Left to right: Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson, Genesis P. Orridge, Cosey Fanni Tutti, and Chris Carter
I’m writing this introduction several days after starting what I’ve termed “The TG 24 Challenge.” The idea was to listen to the Throbbing Gristle live box set, “TG 24” in a 24-hour period.
For those who are unaware, the album consists of 24 hours of music from this groundbreaking industrial group. Tackling it all in one attempt has long been a desire of mine. Spoiler: I don’t quite make it in one go.
Anyone who doesn’t know or care who Throbbing Gristle is are required to watch the following video. It should give you a pretty good idea of their ethos: confrontational, difficult, noisy, and atonal music that verges off the beaten track often to become, essentially, raw noise.
The group members consisted of Genesis P. Orridge on vocals, bass, and violin. His (then) wife Cosey Fanni Tutti on guitar and cornet. On synthesizers, samplers, and all sorts of sonic madness is Chris Carter (later husband of Cosey) and Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson.
Each group member went on to weirder and wilder things: Genesis later founded the prolific Psychic TV and is currently attempting to fuse the genders with a variety of surgical enhancements. Cosey and Chris formed Chris and Cosey to explore slightly poppier directions while Christopherson formed the beloved and similarly prolific Coil with his partner John Balance. Sadly, both Peter and John have passed away.
Moments of levity while shooting the cover to “20 Jazz Funk Greats,” an album which featured no jazz or funk: check out Peter on the left being “sleazy”
In fact, each band member’s non-TG albums far outweigh their albums as a band. If one is to ignore their reunion albums (they’re not bad, but essentially pointless to their legacy) the band released no more than four studio albums and played less than 40 total shows. However, their live work is perhaps their most important legacy and it has been cataloged in a way that even Dead Heads would envy.
That’s because the band has literally released every live show they’ve ever played. The first 24 hours are contained on this box and the next 10 are released on “TG+.” I’ve never heard of another band doing something like this, but it is understandable: more than any other group I’ve heard, these guys possessed a fantastic live chemistry that created shows that were shockingly different from the last.
The band did have limitations. First of all, none of them were really musicians. Genesis’ technique on bass sounds like he just picked it up for the first time and his violin work is aimless. His vocals consist primarily of off-key screaming, speaking, or synth-garbled gibberish. Cosey’s guitar work sounds like somebody with boxing gloves playing with an amp that is constantly feeding back. Chris and Peter come across best here, but often drift into raw sonic terror.
Then again, they were experts are overcoming their obvious limitations. The bass lines are often foreboding and ominous, creating a structure for the band to build on. The violin playing can be surprisingly eerie and subdued at times while the vocals build tension. Lack of technique aside, Cosey is legitimately a noise guitar goddess, creating an unholy racket that has to be heard to be believed: her cornet playing, while simple, does the job.
Meanwhile, Chris (mostly doing the heavy lifting with the synthesizers) and Peter (focused mostly on the samplers) alternate between providing a structure for Genesis and Cosey to react against or dropping into raw dissonance that is still shocking. Set lists seem completely improvised on the spot, with the band sometimes falling into recognizable songs, other times just exploring pulsing synthetic repetition.
What is shocking is that the band plays off each other like expert jazz improvisers and I’m not even exaggerating. A typical show starts off quietly, with Chris providing a synthesizer background. Peter lays some creepy samples on top while Genesis starts improvising vocally. It all builds up as Cosey pulls out all the stops on her guitar playing. Everything roars like the universe until it suddenly drops into near silence. Nothing remains but sampled voices describing horror.
If you have friends who love jazz, play them TG 24. Watch them stop being your friend. A great way to get people out of your house!
Obviously, this isn’t going to be for everybody and it often wasn’t even for me. But I made it through all 24 hours and plan on tackling the last 10 at a later date. Not just yet: nightmarish industrial noise is a bit too on the nose for me after that silly election on Tuesday.
During each hour (which translates to one full show, even if the show is short and you have to listen to audience members talking for five minutes) I kept notes on my impression of that show. They have not been touched or even proofread so as to keep the “real raw” nature intact.
I’m also not going to touch on historically important moments in the band’s history: that’s not what this is about. If I am inaccurate in my show listings (I’m going by what I found online) then please let me know in a polite way and I’ll correct it.
Just push play.
Hour On: London – October 10, 1976
The first hour I’m handling relatively well. This first show is recorded like garbage and the only really identifiable instrument is Genesis’ thudding bass and some synthesizer drones and some echoing vocal lines. Listening to this stuff while writing, taking a shower, or contemplating the hopelessness of modern society is highly recommended!
