In the vacuous era of depression known as the 1970’s, music was undergoing a kind of change. In some ways, this lead to the further commercialization of punk and candy-like pop from the same vein that once brought listeners resounding rock n roll.
Then there was industrial music.
Before there was Throbbing Gristle, there was COUM, the duo performance art show of Genesis P Orridge and Cosi Fanni Tutti. In the groundbreaking art show called Prostitution, the entire English cultural world descended upon Genesis and Cosi like vultures.
This was before The Sex Pistols performance that influenced a dozen bands overnight. This event freaked out all involved, and paved the way for an entirely different approach to music.
Born from COUM, Throbbing Gristle was the brainchild of Genesis P. Orridge, Cosey Fanni Tutti, Peter Christopherson and Chris Carter. While most rock bands start with some vague idea at making money or getting dates, Throbbing Gristle had an ulterior motive to shake people up and unsettle their calm little worlds. That in itself isn’t so strange (just look at Alice Cooper or Jane’s Addiction), but these guys were like mad scientists. They carefully designed their songs to impact the audience in a biological way, either joyous or… decidedly unpleasant.
Genesis himself is an odd duck to say the least. As a young man he had all the appearance of a young man or boyish girl, despite the inner workings of his mind. Awkward and intense all at once, he was like an alien invader with a guitar slung across his chest for a raygun. After a near-death experience, he was profoundly changed and saw the implicit power of sounds, and decided to utilize them to the utmost. With fellow mad scientist Peter Christopherson (nicknamed Sleazy), Throbbing Gristle‘s musical output was just stunning.
Ironically, as Throbbing Gristle progressed in their sound and image manipulations, so did the media. It was a very vibrant time, and one that TG saw as ‘nothing short of total war.’ There was a definite war on the senses, and Genesis was on our side.
Something Came Over Me- live at Oundle School 1980
After group disbanded in 1981, the performers went their separate ways.
In 1984, Genesis formed Psychic TV, producing 17 albums in a very short period and earning a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for the most number of albums released in one year. The early period with guitarist Alexander Fergusson is regarded as the high point of creative success, but regardless of the opinion Psychic TV created yet another form of music, acid house.
Peter Christopherson, along with John Balance formed COIL, one of the most influential and unusual industrial/ambient groups ever formed. COIL‘s music is full of fantastic imagery and nightmarish sounds, all seeming to come from some otherworldly place.
It’s this ‘alien’-ness that I find most captivating and bizarre. The songs of Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV and COIL all seem to be from some other place, but were all created by people like you and me… well, maybe not. These are exhilarated and talented artists operating on a level far above the standard operating frequency that most of us work at in our everyday life.
In a lot of ways, they’re reminiscent of the modern comic book creators like Wally Wood, Stan Lee, Will Eisner and Steve Ditko who took accepted art forms of painting, comic strips and motion pictures and mixed them together into something completely new.
In recent years, Genesis looks more like Meg Ryan than anything else.Turning himself into a ‘human art project,’ he has decided to use his body as a weapon on the concept of sexuality. In any case, s/he’s still making incredible music. The newest PTV3 album is really quite incredible and far closer to the band’s early work than the house music that followed.
Industrial Music itself has mutated and changed since it first wriggled its was into the ears of listeners across the world. From Ministry to Skinny Puppy, Pigface, and later Nine Inch Nails, industrial music has become more or less an extension of pop music, with the occasional sample from an old movie.
That’s not to say that it’s less good or less important than Throbbing Gristle‘s music, but to be sure… modern industrial music takes far fewer risks at reaching an audience. In short, the experiment that was started in 1975 is far from over.
In the battle for individual sanity and freedom from outside control, Genesis P Orridge and Throbbing Gristle have fought a mean fight. It was seldom pretty, but it was definitely the most vibrant and lively explosion of sounds produced in music history since Pete Townsend smashed his first guitar.