Throbbing Gristle Live: Genesis In Heaven, London

The Quietus were blown away by Throbbing Gristle at the weekend. Luke Turner reflects on musical modernity. Pictures courtesy of Mr Stuart Green

London gay club Heaven generally hosts events like the Sticky And Sweet Madonna Special and Porn Idol nights that are advertised on posters in the entrance stairwell. Then, lighting rigs and smoke machines ramp up the atmosphere for a gaudy modern bacchanal. But tonight, Throbbing Gristle have demanded that the house lights be left up. The glaring white exposes the space in all its mundanity — brick painted black, peeling; a solid scaffolding framework from which dead disco lights and dusty speakers hang. It’s therefore up to TG to, by audio alone, get inside the minds of the assorted hipsters, art types, scraggy punks and freshly undercut-shaved industrial nuts who pack out the venue.

Genesis P*Orridge is dressed in a floating linen dress and pseudo-boho jewellery combo that you might expect to see on a double-barrelled Tamara swanning down Portobello Road. Sleazy wears an ermine robe over his paunch, Cosey Fanni Tutti sports sparkling tights and holds a brutal looking snub-nosed, neckless electric guitar. Chris Carter is in a white lab coat. Together, they make an visceral, unnerving, welcoming, all-encompassing noise.

In contrast to the malevolent, sinuous electronica of last year’s 32nd Annual Report anniversary performances, this is a more aggressive, song-based event; a trawl, if you like, through TG’s ‘hits’. It works because it’s arguable that TG now have been able to use advances in technology to liberate their capability to scrape at the psyche through dynamics, sound and volume in a way that they could never dream of in the late 70s and early 80s.

The result, and their triumph, is this: through their music, Throbbing Gristle exist at the point where the excesses of the human race — abusive relationships, the enslaving power of machinery, genocide, even the MPs expenses scandal that finds its way into the lyrics of ‘Convincing People’ — come face to face with natural primitivism, the sublime potency of nature, the unquantifiable dreads triggered by certain frequencies of sound. Fans of dubstep, sign up here. A group of contradictions, they have always been human and inhumane, nihilistic and spiritual, deeply funny and deadly serious, exploring the void and providers of intense solace. These juxtapositions can only happen through TG’s mastery of sonic manipulation: electronic impulses enter the ears and tinker with the mind, pulling forth some elements, suppressing others, releasing memory, confounding inhibition.

It defies anyone who might dare to argue that Throbbing Gristle’s performances are now nothing more than a holiday in transgression for a knowing Metropolitan elite; that sneering "George Brown I want to suck your cock" is a trite relic of an angrier, less apathetic age. Does ‘Very Friendly’, the first track played and a self-confessed "love song" about the Moors murderers, still have the capacity to shock; why, indeed, is that shock still even necessary? Yet it’s simply impossible not to respond to this in a deep, personal, profound way.

Throbbing Gristle at Heaven on June 21st 2009 would make more sense to primitive man than The Beatles. P*Orridge would be interpreted as a deity, Lennon and McCartney as fleshy snacks for the pot. TG are are as relevant as they have always been, and always will be. For they reach the universal and a point of abstraction by stripping out all that the post-war, rhythm and blues paradigm has taught us. This process ignores those imperatives to go buy/fuck/engage with commerce engendered by the simple, brain-lulling devices of the 4/4 beat, the western melodic scale, the tired, archetypal lyrical themes of the quest for idealised heterosexual, male/female union.

When P*Orridge screamed "I want some discipline in here" at TG’s early performances (as captured on their 1981 12") , he addressed both himself and his audience, exhorting them to wake themselves up from a blank rut. A still living slogan, he screams it again tonight, as ‘Discipline’ becomes deafening acid breakbeat and, surely, the rails of the tracks above us hum, unconsciously reflecting the industrial call. He has taken this mantra of self-control to what is in fact a brutally logical extreme, going far further than the likes of you and I can conceive. While many of TG’s contemporaries still create anew, these pioneers of industrial music explore the post punk maxim of reinvention by constantly twisting what they already have into fresh shapes. It might sound trite to say it, but it’s merely what P*Orridge has been doing with his own body during his four decade-long journey through identity and gender.

Up on that stage, P*Orridge and TG’s music demands that we become human, or at the very least consider what it means to exist within this flesh and blood. As he told us after the menace of ‘Hamburger Lady’ has finally subsided, "these are just stories about real people . . . just like you." Never has the importance and continuing purpose of Throbbing Gristle been so eloquently expressed.

Throbbing Gristle played:

Very Friendly

Convincing People

Live Ray

Hamburger Lady

Almost A Kiss


What A Day


To see more pictures of the Heaven gig courtesy of Mr Stuart Green and Shot2Bits, click on the P*Orridge face below.

The Quietus Digest

Sign up for our free Friday email newsletter.

Support The Quietus

Our journalism is funded by our readers. Become a subscriber today to help champion our writing, plus enjoy bonus essays, podcasts, playlists and music downloads.

Support & Subscribe Today