Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Throbbing Gristle - At the I.C.A., London, 18th October, 1976

"You see, we couldn't get a gig so we thought we'd play at the I.C.A. The Marquee wouldn't have us" (Genesis P-Orridge, Melody Maker, November 20th, 1976)"

After two low key performances during the summer of 1976, Throbbing Gristle made their official debut on October 18th at the opening of COUM's Prostitution show at the Institute of Contemporary Arts. The exhibition catapulted COUM, from obscure performance art group to notorious cultural terrorists, when UK broadsheets and tabloids vented their disgust at COUM's display of used tampons, anal syringes, framed hardcore photos of Cosey Fanni Tutti (pages from adult magazines she posed for) and other scandalous objets d'art. The strategy to officially launch Throbbing Gristle at the Prostitution event was a spectacular bit of self-promotion, even attracting attention from one unlikely source, Scottish MP Nicholas Fairbairn who called for the Arts Council to be scrapped and deemed all involved "wreckers of civilisation", a headline grabbing quote which has since become a byword for the group. Another unsympathetic eyewitness was Tony Parsons who wrote a sneering sarcastic account of TG's performance for the NME. In fact, TG's set dubbed Music From The Death Factory is one of their great early performances, the band surging with creativity, confidence, and fearlessness.

The opening number Very Friendly had been previously recorded at Death Factory studios but the ICA version is the definitive reading of the song, a dramatic (but factual) account of the final hours of 17 year old Edward Evans before his brutal murder by Ian Brady and Myra Hindley. Genesis P-Orridge delivers a tour-de-force vocal, antagonistic, outraged, even a little theatrical ("There's been a mu...mu...mu...mu...murder") amid great tendrils of synth whipped up by Chris Carter, a clanging percussive rhythm track (which had appeared at the AIR Gallery and Winchester shows albeit in fragmentary form) bursts of improv noise and snatches of cut-up dialogue lifted from news programs. Very Friendly segues right into the toxic We Hate You (Little Girls), an exercise in deliberate bad taste but showing a humorous element of TG, something the later wave of Industrial groups could never quite master. Following the relative calm of an eerie instrumental passage, the group embark on Slug Bait, one of TG's most unnerving pieces, led by a weirdly accented vocal by Genesis acting out a Manson Family style slaying. Dead Head returns from the previous show but here is presented in much more lugubrious, sinister form. The final song of the evening, Zyklon B Zombie bears almost no relation, music or lyrics wise to the track found on the flipside of the United single, and after 38mins (and not 60mins as promised by Genesis in his introduction) the ICA concert ends with a high pitched alarm, and polite applause from, one imagines, a bewildered audience. Incidentally, right at the end of the Industrial tape (and at the 58:46 mark of the reissue CD) there's a short clip from BBC Radio's Newsbeat about the Prostitution show, which includes a soundbite by Genesis.

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