So far, my mental state is pretty strong. Genesis’ screaming vocals are hard on the brain, I admit, but the noise they produce remains impressively brooding. I am also impressed by their ability to react to each other live, though their instrumental skills were obviously technically limited.
I am sure, however, that I will eventually find it harder to manage this. The day is sunny and bright, the weather is warm, and later I might take a walk along the beautiful path along the lake which lies next to my apartment. With headphones on blasting Throbbing Gristle, of course.
Hour Two: Winchester- July 6, 1976 and London – August 21, 1976
Vastly different introduction to show two so far. While the bag of tricks TG integrated into their musical style could sometimes seem limited, they knew how to rearrange them in unique ways. For example, this show is introduced by some rather foreboding synthesizer wind sounds by either Chris or Peter. Genesis plays a two-note bass line that uses his obviously limited technique to its best effect.
While the first show came out with a somewhat “faster” approach when compared to this (with Genesis starting the show by claiming it was some sort of “post-cultural collapse” or some nonsense) this one immediately sets a deliberately frightening mood. Too bad I didn’t try this on Halloween…Cosey joins in (I think?) on scraping “rhythm guitar” that mimics Genesis’ bass line. This is my impression just five minutes in, so I’ll take a break to engage with it more.
Remains doom 15 minutes into the thing. Bass remains plodding and the synthesizers play noise. The textures have changed subtly, though, in an organic way that shocks me considering, as I’ve mentioned, their incompetence. I don’t have a headache yet, but I’m sitting here imagining doing this endlessly.
They are 22 minutes into the show and they haven’t spoken a word. This is doom metal without heavy guitar riffs. Cosey just played a sharp and shocking chord: she’s been muted throughout. 40 minutes in and Peter and Chris are pulling off some very disorienting and dissonant synthesizer moves. Very high-pitched, loud, and hard to listen to. Oh yeah. I got a lot more of this coming. Where’s Cosey?
Hour Three: High Wycombe – February 11, 1977
Aggressive distorted bass and guitar scrapes highlight this one. Genesis comes out singing quickly. Stop and start structure here: he screams, pounds the bass, stops to say something, and keeps going. Oh boy this is noisy so far, unlike the rather ambient style of the second album. Headache hasn’t started appearing yet and I’m somehow not quite sick of it. Writing is flowing out of me easily. He’s singing about the queen I think: the only lyric I can make out is “that’s the queen.”
Oh there’s some synthesizer noise. That song is over: a minute and a half. Genesis is apologizing for being half an hour later while Peter or Chris makes awful noises on the synthesizer. What assholes. “We’d like to welcome you to Nags End: hopefully you have a quick shag afterward.” Something about tying some guy’s cock to a string and slamming the door. Very Friendly. Starts with synthesizer drone.
A more aggressive take on one of their signature tunes. Chris and Peter seem more confident integrating terrible synthesizer noises into the pieces. They react to Genesis quite well: it’s clear that he is leading the band through the music here as they react to his changes and cues. Chris and Peter are particularly useful here, weaving noisy lines around his words and punctuating the awful lines.
Cosey is playing a supporting role, playing close to Genesis’ rhythms or playing some textural noise. She remains more of a “hidden weapon” in these early gigs. Everything churns together like one big instrument making the worst noises you’ve ever heard. It’s still shocking today, can’t imagine how they reacted to this in 1977. Boos, hisses, likely, with some becoming lifelong fans due to disenfranchisement, rage, nihilism, raw and untapped punk anger etc.
Getting hard. Lots of noise and screaming and stop and start. Again, they remain oddly in-tune with what the other person is going to do, an odd state of mind for such obvious non-musicians. Not halfway done with this one. Any pretense at “songs” has been discarded. The audience is getting antsy. Somebody just whistled. There’s clapping and cheering. “You’ll notice that for the next hour I play only one string. I don’t know why they build these with four.” That says it all. Ends with audience chatter.
Hour Four: Brighton – March 26, 1977
Abstract beginning. Probably my favorite so far. Lots of bouncing-ricochet synthesizer noise. There’s some distorted noise that is probably the bass or the guitar. Not sure yet: it’s a bit faster than Genesis has been playing, but it has a similar distorted tone and it bounces between like two notes. A vocal yelp deeply buried and synthesized. Sounds like a man being crushed to death in a black hole while screaming for help. Feedback, distortion: Cosey is back there making some awful, awful noise.
Serial killer interviews. The guy they’re interviewing sounds like Billy Corgan. Weird. He’s talking about how he bashed in this girl’s head in and he uses that calm and relaxed tone most killers use. Lots of sustained feedback here, Cosey lurking, with Peter and Chris doing the heavy lifting instrumentally. Some kind of sampled public service nonsense. Can’t hear it very well and then it stopped.
