By: Marc Emmerik
Groundbreaking performance artist, music pioneer, poet and cult figure Genesis P. Orridge (Psychic TV, Throbbing Gristle, Coum Transmissions) is playing in The Hague soon. In this long interview s/he talks about William Burroughs, Ian Curtis, pets, Pistols, h/er art exhibition, Pink Floyd, Hawkwind, Bowie, his dead wife Lady Jaye, with whom he shares a body, and much more. His band Throbbing Gristle is on Rolling Stone’s list of 40 most important bands, together with The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Prince, Nirvana and Black Sabbath. With ”Throbbing Gristle” Genesis invented the ”industrial” genre (named after their record label ”industrial records”) and influenced bands like Depeche Mode, Nine Inch nails, Sonic Youth, Neubauten, Marilyn Manson, The Melvins, etc. After marrying Lady Jaye Breyer P-Orridge in 1993, Genesis and Lady Jaye began a project to become Breyer P-Orridge, a single pandrogynous entity. Genesis Breyer P-Orridge continued this project after the death of Lady Jaye in 2007. P-Orridge began referring to h/erself mostly in the plural in 2007, to keep the memory of Breyer.
Hello Gen, how are you?
I’m fine, I’m just home from walking the dog (laughs)
Cool! Did you always have a lot of pets?
No, we had asthma badly and when we were about 2 years old, my mom said ”We’re going to have Sugar, our cat, put to sleep because of your asthma. My first memories of a pet are of me being told the cat was going to be killed because of my asthma. Then when we were around 15 we were allowed to have a rabbit, called Hercules, as long as it stayed outside the house. But as soon as we left home, went to University, dropped out, and went to the Ho Ho Funhouse Commune in 1969 we got a dog from the local rescue, called Tremble, cos it trembled all the time cos it was so freaked out in the beginning. And then with Cosy, when we split up, we got a German Shephard called Tanith. She won prices for obedience. We could give her handsignals from a 100 feet and she would sit, lie down and wait. We once went to a shop and said ”sit”, did our shopping in the market, went home, had a cup of tea, watched a bit of tv, and then thought ”where’s the dog”? Nearly 2 hours had gone by and we ran back and she was still sitting there (laughs).
How did you meet Throbbing Gristle/Psychic TV/Coil member Peter ”Sleazy” Christopherson?
He saw our art collective COUM Transmissions performing in London and came up afterwards and his first words to me were: ”is it true that you know William Burroughs”? We said ”yeah”. And he said he’d love to meet him one day. And then he said ”you dont mind being naked do you? If you want I got a job for you. And it was to be the 2 models for the cover of UFO’s ”Force It” LP. They build a fake bathroom in a derelict house. And then myself and Cosy we had long brown hair at the time, in ponytails. And it was a scene of me apparently forcing, or 2 people enjoying forced sex in this bathroom with the shower on. In England it showed just the straight photograph, in the typical Hipgnosis surrealistic style. In America they faded us out so we were almost just faint ghosts because it was too sexual.
Talking about Sleazy, Im a big fan of art design group Hipgnosis who designed many classic albums in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. What was Sleazy’s contribution to Hipgnosis?
His input was huge, but it was never as strong as he wanted it to be. Sleazy became a full partner of Hipgnosis and eventually end up pretty much running it most of the time. He did the covers for Led Zeppelin, Paul McCartney’s Venus & Mars, Pink Floyd, Peter Gabriel, etc.
You and Throbbing Gristle were rehearsing in the same building as the Hipgnosis office, and the Sex Pistols were reheasing there as well? Was this how you got to know punk?
