“Real war has become information war. It is being fought by subtle informational media under cold conditions. Whenever hot wars are necessary these days, we conduct them in the backyards of the world with the old technologies. These wars are happenings, tragic games.”— Throbbing Gristle, fromIndustrial Culture Handbook(RE/Search Publishing, 1983)
Agent provocateurs, cultural terrorists and desecraters of sonic complacency, Throbbing Gristle — Genesis P-Orridge, Chris Carter, Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson and Cosey Fanni Tutti — merged carnal performance art, dirty electronic music and experimental video into a spectacular audio and visual ritual that challenged commerciality, definitions of art and sexual repression. Throbbing Gristle released only four albums and five singles during their six years, but the legacy of their dark, layered industrial sound; cynical humor; and uncompromising performances still lurks in the output of International DeeJay Gigolos Records — as well as in Kid 606; Andy Weatherall; and groups such as Skinny Puppy, Front 242, Ministry, KMFDM and Nine Inch Nails.
Formed in 1975, Throbbing Gristle grew out of P-Orridge's radical performance-art group COUM Transmissions, which he started with Tutti in their Northern England hometown of Hull in 1969. Throbbing Gristle played the opening party at COUM's notorious 1976 Institute of Contemporary Arts (London) exhibition “Prostitution,” which outraged the British Parliament, art critics and the press. One politician called them “wreckers of civilization,” a phrase that later became the title of Simon Ford's 1999 book about the group.
In 1977, Throbbing Gristle started the Industrial Records label, whose slogan (coined by radical San Francisco artist Monte Cazazza) was “Industrial Music for Industrial People.” Releasing albums and videos by Throbbing Gristle, Cazazza, Cabaret Voltaire, Clock DVA, SPK and William S. Burroughs, the label is considered the birthplace of the industrial music genre. TG alumni also had a hand in dropping acid into house and tripping off rave culture. P-Orridge's post-TG project Psychic TV released the 1985 12-inch “Turn on, Tune in to the Acid House,” which is considered the first use of the term acid house, and Chris and Cosey's 1982 LP Trance (Wax Trax) is often cited as an influence on ambient trance music.
Throbbing Gristle were never officially a band, nor did they aim to be rock stars — they were anti-commercial, fiercely independent and opinionated, promoting causes such as squatters' and gay rights. As dedicated experimenters and experientialists, TG adopted a confrontational anti-entertainment, anti-corporate stance in which the experience or process of creation and destruction superseded the outcome. They never played the same set twice, encouraged fans to record and bootleg their performances and recorded albums that were more aural documents of jams than collections of songs and compositions. Using synths, guitars, effects pedals, bass guitar, beat-inspired tape cutups, cornet, crude samplers (tape machines triggered by a keyboard) and other unique equipment built by Carter, TG recorded their first album on a Sony tape deck with a mic. Their deviant sense of humor is evident in the title of their 1975 debut cassette, The Best of Throbbing Gristle, Vol. 1, and their 1979 album, 20 Jazz Funk Greats (Industrial Records), which was neither jazz nor funk.
Both philosophically and sonically, Throbbing Gristle's subversive art and music were about individual and collective freedom. The members of TG terminated their joint mission as cultural disrupters in 1981, moving on to form Psychic TV (P-Orridge), Chris and Cosey (Carter and Tutti) and Coil (Christopherson). Through their various projects and media, they continued their personal and public experiments with art, noise, sexuality and spirituality. The questions Throbbing Gristle raised about who owns the mind, the body and the soul remain as pertinent today as they did a quarter-century ago.