‘If you’re going to come to a Throbbing Gristle gig,’ said my friend Ian, ‘you have to expect it to be loud.’ He was gesturing in the direction of the couple next to us at their gig at the Village Underground on the Shoreditch / Hackney borders, both of whom had their fingers in their ears throughout the final song of their set.
It was a common sight. There were lots of earphones and earplugs, which we felt rather defeated the purpose. The point is that this was supposed to be confrontationally loud, because that’s what TG were always all about – confrontation. It was one of many observations made through the course of almost two hours of relentless and – mostly – structured noise. Other observations included Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson (in a kimono) looking a little like Harold Bishop, and Genesis Breyer P’Orridge looking like… well, we aren’t really sure what he looks like, but he’s certainly a lot shorter than I thought he’d be.
I’m writing this on a Jubilee Line Tube the day after; my ears are still ringing. But there is something about the noise of Tube trains on this particular line which provides a useful analogy for the majority of ‘songs’ last night – leaving the stations along the line the trains depart quietly until some sections of the tunnels where the noise levels rise quickly, swiftly becoming almost distressingly loud in their dense screeching and howling; like a gong softly hammered and then hit more forcefully, only put through a massive bank of distortion. Lots of the songs were like that last night – quiet, almost dark ambient at first then rising through waves of added ferocity to create a huge bed of noise that occasionally made the tendons in my neck vibrate. Beats were not eschewed, sometimes emerging as deep bassy throbs, sometimes rattling around like an old Cabaret Voltaire vintage drum machine.
New instruments were apparently being roadtested tonight. Chris Carter chimed what looked like small bells, while P’Orridge waved an iPhone about, coaxing feedback and tones from a white electric violin, at one point standing in front of it while it was resting on its stand and bowing it with two bows at the same time. Cosey Fanni Tutti played an electronic guitar, producing sparks of feedback, and switched to cornet for one track. At times the four of them were sat at their devices like online gamers. During the cacophonous final track of the main set, Christopherson put his fingers in his ears. It tells you it must have been loud if one of the band members had to block out the sound. By the end his eyes were closed and his head swaying from side to side, much as you’d expect to see someone absorbed rapturously in a piece of classical music.
The sound came to a juddering halt and they left the stage to applause marginally louder than the racket they’d just made. A few moments later Christopherson took the mic and advised that the band were ‘all feeling a little jetlagged so there’ll be no encore tonight’. This prompted boos from some quarters and half the audience departed, but, though it was delivered in an apologetic voice which hardly encapsulated rebellion, I almost saw in it the contrarian-ness, the punk spirit, of their earliest days. When they came back on, Christopherson muttering ‘Oh, go on then,’ like he was taking a proffered chocolate that he knew he probably shouldn’t take, it almost felt like baying to the pressure of the crowd, something they’d have never done back in the day. Luckily, the unashamed confrontation and aggression of ‘Discipline’ more than made up for the doubts, P’Orridge by this stage swigging from a glass of red wine and fending off a naked stagediver, taking the evening to a powerful close.
First published 2010; edited 2014
(c) 2014 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence
Note – the source of the accompanying photo is now unknown. I am happy to attribute the credit if the photographer can be identified.