Thursday, 25 May 2017

Genesis P Orridge: From COUM To Throbbing Gristle & Beyond



GENESIS P ORRIDGE: 
FROM COUM TO 
 THROBBING GRISTLE 
AND BEYOND 

 I first met Genesis P Orridge circa 1971 in Hull, well before the ICA 
‘Prostitution’ exhibition first impinged his name on national consciousness. 
That was before Throbbing Gristle, and before Psychic TV, when he was 
part of the ‘COUM’ group. Predictably my article which resulted got 
butchered down to some seven paragraphs by a vindictive sub-editor… and 
I’ve been subsequently re-writing it at intervals ever since in attempts to get it right. Until a retrospective as part of the 2017 ‘Hull: City Of Culture’ 
offers the perfect opportunity... 



(1) COUM ARE FAB AND KINKY’ 

So it all COUMs down to this.

Everything here is true. Everything here is lies.

A retrospective respectfully preserved in rows in neat numbered glass-topped exhibits. All that extremism, shock, outrage, confrontation, all catalogued and contextualised. Was it really meant to be this way? Was it? The ‘Humber Street Gallery’ PR leaflet does all that arty gobbledygook about ‘on each occasion COUM’s auditory and kinetic actions constituted spontaneous responses to collective and individual experience. Simulation and artifice combined with actual and real, confounded familiar systems, methods and institution, re-activating the spaces of the street, lecture theatre or art gallery.’ Which is pretty-much what COUM was actively against. Because it was absurdist fun too, subversively silly, mad shenanigans, deliberately provocative in taunting and inflammable ways. Pretention was no real part of it. Take my word for it – no, don’t.


Now is a very safe controlled risk-free time, where art exists by not offending codes or consciences. These cobbled streets off the marina are fringed with trendy Bistros, coffee houses and chic galleries. Back then, this Old Town skirting the working docks and waterfront, held the edge of violence. See the signs? Back then, ‘Dagger Lane’ lived up to its reputation. Docker’s pubs and Biker bars. Drunks and lushes. The night air braced with the thrill of danger as well as the low lowing of trawlers out on the estuary. The front-space of the Humber Gallery is a chic café. Hull Pie is on the chalkboard. Was there ever Hull Pie? Or has this delicacy been concocted to meet the expectations of ‘2017: Hull, City Of Culture’? When in Hull, you must eat Hull Pie. It’s part of the consumer experience.

On the ground floor there are Sarah Lucas cast-plaster body-parts with cheekily inserted cigarettes – part of her ‘I Scream Daddio’ commission. But she seems so very dull and unexciting by comparison. The COUM exhib is more vital than all that slick cleanly-targeted cash-centric Brit-Art stuff. That’s unfair. In general, I like Sarah Lucas. It’s only when seen in this juxtaposition that she appears so coolly cerebral. COUM are never that. COUM use their bodies as weapons of the art-war. There’s no neutral space. So safety margin. No distancing. It’s every queasy squidgy internal organ, crinkly body hair and pulsing orifice.

In the first gallery there’s a flicker-experience of Dissident Watchers. Seven video-interviews with original COUM activists. Conceived by Cosey Fanni Tutti, whose voice retains her easy natural regional intonations, as though she’s selling you a bacon-bap in Greggs, not dealing gender-confrontational sexual-politics. Shot and edited by Gavin Toomey, there’s Spydee, Foxtrot Echo, the Very Rev LE Cheesewire Maull and ‘technical director’ John Lacey.


And notorious avant-garde provocational artist Genesis P Orridge, ‘The Keeper Of The Story’. Perpetrator of the 1976 ICA ‘Prostitution Show’, an exhibition of bodily emissions (ear-wax and beyond), which featured strippers and used-tampons. Called ‘wreckers of civilisation’ by Nicholas Fairbairn MP. Job done. Genesis P Orridge goes on as Industrial-conceptualist of Throbbing Gristle. Then the Psychic TV collective. To transcend sexual identity itself, into third gender. There’s an Apple-records pre-photoshop graphic sequence of John & Yoko’s faces gradually morphing into each other. In the same way, Genesis melds through body modification with Lady Jaye Breyer to become a pandrogyne s/he entity.

