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Remembering Genesis P-Orridge
(February 22nd, 1950 — March 14, 2020)

Throbbing Gristle. From left: Sleazy, Genesis, Cosey, and Chris.

3,071 words

Visual artist, composer, singer, DJ, and general architect of chaos Genesis P-Orridge passed away on March 14, 2020. The Dissident Right shares a surprising amount of common ground with the counterculture icon — and owes some of its aesthetics and methods to them [1] as well.

Born February 22nd, 1950 in Manchester, Neil Andrew Megson adopted the name Genesis P-Orridge — a woo-ish corruption of the word “porridge” — while living in London. Their music career would spawn the genres of industrial and neofolk, and kickstart the English dance music scene with the influence of “acid house” in the 80s and 90s, making them one of the most influential figures in music history. Absent their contributions, there would be no Death in June, no mainstream EDM, no Nine Inch Nails, no Coil, nor several other genres and groups known today.

Despite this, Orridge is not commonly discussed in popular music circles. They have a devoted fanbase in Internet subcultures, and scholars generally credit them for their work, but Orridge is far from a household name. The reasons for this aren’t difficult to hash out; Orridge is a polarizing figure who always preferred to influence from the shadows. The groups and genres inspired by the output of their bands Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV went on to become infinitely more popular than Orridge’s ur-material of early industrial.

The similarities that the New Right and the industrial scene have are a result of a few different things. For one, high-impact subcultures share many traits as a rule. Culture-jamming is a broadly universal form of rebellion that is not specific to one particular group, and Orridge and company were simply particularly good at it. Orridge is definitely not one of us, but they certainly could have ended up like one of us.

For one, Orridge was relatively well-educated, though a non-insignificant amount of their time in school was devoted to raising hell. Their field of study was in philosophy at the University of Hull, and they won first place in their school’s poetry competition in 1969. Alongside academic pursuits, they ran a school magazine that published anything and everything submitted to them, including firebomb-making instructions, obscene materials, and radical screeds composed by fellow students. [2] Genesis was a fierce defender of free speech for multiple reasons. For one, they saw the protection of free speech broadly as an important civic right, but also considered it necessary for their artistic and political message.

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It would be easy to dismiss Genesis and associated people as merely being degenerate provocateurs. Indeed, Genesis and their performing art group COUM were referred to as “wreckers of civilization” by Tory MP Nicholas Fairbairn in 1976. [3] Yes, the group was vile. Yes, they were brazen deconstructionists. But what was there in 1970s England that was so worth saving? It was one of the darkest hours in the nation’s history; England was quickly becoming nothing more than a collapsed empire with little to no identity for its citizenry to hold on to. The vapid affairs of the so-called Swinging Sixties quickly dissolved into an economic depression, IRA bombings, a polarized and schism-rife political climate, labor union strikes, rolling blackouts, a rash of suicides, and a severely tarnished international image. [4] Genesis and those like them were creating culture at a time when society seemed to be burning through it.

It wasn’t just culture qua culture that was created, however. The cult following of Genesis and their related groups was a subculture, and one of the first such subcultures to survive beyond the decade in which it crystallized. Orridge functionally defined what a cult subculture looks like and how one functions. The sixties and seventies were host to endless other cliques, with punk being the most applicable example in this comparison. Punk itself is dead to serious counter-cultural forces, and the genres and related subcultures it influenced that are still active to this day aren’t in any better shape. [5] Punk tended to die with its leaders, and, being easily defined, it was also easy to control and adapt to the mainstream. Punk bands quickly became regular fixtures of Rock Against Racism gigs held throughout England, with the Clash headlining the very first one in Victoria Park. [6] In sharp contrast, Orridge and their groups were never swallowed up by any other movements. (They were also notably absent from Rock Against Racism.) Comfortably existing within Industrial Records, the label Genesis and company founded, industrial music was free to do what it liked. That attitude persisted throughout the years; niche artistic subcultures were made viable by consolidating, insulating, and branching outwards only when advantageous in terms of recruitment or finances. (Psychic TV’s first record famously bore the note “File under: Fund-Raising Activities” on the sleeve.) [7]

