Boing Boing Video: The Throbbing Gristle Interview

(Download this video: MP4)

So, what is it like to see industrial music legends Throbbing Gristle perform live?

"Next closest thing to an internal organ massage standing next to [SRL's] V1 pulsejet engine," said BB pal Karen Marcelo, after one of the dates on the band's 2009 reunion tour. "It was like my diaphragm resonated until my lungs became a subwoofer while words once from a man's mouth sprung from the same woman's mouth," twittered TG trufan T.Bias.

Before we shot the Boing Boing Video interview which is today's episode, above, Richard Metzger and I spoke to Throbbing Gristle's sound technician backstage, and asked what we should expect in the way of sub-bass frequencies -- rumored to be so powerful during performances that cameras can't hold a steady shot, and bowels sometimes can't hold their contents. Charlie Poulet, TG's sound tech, cracked up and flashed an evil grin.

"Oh, we got some frequencies," he laughed, "Yeah, we definitely got some frequencies ready for you people tonight."

Those "frequencies" are part of what make TG's music so transcendental and disturbing, and in the BB interview with Chris Carter, Cosey Fanni Tutti, Peter "Sleazy" Christopherson, and Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, we explore their technical and creative underpinnings.

We learn about the hacked-together synth and sound modification machines built back in the early 1970s, like "Thee Gristleizer," shown below.

We hear TG members talk about the sort of mind-meld trance they all fall in to while performing, and we learn about the early days of recording work like "Hamburger Lady" to cassette tapes, then walking down to have a hamburger together at a corner sandwich shop down the street from their old studio in what was then a really shitty part of London.

Gen talks about her first time with Twitter, and we hear what it's like for the band once called "wreckers of civilization" to be celebrated, more than 30 years later, as living legends.

Information on TG's remaining 2009 tour dates here. Industrial Records just released a special limited edition framed vinyl LP to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the release of Throbbing Gristle's debut album, "The Second Annual Report" -- more info here. More recordings (digital and otherwise), t-shirts, and other merch are here.

RSS feed for new episodes here, YouTube channel here, subscribe on iTunes here. Get Twitter updates every time there's a new ep by following @boingboingvideo, and here are blog post archives for Boing Boing Video. (Special thanks to Boing Boing's video hosting partner Episodic, and to Target Video, who shot some of the archival clips shown in this episode).

Previously on Boing Boing: Throbbing Gristle: What A Day. (Boing Boing Video shoot notes)


  1. “So, what is it like to see industrial music legends Throbbing Gristle perform live?”

    I saw the 7:00 Sunday show in Chicago and was found it shocking.

    Because it was B-O-R-I-N-G.

    Even allowing for the “live soundtrack for the movie” gimmick, that was the single worst concert experience of my life. (I must admit that it’s nice to find that I can still have new milestones at even this late stage of my concert-going career.) The band was hidden from the audience*, the music was like something my brother would slap together with his Mac — and it wasn’t even very loud. (“The food is terrible… and such outrageously small portions!”)

    Was it a joke? Was the point to see if the audience would clap and hoot at the end of the “performance” no matter what took place? ‘Cause they sure did. My buddy and I wondered if it was out of relief.

    I’ll admit, I had some expectations for Sunday’s show, but I never expected to be bored. Perhaps the avant-garde neither ages well nor works as nostalgia, i.e. dangerous –> outrageous –> curious –> ubiquitous –> ridiculous –> tedious.

    As music it was fine — as a performance I found it dull with a capital “D”.

    But I’m no artist so whatta I know…

    — MrJM

    * The soundtrack could well have been recorded and the concert element of the performance would not have suffered. For the most part, the band could have just as well have been doing on-line crossword puzzles in the back room. They were almost utterly hidden from the audience — I’m 6’3″ and could barely see the tops of their heads — and just sat at desks. I’ve seen livelier final exams.

  2. Hubby and I saw them the first night at NYC. The show started late, the venue was too small, the sound was just way too loud, there was a pause between the movie and the music for them to sign things which involved a lot of people nearly getting crushed in a crowd while everyone else sat around bored, and for some strange reason they kept the lights on during the show itself.

    I was uninspired.

  3. I saw the SF show and they were amazing! Their sub bass was truly crystal clear. They are all true musicians, a stark contrast from today’s underground pop.

    @Xeni Bwahahaha!

  4. I have never seen them live, but I know the TG I downloaded off Napster back in the day changed the way I think about a lot of things, and I continue to listen to them today.

  5. I also was at the SF show and thought it was exquisite. In fact, it WAY exceeded my expectations in terms of the audio quality and clarity.

  6. You complainers are a bunch of pussies. You’re just cranky because the sub-sub-sub-sub-bass made you poo your britches.