I’m thinking of Manchester. The ‘Hacienda Club’ in October 1982. A night of sartorial jacking off. An audience topography of primping self-esteem, friends selected as visual accessories, being seen and becoming SCENE. A squeaky-clean Faberge cabaret with eye-shadow setting eyes in deep wells, erogenous zones worn on the sleeve, lights and quirky visuals washing over an audience as flimsy and disposable as Kleenex. Above them two huge video screens are programming the night’s alternative entertainment, even though people-watching and bitch-banter wins hands-down.


A Psychic TV film, prefaced by Derek Jarman, is recreating an Aleister Crowley sex-magick ritual, shot in garish flesh-tone orange-lighting with jerky hand-held cameras deliberately out-focussing. A naked man is affixed to the wall of a sleazy-dank cell tormented by his captors. A knife zigzags blood-crimson slash-patterns across his chest, targeting his nipple, an acolyte erects the penis by sucking it juicily-deep into his throat, then they neatly sever the stiff cock in stomach-canting close-up while below they’re eating vegeburgers and slurping Pina Coladas, attention scarcely skittering to the castration on-screen…

That’s how I remember it. Remember it this way…



(126) COUM ARE YOUR 
LOCAL DIRTY BANNED’ 

Hold On, It’s COUMing…

I first meet him circa 1971 in Hull before the ICA Arts Centre exhibition that first impinges his name on national consciousness. He’s then part of the ‘COUM’ group. I was leaving Hull, just as it was kicking in. But I’d seen him around town. We both use the Mod ‘Gondola’ café. There was the ‘Brick House’, on Baker Street which was a hippie corn-exchange, a kind of flea-mart for alternative paraphernalia and mimeo magazines. I was browsing there when I come aware there’s a debacle. Genesis is there dressed in head-to-toe knitted dayglo, he’s negotiating to come in and distribute subversive promotional leaflets about COUM. There seems to be a problem. The dialogue in itself mutates into a form of absurdist theatre. And some of those leaflets are here at the ‘Humber Gallery’. The original ‘1001 WAYS TO COUM’ copyrighted 1971 in orange mimeo. The ‘Book Of The End 1969/72’ a Gift To Cosey made up of drawings and writings. The ‘Trigger Happy Ballet’, 1972.


Then I’m answering an item for the underground newspaper ‘Styng’, searching up an obscenity bust provoked by COUM. Their logo is an ejaculating penis. A logo printed on their promotional leaflets, advertising posters, and – if memory-search serves aright, it’s also painted on the side of the group van. Inevitably, as they fully anticipate, prosecution under the obscenity laws follow – earning them a limited notoriety via the underground press, for whom I write-up the legend. COUM are then housed in a derelict warehouse off the decaying red-light dockside area of Hull’s much-bulldozered much-gentrified old town. ‘Freaks in a Fruit Warehouse’, twelve rooms. A hole in the wall from which it’s possible to watch the ships on the winter Humber. ‘Cosmosi’s Warehouse’, backing onto 17 Wellington Street, ‘knock and yell for entry’. A building transfigured into a fetishistic fun palace of carefully draped black PVC sheeting patrolled by nude showroom dummies with added pubic hair and rouged nipples. The focal point is the toilet, swathed in black and raised like a throne or dais to become the building’s conceptual set-piece. The ‘Ho-Ho Funhouse no.1.’

We talk some – me practicing an interviewer-role to which I’m as-yet unused, them rehearsing an interviewee-routine to which they are equally unfamiliar. Them trying out their ‘Melody Maker’ interview-technique on me, me attempting spontaneous bop-prosidy on them. When Gen says COUM he pronounces it ‘cum’. But he’s softly-spoken, articulate, intelligent. When they tease me about my Mod-length not Freak-length hair he chides them to desist. Maybe it’s simply that he wants the press on his side? He bothers to do the interviews when they can’t be arsed. Or maybe, as I’m inclined to believe, it’s natural courtesy.


