Monthly Archives: August 2009
(Photo: Paul Heartfield)
Where to even start with this one? Throbbing Gristle is a band/art collective started in mid-’70s London by a couple of troublemakers who called themselves Genesis P-Orridge and Cosey Fanni Tutti. The band evolved as an offshoot of a performance art group called COUM Transmissions, led by Genesis and Cosey, who achieved a certain level of notoriety when they presented an art show in 1976 called “Prostitution” that included pornographic images, bloody tampons and dirty diapers. After that show, an outraged member of parliament called Genesis and Cosey “wreckers of civilisation,” a description they and their fans happily embraced.
Early Throbbing Gristle performances were often experiments in what some observers have called “the metabolic effects of music,” using intensely loud and/or abrasive sounds to induce visceral responses in their audiences. You weren’t really meant to enjoy a Throbbing Gristle show; you were meant to be shocked and even a little traumatized by it. Sounds would be played at unbearably loud volumes; blindingly bright lights would be blasted at the audience; horrifying imagery would be projected on screens, which often obscured the performers. You wouldn’t think any of this would translate very well to live recordings, and yet many TG fans covet recordings of the band’s live shows almost more than their studio output; you can actually buy (if you can find it) a 25-CD box set containing 26 TG live performances, recorded from 1976 to 1980. (Blinding strobe lights not included.)
The band started its own record label in 1976, called Industrial Records; the name eventually became synonymous with the style of music played by Throbbing Gristle and their peers like Clock DVA and Cabaret Voltaire. So yeah, bands like Ministry and Nine Inch Nails probably wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for Throbbing Gristle.
It’s worth noting, by the way, that not everything the group produced was unlistenable noise. Their 1979 studio album, the ironically titled 20 Jazz Funk Greats, is a still-weird-but-surprisingly-accessible foray into early synth-pop, and influenced a lot of the so-called “darkwave” and “EBM” (short for “Electronic Body Music”—one of our favorite sub-genre names ever, we have to say) that surfaced over the next decade or so.
Throbbing Gristle broke up in 1981, its various members continuing their bizarre sonic experiments in groups like Psychic TV (started by Genesis and TG’s resident tape manipulation expert, Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson), Chris and Cosey (started by, duh, Cosey, along with ex-TG member Chris Carter) and Coil (started by Christopherson and another weirdo named John Balance). They surprised everyone by reuniting in 2004 and even releasing a new studio album, Part Two: The Endless Not, in 2007. By that time, Genesis P-Orridge had become Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, a “pandrogynous” shemale with breast implants and a vaguely Carol Channing-ish quality. Have we convinced you yet that this band takes weird to a whole new level?
It’s hard to choose just one video that sums up everything that’s weird about Throbbing Gristle, but I think this one comes pretty close. It’s from one of the group’s first 2004 reunion shows and it’s available on a seven-DVD concert box set available through Mute Records. Enjoy, and remember—turn up the volume until it hurts!
Sometimes, all it takes to be weird is a lineup. Take Tinted Windows, a band whose music is actually kinda generic and boring, but the combination of dudes involved…wow! When I first heard about them, I thought it was some kinda April Fools Day joke.
Going left to right in that band photo, we have Bun E. Carlos from Cheap Trick, James Iha from Smashing pumpkins, Taylor Hanson (!!!!) from uh, Hanson, and Adam Schlesinger from Fountains of Wayne. Seriously, you coudln’t make this shit up if you tried.
Like I said, Tinted Windows’ actual music isn’t really all that weird. They basically sound like Fountains of Wayne with less nasally lead vocals (hey, that Hanson kid’s not bad) and that trademark grindy guitar sound from Iha. Power pop is what the kids are calling it, I hear. Very 70’s-ish to my ear…having Cheap Trick’s drummer in the lineup is sort of like having a human cover tune. And on drums…our influences! Give ’em a big hand!
I thought the first two seasons of Lost were pretty brilliant, but they started, well, losing me around season three. It was like the writers got bored with the whole “stranded on a mysterious desert island” plotline and just gave up. Oh, by the way, guys…there’s a suburban subdivision on this island! With book clubs and broadcast television! Who knew?
