Photos by Lloyd Bishop
Interview moderated by Alan Licht
It goes without saying that such a sprawling Q&A far exceeded our expectations for a chance meeting between Brooklyn’s reigning noise-rock band and the legendary frontwoman of Psychic TV and Throbbing Gristle . To be honest, we were worried it would ever get off the ground at all. You see, things were awkward at first, as everyone met up at P-Orridge’s Queens apartment for a quick photo session and glasses of Raki, an anise-flavored liquor brought back from Turkey by P-Orridge’s daughter. It’s not that Black Dice’s three members (Aaron Warren, brothers Eric and Bjorn Copeland) were sitting in lock-jawed awe of an icon that greatly influenced the experimental music scene they now inhabit.
Okay, maybe they were; which would explain why no one could talk about anything but P-Orridge’s pudgy dog, Big Boy. For the first 15 minutes, at least. Then something happened, right around the time P-Orridge shared the original, framed “indecent collaged Queen postcards” that pissed off England’s royal highness more than any Sex Pistols song ever could. Standing here, amid African idols and the meaning-infused ephemera of lost counter-cultural eras, Black Dice and P-Orridge quickly realized what they share in common beyond music–a drive to create boundary-breaking, button-pushing art.
self-titled left the pair and Licht to their own devices at this point, only to find out that everyone ended up talking well until midnight–a good four hours in total. Normally, we’d cut huge chunks of an interview that’s as massive as the one you’re about to read. The problem with that is the loose conversational tone that P-Orridge and Black Dice kept throughout. Frankly, we feel this is one of the most thorough, and insightful, interviews we’ve seen with either artists in years. With that in mind, we present you with Part One, a paean to tonight’s show at Brooklyn’s Masonic Temple–Throbbing Gristle’s first ever NYC-area appearance …
“That was the one where there was a big riot, where they were throwing toilets and things at us.”
Aaron Warren: I have a question to start things off with : When we practice or tour, we listen to a lot of FM radio. Some of my favorite stuff is from the UK in the ’70s–[things like] ELO and 10cc. And I’m always like, “If I was a cool dude living in England in the ’70s, would I like this stuff or would I think it’s just absolute shit?” Cause you know, I fancy myself something of a cool dude now [laughter], and I think it’s pretty good, but there’s a lot of stuff now that I feel is the equivalent of those bands, that I just cannot get behind. So I was wondering if…
Genesis P-Orridge: …having been in England in the ’70s, what did we think?
GPO: We wanted to like 10cc, cause it used to be the Hollies.
AW: Oh, really? I didn’t know that.
GPO: Yeah, the last remnants of the Hollies, who used to work in a boutique called the Toggery, which is where I used to buy mod clothes:as a little aside [laughs]. The production values were what I admired, the actual end result was kind of boring. It’s a bit like what Elton John’s like now. He just became all production and trickery.
AW: Phil Collins still makes me feel a little bit queasy when I hear him, but we have friends who say â€œOh, I love Genesisâ€…were there things from back then…
GPO: You’re asking the wrong person [laughter]. The reason we started [Throbbing Gristle] was we couldn’t bear anything that was in the record shops at all. So we started doing our music out of frustration in ’75. And before that we were listening mainly to American music–the Velvets and stuff like that. The interesting British bands kind of petered out around ’71, when prog-rock happened.
AW: Were you behind something like ’70s-era Pink Floyd?
GPO: No. To this day, we’ve never even listened to Dark Side of the Moon. Ever. [Laughter]
Bjorn Copeland: I guess I find that there’s not too many things I like 100-percent, you know what I mean? If you took even your favorite piece of artwork hanging in here and zoomed in, I’m sure there’d be things that would be decisions you wouldn’t have made, and I feel like the flipside of that is there’s always something good in total dog shit. And nowadays, you’re exposed to so much stuff that I kinda feel like you have to get off on little details of some terrible song.
GPO: That’s a very honorable:attempt. We praise you for that, but we’re not interested in it at all [laughter]. We’ve got a really simple system which is that basically hardly anything in this house was made after 1969, and we were doing that with furniture, too, up ’til [Lady] Jaye [Breyer P-Orridge] passed. (Genesis’ longtime life partner/creative collaborator/”other half” died in the couple’s home on October 11, 2007. She had suffered from a sudden, undiagnosed heart condition and passed away in Genesis’ arms.)
