Throbbing Gristle Part Two - The Endless Not
(Industrial Records/Mute Records) Keith Boyd 04.25.07
Throbbing Gristle have always occupied the creepier and more humid backwaters of the musical underground. During the late 70's and early 80's they were the H. P. Lovecraft of the new music scene. Like Lovecraft to Poe, they were more name checked than known and also like Lovecraft they explored the deep, dark and taboo. When they arrived on the scene they came with an art world pedigree and a seemingly unbending willpower bent on destroying all of the conventions of music and performance that came before them. They chose over the top imagery (such as Manson, Nazi Youth uniforms, venereal disease photos) to project outward and into the media stream. They founded their own record label (Industrial Records) and released a string of releases filled with compelling music. How to describe their sound? Probably not possible in this context but simply put they were all over the place. At times ambient, at other times noisy disco-inflected rants. They were an "everything including the kitchen sink" type of group with roots in the earliest electronic music peppered with dashes of Martin Denny and musique concrete. Their performances were endurance-limit tests in loud atonal noise combined with flashing lights, found sound loops of everything from Nazi speeches to elementary school personal hygiene tapes. All of this sound was generated by Chris and Cosey with healthy contributions from Peter Christopherson (later of Psychic TV and Coil). Lording over this mayhem was one of the most singular media figures of the 20 th and 21 st centuries; Genesis P-Orridge. Genesis is heir to a particularly British type of eccentricity. He's up and out there with the likes of Aleister Crowley, Oscar Wilde and Tony: a British Ex-pat I met in The Gambia in Africa: a man who owned a great roadside beer bar, had Fathered at least ten children and wore flowery dresses over his massive girth everyday. For the last 40 years he's been in a heated battle with all forms of control and expectation. He's a polymath who goes in for poetry, filmmaking, photography, DJing, Bass playing, singing, writing and whatever other methods present themselves to help him get his message out. His latest project has been his ongoing transformation (along with his partner Miss Jackie) into a pansexual being. Through surgery, makeup, clothing and philosophy Genesis has been turning himself into a self-made hermaphrodite. Not just for the kicks of it (although one presumes he does gets some kicks out it) but to embody an ideal. The ideal of getting beyond gender and moving towards a unity of opposites. This impulse, while not so literally pursued in Throbbing Gristle, has been a guiding principal of Genesis's art from the get go. In the years after the original group disbanded Genesis went on to form Psychic TV with Christopherson. Chris and Cosey leaned more into abstract and dark ambient music as their own recording and touring entity. For years there have been rumors of a reunion but as time passed the likelihood seemed less and less. Awhile back the band reunited for a string of highly anticipated and critically acclaimed shows. Some sparks from that bonfire must have dropped down to the undergrowth and took hold as we now have "The Endless Not" to scare and enthrall us.
The idea of a Throbbing Gristle reunion is actually kind of a strange one. The band really didn't have a signature thing to revive. There were no hits to speak of (with the exception of "United" I suppose) and they never had a huge following. I would say that this purposeless reunion actually works to their favor. If there is nothing to really match up to from the past then whatever you produce can be seen more clearly for what it is. The Endless Not starts off in an appropriately freaky place. This is music played by tribes of wandering coroners. That is it sounds organically rooted but veers into the sonic realm of medicine and technology. So many of TG's signature bits have been absorbed and made ubiquitous by acts such as Nine Inch Nails that at first pass it's hard to hear anything but that. Slowly however the layers rot and spring forth their new growth. This is truly some sublime weirdness here. The shaman/surgeon psychedelia of "Vow of Silence" gives way to other tones and tempos. We are treated to some mutant jazzy 1950's strip club burlesque (Rabbit Snare). Vaseline-smeared ambient nightmares (Separated) and some good old fashioned death disco (Lyre Liar and The Worm Waits It's Turn). I think that TG got it right here. They've created a wonderful and deep piece of music. They didn't go about trying to revive the corpse of what they once were. They came together in the light of who they were and by using the varied talents of each member have made an authentic and unified whole. They've got to be cheered for keeping it so strange for so long. Chris and Cosey, Coil and of course Psychic TV are all great by themselves but like the heroes in Theodore Sturgeon's psychedelic Science Fiction novel, "More Than Human" when they come together they create this unstoppable super-beast. In this case it's a beast filled with sleaze, shock, saintliness and funk. TG gives you all of it from the dirt to the ether. They serve it up in spades yet keep you guessing where it's coming from at the same time. I'm more than willing to keep listening and see where they lead. Like life it'll probably be a mix of high drama and low farce. Like life it'll probably be a bit dangerous but may also offer a shot at redemption, hope and enlightenment.