Why mention this very slight detail? Because it’s an indicator, that’s why. Across the years and decades of his career since, he’s been vilified and monstered in the shock-horror gutterpress. ‘This vile man corrupts kids. Demi-god feeds Pop Kids on sex, sadism and Devil Rites’ howls ‘The People’. Scotland Yard’s Obscene Publications Squad seize ‘an entire lorry-load’ of books, videos of ‘ritual satanic abuse’ and correspondence from his Brighton home following a Channel 4 ‘Dispatches’ so-called expose (reported in ‘The Observer’ 23 February 1992). Although, significantly, no charges follow – beyond a fine for the lesser offence of sending explicit ‘mail art’ through the post, it effectively ends the rise of the Psychic TV project, with Gen forced to relocate to San Francisco with wife Paula and two daughters. Yet even ‘Melody Maker’ brands him as ‘terminally sinister’ and an ‘arthouse gorehound’. Psychic TV ‘Thee Temple Ov Psychick Youth (TOPY)’ had certain cult attributes, a fondness for nudity and piercing – long before body-ornamentation became high street chic, and Gen imbues it with a Charles Manson charisma. He’s photographed wearing a Manson T-shirt, which is damning evidence. And ‘The Wickedest Man In The World’? – ‘that’s why I like Aleister Crowley’ he adds, ‘he lived his entire life around his idea or philosophy. And that’s what I decided I should do, too…’ But at the core of his extreme projects, is the art-pulse.


I lacked the vocabulary of cultural interconnections. Did he? How aware was he…? Or was COUM more intuitive than informed? Punk, New Wave, Industrial would be a hard-core retaliation to hippie, the steel-capped boot of reality to its escapist dreams. Yet COUM was counterculture. The only analogies I can suggest back then are the Mothers Of Invention or Fugs. Which he doesn’t deny. That it’s also part of the Happening, Kinetic auto-destruct, Street Theatre, Absurdist Ritual, Experimental Event, Exorcising the Pentagon, Extreme Random-Noise, agitational propaganda, is all true. And all lies. Gen was there with the Exploding Galaxy in London crash-pads.


He reads about Ken Kesey’s Acid Tests in ‘Oz’ magazine, and replicates them here in Hull. Different, through necessity and invention. Taking it from the galleries and into the street, not even the Mall – there were no malls back then. Pushing a decorated gypsy pram down Whitefriargate like a beatnik down-at-heel Arthur Haynes. He credits Brion Gysin and William Burroughs cut-ups before Bowie’s ‘Cracked Actor’ (January 1975) makes it chic. And check the credit on ‘This Piece Extends The Ambiguity Of Marcel Duchamp’. There was another event in Belgium – ‘Marcel Duchamp’s Next Work’, made up of twelve differently-coloured bicycle wheels placed in a clock-like circle, COUM-members and audience pluck the spokes prompted by which colour is being flashed. Yes, he was art-smart back then.

At the ‘Humber Gallery’ there’s the Deed Poll registering the moment – in 17 January 1972, that Neil Andrew Megson (born in a state of ‘instant circumcision’, 22 February 1950) legally became Genesis P Orridge. In the vid-installation s/he talks of a revelatory moment during a 1969 family car journey through Wales. ‘The feeling of gravity shifting.’ The visionary insight that nothing is solid, everything is porous. An awareness of what s/he terms the Dissident Watchers, invisible entities in other dimensions and time zones, who tell him ‘COUM’.


William Blake had visions of ‘a tree filled with angels, bright angelic wings bespangling every bough with stars.’ Allen Ginsberg had visions of Blake that prove pivotal to his poetics. Were they real auditory and visual experiences or just intensified hallucinatory glimpses? What Colin Wilson calls ‘peak experiences’. Moments of heightened perception do occur. Sometimes for no obvious reason. Sometimes provoked by Rimbaud’s ‘systematic derangement of the senses’ via chemicals, or the Reichian orgasm releasing the repressive social inhibitions suppressing the libido. It’s all meat. Break on through to the other side. Opening the doors to perception. It’s part of the visionary alchemaic quest to understand what the hell’s going on.


A tale told, twice-told, and multiply-retold, ornamented and embellished by reiteration and the accretion of nuance, the oral history of Homer, the mythic origins of Camelot or Sherwood. The permeability of reality. A truth familiar through subatomic physics. We are 60% water. We are also space, with the nucleus, the quark, the strangeness of it all, the charm is that of matter and nothingness, an interaction of space and energy. This is basic Stephen Hawking. Life, the universe and everything. Forty-Two. This is also the vision that switches Neil Megson into Genesis P Orridge.