We were reducing everything down to just before 1970–unless we made it. Because I think everything became really sophisticated around ’71, ’72. It was all based on the money thing. Brian Jones was murdered in ’69 because he couldn’t go to America with the Stones. And that was when Allen Klein came over, he took over the Beatles and the Stones, and basically was aware of–and made other people aware of–the fact that there was a huge amount of money to be made in the United States. And the Yardbirds became Led Zeppelin:
AW: See, I have a hard time imagining that there’s money to be made in the U.S. on music:
GPO: :and the Who went into Tommy, and suddenly they all shifted to looking at what America wanted.
Alan Licht: All those festivals too, was when people started realizing there was money to be made, like the Woodstock movie:
BC: It’s funny cause that whole phenomenon pretty much stopped after ’69 in the US.
GPO: It died because the same people took over the stadiums and made stadium rock the thing, cut the legs out from underneath the free festivals. It was basically a money thing. Burroughs always said, “When you want to know what’s really happening, look for the vested interests. Follow the money.” People sold out, in the real sense. Not that they became popular, but that they made compromises because they wanted to make lots of money in America. British groups basically ignored Britain after ’72. And that left just the people who were trying to have hit records. But then you had the new underground, by ’75. Cabaret Voltaire, and us, and punk. It went into do-it-yourself.
“We’d be playing a sports bar, and it was like, terrifying, cause you think the dude behind the bar is going to kill you during your set.”
AW: The gear that you were using, was it expensive, or was it cheap?
GPO: It was free [laughs]. The bass guitar that we used was left behind by somebody in our basement. [It] didn’t have strings, didn’t have pickups:so we bought two humbucker pickups and stuck â€˜em in; we didn’t realize they were meant for lead guitars. Chris [Carter] built his own synthesizer out of modules that he saw in electrician magazines. Sleazy just used some Walkmen and Sony tape decks. And Cosey [Fanni Tutti] bought her guitar at Woolworth’s for 15 pounds. We made our own speaker cabinets. It was as cheap as it could be.
AW: There’s something cool about having that direct a relationship with the shit you’re making sounds out of. It’s not something where you have to learn some other person’s vision, like scroll through menus and acquiesce:
GPO: :we made our own effects pedals, the Gristle-izer, as well.
AW: What was the Gristle-izer?
GPO: It was some circuits that Chris found in a magazine that they said would be good for distortion, and built one each for us, the whole TG sound is those.
AW: Do you have that kind of gear still?
GPO: My Gristle-izer was burned to death in L.A. in ’95, sadly:Sleazy’s just stopped working and couldn’t be repaired, cause now they don’t make the same parts. He tried to make a new one and it just didn’t sound the same. So they’re all gone, from wear and tear, we don’t have â€˜em anymore.
AL: [To Black Dice] Do you guys build your own gear at all?
BC: We had stuff built before. Our old drummer, Hisham [Bharoocha], was working at Electro Harmonix and a guy there built us a pre-amp pedal, and then our friend Gavin Russom built me a briefcase that has like two filters and a 10-step sequencer that we used for a long time, but:it’s really nerve-wracking. I don’t know how to fix that shit myself so every time we would go on tour there would be a couple of really sketchy moments.
AW: When I started playing with these dudes, I had nothing. [I] just borrowed stuff from everyone. But now I don’t go that route. My current philosophy is I go to Guitar Center [and get] brand new [equipment]. If it breaks, I just get another one, and I can get a sound out of that.
GPO: We were lucky. Sleazy and Chris, to this day, are really into soldering irons and fiddling with electronics. When Walkmens first came out, Sleazy bought six, cause he was over in Japan doing a photo shoot for somebody, and brought them back. And then he got inside them and customized them himself, so he could play both sides of the cassette tape at the same time.
AW: Oh, sweet.
GPO: And then he put them through a keyboard, re-routing everything so that each key played one side of the tape. So you’d have 12 sounds coming through 12 keys, and that meant he could record anything he wanted on the cassettes. He could play them as if it were a keyboard, or he could sequence the keyboard too, make rhythms with them. He had infinite options of what was on the tape.
BC: Wolf Eyes are the only people I know who are capable of that stuff nowadays.
AW: Nate [Young]’s stuff, he’s doing editions of pedals that are also sort of like art projects, beautiful:there’s this one that comes with a cassette, plays a tone, and then you press this button–it’s like what you’re talking about.
GPO: We used to have TV aerials on the PA system, and wherever we were we’d be able to pick up random TV broadcasts. Sometimes we’d even get news programs coming through. People would think they were samples or loops, and then go home and find out they’d really heard what was happening that day while they were at the gig. It was really a precursor of samplers. There was the Mellotron, in the ’60s, which is what the Beatles play on â€œStrawberry Fields.”
BC: And the Optigons, did you ever play on one of those? Kind of similar but it plays on an acetate, and reads it optically. They’re cool cause you can cut â€˜tm up, stack â€˜em, flip â€˜em over and it’ll play it backwards.
