Photography: Drew Weidemann
Genesis Breyer P-Orridge is the ultimate boundary breaker—the High Priestess of Rebellion. S/he’s been destroying gender limitations, reinventing musical conventions, challenging religious barriers and subverting identity for more than 40 years, first with h/er art collective turned pioneering industrial band, Throbbing Gristle, h/er occult artist fellowship, Thee Temple Ov Psychick Youth and now, with both Psychic TV and h/er life.
Born Neil Andrew Megson, P-Orridge, with h/er late partner, Lady Jaye, has undergone several transformations to become a united “pandrogyne,” in order to reassemble conventions of gender and identity in an act of unconditional love. The project reflects P-Orridge’s undying devotion to h/er art—s/he’s willing to sacrifice h/erself completely. P-Orridge has given every bit of h/erself to h/er work, and the latest offering is Alienist.
Psychic TV’s follow-up to 2014’s Snakes, Alienist is a heavy mix of acid house, psych rock and distortion. With two original tracks and two covers, the EP is a poetic expression of P-Orridge’s instinctual capacity to give h/er music a life of its own.
“We find that every song has its own voice,” s/he says. “We don’t sing the same way on every song, we don’t use the same voice, the same accent—we try to get into the story it’s telling on whatever level and wait ‘til that voice tells me how the song should sound.”
H/er inherent understanding of melody and arrangement leads to a unique marriage that’s completely Gen. Even the two covers—Harry Nilsson’s “Jump Into The Fire” and The Creation’s “How Does It Feel”—sound wholly Psychic TV. On “How Does It Feel,” P-Orridge growls atop classic rock guitars, while “Jump Into The Fire,” sees the band channel Sticky Fingers-era Rolling Stones. “I’m Looking For You” is a moody conversation between Genesis and Lucifer, filtered through a heavy layer of psychedelia, and “Alienist,” brings Psychic TV back to their acid house roots.
Though less experimental than previous records, Alienist still showcases both the band’s capacity for innovation and Gen’s ability to express h/erself in a prophetic way—as s/he sings, “You can jump into the fire, but you’ll never be free,” Psychic TV transcends music into it’s own religious experience.
BULLETT caught up with the original “Wrecker of Civilization” to talk tampons, industrial and Psychic TV.
Tell me about Alienist.
My first album was recorded in 1967, to try and somehow record the things that we were hearing in my head in a fusion between Stockhaus and John Cage, The Velvet Underground and poetry. We’ve done so many different attempts at doing that, but this is the first time, after 40 years or so, that the sound we play live and the sound we recorded is the same as the music we hear in my head.
What was the recording process like?
We wanted to think about a way to record so it had intensity and the same improvisational sense to it. At the same time, it was clear and well organized and placed in the stereo in the perfect positions. We came to the conclusion that the only way to get that effect is to play live in the studio. Lately, it’s been bothering me, the obsession with laptops and perfection and auto-tuning, etc.—that takes away the humanity, and people are more concerned with every beat, every sound being positioned perfectly and they’ll fiddle with it infinitely, until they feel it’s technically correct. To me, that’s not what music is for. Music is a celebration and it’s about humanity—it’s about emotions, it’s about how the vocalist is trying to understand the problems and the strangeness of existing. You can’t do that with a perfect sound. There’s got to be the ability for each time you touch a drum, it can be slightly harder or softer, or at a slightly different angle so you can completely be in the moment.
Psychic TV has been referred to as one of the pioneers of acid house. How would you describe the band’s sound?
We’d been searching for some kind of psychedelic dance music. […] We did Turn On, Tune In To The Acid House, with Superman on the label holding a Psychick cross, as a clue to who it was. That got seized from Warner Bros. as a breach of copyright, but some of them got out. As far as we know, that’s the first record with Acid House in the title—not the first Acid House track, but it was the declaration that a new form, a new genre, had appeared.
You founded Thee Temple Ov Psychick Youth in 1981. How would you describe the philosophy behind it?
The idea was, is it possible to take the celebration of the best concerts and events and take it further than just enjoying it that night? Can you use that energy to create a way of life that makes more sense, and expresses how you feel about yourself in regards to society? Also, to explore what would easily be called the occult, or occulture, or shamanism—the spiritual side of things—and see, are there any of these techniques that really work? If they do, can we deconstruct them and demystify them, and see if it’s just that the brain is capable of amazing things if you focus on them? That’s the conclusion we came to. […] One of our aims, always, was to set up a community—an alternative community or come-unity—as we used to call it, which would be more like a think-tank of people who were artists, writers, philosophers, technicians, hackers, whatever, in what would be like a village, still living your individual lives, but with everybody there as support when needed. We still think that’s the ultimate thing that should happen, and with the way the world is going, it’s getting more relevant all the time. The obsession with individuality is starting to fade into something much healthier in our opinion, which is collaboration and sharing, and trying to actually have an effect on the outside world, not to retreat from it, but trying to change it by example.
