but all eyes were on GBPO who remained safely on the disquieting side of what could’ve almost been comedic. A 59 year on Transsexual in a diaphanous pink dress with a bottle-blonde bob and gold teeth – one missing – monotonous and menacing, screaming with unbridled aggression, licking his limbs…
They didn’t play long. 50 minutes maybe. The set included Hamburger Lady and the mind-splitting What A Day – the quality of sound and sheer performance was overwhelming to such a degree that I still feel displaced by it now. Hence the tardiness of this article.
It may have a lot to do with expectations. Your expectations from reading this will never evolve if you see them live. Something else will happen – and what’s so perfect about Throbbing Gristle is that you have to go suck it to see.