Happy birthday Clint Ruin, a/k/a J.G. Thirlwell of Foetus (and ‘The Venture Bros!’) infamy
11:35 am
Happy birthday Clint Ruin, a/k/a J.G. Thirlwell of Foetus (and ‘The Venture Bros!’) infamy

Even among the very strange artists who pioneered industrial music, Foetus was an outlier. While that project—the nom de noise of J.G. Thirlwell, a/k/a Clint Ruin a/k/a about a zillion other names—indulged deeply in that movement’s difficult, grating sounds and nihilism that approached absurdity, Thirlwell never bound himself to the genre like industrial’s grimly serious noise explorers or its goth-crossover synth mopers. Foetus, while expressing a self-loathing impossible in any organism with an intact survival instinct, also expressed a wicked and wry sense of humor, not only in the one-man-band’s name, which varied from release to release (You’ve Got Foetus on Your Breath, Foetus Interruptus, Scraping Foetus off the Wheel, Foetus All-Nude Revue… this list could go on for awhile), but in the music itself, which cheekily incorporated elements from classical music, showtunes, film noir and spaghetti western incidental music, even doo-wop.

Check out the incredible and representative “Enter the Exterminator,” from the 1985 album Nail (Thirlwell beat the Jesus Lizard to the punch on the all-LP-titles-will-be-four-letters-long schtick), chosen because it blew my mind when I was a kid, and it got me started on exploring the industrial program as much as anything off of Micro-Phonies or Twitch. The at-once growled and whispered lyrics snared me, but it was the music that compelled me to the record store. NSFW for bad words, jobber.


Not one to sit still, in the later half of the ‘80s Thirlwell formed the duo Wiseblood with Swans drummer Roli Mossimann, which was about as bludgeoning a project as you’re imagining, and The Flesh Volcano with Soft Cell’s Mark Almond. In 1988 he released the absolute must-have Stinkfist, a collaborative EP with no-wave heroine Lydia Lunch. That EP features two tracks of tribal-drumming insanity plus the ten minute “Meltdown Oratorio,” an admirable nightmare of Neubauten-esque slow-burn menace spiked with still more manic tribal percussion. Even if Lydia Lunch monologues aren’t your thing, this is really fucking great. (If I even need to tell you that a Lydia Lunch piece is NSFW for profanity, um, hi, welcome to Dangerous Minds, we hope you like what you find here.)

Thirlwell curtailed Foetus activities for a spell in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, instead releasing instrumental music under the name Steroid Maximus, though like many of his contemporaries in that decade he took the major-label plunge to release Gash in 1995. Poor Columbia records maybe should have foreseen that he wouldn’t lighten up—Gash is as uncompromising as any of his work, and contends with Nail and Hole as the best Foetus album. His backing musicians were members of NYC disreputata like Cop Shoot Cop and Unsane, with guitar contributions from experimentalist Marc Ribot. The single (seriously, they released a single to radio…) “Verklemmt” was probably as consumer-friendly as Foetus ever got. Consumers, for their part, remained mostly unmoved. Epileptics might want to think twice before clicking on this one:

In the 21st Century,  Foetus has been back on a regular release schedule again, but Thirlwell has risen in prominence for other reasons altogether—his interest in big-band, exotica, hell, basically all the component musics of all his previous and concurrent projects have found amazing expression and fruition in his music for Adult Swim’s The Venture Bros., the theme song to which is now surely his best-known work. The process of scoring a TV series—about to begin its sixth season—has even further broadened his already expansive repertoire of references and inspirations. As he related in a recent interview with Dirge Magazine:

I believe Jackson [Publick, Venture Bros. auteur] was writing the pilot for Venture Bros. when he first heard Steroid Maximus and felt that sound crystallized what he imagined in a Venture Bros. universe. Then he tracked me down. It has been a unique opportunity to come up with a musical identity for the show. A lot of the ideas I would have explored in Steroid Maximus have been explored in my work for Venture Bros. I also immerse myself in soundtracks and a lot of that interest has avenues of expression in the context of Venture Bros.

The sheer volume of work that I do for Venture Bros. and its demanding nature has influenced my writing. I’ve gotten faster and better–past the 10,000 hour Gladwell milestone–but I always try to bring my A-game. Scoring can be a bit like problem solving because you work within certain parameters: length of time, beats for dialog, the emotion you want to portray, and the twists and turns you make following the action. Each time Jackson comes in with a new story or new location–say a Greek Island and then outer space—there’s a new musical palette to come up with. It’s challenging and I really credit him with pushing my abilities.

I am always trying to extend my craft and musical vocabulary. As the show has progressed, I have expanded the type of music I write–for example, in the first season I didn’t really want to write sentimental music. On being persuaded by Jackson, I saw how well it worked and I became open to it. Then as time has gone by, I’ve been discovering more emotional nuances, including being neutral. With some of the characters we’ve started exploring getting a bit whimsical on occasion. Often I am using the action to create soundtrack music that comments on soundtrack music. The show is full of meta-references, and there are sometimes musical jokes, too.

Industrial music’s influential stylistic omnivore was born in Melbourne, Australia on January 29, 1960, and celebrates his 56th birthday today. Happy birthday, sir, and long may you kick ass.

Here’s some excellent Foetus interview and performance footage from 1985.

Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Nick Cave, Marc Almond, Lydia Lunch & J. G. Thirlwell: The Immaculate Consumptive
Scraping Foetus Off The Wheel: Nailing a whole lot of ‘Hole’ and ‘Nail,’ an exegesis
Tubercular Bells: J.G. Thirlwell’s Manorexia scrapes the foetus off a chamber orchestra

Posted by Ron Kretsch
11:35 am



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