More than a reissue: A necessary reminder to think for oneself
Forming in 1976, the birth of British industrial music pioneers Throbbing Gristle was ultimately a project that evolved from a performance art collaboration, COUM, between Genesis P-Orridge and Cosey Fanni Tutti, later coming to integrate musicians Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson and Chris Carter. As Throbbing Gristle, the group continued to uphold the ideas behind COUM’s performance art– to reject conformation and promote unconventional ideas.
Becoming known for confrontational, even antagonistic performances, they sought to break from the traditions that bound music and the performance of it. The four went on to found their own label, Industrial Records, under which they released their debut album, The Second Annual Report of Throbbing Gristle. Following the group’s conception, they oversaw the release of four studio albums before disbanding in 1981. Almost twenty years later, Throbbing Gristle reunited for live performances in the early 2000s and went on to record and publish 2004’s TG Now and 2007’s Part Two: The Endless Not, their first studio album recorded since the group’s original dissolution.
The pair of albums, in conjunction with their 2004 live recorded album, A Souvenir of Camber Sands, was reissued by Mute Records as ‘The Reformation Years’ Reissue. TG Now, their first compilation of material released since reuniting, was comprised of four tracks, each ranging from eight to fourteen minutes in length which were recorded during a live performance. The four tracks, though on the lengthier side, are certainly engaging as they display a range of unconventional sounds and samples. One of the most notable aspects of the album, though, is how great the idea of process is present.
On one hand, Throbbing Gristle is undoubtedly defying convention in the way their music is not bound by structure or form, and consequently retains a level of spontaneity. However, their output is also reminiscent of another movement that had arisen around the same time as the group’s formation across the Atlantic. The aforementioned emphasis on process, or the development and unfolding of the music’s complexity over the course of the work, was also one of the main focuses of Minimalism, which arose over the course of the ’60s and ’70s with works by American figures such as La Monte Young and Terry Riley. Though not necessarily the focus of Throbbing Gristle’s output, it’s a fascinating reflection of the musical landscape that was being shaped during the formative years of the group. This process of unfolding is especially apparent in tracks such as “X-ray” and “Almost Like This,” in which a rhythmic foundation is set, and gradually rhythmic layers or other textural and vocal elements are added and removed.
Part Two: The Endless Not exhibits similar foundational ideas, but does ultimately present work of greater complexity that doesn’t quite carry the same air of spontaneity that the live TG Now did. With the use of more diverse instrumentation in “Rabbit Snare,” and other elements such as the vocal distortion of “Endless Not,” the album is surely defined by a much wider range of compositional elements that make for a more captivating listen. Vocal work on the album is also much more prevalent, taking center stage on tracks such as “Almost A Kiss” and “The Worm Waits Its Turn.” Similarly, A Souvenir of Camber Sands is also composed of ten tracks that display a wide array of sounds, sound production techniques, and textures. The live recorded album shares two tracks, “Greasy Spoon” and “Almost Like This (A Kiss),” with Part Two: The Endless Not, the 2004 studio album. Though re-releases of the same songs, the recordings on each album sound anything but redundant, though not just by virtue of juxtaposing live and studio recordings. With tracks “What a Day,” “Hamburger Lady” and “Convincing People,” the album reflects the same spontaneity that TG Now does, carrying an almost improvisational spirit and leaving listeners without a sense of security as they defy predictability.
In November of 2010, Throbbing Gristle saw a final dissolution upon the death of member Peter Christopherson. Although the group did not continue to write and produce further material, it’s certain that Throbbing Gristle left a significantly deep mark on recorded music. Credited as key figures in the founding of industrial music, the group surely lives on through their transgressive ideas about creating art and their refusal to accept convention that pervaded their music and influenced many artists that followed. During a period in which thinking for oneself has both reached a high and a low of sorts, in and out of music, Throbbing Gristle’s reissue comes at a necessary time.