The Hipgnosis office was upstairs, the Sex Pistols were rehearsing downstairs, just like Throbbing Gristle and Alternative TV. We met Alex Ferguson (from Alternative TV and later Psychic TV) through Sandy Robertson who was writing for Sounds and Alex was living in a terrible squat in Nottinghill Gate. And we squated another house in Hackney, we ended up with a whole half of a street in Hackney, in Beck Road, and we said to Alex, we got an extra house, so he moved next door, and thats how we got to know all the punks like Mark Perry and Alternative TV, and Sue Catwoman. She was going out with Mark P. of Sniffin Glue Fanzine, they split up, we split up with Cosy so I went out with Sue Catwoman for nearly 2-3 years, and she introduced me to all the punkbands before any of their main records, and she used to take me to all these gigs with The Damned, Eater, The Jam, we saw all these bands before they got famous because she knew everyone.
I saw these first Pistols promo pics that Sleazy took, they’re really great but also a bit homo erotic.
Haha, yeah ofcourse. Thats what Hipgnosis would’ve become if they let him have his way with every record. It has Steve Jones handcuffed in a toilet and John Lydon in a straight jacket. Malcom Mclaren rejected those photo’s for being too controversial. Its pretty ironic when you think about it.
What do you think of the son of Mclaren & Vivienne Westwood burning 5 million worth of punk memoribilia
Wow, well, good for him! I guess he’s got a good income somewhere. I couldnt afford to do that (laughs). Malcolm as far as we understand was living quite a luxurious life.
In the late 1960s you were doing light for Pink Floyd?
Pink Floyd used to play a lot at our University in the north of England in 1968-69 and we helped them with all the lightshows. So when Pink Floyd came through we would be added to the lightshow that they brought and we were doing all those oil slides and multi projectors and smokin hash. We saw them do amazing stuff really early on. The one that always stuck in my mind, and no one else seems to remember, one time they came up and used to do 2 sets of 45 mins. When they finished their first set and went off, they came back and were dressed up as workmen and they had bits of wood and hammers and nails and screwdrivers and saws. They started to build 2 chairs and a table and had a cup of tea. It was all miked up so they did rhythms with the saw, the hammer and the nails, it was amazing!
This sounds like experimental, early industrial music. Was this with the original line-up?
No Syd Barret had left by then but we saw him with Floyd in London at the UFO club. Sid was a genius.
You also opened for space rock pioneers Hawkwind, how did that happen?
There was a bust benefit in St Georges Hall, Bradford in 1971, just as a prank we wrote can we support Hawkwind and they put us second on the bill (laughs) we still have the poster. At the time all the bands had a really big drumset. We borrowed all kinds of drumkits and we had this ridiculous huge sea of drums and I was the drummer behind these drums. We had a singer on a surfboard. We had a friend who everybody thought was a dwarf, because he was very young and small, on lead guitar. And Cosy was dressed as a school girl with a gun, a starting pistol, and she wandered around firing the gun at people. We ran into -original Hawkwind member- Nik Turner in the 90’s when we moved to the US and he invited me to do keyboards and samples on the westcoast tour of Hawkwind.
We said: do you remember playing with a weird band in 1971 in Bradford, and he said, yes I do, you were all crazy and you fucked up all our effect pedals with that polystyrene snow at the end of your set (laughs). So he remembered us and we ended up in Hawkwind and there are recordings of me and Hawkweed.
So you also met Lemmy (Hawkwind bassist, later Motorhead)
We met him in 1971, but later in the 80s at the Limelight in London, we hung out with him and his son, really great guy, liked him a lot.
You’ve made a lot of diverse music in your career. Why is that?
Yes, experimental, industrial, folky, house, disco, balletmusic, film soundtracks, popsongs, as far as we’re concerned all music is a collage, it’s all cut-up and reassembled and you can apply that to any style
Talking about cut-up, how did you meet William Burroughs?