Oh. Genesis is playing the violin. That’s a first for the live shows so far. About 18 minutes into it and things are actually taking a calm and almost ambient tone. Genesis is obviously quite inept on the violin but he does know how to play notes on it, unlike some people I know (i.e. myself). Creates an odd and unsettling ambiance. The synthesizers are very ugly now: God, they knew how to make ugly noises with them, the kind of stuff most people ignored. More samples about an intersection.
Near silence as the samples are used sporadically. Some kind of high-pitched noise: I think it’s just amp hum but it’s hard to tell. The audience is dead silent here: that’s impressive! Not one “ya fucking wanker!” to spoil the atmosphere. Restraint: not something I’d associated with this band before. There’s some synthesizer noise, small, faint, and annoying. Yay! Samples back “this means exactly what it implies, when you hear this signal, the attack is due now.” Echoed. Getting overwhelming. PETER.
Getting lost in it now. I think the band is getting a bit silly: “gonna be a belly dancer… romancer… romancer… romancer…” There’s no focus here: just noise for noise’s sake. Know that was always a point with these guys, but it lacks the really intriguing textures. Something about “Johnny Rotten.” Genesis is obviously improvising. Cosey is getting really thick: there’s not much synthesizer now as the guitars and bass take over. That’s probably enough for this hour.
Hour Five: Southampton – May 7, 1977
Epic ascending synthesizer opening with Chris creating a swell of sound that would be appropriate for a new age or progressive song or album. Adds a little dissonance to make it more TG and sustains it: there’s no crescendo or release here, it just starts throbbing like a raw vein in your heart or perhaps some gristle which you’re trying to chew on but can’t quite seem to get down. There’s some stabs from Peter here and other notes added. Genesis and Cosey are sitting this part out, appropriately so.
Spacier type of sound so far. The synthesizers are doing the heavy lifting, with Genesis mostly thumping out his trademark “stoopid” bass lines. Voice synthesized: Cosey doing scraping noises on the guitar and lots of whammy nonsense. Not like Steve Vai, but bending the strings beyond the appropriate bending point. Chris is going full on siren here and playing something nearly melodic. Cosey is more noticeable here with her guitar noise. Pete plays some underwater bloops and bleeps.
The whole thing is very damn tense and probably my favorite show so far. It takes the group to a slightly different arena than their heavily distorted strum und drang. That said, there’s a lot of the intuitive interactions that they can pull off at their best. Chris keeps the synths whining high and menacing. The tone is very clean for his normal style: nearly prog type tone with lots of sustained stuff. They are reworking the elements here over and over in subtle ways, continually pushing it forward.
More samples, briefly. Cars. Pure white noise synthesizer tone blends into wind. Sticking rather ambient in tone with Chris and Peter doing the heavy lifting. Cosey and Genesis could be off having a shag for all I can tell. Waves landing on the beach now. It’s getting hypnotic and I’m losing concentration, but in a good way. The mind is haunted by these tones. About halfway through now. Genesis is adding some bass (I think?) and Cosey is playing heavily distorted guitar (I think?).
Abrupt and artificial stop! More slight synthesizer noises. Bass blips. Notes there. Chris is staying in the background. Genesis keeps his bass work high and simple. Cosey is now playing some chunking guitar parts. The synthesizer parts get faster and higher and the band kicks into it a little bit more. An awkward “ahem” groove is being established. They sure could use some drums or a drum machine here. It remains exploratory, as if they are looking for the lost chord and can’t quite seem to find it.
Cosey’s presence is more noticeable here. She makes some rather awful noises on the guitar while Chris creates some rather nice arpeggios in the background. Peter is AWOL I think, while Genesis holds down the fort with his simple bass line. Though I mock his skill, he’s at least almost always on time and rhythm, even if the rhythm is simple. It creates a stabilizing element that gives the other band members something to play on. It’s surprising how pleasant this part sounds right now, considering the elements are harsh distorted guitar, repetitive bass lines, and wild synthesizers.
Some samples now: emergency line, slowed down echoed voices. Synthesizers very quiet. Probably overall the best show I’ve listened to yet. There’s a bit more to go at this point, but I think I’ve pretty successfully gotten the gist of this show down. On to hour six i.e. one quarter of the way through!