The Dissident Right, while far more serious in its messaging, is also a subculture of sorts. Operating in spheres far beyond politics itself, the Right mirrors the fledgling industrial movement in more ways than one. We also lack a hierarchal, centralized structure — and while industrial subcultures behaved similarly, figures like Genesis proved to be useful as anchors, much in the same way that those on the Right cluster around anchors, Johnson and Counter-Currents being an example. We also operate on the fringes of popular culture; we’re just outside of what’s socially acceptable, yet fully capable of bringing folks who’ve drifted away from the center of popular culture into our fold. Like Industrial Records, the Dissident Right is a self-reinforcing entity; we can (generally) rely on others in our circles to back us up, and we are developing our own infrastructure as needed to keep the movement alive.

Noting similarities is one thing, but the source of these congruencies between what seem like two wholly different subcultures is worth examination. The Dissident Right and the industrial scene have a curious set of values and precedents in common. For one, the art of Genesis and their contemporaries was implicitly white in its subject matter, presentation, audience, and methods. Orridge and company never made any effort to acknowledge or publicize this — likely because such a thing was unnecessary and because no one in the scene ever thought about their art and music in such terms. At the time, England was almost entirely white, especially in the gloomy North, where the industrial scene was centered around Manchester and Sheffield. It would also have proved disastrous to a budding music scene for its music to become associated with racial identitarianism, as Britain’s National Front [8] was quickly being quashed after its show of electoral prowess in the early 70s.

Rather, industrial music was simply white music. Its themes and influences were inextricably associated with specifically white dispossessions and dissatisfaction. For one, the rapidly deindustrializing economies of England’s North and the economic depressions associated with this change disproportionately affected whites. This is by virtue of simple demographics; the areas hardest-hit by the various crises related to labor, electricity, and the economy were overwhelmingly English. Orridge even said that “industrial music” is for “industrial people.” [9] Orridge and company’s art was also highly critical of what was termed “conservative politics” at the time, but could more appropriately be defined as neoliberalism, [10] a socioeconomic system predicated on racial dispossession — particularly among whites, who stand to lose more in the game of modern economics than they do to gain — in favor of the plutocratic class and consumerist policy. This was apparent both in the group’s general modus operandi (the performance that led to MP Fairbarn’s outburst was publicly funded) but also in the group’s public flirtation with ideological imagery and statements during performances and promotion. Orridge and TG would further cement their decisively English — and decisively anti-establishment — sound and image by incorporating the work of two reviled, albeit immensely influential occultists: Aleister Crowley and Austin Osman-Spare. Spare’s contributions to the occult canon would prove vital to Orridge and several other associated artists’ work, especially his writings on sigil magick. [11]

Orridge was also a major — albeit accidental — contributor to the so-called “gentrification” of previously black subgenres and their integration into the white musical canon. [12] The best example may be the appropriation and dissemination of “acid house” in England in the late 1980s via a series of fake compilations penned by Orridge and other members of Psychic TV. There are multiple conflicting histories of how Orridge came to define their style of dance music as “acid house,” but the prevailing theory suggests that it was simply poached and Orridge hadn’t even heard what was called “acid house” in Chicago before. [13] Nonetheless, the Jack the Tab compilations proved influential enough for their sounds to cross-pollinate both the British house music scene (see 808 State, LFO) and the American scene beyond that of Trax Records. [14] In doing so, Orridge significantly helped along nightclub culture’s metamorphosis from being the domain of urban blacks to it being the domain of ambiguously artsy hipsters and psychedelic drug-takers (the name “acid house” may not be an accident), a demographic known to be pale in complexion.