We met him in 1971, we were doing mail art a lot on the coattails of fluxus and found an address of Burroughs in a magazine from Canada and thought why not write to him. But how do you write to him? So we thought, well, lets just prank. So we wrote this letter: ”dear William S Burroughs We are so sick and tired of you pretending you know me (laughs), and Alan Ginsberg and all the other beatniks, all pretending you know me and to try and get some of my celebrity, and I just want you to cease and desist telling anybody that you know who I am.” About 10 days later a postcard came through the door, and we looked, and it was from William Burroughs (laughs). And he said ”I was very interested in your letter, here’s my phone number, and if you’re ever in London please come and visit”.
So when we visited London, we rang up, and he said ”get in a taxi, I’ll pay for it”. We went to see him in Duke Street St James where he was living. At the time nearly all of his books were out of print. He was living in a tiny apartment with an Irish hustler from Leicester Square called John. He was so much fun, he was hilerious. And he started drinking Jack Daniels and giving me glasses and we both got roaring drunk. He had a nice tv which I had never seen before and he was clicking it the whole time he was talking to me going thru the different channels doing constant cut-ups in the background.
He started showing me his journals with all the cut up illustrations and bits of newspapers and photographs, it was one of the most amazing days we’ve had. And we stayed till really late, talking about ideas and I guess he liked me. We stayed in touch until he died, and collaborated here and there as well. He was a huge influence on everything we’ve done, the cut up, which we see as the most important cultural tool of the 21st century.
What kind of collaborations did you do with Burroughs?
The biggest one was the Final Academy in 1982. There had been an event in New York, the Nova Convention and it had Frank Zappa etc and they all celebrated Burroughs in a theater for one evening. We thought why dont we do that in Britain but make it much more important and far-reaching. By then Burroughs was living in the US, in Kansas, so we said, we wanna do this event, we call it the Final Academy, because in the Wild Boys there’s Academy 23, and we thought what would happen at the end of all the Burroughs stories, it will be the final academy, so lets do a Final Academy. At the time we were still doing the Temple Ov Psychick Youth and we were making our own grey uniforms and have the same haircuts. So we had our own Wild Boys and became his bodyguards the whole time he was in London and he loved that. He’d go to do a booksigning and there were these really serious young men in uniforms, just stood there at each side of him while he was signing books and they’d never say anything. We managed to arrange it and knew friends who had a gallery called B12 Gallery run by David Dawson. He put on an exhibition of memoribilia, first editions and artworks, of which we supplied quite a few, and Miles he gave a lot of things too, and that was the first time there had been an exhibition of that type ever in London of the Beatniks. We brought Brion Gysin (the inventor of cut-ups) from Paris, William Burroughs from Kansas, John Giorno (Warhols partner in the 60s) from New York. Acts as Cabaret Voltaire, 23 Skidoo played and for Psychic TV it was it’s first ever performance.
We also managed to republish all of Williams books in Britain because of all the publicity he was getting and then Howard Brookman came over with an unfinished documentary of Burroughs. He was really sick at the time, dying of HIV/Aids. Through Derek Jarman, we got use of the BBC2’s editing suites and finished with Howard their supervisor. All the old footage was supplied by me; old films from the 1950s. We did all of that and made it happen and subsidized itself. BBC2 did an half hour documentary about the Final Academy, and took the documentary to Liverpool and Manchester where it was screened for one night in each place.
A lot of other people were influenced by the cut-up technique, like David Bowie.
(laughs) I talked to William about that, can I blow a little bit of a legend here please? Sorry because there are so many people crying their eyes out about Bowie and I quite honestly never really liked his music and I’ve heard too many negative stories about him.
We rang up William and said ”what the fuck are you doing, doing an interview with David Bowie in the Rolling Stone? what the hell is that about? And he goes ‘well Gen its just publicity, I dont know who the fuck he is” (laughs). He didnt know who he was. He just got dragged there, got paid and left.
When Bowie died there were some outtakes from the Low sessions which sounded like Throbbing Gristle, did he know TG?
