Altogether more shocking and cerebral than the punk movement they straddled, Throbbing Gristle were a music and visual arts group formed in Hull in 1976 and consisting of Christine Newby – Cosey Fanni Tutti – Genesis P-Orridge (born Neil Megson), Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson and Chris Carter. Their use of samplers is a lasting musical influence but it was their provocative imagery that brought them initial fame, including a denunciation in Parliament as “wreckers of civilisation”. The autobiography Art Sex Music (Faber & Faber, £14.99) covers Cosey Fanni Tutti’s violent family life, being run out of Hull, her creative but destructive relationship with Genesis P-Orridge, work in the sex industry – and a seemingly inexhaustible commitment to music and art.
Did the music come first or the art, or were they inseparable?
Well, if we take that question as far back as “the beginning”, meaning my childhood, it would be art coming first as I was always drawing and painting, although there was also music on in the house as well, whether the radio or my mother singing. So yes, they’ve been pretty much inseparable when I really think about it.
Do art and pop culture have the power to shock in the way you did with experimental arts group COUM, formed in the late 1960s, and Throbbing Gristle, when you were called “wreckers of civilisation”?
I’m still not sure why what we did shocked people so much. What shocks others may not shock me – whether it’s a part of pop culture or art. Considering what’s accessible and in our faces today I think what we did back then wasn’t as bad, even for the 1970s.
Were you surprised when people realised that Throbbing Gristle could be melodic and accessible as well as industrial?
I don’t really think about it. We were very free in our approach to the sound, so it could be melodic or raucously chaotic and harsh.
When you worked in porn were you exploiting the industry or was it exploiting you? Or neither?
I’d say that the exploitation was mutual, both using one another for our particular purposes – but they were unaware of mine.
How do you feel about the recognition Hull gave you with the City of Culture exhibition?
I was really happy when Hull got announced as the City of Culture and pleased to be asked to contribute. It provided the opportunity to have the history of COUM exhibited in the very place of its beginnings and also brought some of the original members together again. It was a very positive experience.
What plans do you have for music by Chris and Cosey/Carter Tutti?
We’ve got a number of Chris and Cosey re-releases scheduled and a new Carter Tutti album is simmering, awaiting a free period of time to focus fully on recording.