Album review

Uneasy Listening

Does anyone listen to throbbing gristle any more? They are cited as an influence on everything from industrial to techno, though after listening to these 24 hour-long CDs, which document most of their live performances between 1976 and '80 and which first came out in cassette form 21 years ago, there is a very strong case for arguing that music has hardly progressed beyond what Genesis P-Orridge and Co achieved in their brief lifetime.

Of course, they were influential at the time, in non-musical ways. The concept of a self-sufficient group, with its own ideologies and strategies, inverting and subverting the structure of capitalism, would soon be adopted and commercialised by PiL and New Pop entryists the British Electric Foundation.

Formed in '75 out of the Hull-based COUM Transmissions performance art troupe, TG were post-punk even before punk got started. Just listen to the first track on CD1, an electronic squall of a ballad called "Very Friendly" about Hindley and Brady, to hear how current and confrontational this music—somewhere between Cale's Velvets and AMM—is a quarter of a century on.

Neil Megson aka Genesis P-Orridge's flat vocal delivery was ideal for TG: cajoling, snarling and seducing, almost childlike in its taunting and its insecurity, fighting against being drowned out by the deceptively freeform barrage of sound produced by keyboardist Chris Carter, guitarist Christine Newby (aka Cosey Fanni Tutti) and tape manipulator Peter "Sleazy" Christopherson, be it abstract post-Stockhausen ambience, primitive electrobeats or cut-up TV/radio samples. It's fascinating to view TG's progress from being booed by Pistols fans (CD3, CD4) to the point where audiences cheered for encores (CD20). From 1978, more recognisable song structures make themselves known, while something approaching a prototype techno sound becomes evident from 1979 (CD17).

Throughout it all, P-Orridge plays agent provocateur, rubbing our noses in unpalatable truths about death, sex and money, while TG never take the easy way out. The extraordinary performance on CD22 is this box set's highlight. Starting with a sampled phone sex come-on, it evolves into what may be the most violent, uncompromising music ever committed to tape.

Rating: 5 / 10


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