GPO: Oh, no, I’ve never heard of those. We were just trying to apply the Burroughs idea of the cut-ups into the music. John Cage, Burroughs:what happens when they all collide. That was one reason we didn’t want to have a drummer–we didn’t want it to be sidetracked because most drummers go into particular rhythmic patterns, and then you’re stuck.
AW: [Laughs] I agree. [Laughter]
GPO: And at that time, we wanted to be just absolutely separate from any sort of normal rock ‘n’ roll.
BC: But the presentation and vibe of it seemed very much to be rock. I mean, it had a rebellious quality, it had a sexiness to it–traits that people have historically attributed to rock music, and now probably attribute to hip hop.
GPO: Well, we thought of it as an anti-rock band. We tried everything we could think of to confound the audience’s expectations of what a band was. We did one gig–maybe the third or fourth gig–where we had all these mylar mirrors across the front of the stage. We were behind them, so the audience could only see themselves the whole time. And another one we played inside a scaffolding box in a courtyard, at the Architectural Association, and we had the cameras inside so if you wanted to see us play you had to walk round the building and look at the monitors, but you couldn’t hear anything; or you had to go on the roof and lean out the windows and look down to hear it. And there was a riot; that was the one where there was a big riot, where they were throwing toilets and things at us. Thank god we built that box strong [laughter], ’cause they could have killed us otherwise.
AW: Did you play in pubs or regular rock clubs? ‘Cause with a lot of our shows–even now, but especially early on–we’ll be playing a sports bar, and it’s terrifying ’cause you think the dude behind the bar is going to kill you during your set.
GPO: We did the Nag’s Head in High Wycombe, that was one of the first. Everything went wrong with our homemade equipment that night, so while they were trying to fix everything, I jumped onto the tables where people were sitting and drinking their beer, hoping they’d be too scared of me being insane to do anything about it. There weren’t that many people there, but they didn’t do anything. The writeup said, â€œEven an ape with seven arms could play music better than this.â€
BC: We had a lot of times where people turned the power off. We definitely got beat up while playing, [or] people [threw] bottles:
GPO: Why don’t they just leave? That’s what I always wanted to know, why don’t they just go away?
BC: Everybody would like it if what they were doing was widely embraced but sometimes there’s something really satisfying about being able to provoke people to certain extremes like that, you know?
AL: Dee Pop, the drummer for the Bush Tetras, had this great story I saw somewhere, about going to see the Ramones at CBGB. Someone dragged him there, and he hated them; he thought it was the worst show he’d ever seen. And he thought about it all the next day–how much hated that band–and then he went back to see them the next night [laughs]. Not even going to give it a second chance, but because he hated it so much. I think there’s something to that, being attracted to something you feel diametrically opposed to.
BC: That’s the American Way right now, man. If you look at what’s programmed on television, you’re watching shit that just makes you feel ill–Cops, watching poor people get fuckin’ busted, or Wife Swap or–
AW: Dude, TMZ!
BC: Yeah, there’s so much about misfortune, and I think that people really get off on that. But I think when people go see live music, people feel entitled in a way, that they deserve to get what they expected. Which is difficult if you’re a band that’s always tried to discredit that.
GPO: It didn’t used to be like that.
BC: You don’t think so?
GPO: No. When we saw people like Pink Floyd with Syd Barrett, we were really excited when it wasn’t what we expected. That’s what we wanted’ we wanted to go and see something novel, something different, see them create sounds we’d never, ever heard before. And when we liked Captain Beefheart at the beginning, he was doing pretty straightforward, bluesy rip-offs, and then within a couple of years he was doing Trout Mask Replica. People came back to the Ho Ho Funhouse (a late ’60s home in Hull where P-Orridge & Cosey Fanny Tutti lived) going, â€œYou gotta hear this, you gotta hear this!â€ We’d all sit around and be excited because we were sort of befuddled by how far he’d stretched it. We didn’t think he’s let us down because he didn’t do what we thought he was gonna do. And we wouldn’t shout at people if they did something different when we saw them live.
“In 20 years, when you and I are dead, it will be a very level thing.”
BC: I think it’s a really young attitude. You go through certain periods, certain ages where you feel like your identity is so attached to what music you like, and you outgrow it pretty quickly.
GPO: I guess the one time it was a little different:Marc Bolan, when he went electric, came ’round to our university. But rather people go and be disappointed because they’d heard he’d gone electric, there were only four or five people there–one was me, and my friend. And it was brilliant. He came onstage, looked around and there was this great big hall in this university, and there’s five of us, stoned out of our heads [laughter]:he did a couple of little songs, and then he plugged in his amp, really turned it up loud, and did a thirty minute guitar solo, it was amazing!