  7. I saw the last show in Brooklyn and it was incredible. For people who didn’t like it, or found it boring, I have to ask what they expected. Throbbing Gristle’s music is mostly (or at least quite often), abbrassive, loosely structured, atonal, chaotic and noisey. I got pretty much what I expected. They played a lot of old stuff. Genesis was really a presence, interacting with the crowd and humorously altering the lyrics to Hamburger Lady to reflect a disruptive audience member on a bad acid trip. This wasn’t a giant stadium rock show with video screens, live dancers and puppets, but it was sublimely weird, hypnotic performance art in a medium sized venue which is what I wanted and expected. The newly rebuilt Gristle-izers were awesome if you’re into gear. I can totally understand someone not liking this sort of thing. It’s challenging art but you think you’d know that before buying a ticket.

  8. @MRJM

    We saw the “live soundtrack” TG show here, too. My perception was much different from yours.

    The LA show that we shot was nothing short of excellent. The venue was small, but the view dramatic and the stage’s height allowed for “In the Shadow of the Sun” to be projected on a very big screen. Additionally, it was on two smaller screens off to the side. The people in the balcony, able to see all three screens as well as look down at the stage where they would be able to see what the band was doing, would probably have had the best view. There was tons of wild gear on the work stations. I’ve read complaints about “They just use Macs onstage” but that’s not true at all.

    I was videotaping from directly behind Cosey and Genesis, behind the speakers stage right. From where I was, I witnessed up close the legendary, almost telepathic TG concentration that goes into making that sonic soundscape happen. It was all improvised, although the band members had small screens synced to the film being projected open on their laptops for reference.

    It started off as a moody, ambient, electronic rumble, then progressed through shimmering electric violin sawings processed through some device and finally towards something that sounded like it must when you look up in the sky and a bunch of warheads are coming straight at your head. At one point I thought the meat on my bones was loosening. At another like I was coming apart on molecular level. Ear protection was mandatory, although I noticed none of TG wore any!

    The show we saw in Los Angeles was amazing, dramatic and quite powerful. I must say that, as a fan of TG going back to the late 70s, my expectations were high and they were met and exceeded by the concert.

  9. Mr Metzger,

    Thank you for addressing my comments on their merits rather than engaging in ad hominem argument.

    Although I still disagree — different show = different experience — your respectful and considered reply is much appreciated.

    — MrJM

  10. I enjoyed the SF show, and I like the new music TG is doing.
    I don’t think you need to question the tastes of someone who doesn’t get into it, their work is meant to be challenging and it isn’t for everyone.
    If they aren’t turning off at least a few people in the audience, they aren’t doing it right.

  11. Personally I’m concerned with the prominent display of the swastika-with-two-extra-legs-added-on-and-SS-style-lightening-streak-on-top logo.

  12. The music’s still great, and the laptops are fine. They would’ve been using them back in the day, if they could’ve. They may not be as aggro as they were when the did the Prostitution show, but they’ve also grown up quite a bit and you can’t remain frozen in time if you’re any kind of real artist, can you? I’d challenge those who are unimpressed by their shows to shut their eyes and listen. The band isn’t young. They don’t look particularly great. Most rockers look old when they turn 40. TGs get up is pretty horrible (particularly Gen and Sleazy’s), but they’re not there to dazzle you with their looks. Yes… Gen looks pretty bizarre at this point. It’s not just the face… but the face and the big belly. He’s still Genesis P-Orridge… and a genius.

    So, to sum up: If you’re not digging the show… if you’re “not impressed”… shut your eyes and listen. You may find that you’re eyes are liars and learn a lesson about how much silliness this “style” business can be.

  13. I love the fact that 25+ years later people are still offended, impressed, disappointed, confused, amused, and all the other things that just seem to come with Throbbing Gristle.

    The fact that people are arguing here almost proves that they are still “doing it right”.

    Out of curiosity, those of you who went to the show and were unimpressed (e.g., MrJM), have you ever actually listened to Throbbing Gristle? Did you have any idea of what you were actually getting into?

    The only argument I can think of from someone that is an existing TG fan was that they were less aggressive. I didn’t find it to be a problem and quite enjoyed the edgy darkness.

    For Purly and others who have commented about them leaving the house lights on, consider ourselves lucky! At least this time they didn’t juice up high powered lights and point them at the audience with a darkened stage.

    The best thing about the show, IMHO, was the extremely well tuned low frequencies they were able to get at huge decibels (I was at the SF show). Hats off to the audio engineer who was able to get that room so well tuned.

  14. I saw them for both Saturday shows in Chicago and felt that they did not disappoint in any way. Throbbing Gristle has always stated that they view their shows more as art installations and less like concerts, so for them to rely on their music to inspire the audience rather than on stage antics stays true to how they’ve always treated the audience.