COUM were never entirely a musical entity, although it assumes elements of the guise. There was John Shapiro, listed as ‘violin’. Soon there was Christine Carol Newby – a Hull ‘townie’ but also the perfect flower-child vision. On their first encounter the psychic energies are so intense that her knicker-elastic snaps. She becomes Cosmosis, then Cosey Fanni Tutti. And Haydn Robb who plays bass guitar, but first writes ‘God Sucks Mary’s Hairy Nipple’ for the Hull University magazine ‘Torch’. Then Tim Poston, the group’s ongoing Scientific Adviser and Catastrophe Theorist. Gen was fully aware of John Cage. Cornelius Cardew was already working in avant garde composition with his experimental Scratch Orchestra, operating around ideas of untutored anti-musicians in limitless random improvisation. While the free jazz Spontaneous Music Ensemble, with John Stevens and Trevor Watts, was also playing within zones of loose formlessness. They were classical and trained musicians, utilising elements of chance. Yet none of them were quite like COUM.


Genesis had form. Later, with Psychic TV he’d tell the hyperdelicised ‘very special story’ of “Godstar” Brian Jones. He’d choose Nirvana’s “Rainbow Chaser” – ‘it was totally psychedelic – everything on it is phased backwards and forwards all the way though. It’s totally ludicrous’ for a ‘Melody Maker’ ‘Vinyl Solution’ playlist (28 February 1987). He also chooses two Velvet Underground tracks. Daughter Caresse P Orridge would narrate a tripped-out “Are You Experienced” with Sickmob (“RU Xperienced” Temple Records, August 1989). As well as a full acid-techno re-take on Brian Wilson’s “Good Vibrations”. COUM was never directly political either, beyond Yippie or Situationist stunts. Except in the counter-culture sense of small autonomous units against totalitarianism and capitalism. That all of us – humane, are cells of the same organism.

Afterwards, we adjourn through the narrowing streets of the ‘Land of Green Ginger’ to no.3 Magistrates Court to witness the hearing of a friend caught up on narcotics charges. Gen explains that it’s policy not to initiate criminal proceedings, but to ship them out to De La Pole hospital for psychiatric treatment. It proves to be the first, and possibly the most bizarre interview I’ve conducted. Predictably the article that results gets butchered down to some seven paragraphs by a vindictive sub-editor… and I’m subsequently re-writing it at intervals ever since in attempts to get it right. Until now.

As Gen phrases it, ‘better to figure it out now than never.’



(15) COUM URINATE DOWN 
THE HANDRAILS OF 
YOUR SUBCONSCIOUS’ 

Everything you read here is absolutely true. Everything you read here is nothing but a tissue lies. Take my word for it – no, don’t.

COUMing Of Age.

In the ‘Humber Street Gallery’ exhibition there’s a poster for the ‘Bust Benefit Concert: To Aid Busted People’. According to Gen ‘a commune of freaks in Hebden Bridge had been busted and the concert was to raise funds for their legal costs.’ It was held at Bradford’s St George’s Hall, a dignified venue that hosts subscription classical concerts and ballets, as well as comedians and cheesy-Pop singers. Then – 22 October 1971, Hawkwind top the bill, with poet-activist Jeff Nuttall listed below.

 
Gen admits ‘sadly I cannot recall how the hell we managed to con our way to supporting Hawkwind…’ There was a craze among bands of that era to have massive drum kits, so the first part of COUM’s provocative circus consists of bringing on all the drums from three full kits and laying them out, compiling one impossibly huge and unplayable set. Tony Menzies (aka ‘Babbling Brook’) plays guitar for the first time in his life. Cosmosis is dressed as a classic English schoolgirl and walks around the stage firing a starting pistol. John Smith, from Bridlington comes dressed as a surfer and ‘sings’ standing on a surfboard on a bucket of water. And it all ends with the group throwing sackfuls of polystyrene ‘Polysnow’ granules everywhere. ‘Hawkwind were actually quite amused and very courteous to us, even when they had to clean granules out of effects pedals that were jammed up.’ It was perhaps COUM’s peak moment.