Bowie knew about TG. We heard rumours he was at 1 or 2 TG shows, but we do know Bowie bought our LP 2nnd Annual Report when it came out, and so did Lou Reed and Peter Gabriel because they ordered it through mailorder. Peter Gabriel used to rang up Sleazy and ask him about the latest electronic equipment. Gabriel also bought out an engineer we used to work with.
Bowie’s friend and collaborator Brian Eno was also interested in Throbbing Gristle?
Yes ofcourse, he nearly released a record by us. In the Coum Transmissions phase, when Eno was doing the Ambient series, we did a piece called ”Marcel Duchamps Next Works” and it was 12 bicycle wheels, all different colors in a circle, they were ready made like the Duchamps ready-made bicycle wheel.. And then there were cards that you would throw down so that the card would tell you which number to pick. People would play them with nails, We performed that at the Palais the Beaus Arts in Belgium and various experimental classical music festivals in Europe.
Eno was planning to release the recording of that on his label. We would speak to him regularly on the phone asking when it will be released. One day he was a weird on the phone and I said; you’re not going to release it are you?” And he said ”well I’ve been invited to be in the Velvet Underground Genesis’, and that was the time he played with Nico in France. So our record never came out because of the Velvet Underground gig he got, which is fair enough (laughs). A lot of things were discussed on the phone. Producing etcetera, but none of it ever happened.
Eno definitely used to come to the Coum Trans performances. We did one really radical performance at the Architectual Association and at the official photo’s of that performance, you could see Eno at the frontrow of all of the pictures. He was totally aware of what we did. I was a guest lecturer at Reading University a few times and he was their at that time as well, just graduating so Eno also saw me at the last year of University giving talks about the theories of Coum, so he knew all about us.
Talking about your art, I saw you had an exhibition ”Try to altar everything” at the Rubin Museum in New York. What is it about?
Yeah its incredible, its a whole floor of the museum. The basic idea is to remind people that everything you see, no matter how mundane or ordinary it might be, has the potential to be sacred and the potential to become art and to be used in a thoughtfull, talismanic way. So many of the objects were made from things that were literally already in my apartment. And then there’s these glass cilindrical jars in the installation all through the walls. At the opening people were invited to bring something that was special and significant to them and donate it. In return they got a necklace with a psychic cross. And then we gradually been putting all those things into the jars. We collected more than 700.
Even if it’s a busticket, there’s no way to say what is or isn’t significant, there’s no way to say that something is more precious than something else. Its not up to anyone of us to decide what makes it precious. Its the way we relate to the world outside that makes things precious. And thats what art is; its relating to the environment and seeing it as something sacred and spiritual. The loss of that relationship is part of whats made the world so cynical and careless and twisted and the species has to rediscover its spiritual side or its going to implode and destroy itself, its so obvious. So thats why we’re doing this show in a nutshell.
What can we expect from a Pychic TV live performance nowadays?
It will be very psychedelic and we will focus a lot on the newest album ”Snakes” and we just finished recording a 4 track 12” EP which includes a song by The Creation, the 60’s band.
The musicians we’re working with now are great! This is the first time since my 1st record in 1967 (”The Early Worm”) when the music that we play live and the music that we record on records is exactly what I’m hearing in my head. There were moments of that with TG for sure, but that was a time of anger and rage. This is a time of a need for something seductive, kind and generous because the world itself is full of rage and anger and violence. The job of the artist is to do the opposite of what’s harming the species.
Did they make better music in the 1960’s? Is that why you cover an obscure band like The Creation?
Its good to remind these young people that there’s all these incredible sounds from the 60’s that are waiting, even if they just sample it.
The 1960’s was a period of immense experimentation and because so little technology was available people used their genius factor to make things that were unique. Now thats another example, the same as the exhibiton: you don’t need a room full of digital equipment to do something radical. In fact, often you cant do anything radical because you’re too busy with all the equipment and get sidetracked into just discussing what new synth you got, or what new modulate piece you got to add to your collection of modulate synths. Now TG’s Chris Carter had a modulate synth when we began, that he build himself. Sleazy got all these walkmans and turned them into the first example of a sampler. When Apple computers came out, we got one of those. Sleazy adjusted that so that we could use it for sounds and played it live. We were doing this in the late 70’s, and for me there is no point to go back 45 years and repeat myself. We rather look at what else is possible.