    To clarify the question of the symbol, it is not based on the swastika as SEF expressed although the bolt may have been an intentional reference at some point though it could easily have been just inspired Genesis’ obsession with sigilising his band. The symbol is a mash-up of the buddhist Endless Knot (as referenced on their album Part Two:The Endless Not) and the Throbbing Gristle lightning bolt that has always been their symbol.

    The original symbol can be seen here:

  15. Just to clear up some points that seems to have confused many commenters:

    1. I was commenting on the show that I attended.
    2. I did not say Throbbing Gristle sucks (yes, I have heard their music — I own their music.)
    3. I did not say that offbeat or subsonic music sucks (I’ve enjoyed the Acid Mothers Temple & the Melting Paraiso U.F.O., Pigface, the Boredoms, etc. each time I’ve seen them)
    4. I did not say there was anything wrong with the show you attended (different show = different experience)
    5. I did not say you suck for enjoying the show you attended (see above)
    6. I did not say anyone sucks for enjoying the show I attended (I apologize for making this insufficiently clear in the original post — a musician I know and respect enjoyed the show very much.)
    7. I never intended to upset anyone with my unorthodox opinion of the show that I saw (“Genesis P-Orridge’s work defies objective analysis.” — Doug Rushkoff)

    All the best, etc.
    — MrJM

  16. BBVid: thank you for this interview, i’d have loved to have been a fly on the wall during the filming :)
    i caught the last of the brooklyn shows on the 28th, it was nothing short of stunning! in fact, its been a week and i am still riding on the concert high… it was one of the top 5 concert experiences i have ever had (sleazy is in 2 of the 5, coil did the same thing for me when they played NYC several years ago)
    thank you again, TG have long been heroes of mine, its nice to catch an informed (and informative) interview with the wreckers of civilization!
    PS: the version of “very friendly” they opened with on the 4th NYC show KILLED! look it up online, a-freakin’-mazing!

  17. “Industrial Records just released a special limited edition framed vinyl LP to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the release of Throbbing Gristle’s debut album, “The Second Annual Report”

    This is actually a new album, a re-interpretation of “2nd Annual Report” 30 years later, appropriately entitled “32nd Annual Report”.

  18. Saw them around 79-80 at Sheffield University with Cabaret Voltaire. Much preferred the Cabs to be honest, still do.

  19. “Their records are rapid communiques of specific messages or overall intent. Their rare gigs seventy-five percent spontaneous statements of their intent. Improvised, subtle, sometimes boring, TG give them the grandiose title of “psychic youth rallies,” believing that by being there at the same time, both group and audience are showing a mutual empathy with that intent.” — Dwyer, Simon (1982) ‘Throbbing Gristle’ RE/Search # 4/5, p. 63.

    I guess a boring Throbbing Gristle show would not be unprecedented. Unless the editors at RE/Search were actually cranky, Springsteen-lovin’ pussies.

  20. I’ve been closely following the work of Throbbing Gristle / Psychic TV / Coil and Chris and Cosey (and other associated artists) for decades. As a musician, I pay great respect to TG for the influence they had not only on myself, but also for their influence on countless other artists who were affected in a positive way by their groundbreaking, fascinating and uncompromising working methods. It’s not often that we find a group of individuals on stage and on record who can actually change the way you see the world.

    After years of reading about Throbbing Gristle’s early live performances, hearing the many live tapes, albums and CD’s throughout the years, and seeing the videos that were rare but available if you searched hard enough, I certainly never imagined I would be able to experience them in person. But as they say stranger things have happened, and the four members of TG reunited.

    I was unfortunately unable to attend any of the shows that they did in recent years abroad, and it was only wishful thinking that TG would ever come to the USA. So it was with amazement that I heard about a US tour. With quick responses and a focus on arranging time away from home, I was lucky enough to buy tickets for both nights in Chicago. I had naturally expected things to be different from the ‘old days’, not only because people change, but technology changes and TG were four people who probably had a different perspective these days. What was once anger and aggression just might not be their weapon of choice today. What was once a sincere interest in subverting every level of the music business just might be only a part of their new story. I was interested in experiencing their sound ‘in person’. Whatever plans they had for us, I wanted to feel Throbbing Gristle physically and ‘for real’, not through headphones and not through a book….for the first time.

    For myself and the friends that I was with, the Throbbing Gristle shows in Chicago were incredible and rewarded us with many highlights. As VIP ticket holders, we were quite lucky to be greeted by TG personally, which was obviously not something we could have predicted years ago as we discussed our rare TG records in high school and college. (I once wrote a term paper on Throbbing Gristle which earned me an A!)

