Artist Profile: Genesis P-Orridge

[Genesis P-Orridge]

By Luke Carrell

MP3: Psychic TV: "Maggot Brain

Genesis Breyer P-Orridge’s résumé does not lend itself to easy summary; a founding member of Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV, Genesis is a also a celebrated visual and performance artist, and has been an active player in various forms of counterculture since the 1960s. During a Psychic TV performance in Brooklyn this past December, Genesis appeared on stage in corpse paint and a platinum bob, emitting an intense kinetic energy that was not altogether menacing-- but not altogether playful, either. Sitting in a small restaurant in Williamsburg a few days later, Genesis spoke to me on behalf of a non-gendered, communal "we", and got straight to the heart of the matter before I even had the time to turn on my digital recorder.

AZ: Alright, you’re officially quotable now.

Genesis: Are we officially quotable now? Is this machine recording? Ah yes, I see it ticking.

AZ: Can you tell me about the new Manhattan space you recently started working out of?

Genesis: Ah, well we call the new apartment “The Nest", because it’s so small compared to the last one. It’s just much more comfortable, The Nest. A place to nest into when the current situation collapses.... which will happen, you know.

AZ: The current situation?

Genesis: The current situation: Western materialist capitalism. That’s obviously already failed. It’s been running on an empty tank for so long, and the next step is China of course, which is totalitarian capitalist-- Russia, too. [It's where] you use violent force and threats and fear to control the economy for profit. But all of them are going to collapse; it’s inevitable. You can’t have infinite growth forever when you’re on a finite piece of planet. We thought to preempt all that, we’d start with the patch, hence, “The One True Topi Tribe.”

AZ: You’re talking about new patches on the back of Psychic TV’s jackets.

Genesis: Yes, because in any movement-- be it new or regurgitated or reassembled in a new way with a different emphasis, especially in street culture-- there are certain things that are very helpful. One is to have a great logo. Well, we already had that with the Psychick Cross. It was beautifully ubiquitous. Another possibility is cheap, easy outfits. It’s accessible to everyone who’s willing to make the investment for a patch. That’s why, in the beginning, industrial [style] was old camo and clothing, and it didn’t matter if it got dirty. Actually, being dirty was part of the function. This time, it’s a leather jacket or a denim vest. Slice off the sleeves, put a patch on it, and then decorate it how you wish with your own particulars. It gives you instant recognition and a very easy form of entry into groups, so that you see it and know that these people are probably going to have very similar thoughts to you. That’s why we’re working on that now, in advance of the collapse. A lot of people don’t know, but actually one of the Temple ov Psychick Youth [TOPY] access points was a motorcycle club.

AZ: Really, what were they called?

Genesis: They were called the Illuminati of Bavaria Motorcycle Club. Still got my colors from that. They were based in Portland, Oregon, and there were over 20 of them, all with bikes. It was a real motorbike club, an actual outlaw motorbike club. In the '80s, when it was really thriving (and when TOPY was too), we would tear down the West Coast and catch up with them in Portland. Then we’d have them as outriders as we went down the Coast. We were in our old school bus-- a ’66 school bus-- with the words “Even Further” written on the front, and it all looked fantastic going down the freeway.

AZ: That’s very post-apocalyptic, very Mad Max.

Genesis: Well yeah, and all very functional, too. You know, mobile, nomadic, flexible. And even though it might look extreme in the way that we are deliberately inserting a movie into everyday life, the lines are so blurred anyway right now. It’s a good way of giving people strategies to work with. Even if you are using something as a metaphor or just for fun, it can still say to people, “Don’t forget, because you might find that useful in 'the futures'. That might be how you find yourself needing to operate.” For those people who wish to have a fulfilling, creative, and more free-flowing and free-thinking way of life, they need to take it upon themselves to build autonomous units that give that to them. The way to do that is to find enough like-minded people to create this super organism that is the sum-total of everyone involved. Partly why we’ve been using “we” so much, instead of “me", “you”, etc.

AZ: You’ve essentially been in a constant state of collaboration throughout your entire career.

Genesis: Since the '60s.

AZ: How do you find the people you collaborate with?

Genesis: It hasn’t changed that much. At the very beginning, we were seeking out what we nicknamed “hotspots” in the culture. At any time, there are usually pretty obvious signs of what’s exciting at the moment. We made the effort to find [William S.] Burroughs and hang out with him, and people have made the effort to find me. Then people make the effort to find them, and so on. It’s very much an organic thing. It’s an amazingly simple, but unusual process.

AZ: How does that collaborative process apply to Psychic TV?

Genesis: Psychic TV: new guitarist, new sound. That doesn’t meant it’s, “Oh shit, it doesn’t sound like us anymore.” Instead it’s, “Oh great! It doesn’t sound like us anymore!” It’s always been very flexible. One of the great things about it is that it keeps changing. On our last tour, we started to get a little bit tired, and one night we were sitting in the dressing room and they were all yelling for an encore. We just had this moment where we turned to Jeff and said, “Have you ever heard ‘Maggot Brain’ by Funkadelic?” “Yeah, of course.” “Ok, you’re the encore for tonight.” And he says, “But there’s a piano part.” So we look at Jess and she says, “Don’t look at me, I’ve never heard of Funkadelic.” So he says, “It’s easy. B flat, A, C, and la dee da.” She says, “Ok, I can do that.” So they walked onstage in Moscow and played “Maggot Brain” for 20 minutes and totally entranced the audience. So Ed, when we got home, he said, “We should record that.”

AZ: Do you prefer to use the term "improvisation" to describe Psychic TV’s current approach?

Genesis: Oh, we do. We improv most things, actually. “Maggot Brain” really isn’t really the old “Maggot Brain” at all anymore, just a few notes here and there. That truly made me like music again, because in all honesty we’d kind of lost interest in Throbbing Gristle, and we thought we’d stop doing Psychic TV, and that was fine. When it’s not exciting, when it’s not giving anything, and nothing is moving, then don’t do it. Like we were saying before, go where the action is. Then suddenly the action is in PTV3 [current incarnation of Psychic TV], and the music is just really good and fun to play. We're shredding the speakers and doing wild prog rock. So that happened simultaneously with the idea of making a network again, with the biker sort of structure.

AZ: What are you most excited to see emerge from this transition period?

Genesis: It’s all exciting. It’s been a while since we’ve been this excited. I mean, obviously we’ve been grieving for Lady Jaye for the past 3 years. All things considered, we’ve been pretty productive and efficient, despite that. There’s this huge influx of energy and it’s coming from the grassroots; it’s coming from young people coming in. We’re kind of being taught at the moment by new people to reevaluate everything. Not just throw things away because we've already done them, but reassess and rebuild and extend whatever’s working. It’s a really interesting time. We’re buzzing, yeah. It’s a hotspot… And yes, we are going to get motorbikes.

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