Ten industrial albums YOU must own.
PART 1: Throbbing Gristle – Heathen Earth (Industrial Records, 1980)
“You should always aim to be as skillful as the most professional of government agencies. The way you live, conceive and market what you do should be as well thought out as a government coup. It’s a campaign, it has nothing to do with art.” – Genesis P-Orridge
All of the “proper” TG LPs are great, but this one is the most focussed in my humble opinion. Which is odd, because it’s a strange beast – a “live” album that was recorded in front of a small invited audience at TG’s studios in Hackney (which I take to mean “The Death Factory” at 10 Martello Street E8).
Those who were present are listed on the back of the album sleeve and are a veritable “who’s who” of the end of TG and beginning of the next stage – a transition.
The albm is therefore TG’s live sound without the audience-baiting, all four members concentrating on the music in full, with full studio clarity. (Plus TG, almost uniquely, were honest enough to admit that a little bit of post-production and re-recording took place after the event. These days people don’t even admit they’ve done their mix CD’s in Pro-Tools!).
The first piece features two cornets being phased in and out. Listening to this again* I can see how so many industrial kids ended up getting into stuff like Shaka. The cornets echoing in and out make this just like some kind of uber-ambient dub track. This fades into a section featuring some effects-laden guitar and clicky electronic rhythm. It almost sounds like Sonic Youth until Gen’s vocals come in: “Standing here in the desert / how much do you love me / Can the world be as sad as it seems?” Manson’s lyrics bleeding into Burroughs’ text. The track collapses into effects, noise, a recording of someone breathing, pre-techno bleeps.
“Ambient” is probably a theme I will return to throughout this list. Industrial’s refusal of rock constraints gave it the freedom not to have boom-tish drum beats all of the time, or even “songs”. Many of the records can therefore be seen (and used) as dark ambient pieces. Not necessarily for “chilling out” in the normal sense, but for allowing yourself to be immersed in particular emotions, contemplation.
The last track on side one** is a great droney filmic piece in which Gen’s monotone vocals act as the foreground to a soundscape of phased loops and beats. It’s incredibly dream-like in the same way that Kraftwerk’s “Trans Europe Express” is. Often when people talk about TG they either focus on the harsh noisey bits or the bits which-can-be-seen-as-a-precursor-to-techno. But for my money there’s a whole swathe of moody downtempo stuff which TG did perfectly – tinges of dark psychedelia kraut/post- rock, whatever you want to call it. Stunning.
Indeed, the first few bars of side two ARE downtempo techno – albeit Dr Who style rather than E/rave style. This is followed by an ambiguous spoken-word duet between Cosey and (I have always presumed) Chris. The male part is insistent and mono-maniacal, the female part is more distant and vague. It’s about a girl being pestered for sex, but it’s more than that, it’s about power relationships… alienaton…
And thence to the funkless robotic groove (in a good way!) of “Don’t do what you’re told – do what you think”) Again, the reverb and repeated vocal snatches are light years ahead of the game, but this track is slightly marred in retrospect by the bass which is unable to escape from a few slightly rockist scales. It’s almost as if even TG couldn’t bring themselves to “merely” reproduce a few carefully focussed bass notes ad infinitum.
Cut to hypnosis tape/sound of equipment being turned off. Black.
2ND CHOICE: Throbbing Gristle – D.O.A. The Third and Final Report of Throbbing Gristle. (Industrial Records, 1978)
A hard one, but if Heathen Earth is a perfectly conceived whole, D.O.A. probably captures da Gristle’s diversity the best. 20 Jazz Funk Greats is possibly the most accessible LP and includes catchy pop numbers like “Hot on the Heels of Love” & “Persuasion”. 2nd Annual Report is sheer power. But D.O.A. wins for me – you get perfect synth pop like “AB/7A”, disturbing ballads like “Weeping” and “Hamburger Lady”, bizarre satanic boogie woogie in the form of “Hit by a Rock” and “Blood on the Floor” and more ambient pieces – both quiet and bastard noisy. Oh and the now legendary answerphone messages.
Impressive though it is, you’d be a headcase to start your TG experience with Mute’s recent TG24 – 24 hours of live recordings. Similarly there are a shedload of dubious LPs of uncertain origin out there which can generally be dispensed with.
The Axis Arcives at Brainwashed include some great interviews. See also the link below for the all-new official site.
You could also check out “Wreckers of Civilisation” by Simon Ford and the two volumes of RE/SEARCH which deal with Throbbing Gristle – one is a TG/Gysin/Burroughs special, one is the self-explanatory “Industrial Culture Handbook”.
*(TG on headphones, in the summer, on my own? It’s like being 18 again…
*Because, yes we are talking vinyl here, and yes we are talking the original Industrial Records edition, spotters. But not on Blue Vinyl. That would just be vulgar!