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Orridge’s band is also broadly credited with the first use of a homemade sampler in live performances — something the ostensible creator and player of the instrument, Chris Carter and Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson respectively, humbly deny [15]. In popular history, the “sample” is typically seen as an innovation of the cut-and-paste disk jockeys of the East Coast hip-hop scene. (Perhaps another one of those black invention myths.) [16] Admittedly, TG’s use of the sampler came just before the first commercially available samplers went on sale, and the Mellotron could be considered a sort of sampler as well. It was the ad-hoc manipulation of tapes during performances and recordings that TG is credited for utilizing first. The obscurity of Gristle’s sampling work may also be due to their samples’ equal obscurity and inaccessibility; one can more easily pick out “samples” of pop, jazz, or classical melodies in a hip-hop song than you can call pitched-up recordings of strangers’ conversations in an earsplitting industrial track a “sample.” Later on, Orridge and collaborators’ sampling would more closely resemble that with which we’re familiar today. [17]

Orridge was also a frequent collaborator with and catalyst for musicians and artists that would leave a lasting impression on the aesthetics of the Right. These include individuals in the neofolk genre, such as David Tibet of Current 93 [18] and Douglas Pearce of Death in June. [19] Their incorporation of the occult also helped to introduce writers and artists of the Right, such as Crowley, to wider and more diverse audiences. This exposure helped to further academic and popular understanding of Crowley’s works — Orridge’s own writing and art may even have influenced the thinking of contemporary Right-wing occultists owing to their pervasiveness and reinforcement in groups such as Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth. [20] Industrial, house, and ambient music were also important antecedents of the vaporwave movement that would become popular on the internet in the 2010s, the right-wing adoption of which many of our readers likely remember dearly.

Genesis P-Orridge, while a highly influential figure, is by no means a saint nor a sympathizer, something of vital importance to note. This does not mean that their contributions to culture, both broadly and through the lens of their impact on the Right, are rendered worthless. Rather, Orridge is a clear-cut example of a person whose influence upon the world transcended themself, a goal that they worked towards from the very beginning of their artistic career.

Integrity, however, is also of importance. Orridge was indisputably a pervert — one look at their art makes that abundantly clear. They were also an alleged abuser and plagiarizer. Bandmate and one-time girlfriend of Orridge, the equally talented Cosey Fanni Tutti, [21] accused Orridge of manipulation and even attempts on her life in her autobiography. [22] While the Dissident Right (correctly) tends to view mere allegations with scrutiny, Tutti is not the only one who expressed concerns over Orridge’s behavior. Other collaborators, such as the aforementioned Peter “Sleazy” and his life-partner and collaborator John Balance (the two making up the duo Coil) accused Orridge of abusive behavior and outright artistic dishonesty in presenting the work of collaborators or fellow musicians as their own. [23] Orridge’s talents may lie mostly in their skill as a catalyst and director than as an artist themself, but history often remembers such unifying forces with the same, if not more, reverence than the artists they brought together. Nonetheless, fame is no excuse for misbehavior, making Orridge’s legacy a complicated one, especially when viewed from the Right.

All told, Genesis P-Orridge was one of music’s most daring innovators. You’re forgiven for finding Orridge to be repulsive, if you do — that would be the response of just about any rational human being. But life can often be strange — and art thereof, even stranger.

Notes

[1] I elected to use the third-person pronoun “they” for Orridge in this article. I understand this might ruffle feathers in our circles. To fully explain why I chose to do this might entail an entire essay, but to summarize, I find it generally amicable to identify a person in the manner that they feel most comfortable with, simply for the purpose of making communication possible. Refusing to identify someone in the manner they would like you to simply means that communication is impossible, and is also a mark of disrespect for that person and their identity; a disrespect I do not hold for Orridge. The usage of “we” by Orridge refers to their belief that they and their wife, Lady Jaye Breyer P-Orridge, were one entity. This makes the use of “they” appropriate, a pronoun Orridge tolerated in speech. Orridge also used the clunky “s/he” or “he/r” in print rather often, which I find a bit extreme.