Clearly, however, the guys in Previously on Lost remain as fervently dedicated to the show now as the day it started. It takes some serious dedication to write a 2-3 minute pop song summarizing the action of every single episode of your favorite TV show. Even if it is, y’know, your favorite TV show.
Adam Schatz and Jeff Curtin, the weirdoes behind Previously on Lost, call their music “recap rock.” Each song plays out like a mini-opera, with lots of rapidfire lyrics, start-stop rhythms, and quirky instrumental touches–they’re particularly fond of marimbas and ukuleles, befitting the tropical vibe of their source material. (Also kazoos: they also call their sound “a maritime kazoo posse.”) If you don’t really follow the show, most of it sounds like total nonsense (hey, kinda like the show), but our Lost fan buddies who have heard the band swear it’s all HIGH-sterical.
Wisely, Lost‘s producers decided to enlist the band rather than sending them cease-and-desist letters; you can now catch Previously on Lost accompanying show recaps on ABC.com. Or, if you don’t feel like poking around ABC’s clunky website (we totally understand), here’s a little taste of their wacky and rather elaborate live show, courtesy of the band’s YouTube channel:
Sometimes the weirdest ideas can actually lead to some pretty beautiful music. That’s certainly the case with Fool’s Gold, a massive L.A. collective (they seem to have anywhere from eight to twelve members, based on the photos I’ve seen) who play Afro-pop-inspired tunes with lots of loping percussion and call-and-response vocals. I know…hipsters playing Afro-pop…yawn, right? Wake me up when Vampire Weekend breaks up. But wait, here’s the kicker: lead singer Luke Top sings in Hebrew. No, that’s not even the kicker. The kicker is that it totally works. Close your eyes and you’d swear you’re hearing some lost Jewish tribe from Ethiopia, jamming it out in the wilderness with some homemade amps and a smoky generator while their camels stop at a desert oasis to refuel. Or something like that.
Anyway, here’s a stream of the band’s first single, “Surprise Hotel”, courtesy of the folks at Stereogum. Stay with it till the 1:30 mark when the Hebrew vocals kick in; that’s when things really start to get interesting.
(Update: Since we first wrote about Fool’s Good, they’ve shot a couple videos, including this really nifty and fairly bizarre one for “Surprise Hotel.” Enjoy.)
Jake and I debated for hours over which band should be the subject of our First Ever Post, but in the end, there was only one band we could agree on: The Residents. Weird bands don’t come any weirder than this mysterious foursome, who have been cranking out bizarre, experimental music (some of which most folks probably wouldn’t even call “music”) for about four decades.
Right from the get-go, The Residents were unlike anything that come before them. They kept their identities secret and rarely gave live performances until the early ’80s, when they finally began doing concerts dressed in matching tuxedos, top hats and giant eyeball masks. Their albums were pastiches of tape loop samples from other recordings, atonal skronk, carnivalesque psych-rock and avant-garde noise. They are perhaps best-known for 1980’s Commercial Album, a collection of 40 one-minute songs that the band explained could be rendered into conventional pop songs just by playing them three times in a row. To get the songs on San Francisco Top 40 radio, the band bought advertising time and broadcast them as commercials.
We know you’re probably asking yourself: Why the one skull mask? In 1985, the lead singer’s eyeball mask was stolen, so he replaced it with a giant skull mask and changed his stage name to “Mr. Skull.” When a fan returned the old eyeball mask, the band announced that the mask was now “unclean” and therefore would be retired. See? It all makes perfect sense.
We could go on about how unbelievably weird The Residents are, but honestly, our writing skills are probably not up to the task. Instead, we leave you with this video from one of their live shows. This song, “Constantinople” (not to be confused with the catchy ditty popularized by They Might Be Giants), comes from the 1978 album Duck Stab/Buster & Glen, which is widely considered to be one of the band’s more “accessible” efforts. Accessible to who, exactly, we’re not sure.