Perfect Sound Forever

The Return of the Wreckers of Civilization

Throbbing Gristle and Cosey Fanni Tutti
Interview by Mike Edwards
(March 2005)

After a twenty three year absence, Throbbing Gristle has reunited. January 2004 saw the release of TG+, a box set of ten CDs documenting the final ten shows performed in 1980-81. Soon afterward a remix album surfaced (Mutant TG), and by February the four original members were recording the limited edition EP, TGNOW.

The Industrial movement rose and fell in Throbbing Gristle's wake, the form subverted by its purveyors to the point of parody. None of the music made in the shade of TG's long shadow ever showed a scintilla of the originality, the audacity, or the moments of incredible beauty regularly displayed by the original model. As evidenced on TG's TG 24 box set from 2002 (and TG +), Throbbing Gristle began as artists hell-bent on creating something absolutely new, and free of constraint.

They weren't musicians, they didn't play songs – though Chris Carter's beats and tapes helped give boundaries to otherwise woozy, borderless jams – but like great musicians, they listened to each other on stage, building tsunami-sized waves of sound that – on the remixed tapes that are on the two aforementioned box sets – still have the power to push out all thought.

In comparison with the in-concert monster, TG's studio recordings are more like polite experiments. Of the official Throbbing Gristle product available in 1981, Heathen Earth – a live studio recording – is the best. Though not as confrontational as TG's concerts, it gave fans that weren't able to see the group live (including anyone in the States) a glimpse of who exactly we were listening to. 2nd Annual Report lent insight too, but those muddy, tinny early live recordings – as if captured via short wave from a point in deep space – painted the truest picture (their sonic deficiencies were, of course, part of their charm). 3rd and Final Report and 20 Jazz Funk Greats seem silly by comparison; when they came out I considered them the paramount of experimental music, but in retrospect, they seem merely quaint.

Though the four members of TG have remained active – and essential – in the 23 years since their last collaboration (Chris and Cosey with numerous releases in tandem and solo, Genesis with the ever-mutating Psychic TV, and Sleazy with Coil), their new work is creating interest in the old, all over the globe.

In May 2004, TG was prepared to perform live at the "RE~TG" event, but the show was ultimately cancelled, and rescheduled for one year later. In December, they performed at Camber Sands and produced a live double-album of the show (available in limited numbers; see the band's website for more info on A Souvenir of Camber Sands), and are set to release a CD of new material later this year.

The reconstituted TG retains the power and the chemistry of the original, and the new material – especially "Almost like This" and "How Do You Deal" from TGNOW - is consistently brilliant.

PSF: Punk rock bred a lot of bluster, and galvanized disenfranchised music fans, but ultimately it was boys with guitars, aping Iggy and the Dolls. Throbbing Gristle seemed to create music free of that history, and as a guy searching for the new and unusual, I literally found your music frightening. What paths led up to TG?

Cosey: I suppose the music of my youth influenced what I produced within TG, insomuch as I/we wanted a sound that represented how we felt, much as the Velvet Underground, Zappa, etc. did with their music. Also, musique concrete, and electronic music, opened my mind to music being "sound" rather than formula. Sound spoke for what we felt at the time, about the world around us. We didn't write love songs, or music to disco dance to; we created music from the sounds that were around us, and reflected our feelings towards all things at the time. What we produced was original via the freedom to experiment and express.

PSF: TG, The Beatles of noise. Did you pack it in 1982 because you ran out of gas, or was it acrimony?

Cosey: The reasons are well of the reasons was that TG had become what we were fighting against.

PSF: Being a U.S. fan I never got to see the band live. Were you aware of the revolution you were creating?

Cosey: We weren't aware that what we did then would be so groundbreaking, or inspiring to others. We did it because we felt the need to do it. Life, to me, is about expressing myself.

PSF: How do you feel about the Industrial movement? The bands that used that moniker in the 80s never really represented the spirit of Throbbing Gristle, they were just rock and roll bands with noise.

Cosey: Industrial music, how we defined it, is nothing like what the genre has become. It's more than just making machine noises and shouting: it's personal, it's hard work, it's a way of life…a philosophy.

PSF: TG's studio albums stand the test of time, but the truly crushing quality of TG's sound only seemed to come out in live recordings. Was it a conscious effort to separate the two situations, or is the vibe just different in the studio?

Cosey: The vibe at gigs is very different, for the simple reason that you have hundreds or thousands of people all giving off their own energy to the moment. TG live is driven by the people who are with us. Consequently, when we do a studio recording it's very different.

PSF: Was Peter as important to the live sound as he appears to have been in videos of the band? When I see the footage, I see 3 people very much in their own space, and Peter appears to be frantically mixing each performance into a mesmerizing whole. Is that a fair impression?