Hour Six: London – May 22, 1977
Was at Wal-Mart shopping for supplies for tonight when this one started. Very loud beginning and it has moved through quiet moments and silence and all of that. It’s starting to get to me. “ROGER DALTREY! All you need is love…all you need is what? All you need is The Who.” It sounds like a very large see saw violently moving up and down with rusty hinges. I am already tired: it’s six o’clock in the afternoon and I’m going to cook some Chinese food and play video games to avoid insanity.
Less a musician and more a rabble rouser and front man, Genesis has remained a controversial figure in England and across the country, refusing to compromise his extreme vision
Hour Seven: London – September 29
Drums of some sort and synthesizers are taking on a drone aspect. Energetic without being noisy: tribal. The chance of identifying specific tones and instruments has been limited to a conceptual possibility but the reality of doing so has been limited to theory. They float about me like the singers in a space opera caught adrift in orbit. It is space it is noise it is all containing and absolutely meaningless.
I’m losing myself in it now. They could hold this groove for the whole hour and I’d be happy. Something tells me that they will. Do it! They didn’t. All is quiet but…what I think is Cosey’s guitar. It’s so hard to tell, but I’m pretty sure I heard fingers scraping strings. No one makes a sound in the whole place. Someone just laughed. People are talking quietly. Wonder if they like it or hate it. Wonder if someone is puking in the bathroom, in the bar, outside a window, and laughing as it hits some poor old guy on the head, covering him with blood waste and rendering him impotent with rage.
Hour Eight: Winchester – November 11, 1977
It sounds like somebody sharpening a knife for an hour, a knife that hovers above your neck ready to draw blood. Harsh sounds belie gentle souls: Genesis would never hurt a fly? Somebody hammering nails into my forehead. Throwing up to the rhythm and there electronic moan doth fly!
Hour Nine: Valentino – December 17, 1977
This is the sound of death approaching. It is slow and methodical, full of quiet menace, and a British idiot screaming nonsense through a distortion pedal. Phases, up and down, bleeps and bloops, crunchy after effects, the glow of post-coital relaxation, the grunt of a birthing mother: it all sounds the same eventually and loses its effect on the imagination. The audience is hooting, though, so who am I?
There is a pulse to it. I listen to the pulse and let my mind sync up to it, my heart beat dropping and my skin cooling. What time is it? There’s a palpable sense of yearning, like fingers scraping through hay to find a needle, there’s a hope here, deep within the folds, a speck of life that can be grasped, pulled out, and gnawed on like a bone pulled from the chest of a lion. Yes. Oh yes. Randomness here.
Stasis, like a flat heart beat or the horizon of the ocean dead calm and silent. It echoes and the band takes a break as Chris lets the synthesizer do all the hard work. Have a smoke, a shag, and a hag. The noise they can make…it still gives the young ones a headache. That’s nice.
Hour Ten: Brighton – February 25, 1978
There’s some relaxation in my mind now. This particular one starts out rather low key. There’s some siren synths, but not as high pitched or insistent. Rather background noise. Cosey is very art-damaged guitar here. This isn’t easy listening. There is a drone throughout that creates menace, like the sound of bombs dropping on the countryside. Peter plays a radio broadcast or something in the background. I can’t tell. Cosey creates these great swells of sound on her guitar and Chris answers back.
How much of these swells on the last few albums were by Cosey and not Chris, as I assumed? Best not to think. There’s a genius of noise here in her work as she skillfully explores a variety of new guitar textures. The odd thing is that I’ve come to find it not only appropriate and not noise (no headache any more!) but almost as soothing as the wind in the trees. The last hour had about five minutes of silence and when it came, I felt shocked and unable to respond. I listened to all five minutes and felt the quiet hammer into my head. Then I screamed, shouted, changed the album, and fired an airhorn.
NOISE! NOISE! NOISE! If there’s one thing I love it’s noise…is there any escape, from a lack of noise? GOODNESS ME I HOPE NOT. Noise comes from the darkest parts of our hearts and warms us up for the impending apocalypse that looms deadly and dangerous on our minds. So yeah: this album is pretty good. There’s some kind of drum beat here, synthesized, I dunno. It goes on and on and Genesis is quite here. No bass or violin, just Cosey playing her casually wild guitar. Genius in her way. There’s a whole lot of babbling samples to end this out here. That’s just fine. That’s dandy. Super dooper.
Hour Eleven: London – March 3, 1978
More of the same but for the addition of a drum machine and more insistent rhythms. Gives it an early and cheap techno feel. Cosey’s guitar is intense and Genesis yells for most of it. GRIP ON REALITY IS SLIPPING INTO THE ENDLESS REPETITION OF COSEY FANNI TUTTI FEEDBACK. Now there is a bunch of samples competing for attention. Something about a kidnapper. There’s a drone there, too. Whispering. Quiet. The dynamics of their shows are getting to be quite similar.