But it’s the Institute Of Contemporary Arts ‘Prostitution Show’ (19-26 October 1976) that mutates COUM into Throbbing Gristle, the ‘industrial-noise’ group named after a phrase in a pornographic novel. ‘In one of the cases is a syringe with a bloodied bandage by its side, a jar of Vaseline, a used Tampax, a rusted knife, some wire, a bottle of blood, some chains and a large black wig. The knife and wire I use to garrot myself – almost but not quite, in my performances’ he explains helpfully, ‘the wig is just to wipe up the blood.’ There’s satire and parody, obviously. ‘To offer reflections on the way TV programmes and the other media work… A lot of conceptualists and prestige galleries debase themselves with presentations that have little else but presentation. Our exhibition is about presentation itself, so banal information objects are presented beautifully, and the object looks as if it’s important when it’s not.’


In a 1971 meeting, William S Burroughs had advised Gen to ‘short-circuit control’. Burroughs uses addiction as a metaphor for power and cellular control, subliminal conspiracy theories and subversion. The ‘Prostitution’ exhibition takes and uses the gender transaction in the same way. Humans reproduce sexually. Male-female is the first vital binary duality we encounter. A biological thing, but enforced by social conditioning into the most basic human trade-off, interface and interaction. And also a metaphor for the market forces of capitalism and slavery, the link between abuse and exploitation, marriage, and objectification. The frisson between Art and pornography. ‘To live is to either exist, or to struggle against imposed controls and fight for an individual destiny, vision and expression’ Genesis wrote (sleeve-notes to Clock DVA’s ‘Thirst’).

The ICA centre is on the Mall, down the road apiece from Buck House. The ‘Prostitution’ dialogue debunks the po-faced art establishment by focusing on how art, and particularly performance art, involves selling both self and work – which is why the group is selling the material they have used in earlier shows. ‘One is debasing oneself by selling.’ So why are they debasing themselves? ‘Because we want to, and we need the money. To sell yourself is somewhat debasing and everyone is selling something.’ Another section of the show extends exploitation-selling into photo-spreads of Cosey posing for soft-core Top-shelf magazines. ‘The photographers aren’t just creepy blokes doing it for kicks,’ she says, ‘but the main thing was that I was doing it for reasons they didn’t know about – for the exhibition.’ The sexual impulse, when bent out of shape, denied and suppressed, mutates into dangerous perversity. And that’s here too. Via atrocity, and child murderer Ian Brady. In a jittery morally repressed society gender issues ignite outraged reactions that worry away at the very core of what is considered decent and proper. For art and Lit, that’s an irresistible equation. ‘Violence’ runs the cover-line to JG Ballard’s ‘The Atrocity Exhibition’ ‘is the key’.


Nicholas Fairbairn opportunistically grabs press column inches by denouncing these ‘wreckers of civilisation’, although the Tory MP himself was later arrested for indecent exposure, and it’s surely a flimsy civilisation indeed if it’s wreckable by such teasing games. Predictably, the establishment disguises moral outrage by pointing at the price tag. COUM had been invited by the British Council to represent the UK at the Paris Biennale and the ‘British Film And Performance Art Festival’ in Milan, while the ICA is funded by an Arts Council grant to the tune of £90,000. Answering ‘anxieties’ about the ‘Prostitution Show’ the ICA director – Mr Ted Little, is summoned to the Council and interviewed. ‘They said our grant situation would be reviewed in the light of the show,’ he complained, ‘their attitude is totally unjustified – to talk of our grant being jeopardised because of eight days’ work. The ICA’s policy is to present new and innovative work by British artists. I never say what the quality is like. The public must pass comment’ (from ‘The Guardian’ 18 October 1976). Damien Hirst at the 2003 ‘Sensation’ exhibition is a storm in a paint-pot by comparison.

