In 1976, British performance artist and musician Cosey Fanni Tutti (Christine Newby) cofounded Throbbing Gristle from the art collective COUM Transmissions along with Chris Carter, Peter Christopherson, and Genesis Breyer P-Orridge. As she details in her autobiography Art Sex Music (Faber & Faber, 2017), their debut gig occurred, rather appropriately, on the opening night of COUM Transmissions’ “Prostitution” show at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts. On the occasions of the fortieth-anniversary reissue of Throbbing Gristle’s album The Second Annual Report (Mute, 2017) and the COUM Transmissions retrospective at the Humber Street Gallery in Hull, England, earlier this year, she reflects on the band’s mission, its radical roots, and the significance of her own pseudonym.
MY NAME CHANGED FROM Cosmosis to Cosey Fanni Tutti. A friend had sent me a postcard and addressed it to Cosey Fanni Tutti. It seemed rather apt, because at the time I was doing mail art and collaging a lot of sex magazines, Cosey Fanni Tutti was fine with me. I don’t regard myself as having an alter ego. I’ve just always been who I am. But there was a point later on when I went places, and my name preceded me. I think that’s when I realized that the name itself had traction. The name does have a life of its own, people build something about me around it.
The north of England in the 1960s was just waking up to progressive music and art. We had the art college, university, and technical college, so people were travelling in from the outskirts of Hull. And the record companies had begun to send artists from their labels around the country, artists like Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd. In Hull and Yorkshire, the people are tough, and it’s tough to convince them to change. I was amongst that social group of working-class families who worked bloody hard and didn’t need any disruption from their children and daily lives. Within that culture you were expected to follow form. I was born at the right time, just as the whole hippie culture and Beat generation came through. We knew there was an alternative lifestyle out there—we’d seen it, we’d read about it, and we wanted it. It wasn’t long after that I left Hull, or I was politely asked to leave.
In COUM, people would mess around playing acoustic guitar or bongos in different people’s flats. Then it shifted from that, to using anything that could make sound that was more interesting. It wasn’t based on any formula as such—it was about being creative with sound. We were breaking down rock ’n’ roll with toy instruments and basically being annoying. Then we realized it would be good to be a little bit more constructive about it. We got to know different people through COUM, and they brought different things, like the possibilities of amplification. Then we moved down to London and met the musician and engineer John Lacey, who was very technically competent. And through him we met Chris Carter who was able to build synthesizers. It was Chris building equipment that brought me to a different kind of sound. I thought it gave us the possibility to create sounds that we hadn’t heard before—or the sounds we could hear in our heads. It was Chris’s information and ideas and innovative approach to it all that made Industrial music possible.
I see Throbbing Gristle and Industrial Records as satellites of what was going on in punk. Throbbing Gristle came out of Brion Gysin, International Times, and all those experimental groups of the ’60s. Out of that came Industrial music. We had nothing to do with punk. Punk came from Malcolm McLaren and John Krivine. They didn’t do it themselves, they formed bands to do it for them. That’s the big difference between us and them. We did it ourselves. Bands like Cabaret Voltaire did it themselves.
By the 1980s what was labelled “Industrial” music was nothing like the original. Throbbing Gristle had finished by ’81—the project was over. It had been a product of the late-’60s generation speaking out about the ’70s. It was a really tough time in England in the ’70s. There were a lot of power cuts and struggles with the National Health Service. It’s getting like that again now. I think when we get Brexit, it will be like what we had in the ’70s—it’ll be very desperate. People are going to find it difficult. I’m not looking forward to it myself.