Daddy, What’s A Throbbing Gristle?


Daddy, What’s A Throbbing Gristle?

“The original idea of Industrial Records was to reject what the growing industry was telling you at the time what music was supposed to be”
Peter Christopherson, Throbbing Gristle

“Industrial culture? There has been a phenomena; I don’t know whether it’s strong enough to be a culture. I don’t think what we did has had a reverberation right around the world & back.”
Genesis P. Orridge, Throbbing Gristle

Noise – the genre – has been percolating away on the back burner ever since Luigi Russolo unfurled his 1913 manifesto: L’Arte de Rumori (The Art Of Noises). This revolutionary document – aided by populist fervour surrounding the Dada art movement (& later still, the Fluxus movement) - suggested that – via the Industrial Revolution – modern humans had developed the capability to withstand & appreciate ever-increasing volumes & textures. These new sounds, Russolo predicted, would eventually replace melodic sustenance as the staple aural diet of future generations. To prove his point, he fashioned a gizmo – which he named the Intonarumori - & put together a noise orchestra equipped with the devices to torture random audiences. In house reactions to the public debut of Russolo’s “Gran Concerto Futuristico” (1917) included ‘sporadic violence’ & ‘strong disapproval’, as Russolo himself had predicted.

Another early pioneer in the arena of noise was Arnold Schoenburg, who coined the snappy term Emancipation Of The Dissonance, & proclaimed that music could be constructed just as satisfyingly from dissonance as from consonance. He was not alone: fellow 1920’s composers George Antheil & Erik Satie – who’s Sons Industriels (1920) is seen as somewhat of a benchmark - also began to use mechanical elements in their compositions.

During the 1930’s John Cage & Lou Harrison began forging compositions for junk ensembles put together with tuned brake drums, flower pots & gongs reclaimed from junkyards & antique shops. Cage began his Imaginary Landscape series in 1939 combining recorded sound, percussion & random radio interference.

Post 1945, composers including G.M.Koenig, Iannis Xenakis & Karlheinz Stockhausen, began experimenting with proto-synthesisers, tape machines & radio equipment to produce highly influential noise compositions. Edgard Varese debuted his Poeme Electronique at the 1958 Brussels World Fair. Such proto–noise works were dubbed musique concrete by Pierre Schaeffer, duly inspiring John Cale, LaMonte Young & Tony Conrad to produce their electronic drone music in 1960s New York.

By the Mid 1970s, the advent of affordable home recording technology - & the arrival of Punk Rock - meant that anyone could produce, record & distribute their own noise. One of the archetypal noise statements of this time is Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music – a symphony made out of feedback (later imitated in 1991 by Neil Young’s Arc) – another is Boyd Rice’s Pagan Muzak (1978). Enter Throbbing Gristle . . .

Throbbing Gristle:
Genesis P. Orridge – Vocal, electric violin, bass
Cosey Fanni Tutti – Guitar, cornet, effects
Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson – Tapes, synths, trumpet
Chris Carter – Synths, keyboards

Throbbing Gristle evolved in London in 1975 from COUM Transmissions – a performance art group. Group leader – Genesis P. Orridge (Neil Megson) – had originally met girlfriend Cosi Fanni Tutti – a nude model by day – at an exhibition in Hull.

Throbbing Gristle courted controversy from the off with their confrontational stage shows, including Cosey dancing topless, Genesis & Sleazy performing S&M routines & a backdrop of grotesque slide shows featuring pornography, interviews with sex offenders & images from Nazi concentration camps designed to churn the stomach & turn the mind.

They were soon branded Industrial by associate Monte Cazazza – a term they liked so much they named their record label after it – subsequently releasing sides by Cabaret Voltaire, Thomas Leer, Robert Rental, the aforementioned Cazazza as well as their own records.

Hated by the press & lauded by their outsider admirers (Mark Perry & his group Alternative TV were very impressed!), Throbbing Gristle were at their most pertinent between 1977 & 1978 when they released their trio of classic recordings: 2nd Annual Report (LP), United/Zyklon B Zombie (45) & D.O.A. – Third & Final Report (LP).

The gauntlet thrown down by Throbbing Gristle was eagerly picked up by London based power electronics specialists, Whitehouse (essential debut LP: “birthdeath experience”) – who’s Come Organisation - & later United Dairies label – were instrumental in defining the genre for the 1980s.

Recommended Reading: Wreckers Of Civilisation by Simon Ford (ISBN 1-901033-60-0)

The gangs all here
Guy Debored – tMx 27 – 11/06
Contact: - Writing About Music Is Like Dancing To Architecture