Throbbing Gristle, a name as obscene as it is absurd… Lancashire slang for an erection, but somehow an appropriate description of the sound they produce, the throb and hum of machinery (and the heart is the machine most dear to us, itself a lump of gristle that… throbs) combined with the biological, the organic, specifically the flesh.. Wrongly regarded as a “synthesizer” group, TG had in fact only one synthesizer amongst the four of them. The majority of their decaying, grinding music was produced by guitar, bass, cassette-tape and an arsenal of signal processors. Yup, a rock band. This was not Tangerine Dream.
Similarly, one could never expect the polished, professional reproduction of formal compositions (as in the case of Kraftwerk, whose product is so totally formalised that one concert differs from the next in no perceivable sense). This band improvises! No two concerts (assiduously recorded, per usual) ever the same! So what! You say, but you do not understand. Everything, everything, everything stems from this band (well, almost). Seminal is not the word, more like a hale of spunk. Peter Christopherson shot the Sex Pistols first (rejected) photo-session. Gary Numan bought a synth after hearing “United”, Public Image Limited consulted them about Synth purchases, A Certain Ratio about cornet treatments. Brian Eno rang them up (they famously told him to fuck off). A thousand groups sent their first cassettes to them/were inspired to form bands, play and record: from these ranks came members of later groups that would have “smash-hits”…
The New-look old TG: well, what did you expect? Funny how the dailys are all proclaiming them as “one of the most influential music groups of the 70s” as if a long established fact: TG are living history. And rampant with it. Their re-incarnation reminds us how many of TG’s famous obsessions and bizarries have since become mainstream. Inventing and then distancing themselves from a genre, it was left to later interpreters to hi-jack. “Industrial” is a generic term partially emptied of meaning, describing a broad smear between Marilyn Manson, Rammstein and NIN (with corn like Korn getting a look-in too). I say the hell with it.
Anyway, somehow absent are the themes that made them “more than just how it sounds”, by which I mean media-manipulation, warfare techniques (I haven’t mentioned serial-killers), perhaps these themes are far more present in the public consciousness these days. Which gets me on to my one complaint about the concert which I do intend to review, honest. It just wasn’t nasty enough. Nasty as in playing the evil scapegoat for the audience. It’s all too “family”. It’s all too nice! These people aren’t the wreckers of society, they’ve become its nursemaids!
Is this new “feminized” Gristle softer on it’s public? It seemed that sectors of the audience interested themselves as much in Gen’s new lifts, lips and blips as in the, ah, psychic rally ( s/he reminds me more of Barbara Windsor than Dusty or Nancy, but occassionally one can see… Mick Jagger! breaking through…or Brian Jones). Another talking point was the Paco Rabanne-style skirt, due no doubt to be auctioned on E-bay (this was the fate of a the PVC two-piece Gen wore at the Asteria concert last year)… with so much colour and warmth, why do I miss the paramilitary uniforms? I guess it’s just the miserablist in me. And finally, the concert:
First up were the opening act Big Bottom. Ringmastered by Alex Hacke, this eight-piece all-bass extravaganza looked impressivewith eight identical bass amplifiers arranged symmetrically across the stage. Unfortunately, their set had all the hallmarks of an all too-hasty conception (i.e. it sounded as though they had only rehearsed it once or twice) and the protean riffing never really left the ground. A pity, but anyone playing this particular support slot was bound to suffer in comparison with the evenings hotly awaited heroes.
A bump, a blast of trumpet and we’re into “Convincing People”. Ladies and Gentlemen, the real Big Bottom, THROBBING GRISTLE! A smaller stage had been erected behind the main stage and the audience was able to get out of their seats (hurrah! Seeing bands in the Volksbuehne sitting on yer ass is sooo non-dionysian) and revel at the feet of their heathen idols. Genesis (Absolutely Fabulous) standing behind a lecturn draped, somewhat naffly, with a swathe of golden material, murmering in his sub-Lou Reed fashion, Cosey looking dignified in her neoprene jumpsuit with Ilse riding boots. Chris Carter and Sleazy Christopherson were the soul of anonymity on this occasion (nothing unusual about that) but obviously holding the lion’s share of the noise aloft. Subsonics abounded ( I leaned against the speakers a few times, got myself a very satisfactory full-body massage), channels mysteriously dropped out ( I presumed it was the promised quadrophonic sound mix) and everything generally churned and bubbled in a classic TG manner.
By the second or third “number” it had become clear… TG was playing one of it’s Late Velvet Underground concerts. I knew I wasn’t gonna hear “Zyklon B Zombie”, but that’s OK, didn’t wanna hear the hits anyway (although a couple of old favourites as signposts wouldn”t have gone astray). Basically they were premiering their impending latest record “Part Two”. Details of the concert are somewhat hazy… I was consumed in the general rapture…and taking photos… but I seem to remember Cosey standing a few times and Genesis bending over once or twice. That was about it for stage mechanics… no gory multimedia sideshow, just unforgiving white light.
Either we’ve learned to take our medicine or the new sound of TG has rid itself of some of it’s sharp edges and unruliness. But they are probably capable of producing a set of unconditional noise depending on their whims. The Astoria concert in London last year was a more “historical” representation, combining more old faves with new material. That concert was also more aggressive, more “industrial” (there, I said it). Still, a very satisfying Sylvester evening in Berlin. Shucks, why were we so lucky, folks?
Oh, and the band came back onstage to play the first ever encore of their 30 year history… now, what does that say? Very friendly.