Cosey Fanni Tutti onstage at Rafters. Photo by Peter Bargh
About twelve years ago I was having a conversation with a rock snob pal of mine who opined that Throbbing Gristle was “noise… unlistenable shite.” As I normally respected his taste in music, I decided to to make him a mixed CD to prove that this wasn’t even close to being accurate (they make classical music for a barren, post-apocalyptic landscape, obviously!) I’ve listened to TG for over thirty years and I know that catalog better than most people. In fact, I even had a long-running argument with Genesis P-Orridge about a song he insisted didn’t exist called “Want You To Kill,” which I was ultimately able to prove did exist. I really do know the insides and outs of TG’s recorded output.
I based my TG mix on the notion explored by A Young Person’s Guide to King Crimson, in other words, a “primer” for a notoriously difficult to categorize band. Something to ease in new listeners who could have been scared off the group should they have picked up something like the live Mission of Dead Souls album first. Over the years there have been a lot of unofficial TG releases. If you don’t know what the good stuff is, it’s probably more of a crapshoot with them than with most groups. (There is one TG bootleg titled Kreeme Horn that Genesis told me was mostly just him and Chris Carter turning stuff on in their studio and letting it warm up and feed back on itself while a tape was running.)
Convinced that this needed to be an actual product in the marketplace—call it a gateway drug—I suggested it to the members of the group. Ultimately they released The Taste of TG (subtitled “A Beginner’s Guide to the Music of Throbbing Gristle”) compilation, but the overlap with my picks was minimal.
A very sweet spot if you’re dipping a toe into Throbbing Gristle’s wall of noise is a live 1979 performance in Manchester released as “Live at The Factory” (and “Live at the Death Factory”) on bootlegs. Most of it is spread across volumes 3 & 4 of the live TG boxset released in 1993 as well. I think it’s the best start to finish TG concert. I’d even give it the edge over their Heathen Earth set. Everything that was astonishing about TG live comes together in this one show. They called their gigs “psychic rallies” and the Manchester show certainly was one. There’s an incredible “mind meld” going on here, as their shows were largely improvised.
“... the one in Manchester… It only happens once every six or seven. You suddenly hit it. It’s like a seance. It’s almost like you’ve been taken over or something’s coming through that’s nothing to do with you or the people there - and everyone can feel it, but you can’t describe it, and that’s why sometimes when it’s like that and people try and describe the gig to someone else they sort of talk about it like a kind of drug or a religious experience. The words they use are much more like that and they almost never talk about the music… because it isn’t music, it’s something else… It was very tribal and pagan, the whole feeling. Like one girl got hysterical… she just couldn’t handle it, and it was like one of those gospel meetings where the odd person goes over the top, you know… and that’s why we started calling them psychic rallies… it’s actually more accurate; a rally or a ceremony that we’re trying to generate a psychic event, and that’s why we deliberately changed it to say that we’re basically no longer affiliated with music in any way. Although we use sound in some musical pattern, our basic concern is a psychic one… and it will become more so, and that’s probably why I feel we’ll have to change the name. So that we can start again and become even more and more focused on that side of it without the history of TG to spoil it.”
Gen, looking just a little bit nuts, onstage at Rafters. Photo by Peter Bargh
Live at the Death Factory (side one): “Weapon Training,” “See You Are,” “Convincing People,” “Hamburger Lady”
Live at the Death Factory (side two): “His Arm Was Her Leg,” “What A Day,” “Persuasion,” “Five Knuckle Shuffle”
Manchester audiences seemed to inspire the group. Here’s a second astonishing TG set from Manchester, shot at the Rafters nightclub on December 4, 1980. The softness of the vérité VHS video lends the proceedings an impressionistic gloss. but the sound quality is quite a bit better than their shows that were supposedly recorded on cheap Sony cassette tapes. The voice you hear on tape at the beginning is Aleister Crowley’s, by the way.
Set list: “Illuminated 666,” “Betrayed Womb Of Corruption,” “Very Friendly,” “Something Come Over Me,” “Playground,” “Auschwitz,” “Devil’s Gateway”