Tuesday, November 23, 2010

New Wave for the New Week #102

[All throughout the month of November, all NW4NW entries are based on requests made by you, dear readers. Because of the amount of requests received, there will often be more than one entry per week during this month - I recommend signing up for email alerts on the left-hand side of the screen so that you don't miss any of the fun! I cannot take anymore requests for this month, but please always feel free to suggest bands you might like to see featured in future NW4NW posts. You may do so either in the comments section of this post, on Twitter, or on the Facebook Fanpage.]

At least one reader piped up with a request on the TWIWGTS Twitter Page this time around, and thank heavens for Twitter's translation services! @macrvy, from Tokyo, Japan, tweeted a request that listed a handful of artists, most intriguing among them the band that is often credited for single-handedly creating and defining what has come to be called Industrial music.  Those of you who are looking for clap-hands sing-along good time music are advised to turn back now; you will be appalled.

"These people are the wreckers of civilization!" - Tory MP Nicholas Fairbairn, Conservative Member of Parliament

The "people" referred to in Fairbairn's oft-cited quote, were Genesis P-Orridge, Cosey Fanni Tutti, Peter Christopherson and Chris Carter, collectively known to the world as Throbbing Gristle. Evolving from an early-'70s performance art troupe called COUM Transmissions, who were themselves reviled by many for their tendencies to stretch the boundaries of obscenity to nearly the snapping point, Throbbing Gristle challenged the common perceptions of music.  Freeing themselves of the shackles of constructs such as rhythm, melody, and often even notes and chords, they created a frightening din within which they explored the darkest, most repulsive aspects of the human psyche.  When semi-recognizable structures did bubble up from their fetid, droning swamp of warped electronic noise, they were rudimentary at best.  Yet, the nightmare they unleashed was fascinating - an all-too unforgiving funhouse mirror image of the worst of us. In Throbbing Gristle's world, music was not meant to be attractive or enjoyable.  Rather, their sonic goal was to challenge - perhaps ultimately enrage - and to reflect the soulless depression of the Britain in which they lived.

Throbbing Gristle debuted on July 6, 1976, at London's Air Gallery, thus beginning a series of live performances that steadily received more and more attention.  Their earliest performances were exactly one hour long: they would literally walk onstage and punch in at a timeclock, just as workers all across the country did at their jobs; 60 minutes later, they would punch out and go home. (Often, they arranged for the power to be cut at the one-hour mark, even if they were in mid-song, to insure strict adherence to schedule.)  Early practitioners of tape manipulation and use of samples and electronics (at a time when the equipment being used nowadays for doing so had yet to be refined - or in some cases, invented), they created a canvas of droning, monotonous, usually minimalistic, repetition with P-Orridge reciting spoken word pieces over top.  Everything was distorted into a decidedly alienating sound; the aural equivalent of grey windowless factory buildings, smoke-blackened skies, depression and terror.

Every live performance was recorded and, eventually, released in a series of cassettes, making their discography immense; their studio recordings did not mitigate the sonic attack in the least.  Their first three albums, Second Annual Report, DoA, and the wonderfully mis-named 20 Jazz Funk Greats (sporting perhaps the most perfect cover art imaginable) are harsh, cold, and almost inaccessible.  That their debut single, "United," verged on synthpop, if a grotesquely stunted and immature version of it, was indicative of the band's sense of humor: not only did it barely foreshadow what was to come, but by the time they included the track on an album (DoA), they sped up the tape so that the entire piece flew by in under half a minute.

While some of their compositions (the term "songs" just doesn't seem right here) went on for over ten unyielding minutes, they were often at their most frightening and downright creepy when working in shorter-form pieces: the voice-through-a-fan vocals of "Hamburger Lady" ("burnt from the waist up") are just barely audible above the nightmarish wall of sound; "Something Came Over Me," while again flirting with actual song structure, is downright bone-chilling.

Wary of sticking around long enough to fall into the trap of self-parody, the band sent out postcards on June 23, 1981, that simply said, "The mission is terminated."  With that, Throbbing Gristle was done - for the time being.  P-Orridge and Christopherson formed Psychic TV and continued in Throbbing Gristle's prolific vein, recording and releasing literally everything they did; Carter and Tutti continued on as Chris & Cosey. 

Throbbing Gristle resumed their mission in 2004, playing the odd reunion gigs here and there and recording new material.  While on tour this year, the band announced that Genesis P-Orridge had abandoned them, and continued on without him under the moniker X-TG.  Where this is leading one can only wonder.

Trying to choose clips representative of Throbbing Gristle's sound is difficult.  For the sake of those who have no idea what they're getting into, I chose shorter pieces.  First up, "Six Six Sixties" from 20 Jazz Funk Greats; then an audio-only of the infamous "Hamburger Lady."  Usually, I say "Enjoy!" I think perhaps that "Good luck!" might be better here.  But, I will say "Thank you!" to @macrvy for an excellent request!

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