Somnambule - Writing About Music

Throbbing Gristle ~ A Taste Of...

It’s strange to think that electronic music, at a conservative estimate, is now three decades old. The 1970s are already a (short) lifetime away. Yet it’s in that decade that the foundations were laid for so many of the architectural forms currently being explored: from Kraftwerk to Cluster, Giorgio Moroder to Brian Eno, the decade was fecund with possibility. 30 years ago another movement with a fascination for synthesizers was also sending out its bindweed-like tendrils. Throbbing Gristle were the movement’s lascivious class monitors and they gave the genre its name with their slogan “industrial music for industrial people”. Like their peers, the group explored the musical opportunities proffered by the availability of electronic instruments and were to become influential on later generations of musicans including Pan Sonic, Nine Inch Nails, Two Lone Swordsmen and Laibach. Although they disbanded in 1980, the group’s members have continued to be creative forces as the output of Coil, Chris and Cosey, Psychic TV and a number of other projects attest.

How does Throbbing Gristle’s particular brand of prehistory sound today? To these ears it’s still refreshingly perverse, occasionally threatening and surprisingly contemporary. A Taste Of... dips its painted toes into a number of the group’s releases and reveals the breadth of territory the group explored in its five year lifetime, much of it soaked in a dark humour which heads straight for taboo subjects including gas chambers, paedophilia and sado-masochism. Quite apart from its conceptual focus, the group explored a wide range of musical possibilities from electronic pop (“Hot On The Heels Of Love”, “Something Came Over Me”) to dark ambient (“Cabaret Voltaire”, “Hamburger Lady”) and abstract electronica (“Dead On Arrival”). This compilation provides little contextual information, but the digipak cover image perhaps says enough: it’s a suitably gruesome photograph of a young man apparently slicing his tongue off. Despite spawning in the supposedly grey ‘70s, the group continue to provide an appropriately off-colour palliative for a western culture all too obsessed by reality television and the endorsement of low-risk popular culture. A Taste Of... makes an excellent starting point for TG ingénues.
Colin Buttimer
July 2004
Published by Grooves magazine