Interviews

Genesis Breyer P-Orridge

From the Genesis Breyer P-Orridge Archives.

Genesis Breyer P-Orridge has been making art, poetry, music, and magic for nearly fifty years. With the band Throbbing Gristle, P-Orridge became one of the main progenitors of industrial music, and in 1981 P-Orridge with Alex Fergusson commenced Psychic TV, which released its thirty-sixth studio album, Snakes, in 2014.

In 1993, P-Orridge met and married dominatrix, registered nurse, performance artist, and musician Jacqueline Breyer— aka Lady Jaye (named after G.I. Joe’s sidekick). Shortly afterward they embarked on the project of Pandrogeny, a fusion of their souls and bodies as one through using the pronoun we, as well as various surgical procedures and shamanic rituals. They got matching breast implants on Valentine’s Day 2003. Lady Jaye died in 2007 but lives on through P-Orridge’s life and activities as the shared creators BREYER P-ORRIDGE.

In 2009, Tate Britain purchased the artist’s archive, and P-Orridge is currently at work on several projects: a collection of poetry that will be published through Heartworm Press; Bight of the Twin, a collaborative documentary made with filmmaker Hazel Hill McCarthy III on the Voudon religion in Ouidah, Benin; and a commissioned exhibition on the influences of Nepal and Benin, West Africa, on P-Orridge’s works at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York slated for March 2016, to run simultaneously with an exhibition of new works at Invisible-Exports.

WE WERE THREE YEARS AHEAD of the rest of our peers in school because we were bright. By the age of nine, we were in class with twelve-year-olds. We became so bored, out of our mind! My father had a policy: If you can read it, you can read it. He had a great library of books. First editions of Tristram Shandy and Robinson Crusoe, all that stuff. He also had a copy of Seven Years in Tibet, which he gave to us when we were ten. We read it and we were just mesmerized by it and that was that, Tibet was in our life and consciousness from then on, all due to our dad. It got us looking for all things Tibetan. In those days there wasn’t much information around, especially in the suburbs of England. Then, at some point during the 1960s, we managed to get an album of Tibetan sacred music, which was mind-bending. Of course, we were listening to the Velvet Underground at the time as well, and we managed to locate all sorts of commonalities between the two.

When you become a Tibetan monk, one of the older monks will tell you which instrument to play. It’s not based on skill and aptitude; it’s based on what they think will work for you spiritually, in the long term. So we thought, What a brilliant way of approaching music. Skill is the least important part; devotion and revelation are the real reason for making sound. And then we came across a copy of Silence by John Cage, and then we came across Karlheinz Stockhausen. All of it made sense to us. It all came from the same jigsaw puzzle. Anything that can be heard is potentially music, every sound. And whenever you have a second sound, it’s a rhythm, no matter how many millions of years separate the sounds are, that makes it rhythm. That’s basically the rules of music. If it makes a noise, it’s music; if there are two noises, it’s a rhythm, end of story. And so we made our first album in 1967 based on that. We wrote by hand on the front cover, on the one copy we could afford to make, quotes from John Cage. The front functioned as the sleeve notes. On the back of it we wrote, “We have nothing to say, and we’re saying it.”

Of course, we’ve been accused of saying a lot, oftentimes offensive, Satanic, or pure evil—of being gratuitously “shocking.” We’ve been so pissed off at the hypocrisy and bigotry of the overriding culture, particularly in Britain where the class system infects everything. We were not just wanting to shock so much as to say, “Fuck you, you hypocritical, privileged bastards. We’ve seen you, we’ve been at your fucking school. We’re on to you.”

Left: Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, English Breakfast, 2002–2009, mixed media, 14 x 11”. Right: Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, Red-Well, 1999, mixed media, 14 x 11”.

So they labeled us shocking when, really, we were just trying to communicate something about society that society couldn’t see, or didn’t want to see. We did this with music, of course, but we did it visually as well, in our artwork, collages, album art, and performances. We’d use the concept of the cut-up, à la Brion Gysin and William Burroughs, to combine images from real life with totally conflicting images, confusing people. It was coming from Fluxus more than punk. One time, when we were performing with COUM Transmissions, one of our members looked profoundly wounded, even disemboweled, when really she was just covered in crushed fruit. People were horrified by it, even though she smelled incredible! It looked real, but we’d be performing right next to her, our body covered in a profusion of small cuts that would be bleeding so much by the end of the performance that we were nearly unconscious. No one would be bothered by it because my wounds didn’t look as “real” as hers. So the question arises as to what are you really looking at, if you’re drawn to fake drama, not “reality,” and what are you really upset by? Oh, the pretty girl who looks like she’s been mangled—look at her and take pictures of her, be appalled! But we’re the ones who’re actually injured, and you’re ignoring us because we were just some skinny little naked thing.

You know, we never said to ourselves, “Aren’t we genius that we came up with the idea of industrial music?” As a cultural engineer, we believe certain radical shifts in popular culture are inevitable. If we didn’t do it, we think someone, somewhere down the road, would have been astute enough to apply the lessons of John Cage and classical electronic music to popular music to give it renewed authenticity and content in terms of sounds and lyrics. Bob Dylan liberated lyrical content at one point; Lou Reed’s Velvet Underground liberated the lyric at one point; and then we feel we took lyrics as far as they could go within Throbbing Gristle. Psychic TV, on the other hand, was my reaction to the way Throbbing Gristle was constantly being misunderstood—everyone just thought T.G. was making a lot of noise, screaming about murder. And that’s not what we were doing! An artist has a right, an absolute right, to discuss any subject he or she chooses. Why is it that a journalist can discuss brutality, nihilism, suppression of ideas, and other unsavory things, but if artists do, we’re irresponsible, labeled evil? It’s absurd. The dominant media makes money from humanE suffering, while we’re doing it to ask why human beings are the way they are. Surely this should change—MUST change.

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