Throbbing Gristle formed in September 1975 from the ashes of COUM Transmissions – an absurdist cosmic rock group cum performance ensemble.
Typical components of a COUM performance included Genesis P-Orridge (born Neil Megson) placing severed chicken heads on top of his penis and masturbating, or P-Orridge and his girlfriend Cosey Fanni Tutti (real name Christine Carol Newby) engaging in simultaneous anal and vaginal sex using a double-pronged dildo.
Picking up members Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson and synthesizer guru Chris Carter, P-Orridge and Cosey formed Throbbing Gristle (the name is Yorkshire slang for an erect penis) and threw themselves into the project of conceptualisation and sonic research.
During the week, Carter (a technical whiz) built speakers, effects units and synthesizer modules, and adapted conventional instruments like the bass and guitar. Everything was fed through relays of multiple effects.
Vocals were often heavily processed too, fed through a chorus echo that allowed Carter to speed them up or slow them down.
He also cobbled together unique gizmo, nicknamed the Gristle-izer, for Sleazy to play – a sort of primitive sampler with a one-octave keyboard triggering an assortment of found sounds and spoken word cut-ups liberated from news reports, government shorts and porn films.
To top it all, frontman Genesis P-Orridge (born Neil Megson) would quote from Burroughs and Manson, recount murderous tales in grisly detail, and soliloquise about sex, conspiracy and his menstruating pet dog, Tanith.
Although Throbbing Gristle followed no formulas – producing many unpredictable albums and hundreds of live tapes in just a few years – the pop aspects of industrial dance music became an identifiable mainstream genre.
D.O.A. Third and Final Report (1978) immediately attracted controversy (as was usually the case with Throbbing Gristle) over its provocative sleeve, featuring a photo Genesis P-Orridge had taken on holiday in Poland of a friend’s daughter exposing her underwear whilst playing.
Its artsy jokes, like speeding up United to last a mere 16 seconds, also had some musical moments of splendour. P-Orridge’s beautiful Weeping is as worthy as anything Ian Curtis composed, whilst Chris Carter’s AB/7A is an excellent Kraftwerk-esque tribute to ABBA. Death Threats, taken straight from the band members’ answering machine, is a fair representation of this notorious quartet’s popularity back then.
Throughout the record, the band’s lack of technical ability is compensated by their inventive use of electronics, field recording equipment, early computers, and primitive sampling techniques.
By the spring of 1981, the tensions within Throbbing Gristle caused by Cosey breaking up with P-Orridge and starting a relationship with Chris Carter made the situation unworkable and the group disbanded acrimoniously on 23 June. Members split into two camps, with Chris and Cosey following the dance trend, while P-Orridge and Christopherson took the underground route in Psychic TV.
The band enjoyed a triumphant live reunion in 2004 and Christopherson passed away in 2010. Genesis P-Orridge died in March 2020 after battling leukaemia for two-and-a-half years. He was 70.
Genesis P-Orridge (Neil Megson)
Vocals, bass, clarinet
Cosey Fanni Tutti (Christine Newby)
Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson