Genesis P-Orridge
born Neil Andrew Megson is an English singer-songwriter, musician, poet, writer and performance artist. In the latter capacity P-Orridge was the founder of the COUM Transmissions artistic collective, which operated from 1969 to 1975. As a musician, P-Orridge fronted the pioneering industrial band Throbbing Gristle between 1975 and 1981, and then the experimental band Psychic TV from 1981 to 1999. An occultist, P-Orridge is also a founding member of Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth. P-Orridge’s early confrontational performance work in COUM Transmissions, during the late 1960s and early 1970s, along with Throbbing Gristle, which dealt with subjects such as sex work, pornography, serial killers, occultism and P-Orridge’s own exploration of gender issues, generated controversy — later musical work with Psychic TV received wider exposure.

Cosey Fanni Tutti
(born Christine Newby, 1951)is a performance artist and musician best known for her time in the avant-garde groups Throbbing Gristle and Chris & Cosey. Her name came about in 1973, before which she performed under the name Cosmosis. According to John Ford, “Cosey Fanni Tutti” was suggested to her by mail artist Robin Klassnick, and it comes from the opera Così fan tutte, meaning literally “They [women] all do the same.” Tutti continues to release solo recordings, including a retrospective deluxe box set with many photos and text, called Time To Tell, and she continues to work as a performance artist in the Dada tradition.

Throbbing Gristle
was an English music and visual arts group that evolved from the performance art group COUM Transmissions. Established in 1975, the band is widely viewed, along with contemporaries Cabaret Voltaire, as having created the industrial music genre. The band consisted of Genesis P-Orridge (born Neil Megson; bass guitar, violin, vocals, vibraphone), Cosey Fanni Tutti (born Christine Newby; guitars, cornet, vocals), Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson (tapes, found sounds, horns, piano, vibraphone, synthesizer) and Chris Carter (synthesizers, tapes, electronics). The group disbanded in 1981, but the individual members went on to participate in numerous other projects, and reformed in 2004 for a second stint before disbanding again in 2010 after the death of Peter Christopherson.

Alan Licht
is a musician and writer living in New York. His most recent album is A New York Minute (XI). An improvising guitarist and composer, he has performed and recorded with Tom Verlaine, Arthur Lee & Love, Arto Lindsay, Royal Trux, Michael Snow, and Loren Connors, among others, and currently co-directs the Text of Light project with Lee Ranaldo. Licht is a frequent contributor to WIRE, Time Out NY, Premiere, and other publications.

P-Orridge and his partner, Cosey Fanni Tutti, had relocated to London from Hull to continue their performance art activities as Coum Transmissions, but they rechanneled their energies into Throbbing Gristle, an avant-garde band (of sorts) that coexisted with the nascent punk scene. Named The Death Factory, the studio Throbbing Gristle worked out of was a vacant factory in Hackney, London. TG’s synth player, Chris Carter, summoned the sound of industrial waste; his cohorts dispensed with traditional rock song formats and concentrated on mirroring the decline of the urban landscape around them, although later they recorded danceable tracks like “United,” “Adrenaline,” and “AB/7A.” One of TG’s many admirers was Ian Curtis, lead singer for Joy Division, who, like P-Orridge, hailed from Manchester. Curtis was particularly taken with the TG track “Weeping” and befriended P-Orridge. P-Orridge maintains that he and Curtis plotted to have Joy Division and TG play a show together and then announce, at the gig’s conclusion, that they would quit their respective bands and work together from then on. P-Orridge took steps to book the concert in Paris, but it never happened. On the night of May 17, 1980, Curtis called P-Orridge and sang “Weeping” over the phone. Later that night he hung himself.

 

MANCHESTER
In early 1976, two Manchester art students named Howard Trafford and Peter McNeish read a review of the Sex Pistols in NME. Seeing the quote “We’re not into music, we’re into chaos,” they took off for London to check the band out. “We thought they were fantastic: it was, we will go and do something like this in Manchester,” they said, as quoted by Jon Savage in his punk history England’s Dreaming: Anarchy, Sex Pistols, Punk Rock, and Beyond (1992). Trafford and McNeish formed their own Sex Pistols–styled band, the Buzzcocks, and changed their last names to Devoto and Shelley, respectively. Eager to play out, they secured a space above Manchester Free Trade Hall and booked the Pistols to headline; their bandmates ultimately backed out, but the Pistols came and did the gig anyway. Brian Eno once said that not many people bought the first Velvet Underground LP when it came out, but everyone who did went out and formed a band; the same could be true of the audience for the Pistols gig in Manchester. Audience members included Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook of Warsaw, who started Joy Division and, later, New Order; Tony Wilson, who founded the venue the Factory and then the label of the same name; Morrissey, who went on to form The Smiths; future members of A Certain Ratio; and Martin Hannet, who would become Factory’s house producer. Soon Manchester had become a punk center second only to London. As Jon Savage has written in England’s Dreaming,

Mancunian punk subculture had developed in a degree of isolation, away from the capital [London]’s media spotlight: Manchester’s proud regionalism seemed to offer greater potential. “You didn’t need bondage trousers and spiky hair to be a Punk in Manchester,” says Malcolm Garrett. “It was more a question of your attitude. Everyone got their clothes from the Salvation Army or the antique clothes market. Coming to London to see the Ramones, I was astounded at how fashion-oriented it was. It was more home made in Manchester; people aren’t as cool there as they are in London. There, everyone is on the guest list: in Manchester you get dressed up, you go out to have fun, and you get wild.”

More than Liverpool or Glasgow, Manchester was an ideal Punk community, having, to some degree, put the ideals of autonomy into practice. “The reason Manchester happened was that they had undisputed talent in a number of fields,” says Garrett, “the music, the management, the journalists, designers and photographers. … There was a professional infrastructure, but it was so small it was like a village community. You felt you were in control.”

Local independent labels included Tosh Ryan’s Rabid, which released the first records by Slaughter and the Dogs and John Cooper Clarke, the Buzzcock’s New Hormones, and Valer. The city had new groups, poets, graphic artists, clubs, clothes shops, and fanzines such as Paul Morley’s Girl Trouble and Pete Shelley’s Plaything.

Manchester was a decaying industrial town, “the birthplace of the bouncing bomb, railways, and the computer,” as noted in the film 24 Hour Party People, an amusing look at the city’s 1976 to 1992 pop scene through the eyes of Tony Wilson. In his engaging study of rave culture, Energy Flash: A Journey Through Rave Music and Club Culture (1998; published in the U.S. in a different version as Generation Ecstasy: Into the World of Techno and Rave Culture), Simon Reynolds has written,

Manchester has long been Britain’s number two Pop City after London. But in the post-punk era the city’s musical output tended to be synonymous with the unpop hue of grey: The Buzzcocks’ melodic but monochrome punk ditties, The Fall’s baleful transigence, Joy Division’s angst rock, New Order’s doubt-wracked disco. Dedicated to their own out-of-time, sixties notion of Pop, The Smiths defined themselves against contemporary, dance-oriented chart fodder. … Morrissey railing “burn down the disco / hang the blessed DJ.” The crime? Playing mere good-times music that said “nothing”, lyrically, about real life.

But the foundations laid by the Buzzcocks and Tony Wilson proved solid. New Order rose from the ashes of Joy Division, stayed on with Factory, remained in Manchester, had several dance club hits, and opened a new venue with Wilson, the Hacienda. Reynolds again: Thanks to house clubs like the Hacienda, Thunderdome, and Konspiracy, Manchester transformed itself into “Madchester”, the mecca for 24-hour party people and smiley-faced ravers from across Northern England and the Midlands. By 1989 the famously grey and overcast city had gone day-glo; Morrissey-style miserablism was replaced by glad all-over extroversion, nursed by a diet of “disco biscuits” (Ecstasy, or E).

With its combination of bohemia (a large population of college and art students, and the biggest gay community outside of London) and demographic reach (around fifteen million people live within a couple of hours drive of the city centre), Manchester was well placed to become the focus of a pop cultural explosion. … Converted from a yachting warehouse showroom, the Hacienda was initially dystopian and industrial in ambience. The atmosphere perked up when DJs like Martin Pendergrast and Mike Pickering started to add house to the mix. …

The quintessential Manchester band of the era was the Happy Mondays, who eased the city’s traditionally harsh rock sounds with funk and a nonstop dosage of E. They too recorded for Factory and were produced by Martin Hannett. Wilson hyped the Mondays as the new Sex Pistols, although Reynolds’ comparison to the Butthole Surfers, a traveling, shambling carnival of excess, rings far truer. Still, Tony Wilson’s prescience in signing both Joy Division and the Happy Mondays, ushering in two separate British music movements (post-punk and rave) by adapting to the changing times, confirms his status as a pop visionary.

But unlike many shorter-lived regional music scenes, it was too much success, rather than too little, that unraveled Manchester. The seemingly endless E-high eventually led to a crash. Mondays leader Shaun Ryder’s drug problems overtook him and the band. Drug gangs began infiltrating the Hacienda, and narcotics-related violence eventually forced it to close. New Order, however, continued to record and perform through the ’90s; The Buzzcocks split in 1981, reformed in 1989, and are still together.