A lot of Thee Psychick Bible seems to be about self-actualization and following your instincts. Can you elaborate on that?
The conclusion we came to was that the ideas in Thee Psychick Bible, which are demystified ideas about magic—that the first step has to be, to fully integrate yourself and to strip away all the distractions and all the inherited conditioning, all the social mores, and write the narrative of your life everyday, yourself. In other words, you have to become and write and describe who and what you are—and that’s not as easy as it sounds, because we are given baggage from the moment we come out into this world, sometimes even in the womb. […] When you get to that point, the real lesson that should be learned in any discipline is, this means nothing unless I give it back—that being one individual ego has no value in itself. It’s only value is its relationship with everyone else, and that should be based on generosity, kindness, love and practical change, where you let go of the whole ego, me me me thing, and that’s desperately needed right now. The internet has turned a lot of people into rampant narcissists and they’re not thinking about anything else but how they’re projecting into the world as an individual—as an ego.
How does Psychic TV connect with these ideas?
Psychic TV is still the sort of prophetic, propaganda arm of the ideas that we’re mulling over at any given time. Also, they’re a way of setting up celebrations—a safe zone—for people to meet and know for once they don’t have to worry about looking cool. They can dance as silly as they wish, and no one’s going to laugh at them, they can hug each other and they can smile, and they can laugh, and they can relax, and just absorb ideas and images, and most of all, be safe—culturally safe to express any ideas they might have.
Let’s talk about Throbbing Gristle. How did the band come together?
From 1967, with COUM Transmissions, which then became Throbbing Gristle, what we were doing was becoming acceptable as art, and we were getting a lot of credibility as fine artists. But it was a tiny, tiny population of that world that we were talking to. We thought we should be talking to everyone—so what’s the best medium for that? Music—that’s the fastest, most effective way to talk to the maximum number of people about ideas. So we chose to create a band, and then it was the same thing we always do—analyze the tradition, strip away everything that doesn’t need to be there. That’s what you begin with. What is music? It’s a sound, that’s it. You don’t need to know scales, you don’t need to know anything about notes—music is a series of sounds that can be anything.
You’ve been hailed as the founders of industrial music. How did you decide on your sound?
First, we thought, ‘Well, we don’t want a drummer because that immediately sets down a basic pattern which then people adhere to, and that’s not open enough for improvisation.’ It just so happened that Chris Carter, who was part of this thinking process, created his own modular synth way back in ‘74, ‘75. So Chris was using a synth, Peter was using tape recorders, and Cosey [Fanny Tutti] was playing guitar, because she couldn’t play a guitar. Plus, most guitarists at that time were histrionic males showing off, so we thought a woman would be a really good negation of that cock rock thing. Then, what was left, was a broken bass guitar. So we took that, fixed it with Chris and that became the rhythm section of TG. It was like, ‘How can we make a sound with what we have and the skills that we have, which are not musical?’ And it worked, much to our surprise. We never expected it to take off like that.
Why do you think you were so succesful?
It’s one of those things—the right thing at the right time, and having the nerve to let go of all the preconceptions and say, ‘This is how we feel comfortable making sounds, and if you don’t like it, tough.’ In that era, it was that whole thing where Sniffin’ Glue was saying, ‘Learn three chords and start a band.’ We said to Mark Pierce, of Sniffin’ Glue, ‘Why learn any chords?’—that’s the difference between punk and industrial, right there. The other thing was just lyrics—we took the lyric to its final extent, which was dealing with things that we were experiencing. Anything and everything is capable of becoming a lyric, whether it’s a piece in the newspaper or a documentary film you’ve watched, or some theory that somebody’s proposed. We took away the limits. And of course, we didn’t sing with a fake American accent.
Your first show with Throbbing Gristle, ‘The Prostitution Show,’ at ICA in ‘76 is legendary. I know you filled a clock with used tampons, and now those tampons are the Tate Britain. You went from being labeled ‘The Wreckers of Civilization’ by Parliament, to being revered enough to be put in a museum. What does that transition feel like?
It’s amusing, and it’s nice to be vindicated. It’s nice to be recognized as having had an effect, but it’s more of a distraction than anything. We’re more interested in, what are we going to do tomorrow? How is the world going to save itself? How can people find their lives more fulfilling? Can we do anything, on any level, to increase the pleasure of living for everyone? Those are the things that matter—the rest is just detail.