Cosey: It's actually Chris who mixes everyone on stage, not Peter. Chris controls and treats Gen's vocals, controls the rhythms, and then plays on top of all that. He is very much the hub of TG. Peter has a sampler, which, yes, he frantically plays.

PSF: Is Genesis the "crazy" member of TG? They say every brilliant band needs a lunatic…

Cosey: Genesis is very physically and vocally expressive; an emotional and inspired performer, not a lunatic. That's offensive.

PSF: Your cornet playing became synonymous with the TG sound, and later with the Chris and Cosey recordings. How did you introduce that into the band's sound, and how do you play like that, is digital delay a big part of the overall effect?

Cosey: Sleazy had bought one, and couldn't master the technique to get a good blast out of it, so I tried, and could do it. When we played live, I ended up playing cornet. It worked because it cut through all the other sounds beautifully. I vary the delay and effects on the cornet depending [on] what sound I want. My technique is just something I developed because I was never shown how to do it in the traditional way. All instruments, to me, are there to be used to produce sound in whatever way suits my purpose.

PSF: Did TG rehearse?

Cosey: I wouldn't say we rehearsed, because we don't write "music," so we couldn't run through the "songs." Everything we did were separate projects, we'd have jam sessions and sound experiments in the Martello Street studio. Chris always worked on music at his own place too, and then he would bring his ideas to the studio.

PSF: How important was hype in getting people to pay attention to TG? Do you think you'd have gotten the attention you deserved without your nude photos, or playing at boy's schools, or the frightening stories of yours and Genesis' pre-TG art projects as COUM Transmissions?

Cosey: You're saying all those things were done to get attention. We did those things (and much more) because we wanted to. The nude photos were an art action project that was separate to TG. The boys' school was because we thought it would be fun. We were out to have fun, and do gigs in paces we wanted to – and not in rock venues. We didn't court publicity for TG. There was no A&R man.

PSF: Was the nudity, the nude videos, meant to shock?

Cosey: No, it wasn't meant to shock. My art actions in galleries were done in the nude quite regularly, because I felt that the nude body was less loaded in terms of interpretation. I.e. if you have a red dress on with arrows across it people would read something into it. I felt comfortable in the nude. The magazine work was a serious art action project and a personal investigation. I didn't find it shocking or intend to shock anyone.

PSF: Did you play gigs in unconventional venues because you couldn't get booked in regular halls, or was there a joy in being perverse?

Cosey: What's the point of playing at regular venues when you can play in a church crypt? And incidentally, after TG played there? It became a regular venue. If you think back to the "vibe" question, this applies to spaces too. Each space has its own vibe, so we also chose spaces for that reason.

PSF: Have you been able to support yourself with your art?

Cosey: With great difficulty at times. In the 70s I worked regular jobs to keep going and put money into TG and COUM projects.

PSF: Has age mellowed you? Often musicians get more confrontational with their music as they age, sort of like, "This is exactly what's in my head, if you don't like it, fuck you." Others just start pandering.

Cosey: I think I've always been a "fuck you" kind of artist. In fact I still say that today. "If they don't like it, fuck 'em, if they do, that's great." You can't please everyone anyway, it's best to be yourself and take the consequences.

PSF: I was raised in a conservative home, conventional in every way. Music like TG helped me unhinge me from the pressure to conform. Is it gratifying to change people, or do you think art doesn't really have that power?

Cosey: All of TG came from conservative families, too, but I guess we were blessed with being born at a time when firstly rock and roll happened, then beatniks, hippies. So we were living in a culture that nurtured freedom of expression. I think art truly has the power to inspire other people. That's been its purpose from the beginning – to speak of life, and therefore move culture and society forward. It's a necessity, and however much we may disagree or hate some art, it speaks of culture at the time. Many people hated TG at the time.

PSF: Were drugs a component?

Cosey: No. We didn't take anything.

PSF: If the Internet had existed when TG started, do you think the band would have been huge? I used to write people all over the world just to get tidbits about shows.

Cosey: I'm not sure. The harder you work for something, the more rewarded you feel when you get it. The internet is a wonder and a beast too; it delivers so readily, and I love that about it, but I also think it can be detrimental to get things so easy.

PSF: Has TG sold a lot of records?

Cosey: We’ve sold a hell of a lot of records, but not in the millions by any means. For a truly independent label, Industrial Records did extremely well.

PSF: Is it fair to say Chris was the brains behind the band, the glue that held the rambling whole together?

Cosey: Absolutely. And he still is. Having said that, TG would not be TG without the rest of us – you only have to listen to our separate projects, and then TG, to realize there's just something that gels when we all play together.

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