Hour Twelve: London – May 18, 1978
The beginning of the halfway hour. It starts like DOA: the same synthesizer part, the “drump drump DEEE” thing. That plays quiet, like the sample it probably is, Peter doing it I bet. Sleazy. Chris is playing a synthesizer part that sounds like something you’d hear in Chris and Cosey: simple, repetitive, but clean. Adds a little distortion. Or is that Cosey? Genesis has been very vacant these last few shows.
This seems like a total Peter and Chris show so far. Maybe that really noisy junk is Cosey? It’s so hard to tell. It sounds more like a synthesizer with distortion on it, but again, you can never tell with bands that do so much to make it all sound like one big noise. Ah no, nevermind, there’s Cosey: playing relatively clean and simple lines in the background. No bass guitar. No violin. No screaming. What is Genesis doing? Just sitting around backstage looking at stag magazines?
There’s some vocals. Distorted note held long. He’s talking quiet, echo, can’t tell what he’s saying. Ah! Hold that note…hold it…hold it…add that distortion…there you go. Increase the rotation of spin. Nice…nice…awww yeah, more distortion, there’s some backward swoops behind that and…it’s getting really abstract now, for a moment rhythm threatened, but there’s Genesis in the back, his vocals drowned out, nothing coming, nothing going and yup: business as usual again!
There’s a simple dark and brooding goth synth line in the background. ATTENTION ROBERT SMITH. Take that, throw a “G, A, D” chord progression over it, arrange it to symphonic proportions, do your Robert Smith vocal thing, and make it a hit. You still got it in you somewhere, Fat Bob. I still love you, man, I really do. “Disintegration is the best album ever.” Cosey is playing the coronet I think on this one. There’s a church atmosphere here. I’m going insane. BUT NEVERMIND THAT.
More very early techno. Swoops. Bleeps. The cheapest drum machine ever. Genesis is sleeping on the job. Cosey is adding up royalty checks in the back. Or is that her guitar there? Again: impossible to tell. Gets into a pretty damn good drum groove with some pretty deep phased base, whining synthesizer lines, and noise guitar parts. Pretty ahead of its time and ingenious in its layout.
Chris Carter built many of his own synthesizers and is one of the pioneers of techno and “trance,” with his use of repetitive, but ever-changing, synthesizer lines
Hour Thirteen: London – July 1, 1978
Confession: I couldn’t do all 24 hours in a row. It just wasn’t going to happen: it was getting late and my mind was becoming flighty, weird, and unhappy. After a reasonable sleep I woke up, refreshed, and ready to face the challenge ahead: 12 more hours of Throbbing Gristle:
First thing I did when I woke up was start some TG. Show starts out pretty noisy right away with a lot of heavy distorted bass or guitar and synths going wild. It’s election day here in America, the presidential election, and there’s a Trump and there’s a Clinton and there’s a lot of really unhappy people, so I’m shutting off the world today and engaging with no one and listening to Throbbing Gristle all day as a way of cleansing the palate and the mind. Think of it as a spiritual thing.
Hamburger Lady. Lots of echoed voices. Threshold of pain. Coronet here and there. He was eating a chili ?? and flashed on the ?? Drone now the synths are low and ominous. Each show moves like a Grateful Dead set and I’m not even kidding. Nothing seems planned and the band moves in and out of textures and sounds at seeming random, but always at the right time. BETTER than a Grateful Dead show because there’s no songs to straight jacket them into simple melodic concepts.
Oh violin and samples. Thanks guy. That is what my life was missing. Genesis scrapes: Peter lets the voices babble. Some kind of weird noises echo and remind me that Donald Trump could be president. A bunch of noise and then this: “I swallowed the chain and then I felt like it wrapped around my spine and it was one of the only things I ever felt. I was in the cell one day and I took the mouthpiece of the spoon and swallowed it and the hospital bed I swallowed the wire.” It just goes on like that awhile.
There’s this rhythm going on now in the thing. Chunk chunk chunk chunk chunk. It gives a structure. That’s nice. Genesis is blathering and Cosey is firing off those trademark “blistering noise” solos that remind me so much of John McLaughlin or even Ritchie Blackmore. Relax, that’s a very, very bad joke that should be taken out back and forced to listen to 24-hours of live Throbbing Gristle.
Even if I didn’t do this all in one stretch, my God, doing it in a 36-hour period is just as damaging to my mental state. That’s only 12-hours of non-Throbbing Gristle listening, eight of which I spent asleep. WOW. Chris is really swelling up the synthesizer noise now or is that Cosey? If it’s Cosey, she’s a noise guitar Goddess (like duh) and if it’s Chris, he’s a synth noise God (like double duh). Peter is in the back twiddling knobs or painting an album cover or something. The audience is probably deaf or dead.