[2] Most of Orridge’s statements about life in college, including the bit about the Molotov magazine, can be found in Simon Ford’s Wreckers of Civilisation: The Story of COUM Transmissions & Throbbing Gristle, Black Dog Publishing, 1999.

[3] Searle, Adrian, “‘Wreckers of civilisation’: Hull embraces its frenzied, sexual past,” The Guardian, archived March 25, 2020.  [http://archive.vn/Wnz99] [https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/feb/05/hull-city-of-culture-best-visual-art-coum]

[4] Kenneth Morgan surveys the plight of the Kingdom in the 70s in Britain in the Seventies — Our Unfinest Hour? for the French Journal of British Studies, making note of the fact that the crises striking England at the time managed to be simultaneously dramatized by the media and substantially impacting the lives of its citizens. Such a conundrum is familiar territory for just about anyone who’s watched the news in the last month. Nonetheless, even a media run amock was part of the social challenges facing Britain at the time; one could make a convincing argument that Orridge’s antics were a hearty attempt at bringing light to this, as well. A free copy of Morgan’s article can be found here.

[5] In a Metro article covering the British elections held in December, fans of the band noted that IDLES, a punk group whose Joe Talbot famously sung that “the best way to scare a Tory is to read and get rich,” was conspicuously absent from political discourse save a tweet urging listeners to vote. The group has expressed explicit sympathy for Labour in the past, though it’s not like a punk group asking listeners to vote for progressivism is a very radical concept, innit?

[6] Harris, John, “Noisy, messy, unconventional and progressive: remembering Rock Against Racism,” New Statesman, archived March 25th, 2020. [http://archive.vn/5NEhl]  [https://www.newstatesman.com/culture/books/2019/03/never-again-rock-against-racism-anti-nazi-league-1976-1982]

[7] See the LP’s notes on Discogs:

Closing message a “Zuccarelli Holophonic” TM Recording.
File under: Fund-Raising Activities.
“A naive person can open his eyes in life, but someone with his eyes open can never end up naive.”

[8] Yes, that one.

[9] Orridge:

“It was September 3, 1975. We were walking to a place called London Fields park, that was between the squat where we were living and the factory where we played. We said, We need a name — what about Factory? After about half an hour, Monty said, ‘You know, you keep using the word “industrial,”’ so I named it industrial music, and it was. Industrial music for industrial people — and that was the great big eureka moment. And little did we know it would become a global phenomena — from that tiny space and four people who couldn’t play.”

Wilkinson, Alec, “Industrial Music for Industrial People: The Singular Legacy of Genesis P-Orridge,” The New Yorker, archived March 21, 2020. [http://archive.vn/qPXaU] [https://www.newyorker.com/culture/postscript/industrial-music-for-industrial-people-the-singular-legacy-of-genesis-p-orridge]

[10] Partridge, Christopher, “Esoterrorism and the Wrecking of Civilization: Genesis P-Orridge and the Rise of Industrial Paganism” in Weston and Bennett, Pop Pagans: Paganism and Popular Music, pages 189–212.

[11] “His pieces were made to make things happen — to get food, money, prostitutes, whatever it might have been,” P-Orridge says. “We’ve always been fascinated with the interface between aesthetic constructions and spiritual connotations, where they meet.”

— DJ Pangburn, “Worship at Genesis P-Orridge’s Cut-Up Altar,” Vice, archived March 25, 2020. [http://archive.vn/aYQjR] [https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/4xqm4d/worship-at-genesis-breyer-p-orridges-cut-up-altar]

[12] Personally, I use the tongue-in-cheek expression “bleaching” to refer to this sort of cultural transfer.

[13] Petridis, Alexis, “We’ve waited 21 years. . .” The Guardian, archived March 25, 2020. [http://archive.vn/lZuEg] [https://www.theguardian.com/music/2009/mar/06/erol-alkan-beyond-wizards-sleeve]

[14] Trax is a Chicago record label best known for releasing acid house, jungle, funk, soul, and disco-influenced dance music. Trax would be the acid scene’s nucleus in the United States for most of the 80s and early 90s. Phuture’s “Acid Tracks,” widely considered to be the first example of an acid house song for its use of the squelchy Roland TB-303 synthesizer, was released on Trax in 1987.

