Footnotes: Genesis P-Orridge on Industrial Music’s Surprising Origins

Throbbing Gristle’s former front-person explains industrial’s unexpected psychedelic roots.

October 16, 2013

Throbbing Gristle's former front-person explains industrial's unexpected psychedelic roots

From the magazine: ISSUE 88, October/November 2013

Trent Reznor confirmed the obvious in a 2011 interview with NPR’s Fresh Air, saying that Nine Inch Nails was “heavily influenced by Throbbing Gristle,” the grubby pioneers of dystopia whose cacophonous spew helped spawn industrial music 35 years prior. We asked the group’s co-founder and former front-person, Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, to tell us about the albums that inspired Throbbing Gristle to break the rules—the influences on the influencers, so to speak—and were surprised and delighted when s/he came back, not with grating noise records, but with a far-out bunch of psychedelica.

Hapshash and the Coloured Coat, Featuring the Human Host and the Heavy Metal Kids (Minit/Liberty 1967)

When we were still living near Birmingham, and we’d finally found a way to get hashish, because we wanted to be beatniks, we started scoring near a tiny record shop in a back street of the black neighborhood [Genesis refers to h/erself as “we,” a reference to h/er deceased partner, Lady Jaye]. For some reason we felt compelled to go in, and we bought this album because of its cover. The music sounds so ’60s. It’s what people think everyone was doing in the recording studio, but we don’t know anyone else who actually did it: they got between 30 and 40 of their musician friends to all drop a load of acid and play, with just a few sketchy ideas for riffs. There’s a girl in a song pretending to have sex—or having sex, who knows? It really inspired my horizons, that what we’d been hearing in our head—improvisation and throwing words at rhythms—can be translated into electronic rock music without becoming The Beatles.

Blossom Toes, We Are Ever So Clean (Marmalade 1967)

Giorgio Gomelsky was the original manager of The Rolling Stones, and he had The Yardbirds as well, who became Led Zeppelin. He put them both on, they got famous, and then of course someone stole them from him. The next band he tried it with was Blossom Toes. People haven’t heard of them but they should. They have a song, “The Remarkable Saga of the Frozen Dog,” about a dog that’s stupid and goes out and gets frozen to death. It starts out all pretty-pretty, then goes sick. It seems like such a strange subject for a song. There are no limits, there’s no boundaries. Imagination should always be treasured, even when it’s slightly off-key.

The Incredible String Band, Wee Tam and the Big Huge (Elektra 1968)

For ages, I hated The Incredible String Band, because it was all acoustic and pretty, fairies and elves and everything, but then they started tripping, as many of us did, and they became something much more: psychedelic troubadours. They took the idea of folk music and turned it into these surrealistic, metaphysical, long, bizarre tracks. “Ducks on the Pond” is the song that converted me. The lyrics intrigued me—so dense and funny sometimes, real poetry with deeply philosophical questions. We learned that you don’t have to have a perfect voice, you don’t have to use the structures you’ve been given and you can play any instrument in any place whatsoever. You have an absolute right to translate poetry in any form with any sound. It’s all up for grabs.

Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band, Strictly Personal (Blue Thumb 1968)

He has to be one of the greatest geniuses of modern rock and blues. We got this record when it came out, and then we had food poisoning and listened to it over and over again while writhing on the floor. He’s another lyricist who breaks up the words into unusual combinations—so free, it doesn’t matter what it means. The syncopations and the interplay of everything is so precise and complex, yet still feels so loose. We’ve always thought, Why does anybody want to have a perfect voice? You never remember them! Whose voice do you remember? Captain Beefheart’s.

Joe Byrd and The Field Hippies, The American Metaphysical Circus (Columbia 1969)

Joe Byrd was a professor of music composition and electronic music at UCLA, and this album was a project he did with his students. Most of what they’re playing was self-built machinery, some of the earliest synths and tone generators—the variety is incredible. You turn the dial and change the pitch, and they’re feeding it through other modules and using real tape, of course, so you can cut it up and use Scotch tape to make loops as long as you want. It’s really hands-on. They put a few rock tracks on there to sell it to a record label, but that wasn’t their primary interest.

Dr. Strangely Strange, Kip of the Serenes (Island Records 1969)

We went into a specialist psychedelic shop a few years ago and said, “Do you have anything like The Incredible String Band?” And they said, “Actually, we do,” and gave me this. The track that made me absolutely love them is “Strangely Strange but Oddly Normal.” To me, this is one of the classics. They did it in a day, which was quite common then: you’d practice and practice as much as you wanted, then go and play it straight down. It’s as if we were finally confessing: fuck it. Fuck all the organization. It gets so precious when you start thinking about it all.

Footnotes: Genesis P-Orridge on Industrial Music’s Surprising Origins