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Throbbing GristleThrobbing Gristle
Hackney Dissenting Academy @ Village Underground, London
Saturday October 23 2010

 

 

Not your usual rock gig, this. Well, not a rock gig at all, actually. Throbbing Gristle might be regarded - more for convenience's sake than anything else - as a band, but in fact they've always existed on the very outer limits of the rock n' roll hinterland, where everything starts shading into your actual Art.

Certainly, tonight's venue, a squeaky-clean art gallery carved out of east London's post-industrial cityscape, is a very appropriate place for Throbbing Gristle to play. Not only does the location make all the right industrial/art connections, it's Throbbing Gristle's old stamping ground: the band was founded not far from this spot, in the scruffy back streets of Hackney.

Thirty-odd years on, scruffiness has given way to squeakiness, and Throbbing Gristle's reputation as confrontational performance artists of the apocalypse has been replaced by a warm and affectionate respect - and a genuine interest from tonight's sell-out crowd to find out what might be coming next. Far from leaning on their past glories, at this performance Throbbing Gristle showcase new music - or, at least, new sounds. Poptastic beats 'n' choruses are conspicuous by their absence tonight. The conventional structure of The Song is nowhere in the room. Like I said, it's not your usual rock gig.

The four Throbbing Gristles appear before us seated at tables like scientists in a laboratory. Chris Carter, in his white lab coat, knowingly acknowledges his boffin-ish persona; Peter 'Sleazy' Christpherson, nickname notwithstanding, is affable and avuncular amid the technology. Together, Throbbing Gristle exude an aura of calm intent. An array of electronic gubbins - technical term there - clutters the tables, the usual laptops juxtaposed with the strange shapes of home-made kit. Throbbing Gristle may not deal with the conventions of rock 'n' roll showmanship, but they know the value of giving Johnny Punter something to look at. Their DIY gear is tricked out with LEDs and plasma screens - not necessary for sound-generation, I'm sure, but essential for that control-room-of-the-Tardis look that's so fashionable in the boffin community these days.

Throbbing GristleBut if tonight is about anything at all, it's about sound. And here it comes, rumbling up from the mad-scientist cellars of Throbbing Gristle's collective psyche, clonks and thunks and clatters that somehow coalesce into rhythm, with sweeps and creaks and high-freaks putting in the detail.

Throbbing Gristle have an uncanny ability to make music out of elements that, if considered separately, wouldn't seem to have the slightest connection with the stuff. And when they turn up the lo-freaks, the entire building becomes a bass bin, shuddering mightily as if Throbbing Gristle have discovered the natural resonance of the London Borough Of Hackney. About 20 Hertz, if the churning in my gut is any guide.

It's weirdly exhilarating to stand in the middle of the Throbbing Gristle sound-storm, even if you're not quite sure if you hearing - or your nerves - will survive the experience. Nobody actually loses their lunch, or cuts and runs for the exit, but it's close in there for a minute.

Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, looking like a gone-wrong lumberjack in his checked shirt, feeds some noise-violin into the mix, and steps up to the mic for a vocal or two. Gen is hardly a singer in any conventional way - but then, nobody in Throbbing Gristle does anything in the conventional way. Still, Gen's presence on vocals gives Throbbing Gristle just enough of a focal point to turn tonight's gig into a performance, rather than simply a recital. He intones 'Springbankistan' in a deadpan chant, while CoseyFanni Tutti interjects reverb-heavy horn squalls. 'The World Is A War Film' is affectedly downbeat, Gen bringing the song to to an introspective climax as he picks a pink rose apart while remarking, almost matter-of-fact, "He kills me, he kills me not." Naturally, the song ends on "He kills me," the flower now in shreds.

Throbbing GristleBut it's not all deadpan introspection, fiddle-strangling, and foundation-shifting bass workouts. To wrap up the show, Throbbing Gristle roll out one of their greatest hits - a mighty, slam-and-crash take on 'Discipline', the rhythm hammering along as if somewhere in the technology Throbbing Gristle have several thousand navvies banging nails in unison. Genesis transforms before our very eyes into a manic, hollering showman, part carnival barker, part rabble-rousing politician.

There's quite an appropriate moment of chaos mid-song, when, suddenly, a bloke scrambles up from the audience, strips naked, and hurls himself back into the crowd. There's such a crackle of energy in the air, something unscripted was always going to happen. Genesis, naturally, is entirely unfazed. The beat berates us to the big finish. 'Discipline' collapses into a swirl of deconstructed noise, and Throbbing Gristle are gone.

And that's a phrase - 'Throbbing Gristle are gone' - I use deliberately. We must now change to the past tense, for although nobody in that Hackney art gallery knew it at the time, that was the last of Throbbing Gristle.

A few days after this show, Genesis P-Orridge announced his departure from the band - even though more Throbbing Gristle dates around Europe had been scheduled. Peter Christopherson, Chris Carter, and Cosey Fanni Tutti immediately opted to continue as a three-piece under the name X-TG, but even this plan was to founder a month later.

On November 24 2010, unexpectedly, tragically, Peter Christopherson died in his sleep at his home in Thailand. With him died any chance that Throbbing Gristle would play again.

It's a small consolation - perhaps no consolation at all - but at least Throbbing Gristle's final show was a tour de force of sonic art, the band as energised and as creative as ever. The fact that it all ended where it began, in the east London borough of Hackney, adds a melancholy full-circle feel to the TG story. It's as if, in the finish, it all got neatly wrapped up.

Sleazy has left the building. The Throbbing Gristle mission is finally terminated. But at least we have this. It was a long strange trip, but Throbbing Gristle made it home again.

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