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Throbbing Gristle
The Thirty-Second Annual Report Of Throbbing Gristle Luke Turner , December 24th, 2008 05:59

When originally released in 1977, Throbbing Gristle's landmark Second Annual Report was a fragmented collection of live and studio recordings, collated during their early sonically and ideologically radical excursions around the moribund punk landscape of late 1970s Britain.

This 32nd Annual Report of Throbbing Gristle live recording connects those traumatic sketches and confrontational ideas with modern technology and recording techniques. The rough and hissing originals, under the "movements" of 'Slug Bait', 'Maggot Death' and 'After Cease To Exist' are reinterpreted with all the power of a modern PA behind them. That's not to say that Throbbing Gristle have merely ratcheted up the tension, the horror, the noise. Far from it – this is a group with too intelligent and focused a mindset and vision to rely on shock and awe alone. Indeed, only one of the original pieces of the original sampled dialogue (a disturbing police interview with a child sex offender), remains.

I recall – just about – TG's mid-afternoon set in the auditorium at the 2008 Primavera festival, where they aired much of the material presented on this release. It was loud, certainly, intense, definitely. But there was a subtlelty and precision to the sonic presentation, the likes of which I have never heard before. You could feel balls of sound gathering behind your shoulder, then feel them zipping around the room before metamorphosing into cold steel slivers in the minds of all present. That afternoon TG created an unsettling physicality of sound that this performance, recorded a few days later at La Villette in Paris, captures brilliantly. There are the endless bass pulses, either sinuous or reminiscent of a steam hammer left to its own devices; the sudden crystalline shivers of electronic treble; and, as much as this, an awareness of the potential of quieter moments where silence isn't a respite, but a lurking threat.

Live renditions of canonical albums are generally disappointing affairs – Sonic Youth's run through of Daydream Nation earlier this year being a case in point, a mid-life-crisis in conservative guitar onanism. Indeed, surely the prospect of The Bluetones playing Expecting To Fly in its entirety at the London Astoria is more repellent than even COUM Transmissions' infamous castration video? The 32nd Annual Report of Throbbing Gristle, then, succeeds because it is a reinterpretation of the ideas and forms of the original - it retains the facade of the earlier structure, but behind constructs a new installation that hums with contemporary mechanics and a slick and terrible modernity. Throbbing Gristle are a unit still capable of pushing and punishing barriers with an eloquence and power largely unrivalled among either their contemporaries, or industrial protegees. We can only hope that their reunion still has many years to run.

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