[15] See Sleazy’s explanation from an archived MySpace post.

[16] We have a whole list of them here!

[17] In a particularly amusing cross-section of Orridge’s fascination with Spare, cut-up musical sigils, and a laissez-faire attitude towards copyright, a neatly stolen Kraftwerk hook — namely, the melody from “Pocket Calculator” — is a prominent feature in the Psychic TV (under pseudonym DJ Doktor Megatrip) track “Liquid Eyeliner.”

[18] Tibet introduced Orridge to the kangling, a traditional Tibetan instrument made out of a human femur. See Partridge above.

[19] For more Pearce content, see my review of The Rule of Thirds and Greg Johnson’s review of Peaceful Snow.

[20] Orridge’s cult-like collective of artists. Considered by some to be a spiritual successor to the Crowley-led Ordo Templi Orientis.

[21] Christine Newby adopted her stage name from Mozart’s opera Così fan tutte.

[22] Tutti, Cosey Fanni, Art Sex Music. London: Faber & Faber Social.

[23] Petridis, Alexis, “Genesis P-Orridge: troubling catalyst who loathed rock yet changed it for ever,” The Guardian, archived March 25, 2020. [http://archive.vn/Wnz99] [https://www.theguardian.com/music/2020/mar/15/genesis-p-orridge-troubling-catalyst-who-loathed-rock-yet-changed-it-for-ever]

 

15 Comments

  1. Ian Smith
    Posted March 25, 2020 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    I remember reading about, er, them in a Re/Search trade paperback on Industrial Culture. He had a book list where he recommended, of all things, None Dare Call It Conspiracy by Gary Allen.

    RIP

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SNsE8NYQd4Y

  2. Petronius
    Posted March 25, 2020 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    Glad to see this here, I’m a huge Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV fan.

  3. Petronius
    Posted March 25, 2020 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    I find it weird you are referring to P-Orridge with “they, their”-pronouns, though.

  4. Petronius
    Posted March 25, 2020 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

    I mean, him/”her” being dead, no “communication” is necessary or possible anymore.

  5. Benjamin
    Posted March 25, 2020 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    Hey Greg,

    In addition to doing your yearly “Remembering Aleister Crowley” post, you should do one commemorating his transcription of the most important Thelemic text, “Liber AL Vel Legis” “(The Book Of The Law”), on April 8th 1904.

    The text its self can be quite tough to get into, but luckily A.C. left us with an a quite extensive and based commentary before he left us in 1947:

    https://hermetic.com/legis/new-comment/chapter-iii

  6. Posted March 25, 2020 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

    Another excellent essay..i like the cultural essays….

  7. SR Scott
    Posted March 26, 2020 at 5:57 am | Permalink

    I thought it was Cabaret Voltaire who ‘practically invented’ sampling using cassette loops? The single Nag Nag Nag (1979) featured a sample of Sir Patrick Moore.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jCvTCw4dLFA

    • Scott Weisswald
      Posted March 26, 2020 at 6:04 am | Permalink

      Gristle had been using tape samples since at least 1976.

  8. Petronius
    Posted March 26, 2020 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    I’d be very cautious to frame Aleister Crowley as a “man of the right” though, which I think is a far stretch, in spite of his Nietzscheanism and other “circumstantial” proof. Dabbling in O.T.O. stuff and the occult in general is generally an effective way straight into kookdom, so I would not associate it with serious politics, ever. It may be a fuel for eccentric art and risky “spirituality” though, but I takes men who can handle it, just like drugs and such.

  9. Adrian
    Posted March 26, 2020 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    On the evidence of this article I, for one, would prefer to forget him. An eighties flatmate who was a fan informed me that Mr Orridge had a foreskin piercing, which was all I previously knew of him.

