If we had to come up with one person spontaneously that had and still has a lasting and paradigm shifting influence on music since the late 70s/early 80s, it would be Genesis Breyer-P. Orridge, for sure. Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV, his best known projects, were—and still are—groundbreaking contributions to Industrial music, a genre that never really left the underground but is having a late victory in more recent musical developments.
Born Neil Andrew Megson on February 22 in 1950, s/he earned first artistic merits as COUM Transmissions with Cosey Fanni Tutti, and when COUM Transmissions ended after a number of performances that were deemed shocking by the predominantly conservative British audience, the last incarnation of the project—Gen, Cosey, Sleazy and Chris Carter—founded Throbbing Gristle.
The influence of TG, both aesthetically and musically, is incalculable. Creating challenging and deconstructed pieces of music on custom-built synthesizers (Chris Carter’s invention, the Gristleizer, e.g., which has a long history of being copied and re-designed), they paved the way for an increasing number of sound artists that were not interested in music that much. Industrial was born, and named after TG’s label, Industrial Records.
The band’s history, nevertheless, is short. Existing from 1976 to 1981, the band released seven albums, starting with 1976’s The First Annual Report, to 1981’s Mission Of Dead Souls, and some posthumous releases after their first split. Taking inspiration from numerous non-musical sources, like Performance Art, Dada, occultism and politics, the band stated:
“We’re interested in information, we’re not interested in music as such. And we believe that the whole battlefield, if there is one in the human situation, is about information.”
And sure, it was confronting. Under the influence of the idea of total artistic freedom, the band integrated Nazi imagery, pornography, the Manson Family and fetishism into their canon—topics that are present on, like, every Industrial record you can think of on the fly.
In 1981, the members of Throbbing Gristle parted ways and engaged in other projects that sounded entirely different. Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti started, the way more sugary, but not less twisted Chris and Cosey. Sleazy teamed up with his life partner Jhonn Balance as Coil, and Genesis P. Orridge started Psychic TV with Alex Ferguson (Ex-Alternative TV), a band designed as a cult, with the associate organisation Thee Temple Ov Psychic Youth, led by h/er back-then wife Paula P-Orridge.
Musically, PTV radically broke with Throbbing Gristle’s noise. Force The Hand of Chance bewildered many people that expected h/er to follow TG’s path, but in fact, the radical cut in the sonic imagery of Gen’s output made sense. As TG split up because they considered their mission to be fulfilled, it was time to make way for something new—influenced by a highly stylized version of 60s music, Force The Hand of Chance was irritatingly… Sweet.
Nevertheless, Psychic TV’s debut is still one of the best Post Industrial albums ever created. It was soothing, yet disturbing and irritating, and experimental, it was subversive. Setting the tone for future PTV releases, it was less of a band than a collaborative project. Force The Hand Of Chance, Dreams Less Sweet was a gathering of musicians that are and were engaged in Genesis P-Orridge’s occult circle—most prominently, Soft Cell‘s Marc Almond.
Generally speaking, the 80s were a fruitful and nice period for Psychic TV, who were added to the Guinness Book of World Records for releasing an insane quantity of records in 1987—a year that ended PTV’s Post Industrial/Psychedelic Rock period, before the Acid House and Techno movement took hold of Gen, who released Tekkno Acid Beat (self explanatory), Towards Thee Infinity Beat and Beyond Thee Infinty Beat. Towards Thee Infinity Beat featured I.C. Water, a tribute to Genesis’ close friend Ian Curtis, as a posthumous tribute. A project they wanted to launch together never came into realization.
In 1992, Gen left the UK and resettled to the US, under severe pressure of the British law enforcement who saw him as a satanic cult leader and the public that kept hitting on the controversial artist, claiming that video footage of PTV documented “satanic ritual abuse”. The Guardian knighted h/er as “the most evil man in Britain”, and accusations of pedophilia and its severe pursuit certainly played a role as well. In the US, Paula and Gen divorced, leaving h/er traumatized. Nevertheless, Psychic TV managed to release one very fine classic Techno album, Peak Hour, in 1993.
Teaming up with Larry Thrasher, Psychic TV now focused more on Ambient and Spoken Word music, using the name Splinter Test twice, and with the addition of guitarist Bryin Dall, the band got renamed Thee Majesty—the project was active until 2007. Additionally, Psychic TV released a series called Electric Newspaper, a collection of samples and loops that were creative common, and reissued their old material.
From 2000 to 2003, Psychic TV didn’t exist anymore, but one of the most interesting projects arose from that period. After falling in love with celebrated performance artist Lady Jaye, they started the pandrogyny project. In a series of plastic surgeries, they aimed to look alike, as one pandrogynic being—their relationship was documented in the excellent documentary The Ballad Of Genesis And Lady Jaye. Explaining his relationship with Lady Jaye, s/he stated:
We started out, because we were so crazy in love, just wanting to eat each other up, to become each other and become one. And as we did that, we started to see that it was affecting us in ways that we didn’t expect. Really, we were just two parts of one whole; the pandrogyne was the whole and we were each other’s other half.
Reviving Psychic TV in 2003, under the moniker PTV3, the band returned to Psychedelic Rock. Joined by Lady Jaye, Alice Genese, David Max, Eddie O’Dowd and Douglas Rushkoff, they started touring through Europe, documented on the DVD PTV3 – thee third couming ov Psychic TV. The band toured on occasion, e.g. playing six consecutive concerts in New York City, each under a different musical and optical motto.
Additionally, he found spare time to reunite Throbbing Gristle in 2004, which led to the release of TG Now, Part Two: The Endless Not in 2007, and a rework of their classic The Second Annual Report in 2008, celebrating its 30th anniversary. Their rework of Nico‘s Desertshore was included as a bonus disc to their terminal album The Third Mind Movement, which was finalised without Gen, who his activities being a member of TG in 2010. A number of guest vocalist stepped in h/er place, among them Antony Hegarty, Marc Almond, Blixa Bargeld and Sasha Grey. The tour following the release of The Third Mind Movement was finished as X-TG, a project that ended with the death of Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson.
After the sudden death of Lady Jaye in 2007, suffering from an undiagnosed heart condition, Genesis Breyer-P.Orridge was severely traumatised again, but did not stop working with Psychic TV, despite all the suffering he went through in that period. Indeed, Psychic TV/PTV3 are alive and kicking, and releasing strong records, most recently, Snakes in 2014, and Alienist in 2016.
And it doesn’t end with that. Remixing e.g. Blanck Mass and Nine Inch Nails, there are numerous tributes being paid to one of the founders of Industrial Music, including this fantastic recent one below:
Genesis Breyer-P. Orridge might be a veteran, but in the wake of the current resurgence of Industrial Music, h/er relevance is possibly bigger than ever.
Happy birthday, Genesis Breyer-P.Orridge.