    The first performance of “In The Shadow of The Sun” is my favorite moment of all four shows that weekend. Not only was it my first TG live experience, but it did give me the chance to feel that famous “TG EFFECT” that I’ve heard so much about over the years. I remember telling the man next to me, “I hope I get a real dose of TG. I want the sound to affect my body, not just my ears.” And as the movie unfolded in front of us, so did TG’s web of intoxication.

    As I stood at the front of the stage, one of the things that stood out was how calm the four members were as the lights of their computer screens danced in their glasses, or onto their eyes. And the throb was setting in. The sound was growing more and more intense. It went from pastoral and ambient, and then progressed into more ‘serious’ territory. Two things were happening simultaneously: There was a sense of peace on stage, as if they were reading books in a library. Studying for exams. And in front of them poured out a sound that was exhilarating and ominous. I shut my eyes and faced the floor, submissive to the pressure of what was coming down on us. I had a sense that molten lava or hot ash was was going to pour over our heads in the crowd. I thought of massive machinery spitting out a cascade of white sparks, like a waterfall of electricity.

    But the most fascinating thing about that moment was how SOOTHING it was. We were SMILING at each other as the skin on our faces vibrated. I felt like soft sandpaper was being rubbed on my forehead, ever so gently. The worst I felt was when I thought my heartbeat might skip or readjust itself to the vibrations. I thought my knees were going to give out a couple of times because the sound literally came down on you…and yet, I was grinning. It felt like a full-body massage. And just as we were taking all the medicine that TG could feed us, the credits appeared on the screen, and the sound stopped to a rapturous applause.

    My first Throbbing Gristle live experience was EVERYTHING I hoped and imagined it would be, but more so. I got a heavy dose of that “old Throb”, but I also felt REFRESHED. I felt GOOD. I wanted MORE. One thing I noticed during the movie was that the sound wasn’t simply “LOUD FOR LOUD’S SAKE”. It wasn’t ear-splitting and ugly. It had depth. It had a dreamy quality to it. It felt like physical therapy when it was done. I tilted my head during the show to ‘hear’ what was above my head, rather than what was pounding at my chest cavity. And I could hear waves of sound, like sheets of electricity sweeping around, like slow motion lightning. It reminded me of “Time Machines” by Coil, but layered twenty times, and twenty times louder than any stereo I have ever listened to.

    Another very interesting part of the experience was that my ears did NOT ring after the show. I’ve been to many concerts where my ears hummed for hours after the event was over. I’ve experienced ringing in my ears even into the next day. But not with TG. It almost seems as if they ‘took care of us’ when they ‘assaulted’ us. If you allowed yourself to relax, TG were there to give you what you need. At least that’s what I got from the experience.

    On the second night in Chicago, TG’s soundtrack to “In The Shadow of The Sun” was totally different. This was evidence that TG were creating a spontaneous sound with the new tools they had on hand. I must admit that the second night’s version was even more intense than the first night, to a point that it did feel slightly dangerous. As a matter of fact, the speakers ‘popped’ and ‘cracked’ as the sound overpowered the sound system momentarily. It was obvious that levels were at their highest. Just when the soundtrack reached it’s pinnacle of intensity…the credits came up and the vortex disappeared.

    The two soundtracks gave me two totally different experiences. On the first night, I smiled and felt like hugging people next to me. On the second night, the soundtrack was more ‘sinister’ and there was a sense of ‘danger’ in the surges of sound. But of course, it was all the more interesting because of it. I’m very glad to know that nothing is the same twice with TG.

    The retrospective shows were also very enjoyable…which is perhaps the most surprising comment I can make about the whole evening. YES…Throbbing Gristle put on two VERY ENJOYABLE shows. Their more beat-oriented tracks had myself and my friends moving our bodies in time with the sound, and there were not only smiles on our faces, but on TG’s faces as well. I saw Cosey grin constantly. I saw Peter tapping his foot in what seemed like total enjoyment. I saw Genesis grin a number of times. Chris moved his body to the beat of the music a number of times, showing that the beat had an effect on them too.

    And when it was all over, the four members took each other’s hands, smiles on everyone, and took a bow. Cosey shook hands with people down in front. Peter clasped his hands together and shut his eyes and thanked the crowd.

    So this fantastic experience, full of amazing energy and positive reaction from the people around me….was it true that we got PLEASURE from Throbbing Gristle??

    Yes, it is true.

    TG were always about the unexpected. My experience was not what I expected. And for that, I am very grateful for having been part of one of the most powerful and pleasurable live moments in my life.

    Thank you Throbbing Gristle.


  21. I caught them at their recent Manhattan show. I took 3 friends. None of us had heard their music but were sufficiently interested to check it out.

    We all left satisfied, invigorated, and wanting more.

    4 new converts. TG has something special and not for everyone. Like a very fine single malt scotch.


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