Hour Fourteen: London – July 6, 1978
Third (or is it fourth?) show to open with the “I.B.M.” noise. Probably became something of a trademark. There’s some Cosey guitar noise: brief and stabbing. Hamburger Lady. Creepy. Chunking noise again. It’s starting to blend into one: the same elements shuffled and presented in slight tweaks. The cumulative mental damage caused by the first 12 is gone now. But hey: there’s 10 more to go.
Hour Fifteen: London – November 11, 1978
Things have come to an interesting point. Genesis only sings with the “clipping” vocal effect and he announced the show briefly and rather oddly. The return of the sharpening knife effect. It’s all becoming an endless blur of noise. More vocals at the beginning. Samples. It swirls more psychedelic than pure noise at this point. The synth has a bit of an organ feel to it. There are some strange noises!
They have become professional in their approach. There is an attack to it, a fearsome rumble. Genesis rarely speaks or sings. There’s a lot of synthesized noise and some terrible guitar racket. Cosey is a devastating monster, a horrible torturer that takes the glorious beauty of the distorted guitar and squeezes it into the most twisted shapes, the most unpleasant gurgles and spasmodic allegories.
Again, the dynamics of the show are often extreme. There is heavy noise and gurgles and burbles and then near complete silence. People talking in the background: could be a sample or could be audience members trying to hook up. The sound of the audience is absolutely absent in general: no screams of protest or applause. It’s eerie, like they’re playing to ghosts.
Hour Sixteen: London – January 21, 1979
It’s another hour of the same old shit. Two-thirds of the way through! Note: this hour is more “trance” than anything, repetitive heavy techno with babbling Genesis. Less noise. No Hamburger Lady.
Hour Seventeen: Derby – April 12, 1979
According to the most recent estimates, there are about 1,025,109.8 words in the English language. At best, I know about one-percent of them, if not less. This doesn’t bother me so much (there’s only so much room in my head for collections of letters and numbers) but it does make it nearly impossible to continue making these descriptions interesting and engaging. So here’s a list of synonyms for the word “noisy” that describe this particular album:
For what it’s worth, Genesis uses more vocal echoes here and Cosey continues to stretch out as the noisiest one of the bunch, the one who really lays the industrial texture thickest. Chris and Peter become the backbones on which she can paint. They are the “rhythm section,” if you will, while Cosey and Genesis are the “front line,” to labor a particularly meaningless jazz metaphor.
Also: it is shocking how many industrial bands just took these textures and reclaimed them wholesale.
Hour Eighteen: Sheffield – April 25, 1979
More strident here. Militant. The tones are harsher and there was an extended almost Negativland-ish moment of samples. That disappeared under the heavy strain of the repetitive synthesizers and the drone of the guitar. It is grooving now, like a runner at the peak of his powers, feeling that burst of the “high” that comes when he reaches the zen-perfection of the perfect run. Yup, something like that.
There comes that synthesizer part that Chris likes using so much. High-pitched pinched “bip” that sets up a rhythm, such as it is. Boom. Boom. Boom. There is no Hell, I’m sure of that, but if there is, Satan freaks out when he hears this music because it’s a little too “scary” for him, the fallen angel that he is or was or could be when examined under a strict and polarizing microscope.
It don’t come easy, you know it don’t come easy…it cont dome easy…knou yow wit eont dome casy…Okay, that one had a really great ending. The sheer volume of noise sustained is great.
Peter was a skilled photographer who actually helped fund the band by doing album art work for Hipgonsis, including work for Led Zeppelin and Peter Gabriel
Hour Nineteen: Manchester – May 19, 1979
So Trump won. This stuff goes down really well today. Hamburger Lady is particularly scary. Packed up a bunch of my stuff to move back to my mom’s to prepare to move to South Korea. Hahaha. Scary dialogue with a racist twinge: kind of shockingly apropos considering the feeling in the air.
Hour Twenty: Northampton – May 26, 1979
Harsh noise immediately. I’m writing a lot this morning. It’s nine o’clock am and I’ve been awake since five, a weird twist for me. There are a lot of boings and springs to this one so far. The last hour went quickly because I was writing so much. People around the world are mourning and in great fear because of the election and I can’t say I blame them much. Suicidal thoughts are high for many.
There are many things I want to say while I listen to this music, most of which should be held in my brain and never released to the public. There are only so many different sentences and components and paragraphs and metaphors that can be construed and yes, I’ve labored this point before already, but I see nothing but smoke stacks blowing in the wind over soot covered bodies when I hear this music.
