Throbbing Gristle ~ A Taste Of TG, Mutant
Before techno was a gleam in Juan Atkins’ eye, before Fad Gadget cut himself onstage, before Nine Inch Nails and Swans, Throbbing Gristle were formed in 1975 as the musical arm of COUM Transmissions. The group comprised Cosi Fanni Tutti, Genesis P. Orridge, Chris Carter and Peter Christopherson. The aim of both units was to publicly confront and explore a wide range of social taboos including cruelty, murder, the Holocaust, paedophilia and sado-masochism. The fact that they ran their own record company (Industrial Records) meant that their work could be produced without interference, at least prior to its release. The group were inevitably the subject of tabloid hysteria and were even branded ‘wreckers of civilisation’ (surely to their great pleasure) by a Tory MP. If you want to do your homework on Throbbing Gristle – and it’s recommended - the best resource is Jon Whitney’s website at: http://www.brainwashed.com/tg/ as well as the official website at: http://throbbing-gristle.com/. If you’re wondering what the tower is at the top of the latter’s webpage, it’s a deathcamp chimney.
Throbbing Gristle is a particularly memorable moniker, redolent simultaneously of ardent desire and its inverse, insensate horror. Apart from a particular configuration of the stars, it’s not clear why 2004 sees the one-off reunion of the group (perhaps fittingly at a holiday camp), together with the release of the two discs under consideration here. However, now is as good a time as any to learn about or revisit a group who are recognised to have been tremendously influential - it’s difficult to imagine groups such as Laibach, Cabaret Voltaire and Add N To (X) existing without them – and also not entirely assimilated into the mainstream unlike most of their peers.
The Taste Of Throbbing Gristle
With the fetish/rinse programme set seemingly innately for a 25 year cycle the sound of this selection of morsels cut free from their host cadavers may find extra f(l)avour with new audiences. Throbbing Gristle’s soundworld revolves predominantly around clashing analogue synthesizers which threaten to detune or fracture from moment to moment. Sounds are harsh, piercing, clangourous. There’s an industrial/clinical edge which is surely rooted in the blare and worry of hazard warnings: klaxons, geiger counters and the like. The effect is chilly and sinister, like the feel of a dentist’s theatre whose central heating has broken down. The acknowledged influence of William Burroughs and Brion Gysin is recognisable in the group’s deployment of sound, both synthetic and vocal, as terror instrument.
Tracks alternate between smoggy live recordings specked with the jeering of Orridge’s audience baiting and songs that sound like electrical nursery rhymes subjected to unwanted corruption. Lyrics are delivered with varying degrees of insouciance or mania by different group members – for the latter in particular try ‘We Hate You (Little Girls). Orridge’s rendition of the following lines is particularly naughty schoolboy like:
Something came over me
Was it white and sticky?
I don’t know what it was
My daddy didn’t like it,
but I do it anyway
Well I rather liked it
Each time Fanni Tutti whispers ‘hot on the heels of love’ lovingly in your ear an electronic whip lashes out. Those heels are surely very high, shiny and sharp and their owner is dying to press them into your chest or other more tender parts of your anatomy. Alienating though some of the group’s subject matter may be, the collection finishes on an almost unbearably poignant note when Orridge introduces ‘His Arm Was Her Leg’:
“This is a little song... I was born in Manchester... in Victoria Park near Moss-side. The first thing I remember is playing in a pothole in the rain and getting me white socks dirty and getting belted when I went home... so this is a little extra song for Manchester... it’s for the good missionaries who are here tonight. Hello Manchester...”
What follows is a fuzzed and phased rhythm guitar workout over which Orridge
sings through distorting filters. There’s a genuine anger here and
elsewhere at the cruelty inflicted by society upon both the innocent and
the depraved and what becomes of those corrupted souls in the aftermath
of such mistreatment. That anger is surely deeper and darker than that of
the Sex Pistols with whom they share a snarling anger and is a worthy contemporary
of the dark creations in PIL’s Metal Box.
His Arm Was Her Leg’s naked confession combined with the group’s black humour (witness the title and cover art of their ’20 Jazz Funk Greats’) serves as necessary balance to Throbbing Gristle’s examination of parts of humanity’s makeup which most would prefer to ignore or censor. These investigations into the dark side of the soul frequently betray moments of bleak beauty. Ultimately it’s up to each listener to make up their own mind about TG. Some will decide that their work is exploitative and depraved while others will spy a rare degree of courage in their facing down and exploration of such difficult subject matter.
Necessary like an enema or similar bitter medicine, ‘A Taste Of...’ serves as a useful initiation for the curious and the adventurous.
The prospect of a remix album of Throbbing Gristle’s music initially appears incongruous verging on redundant. Yet Kraftwerk’s ‘The Mix’ served to update an important back-catalogue and ultimately spurred that group on to new and useful work. Whether or not Mutant will have the same effect remains to be seen. One of the group’s primary slogans was ‘industrial music for industrial people’. Do these remixes serve to reposition TG’s music into a more contemporary ‘Post-industrial music for post-industrial people’? Facelifts upon the aging are almost always obvious and often look grotesque. These remixes try, and pretty much succeed, in having their cake and eating it. They take the facelifts – which are sympathetically done by retaining the predominantly mid-paced tempos of the originals – while indulging in affairs with musics half their age. The implication of this type of remix is that the actual sound of popular music does age and that timelessness is a rare, perhaps non-existent, commodity. Throbbing Gristle, ever the pragmatists, are surely aware of this and keen to exploit opportunity to the full.
Of the eight remixes, two hail from Throbbing Gristle, two are delivered by Carl Craig, and one each by Motor, Two Lone Swordsmen, Hedonastik and Simon Ratcliffe (half of Basement Jaxx). These remixes succeed in making TG’s music shinier (think the glint of steel rather than the gloss of plastic) and more contemporary sounding. How delectable it would be for one of these tracks (my vote goes to Simon Ratcliffe’s lovely version of Hot On The Heels Of Love) to float into the charts and then to be played on Top Of The Pops, danceable and just a little anonymous but with a dark aura shining from its edges. Throbbing Gristle’s music gains immeasurably from understanding that aura. The fact that there has been no attempt to shoehorn the group’s legacy into a series of soundbites on the packaging of the cd is ultimately commendable: trying to do so would have served to diminish the group’s significance and concomitant impact. The only text on the digipak sleeve apart from the track and remix details is the following placed in the centre of the flap on a plain grey background: “Some copy about why we are important from lots of famous people.” Nice.
If you’re new to Throbbing Gristle, ‘Mutant’ is recommended as a starting point, beyond which the next stepping stone into their dark maw would be ‘A Taste Of...’