  10. SR Scott
    Posted March 26, 2020 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    I stand corrected then. Thanks.

    Mind you, the Cabs were 3 times cooler than TG.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8awXGkgW1vI

  11. Posted March 27, 2020 at 6:38 am | Permalink

    “You’re forgiven for finding Orridge to be repulsive…” Thanks. Pleased to hear it. With all the multitude of actual rightist philosophers – many of whom are forgotten – do we need any association with this type of stuff that offers nothing?

  12. Wanred
    Posted March 28, 2020 at 4:57 am | Permalink

    You are not communicating ‘with’ this person, you are communicating something about -him- to -us-. I still can’t actually tell if this is about a man or a woman, by the way. I assume this is a woman judging from the picture on Wikipedia but name (“Neil”) would suggest that it is a man.

    I read the entire article thinking P-orridge was a group of people. Wikipedia also picked up this strange habit and I quote: but also a time when they developed an interest in art

    What ‘they’ (them, the group, Wikipedia contributors) actually meant to write is that he (Neil Andrew Megson) developed an interest in the art. At least, I assume they do because certain people have hijacked our ability to communicate clearly out of fear of imposing butthurt, it is now impossible to tell exactly what someone means. do you know what we call mislabeling things on purpose? Lying. Fraud. Deception.

    To fully explain why I chose to do this might entail an entire essay, but to summarize, I find it generally amicable to identify a person in the manner that they feel most comfortable with, simply for the purpose of making communication possible. Refusing to identify someone in the manner they would like you to simply means that communication is impossible,

    No, using the wrong pronouns because you refuse to apply what was taught to you in school makes communication impossible.

    But please, do devote an entire article on respecting people’s pronouns … On Counter-Currents.

  13. Gnome Chompsky
    Posted March 28, 2020 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    I alsn fiound the use of they, them, their etc. repulsive.

    It is posited that the death of his wife was mainly due to the surgical procedures intended to make them more similar to each other. An utter failure.

    He was also of a phenotype (toad-like) that makes effective female imposture impossible.

    I would recommend that readers do their own research on that.

    Genesis-p-horrid!

    As for your claims of TG and PY being the founders of multiple genres, hey are rubbish, all were incipient in the times, and in all cases, there is an earlie example

    As for the OP whn cittes the cabs, sure, they had a dark sound, appealing to deprerssed adolescents, and they did do (crap) disco tracks well before p-horrid.

    SPK, from NZ, did the best version, on Leichensrei (their other works before and after too), Laibach, too, on their early recordiings, I think they may have heard a little SPK. perhaps not, just imwcipient.

    Callhng what Trent Reznor or Marilyn Manson do industrial music is an insult to the mind.

  14. Norman
    Posted April 2, 2020 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    The “they” issue is instructive, because GPO himself lamented the mainstreaming of his own transgressivity.

    Subjective observation: I find the use of “they” etc., has two implications.

    1. The writer/speaker has been compromised — intellectually, socially, linguistically — by a Tyrannical Will, and thus leveraged into a role of lickspittle, collaborateur and/or paid-informant.

    2. It doesn’t matter if the writer/speaker is conscious or unconscious of that subservience, or whether the expression is done in good or bad faith. The bad faith resides in the Tyrannical Will, and remains until that will is thwarted.

    But I do not advocate censoring, editing or suppressing such pseudo-transgressive speech. It is conformism, in fact, not transgression

    Here I allude also to the frustration Genesis P. Orridge expressed, and no doubt felt, when his own examplary transgressiveness was assimilated by much lesser individuals, and then mainstreamed. (Boo-hoo, one is prompted to add.)

    He was, at least when he was young, interesting for his absolutism, his real transgressionism. His later expressions of frustration were a merker of his own irrelevance. Parallels to Crowley are apt here. You can’t be the bad boy for very long, but you can convince some of the audience this is so.

    However, pretension and moral stupidity should always be called out for what they are.

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