22. Throbbing Gristle Ltd. Astoria, 3rd June 1988.
The Apocalypse Club put some good events on after the main gig of the night at the Astoria had finished. I remember weighing up whether I could get to see Into A Circle there after the Butthole Surfers gig at ULU, until my sister grassed me up to my parents for thinking about being out so late. Actually, I think they said it was up to me but I figured I’d better play it safe (being the revolutionary psychonaut that I was, ha ha!)
I was mystified and excited when I saw “Throbbing Gristle Ltd” in small print in the NME listings. I rang up the Astoria and the person on the other end didn’t really know much about it but muttered something along the lines of “yes I think they’re reforming for it”. At the time that was completely unthinkable, but that didn’t stop me handing over my Mum’s credit card details for a ticket.
Throbbing Gristle had played their last gig on 29th May 1981 at Kezar Pavillion, San Francisco. I wasn’t able to make it for various reasons including being eleven years old, living on another continent and never having heard of them.
By the mid eighties I had become an industrial music obsessive and knew that the group had split up pretty acrimoniously after that gig – and that the various parties had made snide comments about each other in interviews ever since.
TG product was readily available in the eighties courtesy of the Mute Records reissues of their albums. Needless to say I was too purist for them and waited patiently until I got my hands on cheap copies of the Industrial Records originals (except for the ultra limited 2nd Annual Report which I got on Fetish).
It should go without saying that the first four “proper” LPs (2nd Annual Report, D.O.A., 20 Jazz Funk Greats and Heathen Earth) sounded earth-shattering to these ears in the mid eighties and still cut the mustard in 2010.
I can still remember working as a temp, changing the oil in lathes at a factory in Enfield one summer and spending my lunch hour sitting in some waste ground, eating my sandwiches and playing Throbbing Gristle on my walkman. Which made for a very noisy day.
The two RE/SEARCH books dealing with TG were staples of my weirdo library, with a wealth of information and trivia. I had resigned myself to never being able to see them live. And to be fair, I never have seen them live – not really. Because this wasn’t actually Throbbing Gristle, but Genesis & Paula P-Orridge, Scott Nobody and other PTV types.
There was no support band, just lots of anticipation – on my part at least. Wandering around the venue I spotted the obligatory merchandise stall selling the usual bits and bobs, but also some ridiculously rare artifacts like Heathen Earth on blue vinyl. There was a bit of a scrum for the “antique” items, so instead I got myself a TG LTD t-shirt with union jack a la Jack the Tab but with a TG lightning flash instead of the inverted peace sign. It was a bit fascist looking, which went with the territory.
Years later I spent some time rummaging around in the London patents office on a P-Orridge related mission. One of the guys working on the front desk saw the TG logo and mentioned that he used to march under it. I twigged that he was talking about Oswald Moseley’s British Union of Fascists. In retrospect I should have pursued that further, but the guy clammed up a bit when he realised we weren’t on the same wavelength.
On the night in question I think the Coum Transmissions film “After Cease To Exist” may have been shown. At the time I would have paid six quid just to see that, such was its legendary status. Side two of TG’s first album is the soundtrack to the film – lots of sinister pulsing electronics which are soothing on the surface but somehow also manage to create a sense of unease. A lot the film itself is completely black (an idea borrowed from Guy Debord?) which means that the audience is plunged into darkness, waiting. I can’t remember much about the the actual footage you can see except that it features a staged castration of some unfortunate man.
TG Ltd performed reconstructions of Throbbing Gristle that were pretty good facsimiles of the original. Moody lighting, black and camouflage attire. Minimal, militaristic. Very different from the recent “hyperdelic” Psychic TV shows.
I remember a lot of rhythmic noise and electronics, out of which emerged the familiar sonic attributes of tracks like “Weapons Training”, “Persuasion”, “Hamburger Lady” and others. They were probably all the better for not being faithful tributes. Gen was clad in black, improvising heavily around the lyrics.
In many ways this satisfied the itch I had to witness PTV performing darker pre-“hyperdelic” material. Paula P-Orridge provided some vocal samples on tape from the PTV library, stuff like Charles Manson talking about being “scared to live”, “This is a fucking war!” from a zombie film via the Jack The Tab album, moans of female pleasure and pain.
“Discipline” was the grand finale, with the mighty Jordi Valls appearing onstage brandishing a whip, looking out of his mind. Some people down the front were losing it a bit, I think there was some ranty screaming going on. It was pretty intense.
But what was it all about? Genesis described it both as “a banishing ritual” and “to pay the telephone bill” at the time. He went on to explain his take on the event in an interview with the Swedish T.O.P.Y. magazine “Fenris Wolf”:
The continuing historification of TG after this gig has thankfully allowed old wounds to heal. Throbbing Gristle reformed in 2004 and have performed live and released a few albums. I have to confess that all of this has completely passed me by, although people who I respect tell me that they are doing good works. I’m glad they are still out there, causing trouble.
Meanwhile, back in 1988, my ‘A’ Level retakes were looming…