Mentality is rather cold and twisted due to lack of sleep. A cornet. Hamburger Lady. Oh Good. More heavy rhythm over the second half. A basic industrial rhythm ripped off a thousand times by others.
Hour Twenty-One: London – August 3, 1979
“Convincing people…convincing people…convincing people…” The sun is bright outside and the sky is blue. It was warm enough to walk without a coat on. Squirrels ran in the park and couples walked holding hands. Trump will be president. My body felt invigorated by the walk.
“Convincing people…convincing people…I’ll tell you what I’ll tell you what I’ll tell you what.” Fresh air. Glorious life! Things will be okay in an abstract way, as a fat grey squirrel twirls its tail outside. Hamburger Lady again. The shows become predictable again. I still haven’t heard “Discipline” on any of these albums. There aren’t many left. When’s it coming? I could use some, for sure.
Hour Twenty-Two: London – December 23, 1979
Very sample heavy beginning to this one. Some porno soundtracks by the sound of it. Appropriate, appropriate. The musical backing behind it is cheesy. Reminds me of a Kool Keith album, rather than Negativland, as those guys rarely went full on sex: too nerdy for that. Some of them may have never had sex, though that’s probably just mean and an unfair thing to say. Yikes! Glad my neighbors are out.
It’s been going on and on and on and I wasn’t sure it was ever going to end. Abruptly it stopped and now Chris is going wild with some whirling synthesizer part. Cosey is blasting out notes on the coronet. Abstract, like ghosts playing tag in the night. As always, unpleasant to listen to and annoying when in the wrong mood. I had to play some other music before coming to this one again.
It becomes like a fan in the background or the sound of your mother’s heartbeat in the womb: you know it’s there, you technically hear it, but it becomes nothing but noise. There seems to be actual bass guitar on this one and Genesis is very vocally noisy. Cosey is back on guitar and making it pay for all the terrible things it did to her family. The other guys are just content hanging around and letting it all hang out. Let it all hang out. Let it all hang out.
HOLY SHIT DONALD TRUMP IS THE PRESIDENT. Lots of echoing babbly babble here. Eh. Some kind of funky groove here with actual bass playing (wow! Genesis seems to be playing a real bass line rather than two notes), Cosey cornet bleats, and interlocking synthesizer footsteps.
Cosey, an intelligent, talented, and beautiful woman had a lengthy career in art, modeling, and adult films outside of music
Hour Twenty-Three: Leeds – February 24, 1980
Starts with coronet: like a dying whale burping up its only living child. Gurgles from the synths and spaces between the notes. Quickly becomes just synthesizer and there’s discordance and no harmony.
Distracted for pretty big portions of this with writing. I’ll say this: it definitely sounds like a Throbbing Gristle show. There’s a lot of noise at the beginning, Genesis yelled, then the end gets pretty ambient.
Breaking down the individual components of these shows and writing intricately about each hour is akin to decoding a DNA spiral by hand and reading the components verbally. Don’t do that!
Cosey is soloing. SOLOING. I think it’s her anyway. I suppose it could be a synthesizer. It seems guitarish. A little more melodic than her typical fair. Okay, maybe it’s the synth. Eh. Wow. Eh. Wow.
Ends with hypnotist sample. Funny. The audience claps. Even funnier: so few hands. Genesis blabs about the next band. There’s murmur about that. That’s that hour.
Hour Twenty-Four: London – February 29, 1980
Trance. The same synthesizer line for the first 45 minutes of the show (give or take) with Genesis “aahhing” over top. The rest of it is another synthesizer line (which sounds like a cello) with Cosey playing noisy guitar in the back while Genesis improvises vocally.
Perhaps their simplest show of the whole set, one that goes all in on the more repetitive aspects of their music. Coronet, hypnotist, oh shit it’s over!
Thanks for listening, sorry about the racket!
I gained a new respect for this band after listening to these shows. They are clearly not professional musicians, but they find new ways to make every show different. Almost every moment is more-or-less improvised and there are some ahead-of-their-time textures here that are still being explored by modern bands. If their studio albums didn’t quite hit me the way I’d hoped, these lives show definitely did.
On to TG+ or 10 more hours of this stuff!
Somehow, I feel that “Big Black” is a group that never really gets their due. Yes, any alternative rock fan worth their weight in salt knows the name “Steve Albini.” Albini is an infamous producer that patented a rather trebly, high pitched industrial-ish rumble that mixed drum machines, punk rock, high pitched guitar sounds (everything in “Big Black” is “treble”) and an absolute dedication to DIY that has made him one of the most respected and sought after producers in the business.