AW: Was it loud?
GPO: Yeah, it was great!
AL: Was he just by himself?
GPO: Yeah, just him.
EC: Do you bring that stuff up like it was an anomaly for the time, or an anomaly for you and your friends?
GPO: Well, people would just stay away if they heard it’d changed in a way that they wouldn’t want to hear. They wouldn’t go along and complain about it. We’ve had people turn up at gigs and buy tickets for $30, knowing that they just want to heckle. Which to me is just, beyond comprehension. To spend an evening to go and not be happy–why? Why? It’s much more common in America for people to feel aggressive towards bands that they feel have somehow let them down.
BC: You know, I feel like it’s the exact opposite, some soccer bloke in England:
AW: Dude, that’s so true, that’s so true, in England they love to tell you what sucked about your set, in a way that no one would ever dare do in America.
BC: The first tour we did without a drummer:the show sucked basically. We played okay, but the trains had fuckin’ stopped, the opening bands had played forever:so we played the show, and some fuckin’ asshole comes up and goes â€œwhere’s your fuckin’ drummer? You need your drummer, it sucks without the drummer.â€ I’ve never had that happen to me:
GPO: No, you’re right, when we said Europe, we weren’t including England [laughter].
AL: The continent.
GPO: Yeah, we should have rephrased that. You’re right, the English can be real bastards.
BC: Germany too…I think when we started, people automatically were real antagonistic about it. When we would play other places, they would call us faggots and stuff like that before we even played and stuff. So I think we developed this sort of thick skin and pride that we knew it was better than the audience, you know what I mean?
GPO: You have to do that. We did that with TG as well.
BC: We’ve sort of grown up with a bunch of different bands at this point and I feel like we’re completely different in the fact that we never wanted to be friends with everybody in the audience, and we never:I guess it sounds stupid to say we were never trying to get people to really like it, but it is sort of this backwards logic that I feel we’ve used the whole time.
GPO: Do you think there’s been a change because of the Internet, and the more global accessibility of things? What’s the difference between the late ’60s and early ’70s, when people had to make an effort to find out what a band were like? In Britain, anyway, and most of Europe, there were just a couple of government radio stations that were very controlled, they closed down the pirates. So you had music press that would tell you about stuff, or you had to go and see it. There was nothing else…You couldn’t go online and download things, find out a thousand other people’s opinions. Do you think that’s changing the way that bands interact with audiences, that audiences are changing their way of absorbing music?
Eric Copeland: I think it’s almost a question that’s too early to ask. I think in 20 years, when you and I are dead [laughter], it will be a very level thing. The Internet, for me, is something that’s still discovering what it’s capable of. I think it’s a valid question, but I almost feel like we’re in the middle of a transformation that will not transform you or me, but anybody who grew up with it:that will be the ultimate transformation in the planet.
GPO: Do you think it matters whether young people know the story of their own music? The way it’s evolved and progressed from the ’50s through now? Do you think it makes any difference to them to know the roots of their music?
AW: I don’t think it matters:
EC: Part of me feels like, if you just get caught up in the history of stuff, then you kinda hit the brakes at points too. I personally like reading about history, and seeing this constant smear instead of these isolated things, but at the same time, I feel like ultimately that information becomes disposable:
EC: The Internet becomes this communal brain. I don’t know if it matters if I have all that information, or if I can use that information.
AW: One of the things about the Internet is it kind of gets rid of that linear, timeline-based kinda shit, where it’s like, Joy Division was first, so they’re more authentic and they’re better…
GPO: I wasn’t thinking of it so much as they’re better in any way, just that..sometimes people are surviving on other people’s ignorance, that’s what I was thinking.
AW: But I was thinking how everything exists kind of on the same level, where it’s all equally available to you–all the information, all the music. It’s gonna be interesting to see how that pans out, because the way that we grew up, we had a hierarchy of available media to us. There’s shit that was free to us, and there’s shit that we had to seek out, like now that’s been blown away, everything’s just kind of on the surface, and it just depends on how much free time you have and how interested you are in it.
In addition, there’s the further step where you are able to comment on it, and you become, as a listener, sort of this critic/author type, your opinion is equally valid:it kind of gets to that thing you were talking about, where you play a show and someone feels like they can you just tell you what they thought of the show and you’re supposed to fuckin’ care. That’s sort of where we’re at, where these kids, they’re like reviewing your record the instant it’s on, which sucks in a way, but in another way I think it’s kinda great too.
This interview continues here.