Predictably ‘Penthouse’ magazine is more supportive, ‘this sexhibition featured a selection of pornographic photographs of Cosey Fanni Tutti, P-Orridge’s girlfriend/ model and fellow artist, in various positions of sexual foreplay or sexy pose. There was also a series of small boxes of soiled tampaxes with amusing titles like ‘It’s The Time Of The Month’, ‘Tampax Romona’, ‘Living Womb’ and ‘Pupae’, which decorated one wall. An enigmatic construction of heavy chains positioned near the entrance of the gallery, like a shower of metal, evoked a feeling of cold violence and sensual delight’ (Vol.12 no.4, July 1977). Bizarrely vilified by both the ‘Daily Mirror’ and ‘Spare Rib’, the photos were nevertheless re-shown in the ‘Tate Triennial 2006: New British Art’. After all, Cosey is ‘a Hull girl with a healthy appetite for life and with unquenchable curiosity’ according to ‘Fiesta’ (Vol.10 no.7, 1976).


Yet the art remains. COUM is there in Paul Buck’s small-press ‘Curtains 14-17: Le Prochain Step’ magazine, and Scott Treleaven’s 2006 glossy artzine ‘The Salivation Army Black Book’. Gen participates in the week-long 2004 ‘Evolution’ film, video and performance art event in Leeds. Then ‘A-P-P-A-R-I-T-I-O-N’, takes its title from a Stéphane Mallarmé Symbolist poem for a collaborative Glasgow Tramway exhibition 29 September 2009, bringing image-and-text artist Cerith Wyn Evans into opposition with the Throbbing Gristle sound-sculptors, ‘an evocative bemusement of cross-associational mixed-and-multimedia, of images that metamorphose into sounds, of fragmented sentences, of sensory seduction and aesthetic disorientation, set to Evan’s chandeliers that pulsate with morse code.’

Retaining elements of COUM’s anti-art structure, Throbbing Gristle take it a step further. As ‘an egomaniac, a pervert, a porn queen and an introvert in a grey dufflecoat’ (‘Melody Maker’, 28 September 1985). There’s no drummer. Drums establish too strict a rhythmic structure. Instead, Gen is credited as bass. Cosey reluctantly plays a cut-down Woolworths guitar. But Leeds-born Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson contributes an experimental barrage of improvised triggered tape technology, and ‘the introvert’ Chris Carter devises or adapts electronics. Again, Kraftwerk had constructed their own electronic devices and beat-boxes. Can and radical atonal Amon Düül II operate in pure noise concepts. And anticipating Punk, there’s a gut-suspicion of virtuosity in favour of energy and invention. Yet again, TG is not quite like any on them. ‘Like Nietzsche’ as journalist Don Watson notes, Throbbing Gristle ‘advocate immersing oneself in the depths of forbidden thought, in the hope of emerging in the final daybreak with a deeper awareness and understanding’ (‘New Musical Express’ 17 December 1983).


Going to see Throbbing Gristle, if you have quirks, prepare to have them quirked. I’m here to see them with Clock DVA at the Leeds ‘F-Club’ (24 Feb). It’s a strange night. Genesis P Orridge, in military fatigues, supervises setting up Monte Cazazza’s equipment, synching the tapes, triggering soundcheck reverb careening over packed heads and poking holes in the smoke. Now, theirs is a two-piece fifteen-minutes of musique concrète white noise. Cosey sits in leather, engrossed in evoking discord from a guitar, there’s a shadowy guy with a synthesiser, and Gen howls incomprehensible “Sperm Song” lyrics through voice distortion, then another about child-strangler “Mary Bell”. It’s cut-ups of sound like Pierre Boulez and Karlheinz Stockhausen used to construct in Paris arts-labs in the late-fifties, the kind of thing usually aimed at elitist modern classical audiences and critically deconstructed in ultra-serious arts magazines. A little more aggressive now perhaps, but here in Leeds, kids are bouncing up and down like it’s Blondie or something. Spontaneous reactions striking intuitively deep at unprepared brain-centres.


‘I want discipline, I want discipline, I want discipline, I want discipline, I want discipline.’ Bob Cobbing sound-poetry with a machine backbeat. Genesis screwed down into a stage-crouch, shrieking, on the very brink of psychosis. Extreme Primal Taboo-Probing Art-Noise. A murky electronic disembowelling. In a YouTube performance clip Gen reaches out to tongue-kiss an ecstatic guy in the moshpit. This, at the height of the AIDS terror, when Alice Cooper was calling the sexual exchange of bodily fluids “Poison”… ‘Something came over me… was it white and sticky...? I don’t know what it was, but I rather like it, so I’m doing it again.’ Like a dubious repetition of a comic misrepresentation of ‘cum’, with vocals sampled and warped into constantly changing multiple channels.

