A gig in the afternoon is always a strangely uncomfortable experience – the plunge from sunlight into premature darkness, the un-prepared for volume, that first pint just a little too early in the day. All of these factors are of course compounded by the fact that this is Throbbing Gristle playing an all ages (14 and up anyway) gig at one of London’s most high profile and long established gay clubs. And consequently, the exact set of circumstances to convince me to finally succumb to the live TG experience.
As Genesis P.Orridge strolls on stage, flash bulbs popping, a girl behind me shouts “We love you Genesis!” eliciting a roll of the eyes and the cold reply:
“You have no idea how many people tell me that…and they’re all lying.”
He/she begins intoning the words to “Persuasion” which are spliced and looped as a brutal minimal electronic beat kicks in. The two untrained savants, Gen and Cosey (slide guitar and cornet) stand stage front with the engine room boffins firmly to the back. This is a deliberate demarcation – Chris Carter and Sleazy have always been TG’s “musicians”, semi-mockingly emphasised by the former’s white lab coat and table full of technical props. Sleazy sits impassively, in a rather fetching, lavishly decorated cow-skin style robe adding gravitas to his already imposing frame. He rocks back and forth on his chair sagely with a beatific grin as the swell of noise envelops and surrounds the room. The houselights are left on full, there is nowhere for performer or crowd to hide. This is the kind of egalitarian prop that holds a particular appeal for me.
The sound is relentless, it’s not so much volume as frequencies although it is bloody loud. The kick drum pounds your chest and your nostrils vibrate. This is an updated re-imagining of the TG sound with an added digital sheen. Those who came for the “greatest hits” are also treated to “What A Day” and “Hamburger Lady” – the sight of people dancing to this track is a particularly incongruous and disturbing image. Mid-set, as Gen dervish/pirouettes round the stage, he/she pulls up his/her sleeve to reveal a tattoo of his/her recently departed other half, Lady Jaye which he/she kisses repeatedly. It’s a moving sight and as touching as the moment when he/she leaves the stage to embrace some old friends in the crowd. Less than an hour in, “What A Day” mutates into the infamous “Wall Of Sound” and as the volume swells people begin to glance around. Some nervously, some inspecting the fingers-in-ears with a smug delight. Too soon, Sleazy signals a cut throat motion to end the track and the stage has emptied. This inevitably brought to mind the TG-derived “death chord” employed by My Bloody Valentine to subject their crowd to the most physical discomfort for the longest time possible. Fortunately in their case, if you can endure the first two skull-splitting minutes then the opposite effect is achieved as you inhale the noise and are levitated to a state close to nirvana. As Sleazy departs he mimes signals that translate as “that’s it, we really need to go and eat and drink now”. Well, what do you expect from a “wrecker of civilisation”?
It’s easy to wonder what TG’s relevance is in 2009, a good thirty years after they first attempted to wreck the fabric of the music establishment. Perhaps, like Wire, the fact that they’re still making loud, uncompromising music which is unacceptable to the mainstream is enough.
Picture courtesy of Chris Carter’s Flickr page http://bit.ly/mCXjC