He is also one of the grumpiest guys in the world of rock and roll: his lengthy rants on well…everything are rather infamous. He called the CD edition of “Atomizer” “The Rich Man’s Eight Track Tape” and chastised the buyer in the CD liner notes for wasting their money on an “inferior” sounding product.
Whatever his hang ups and personality quirks, the man is a living legend but mostly for his production skills and not for his songwriting. Which is a shame: the man developed an intriguing production style, had a way with catchy riffs and melodies and even had something to say lyrically, especially on the previously mentioned debut album “Atomizer” which is, naturally, our review of the day.
Now, what Albini has to say lyrically isn’t very pretty. His topics generally concern boredom, mid-western insanity, serial killers, self harm, serial child rapists and a variety of other nasty topics. There is no bright lights or sunshine in the lyrical world of Albini, as made clear on the track “Steelworker” from debut EP “Lungs” where he chants “I work with my hands…and I kill what I eat” over a harsh, grinding groove that makes it clear that Albini is coming for you.
Focusing on negative lyrical matters is nothing new but Albini goes the extra mile and sings everything from the first person perspective. It’s never “they’re steelworkers, they kill what they eat” or “they live in Jordan, they do what they like.” It’s “I’M a steelworker…I kill what I eat” and “this is Jordan, WE do what we like.” He puts himself right into the boots of the negative people about which he sings.
This caused some serious controversy when “Atomizer” came out, especially because of the song “Kerosene” Albini’s magnum opus and a masterpiece of rock and roll theatrical performance.
Albini would no doubt baulk at such a statement: calling his music theatrical would no doubt insult him more deeply than calling him a sell out.
But I don’t know how else you could define this song: it starts out with an insane, high pitch ringing (one of Albini’s trademark sounds) that builds into a wild, rampaging guitar, bass and Roland Drum stomp that eventually drops out to a bass and drum groove.
Albini then begins detailing the mentality of what he believes is a typical, mid-western, small town loser with no ambition, no future and no hope. He uses a minimum of words and phrases and repeats them regularly to reinforce their strength.
“There’s never anything to do in this town…lived here all my life…probably come to die in this town…lived here all my life…nothing to do but sit around home, sit around the house and stare at the walls, stare at each other and wait till we die, stare at each other and wait till we die…there’s never anything to do in this town…lived here my whole life…”
Chilling and a feeling that anybody who’s ever lived in the mid-west can identify with completely. And then he says a single phrase that reawakens the monstrous guitars “there’s kerosene around…it’s just something to do…” He repeats this phrase a few times, with various degrees of intensity before screaming “SET ME ON FIRE!”
The rest of the song then de-evolves (in a good way) into a noisy mess of over trebled guitars, bashing drum machines, screams and even a false start. The song perfectly defines the Albini mythos and style in a matter of seconds.
But there are other songs on this album too! Imagine. Opener, “Jordan, Minnesota” is a song about the (alleged) child abuse ring in the town of Jordan and while the truthfulness of the story has been hotly debated for years, hearing Albini sing “this is Jordan…we do what we like” over and over again is truly creepy. But only if you know the story: without knowing the story it’s nowhere near as effective but it still has a great riff and great drive.
“Passing Complexion” features more wildly over trebled guitars (really, how the hell doe she make that high pitched “shing!” sound on the guitars?) playing intricate, strange and relatively complex guitar parts.
The album does have a basic sound and style that bleeds over to the rest of the tracks: if you’ve heard one track, you’ve heard them all. They vary in the riffs and melodies as well as the arrangements and the lyrical focus but all set this mood of grinding, inescapable mid-west despair that is simultaneously gripping and wearing on the consciousness.
The CD version of “Atomizer” contains some bonus tracks from the “Heart Beat” EP. The title track is a cover of the Wire tune from “Chairs Missing” and has a similar menacing atmosphere but builds to Albini screams instead of the chanting of the original. It’s the highlight of the bonus tracks.
Final verdict? If you like noisy, difficult but well composed punk/industrial style rock, it’s worth a buy. In fact, buy everything by Big Black: you only need to get three CD’s: this, The Hammer Party and Songs About Fucking.
p.s. Big Black doesn’t really sound like “punk” or “industrial” but those are the closest genre terms I can find for the style they play. It’s definitely a unique sound that Albini utilized in all subsequent bands with minor variations.
Song to YouTube:
“Kerosene” and “Jordan, Minnesota” will tell you all that you need to know about Big Black. If you like those songs, you’ll like the rest.