Sunday, November 9, 2008

Throbbing Gristle

Throbbing Gristle, how I love thee. Is it because you make good music? Not necessarily. Granted, some of it is just plain good music, but the reasons I have for loving and being inspired by this band are oftentimes misunderstood.

EXHIBIT A: "Hamburger Lady"
This song... Jesus Christ, this song scared the crap out of me, and it still does. This terrifying sound experiment stands as probably the scariest piece of media I have ever been exposed to. I still remember the first time I heard it - I was high, listening in total darkness, and I actually broke down crying because this song hit me so hard. It's based on a letter one of the band members got from a friend who was a hospital orderly or something;

" far the worst is the Hamburger Lady, and because of the shortage right now of 'qualified technicians', e.g. technicians who can work with her and keep their last meal down, Screwloose Lauritzen and I have been alternating nights with her, unrelievedly. If you put a 250-lb meatloaf in the oven and then burned it and then followed that by propping it up on a potty-chair to greet you at 11pm each night, you would have some description of these past two weeks. Which is to say the worst I seen since Viet napalms. When somebody tells you that there is a level of pain beyond which the human mind cannot retain consciousness, please tell them to write to me. In point of fact this lady has not slept more than 3-5 minutes at a stretch since she came to us - that was over two weeks ago and, thanks to medical advances, there is no end in sight; from the waist up everything is burned off, ears, nose, etc. - lower half is untouched and that, I guess, is what keeps her alive. I took one guy in to help me change tubes and he did alright, that is alright till he came out, then he spotted one of the burn nurses (pleasant smiling zombies) eating a can of chili-mac at the desk, and that did it: he flashed on the carpet. It's fucking insane is what it is."

Take a creepy, robotic reading of parts of the letter in cut-up fashion, mutilated by a vocoder and set against a hideous, roaring atmosphere that sounds like the auditory personification of pain, and you get a scary fucking song.

EXHIBIT B: Wreckers of Civilization
I don't like punk music. I've never liked punk music. I don't know why, but it never clicked with me, even though I like the idea of sonic anarchy. Throbbing Gristle basically holds the same ideals as punk, but the sound is more to my liking - computerized, experimental, glitchy. The fact that none of the members of the band had any kind of experience with music in any way, shape or form (aside from vocalist Genesis P-Orridge doing some avant-garde stuff in the past) and that their shows were almost entirely improvised intrigues me. For reasons such as these, their output is really kinda split down the middle - some of it is genuinely good, trippy, experimental proto-industrial. The other half of it is so profoundly god-awful that it's like some beautiful train wreck that people have gathered around because the charred remains have melted into the shape of the Virgin Mary - it's unbearable, and an extremely important development in the ideals of music and the artist-consumer relationship because of it. It's really something that must be heard to be believed.

EXHIBIT C: Influence
The band has had a massive influence despite its relative obscurity. TG has most notably been an influence on Skinny Puppy, who themselves would go on to pretty much invent 'industrial' as it is currently known (or rather, refine the sound that came from many differing sources). After breaking up, the band splintered into several, including Psychic TV, Chris & Cosey, and Coil. Coil was perhaps one of the most influential electronic/ambient bands out there, with some of the more notable followers including Aphex Twin and Nine Inch Nails, both of whom would go on to collaborate with Coil. Through that small web, an enormous trickle-down effect (or in this case, fuckin' waterfall) has come into play, with TG at the top of it all.

I could go on for quite a bit longer, but to cut out the faux-intellectualism for a minute, I'll state some basic opinion: I adore TG's output from their '77 debut up to '79, but after that they kinda went on a decline until the breakup. However, they've recently gotten back together, and their 2007 reunion album is one of, if not the strongest piece of production they've released thus far. Frankly, I can't wait for what comes next.


  1. Hey, you've probably read this but if not, you might find it interesting.

    It's an article from the '70's about Throbbing Gristle (including explaining the band's name!) and has a thing about the Hamburger Lady song.

  2. Oh yeah, I read that a while back. It just so happens to be about "DoA", which is my favorite TG album and one of my favorite albums from anyone. Thanks for posting it though :)