Lights around the stage event horizon drill upwards. As it gets hotter and the air gets more congested the lights get buried beneath mounds of discarded leather jackets. Internal combustion results in columns of toxic smoke drifting hazily across the snaking wires and control boxes. People stand around, watching like it’s Special-FX, Queen’s Dry-Ice or something. I’m watching, lager in hand – but at fifty-pence a pint I’m not about to offer to extinguish the imminent conflagration. Sound grates on. From the back of the stage Genesis P watches plumes of smoke gather and dissolve, and starts gesticulating like a refugee from Martha Graham’s Modern Dance, until Roadies slam to the front hurtling smouldering leather jackets – with button-badges of Throbbing Gristle/ Police/ Toyah, at odd trajectories into the crowd.

Afterwards I hand Gen a copy of my arts magazine which pirates some of his visuals from the COUM phase. He accepts it with a gracious comment about me holding onto it for a long time. Yes, I guess it may be a short time in years, but we’ve both come a long way. A strange night.


Throbbing Gristle purposefully exist beyond the margin, within their own created-continuum, in the aesthetic opposition of outsider alternative society tradition, operating and distributing their own Industrial Records in deliberate DIY rejection of major label control. The first release – ‘The Second Annual Report’ (IR0002, November 1977) includes both live and studio versions of “Slug Bait” and “Maggot Death”, referencing COUM Transmissions in the “After Cease To Exist” track which takes up the full 20:16-minute side two. Paul Morley says ‘this is a very harrowing record. Darkly subjective’ (‘NME’ 11 February 1978). The third album – ‘Twenty Jazz Funk Greats’ (IR0008, December 1979) which is usually acknowledged as the best representation of their work, features eleven tracks – none of which could remotely be described as Jazz or Funk! Yet the label also issues pioneering albums by other names operating in a vaguely similar zone, Clock DVA, Cabaret Voltaire, Surgical Penis Klinik, and William S Burroughs valuable ‘Nothing Here But The Recordings’ (IR0016).


While, through the conniving intervention of Stevo, the audio-visual Psychic TV sign with major label WEA/ Some Bizarre to release ‘Force The Hand Of Chance’ in late 1982. By now Chris and Cosey have split away to form their own techno-primitive duo, and using instruments of ‘ritual or psychic properties’, including human thighbones and bicycle wheels, around the basic nucleus of Genesis, Peter Christopherson and guitarist Alex Fergusson (ex-Alternative TV), there’s even a string-laden spin-off single “Just Drifting” with narrative break for Caresse – ‘if you sit with fear, a star too far, almost lost in this storm of life, a blazing ghost can become the host, and you breakthrough to the room of dreams’.

Then there’s a guesting Marc Almond – who’d taken elements of Throbbing Gristle to structure Soft Cell, and now adds vocals to “Guiltless” and “Stolen Kisses”. Although dark light years from anyone’s idea of commercial product, it – and sequel ‘Dreams Less Sweet’ (1983), constitute Gen’s most accessible shot at the mainstream. Until the “Godstar” (Temple TOPY009) single reaches no.67 (26 April 1986) and “Good Vibrations” c/w “Roman P” (Temple TOPY23, on 20 September 1986) goes two places better to to.65 on the chart, narrowly averting the terrifying prospect of Psychic TV appearing on ‘Top Of The Pops’, instead finding a natural home by moving into the Acid Techno Rave culture.

And it’s Psychic TV, whose video I’m watching here at the Hacienda Club… A skinhead has a wolf tattooed on his fore-arm. Later, in a bare concrete yard he gets his-self naked, pours petrol over himself, and ignites. As the corpse collapses and crisps in a heap of guttering embers, a wolf is seen escaping across the concrete…

Everything here is true. Everything here is lies.

(24) COUM ARE THE 
SQUARE ROOT OF MINUS ONE



2 comments:

Blogger said...

I've just installed iStripper, and now I enjoy having the best virtual strippers stripping on my desktop.

Blogger said...

If you want your ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend to come crawling back to you on their knees (no matter why you broke up) you gotta watch this video
right away...

(VIDEO) Get your ex back with TEXT messages?