Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Throbbing Gristle - Special Treatment (1984)

What can I possibly write here about Throbbing Gristle and it's members that hasn't already been written? Nothing really. I will therefore keep this simple and to the point.

The band Throbbing Gristle and it's four members - Genesis P-Orridge, Cosey Fani Tutti, Peter Christopherson and Chris Carter - were nothing short of visionaries, pioneers and innovators both musically and culturally. Their impact on music since their formation in 1976 following the demise of performance art group COUM Transmissions has been profound to say the least. That impact can still be felt today in many strands of music, art and culture. It's hard for me to imagine a world without a band as influential as Throbbing Gristle. 

"The legend of throbbing gristle, in retrospect, was easily as important as the outbreak of punk."

David Henderson
26th November 1983

In 1999, author Simon Ford wrote the book 'Wreckers of Civilisation' which, to me, is the most complete, authoritative and insightful account of the band and it's members.

Wreckers of Civilisation tells the story of two interconnected groups: the performance art group COUM Transmissions and the music group Throbbing Gristle.

"These people are the wreckers of civilisation", exlaimed the conservative Member of Parliment Nicholas Fairbairn in 1976. His outburst was meant to describe four artists and musicians - Genesis P-Orridge, Cosey Fani Tutti, Peter Christopherson and Chris Carter. What "these people" had done to deserve such an epithet, and what they were about to do, is the subject of this book.

From the foreword by Jon Savage:

"Wreckers of Civilisation recalls a time which, despite volumes of print remains occluded, obdurate, even intimidating: that moment before the conservative reconstruction. To be awake in London in the late 1970s was to be plunged into turmoil: externally manifest in riot, internally within various forms of damage and depression and, if one felt brave or driven, extreme aesthetics. COUM Transmissions and Throbbing Gristle mark the furthest reach of that impulse: even more so than Punk, they plunged into a technological and personal examination of the dark side - the forbidden, the taboo, the dystopian future on the doorstep. Today this might seem like science fiction or deliberate shock tactics, but then it seemed like reportage, front line dispatches from a convulsed country."

I urge you to seek out this book and read it. It is one of the most important writings on modern music and culture you will ever encounter.

Cover of the book 'Wreckers of Civilisation' by Simon Ford, 1999.
As far as writing about about a discography is concerned, that too is an almost impossible task. Throbbing Gristle compulsively recorded and released pretty much everything they played - studio sessions and live shows alike. Ford's book contains perhaps the most complete account of their recorded output I have ever read but this runs into many pages. I have spent thirty years collecting Throbbing Gristle recordings but my library is still woefully incomplete such is the diversity, rarity and sheer volume of the output involved. There has been a recent reissue campaign of several early Industrial Records releases which have been remastered by Chris Carter. This is as a good a place to start as any but I would also recommend literally anything you can find bearing the TG name.

To this end, I have given a lot of thought about what to share with you both musically and on YouTube. The album I have chosen was never officially released by the band but, as with many other albums bearing the Throbbing Gristle name which appeared on other labels at the time, was sanctioned by them.

Special Treatment is a live recording made at The Cryptic One in London UK on November 11th 1978. It was the first issue by German imprint Mental Decay Records in 1984. I remember buying this album at a record fair in Nottingham UK in 1985 and immediately leaving for home to play it without any other browsing. The album contains four long improvisations which I think encapsulate the Throbbing Gristle ethos perfectly. It is by turns soothing, unsettling, abrasive, unnerving, incredibly experimental but never once dull. This is a seriously difficult album to track down but well worth the effort, I hope you get something of the nervous, sickly thrill playing it as I did 27 years ago.

Similarly, I waded through hours of material on YouTube to find a clip to neatly summarise the TG experience but this proved an incredibly difficult task. I eventually came across an official film of a live recording made at San Francisco's Kezar Pavillion on the 29th May 1981 - their final performance before issuing the statement "Mission is Terminated" via a series of postcard mail outs. It's around an hour in length but seriously worth making the time to view.

For more information about Throbbing Gristle, the following website may help;

This piece is dedicated to the memory of Peter 'Sleazy' Christopherson who died at home in Bangkok on 25th November 2010 aged just 55. The cause of his death has never been revealed.

Peter 'Sleazy' Christopherson 2005
"Indisputably one of the most controversial, certainly among the most influential, and in my view one of the most misunderstood hero-units of our times is Throbbing Gristle, progenitors of much of what hits the alternative charts in watered down forms by less adventurous and extreme aggregations."

Sandy Robertson
11th October 1980

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