Were you ever photographed by Anton Corbijn?
Yes, for the NME in Berlin, with Throbbing Gristle
Did you see his movie Control about Ian Curtis/Joy Division and did he contact you when he made the movie?
Yes we saw the movie but Anton never contacted me.
I’m asking cos you were friends with Ian Curtis
Yes, the story eventually came out of us being the last person that Ian Curtis spoke to, and that we were planning to have a band together. Its still really hard for me to listen to Joy Division because of the grief. He was such a special person. That day he committed suicide we could tell he was going to do it, from what he was talking about. We rang everybody we knew in Manchester and nobody took it seriously. And it was before cellphones, before most people in England even had answering machines and it was too late, no one went there…
You met Ian’s Belgian girlfriend
Yeah Annik, she’s fantastic, she past away a few years ago. We knew about her at that time but really met her when we were playing in Brussels somewhere before 2007. We were supporting Peaches, and we have this rule when we’re on tour nobody can come in the dressingroom for at least half an hour. Lady Jaye came in and said, ”Gen I know you dont like anyone to come in the dressingroom but there’s someone outside that I think youre going to want to say hi to”, and she brought in Annik. Annik saw me, and we saw her, and we hugged each other and started crying. It was so intense..I’m crying now…I’m crying..shit..
It was not my intention to make you cry
Thats allright, It’s ok. You always think was there something else we could’ve done. We called many people, but we didn’t call the police but maybe we should have, we dont know…. And I mean, sometimes people are just destined to go young, like Lady Jaye. Annik was such a beautiful woman, so gentle..
In a lot of interviews they always ask you about the gender thing. Do you get bored talking about this all the time?
Yeah we get bored about it, because its not even about gender. Its about identity and evolution. If the species is going to survive what is it that we’re doing over and over again that means that for over 30.000 years we’ve been at war with each other. Why are we still having wars? why are we still raping? why are we still murdering? what is wrong with us as a species? can we ever change? And I guess the catholic church would call that ”the original sin”, we dont think there is one. We think it’s a prehistoric, genetic, trade for survival, and what happened is that we’ve developed the technological environment that we’re in immensely, but we’re still behaving as if we’re still living in a cave and we have to kill whatever comes to threaten our food supply.
Technology is not bringing us forward?
We’re at a point now where it’s ”either or” because at the beginning it was: ”oh there’s a neanderthal and I’m not a neanderthal so I must kill it because it’s different”. This is still going on; muslim-christian, christian-jewish, black-white, good-bad, lesbian-straight etc. Its always something other that you make people afraid of, and give them permission to attack and intimidate and kill in order to control them. That is obviously a redundant, a failed system. And therefor we have to look at whats the biggest problem there, the ”either or”, the binary system.
And thats another reason why we’re so suspicious of the internet, because its binary, its another ”either or”. The internet is build out of nothing; zeros and ones, it’s not really there, everything digital isn’t there, it’s the ultimate illusion.
Therefor we think that pandrogyn is the two becoming one, the male and the female joining and merging to become the hermafrodite. The divine hermafrodite, the perfect form, where there is no longer the male, female, either or, there’s just the human species which we call humane species, with an E on it for evolution. That is what it’s all about. The human species has to jumpstart its own evolution. We’re an unfinished creature, and now people are regressing backwards.
People want to go back to fake”better times” when the behaviour was more polarised and more violent, not less. So its really critical that we all stand up and say ”thats not gonna work”.
And thats what Psychic TV stands for, thats what the art stands for, and everything we do!
Thanks Genesis and looking forward to see you with Psychic TV!