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By: Andrew Lyman
PORTLAND, ME - USA
Genesis lives in New York and tours with PTV3, Thee Majesty, and other projects, in addition to a busy schedule of speaking engagements, art shows, and installations. I talked with Genesis by phone December 18th, 2008.
*Genesis started by telling me about a friend who is a nanny for the second richest family in Istanbul, riding up and down the river on the family yacht, and traveling Laos and Cambodia looking for orphanages to donate to. Timothy Leary and William S. Burroughs are the girl’s godparents.
Photo: Todd Crawford
Thirsty: This is a great pleasure for me. I grew up reading the RE/Search books, and was massively influenced by Pranks and the Industrial Culture Handbook, to the point that I went out and worked with Vale for a summer in San Francisco. I actually think I got there right on your shirttails. It was the summer of 2005.
Genesis Breyer P-Orridge: Oh an Jaye and I went and visited didn’t we?
Thirsty: Yeah exactly!
Genesis: Yeah Vale is an amazing character.
Thirsty: He was fantastic, I really enjoyed getting to spend time with them that summer.
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Genesis: And RE/Search has been a really powerful force in cultural engineering too. There’s no question in my mind. When we first hung out with Vale he was doing Search and Destroy, and during our many conversations, we were saying how we’d always had this idea that there’s all this, at that time, hidden alternative culture that's been going on, that people just aren’t aware of, but if they knew about it it would be inspiring, and it would be nice to do something like the old magazines, “Man, Myth, and Magic” where every so often another volume came out and when you collected them all, you had the ultimate alternative encyclopedia. And those conversations are what really confirmed in Vale the urge to do them as books. And of course the first one was the Burroughs, Gysin, TG book which we helped with a great deal. You know, got the contacts, and put him in touch with everybody, and pulled together a lot of the material. Then out of that spilled the Industrial Culture Handbook. Then the really, incredibly influential one of course is Modern Primitives. At the time we met Vale, we were the first people he really knew that had piercings, it was so secret at that time. There was only Mr. Sebastian doing them in the whole of Britain, and Fakir in California, and Florida, and that was it. It was a very secret, primarily gay underground, and it was Psychic TV and T.O.P.Y. that really threw it into the public eye. And none of us knew what was going to happen. My god! Now anywhere you go in the world there’s piercing and tattoo parlors. It’s huge you know, absolutely incredible. And a lot of people forget that in 1991, Mr. Sebastian, who was the person in Britain that we were working with, and several other gay men were taken to the Old Bailey, the most serious court in the land, where they usually try spies and murderers, and they were found guilty of grievous bodily harm to themselves! For having piercings. One guy got 4 years in prison for having pierced his own foreskin.
Thirsty: To themselves they were found guilty?
Genesis: Yes! Isn’t that insane? This was in 1991, that’s not long ago.
Thirsty: That’s not long ago at all! It’s interesting, flipping back through that book these days, the content of it, compared to piercings that you see are widespread, it gets kind of washed over, but you read stuff like that, you read the context of all this, and it’s totally mind-blowing and revolutionary.
Genesis: Yes. Well there’s a picture of my ear with a rivet in it with a hole, and again, with piercing jewelry, a gay friend of Mr. Sebastian’s would have to make it one at a time. And when we thought of the idea like the hole like that, we had to design the rivet ourselves, and then get it made out of gold. And now you can buy them at every shop in St. Marks, but they didn’t exist before that. It’s hard for people who’ve grown up with it to realize how new it is, and how a lot of people have had to fight really hard just for the right to be pierced. In Britain they used this really old law that they found, that certain times in the past soldiers would injure themselves deliberately to avoid going into battle, you know shoot themselves in the foot or whatever, and so they made it law that it was illegal to injure yourself, and an injury would be anything that broke the skin. Thereby a new tattoo was an injury, and a piercing was an injury, and it was equivalent to grievous bodily harm, and that’s the law they dragged out to try and stop piercing an tattooing in Britain.
Thirsty: They wanted to just completely put a stop to it back then?
Genesis: Yes. They declared it illegal. And as we say they jailed several people, and ruined the lives of other people. One of them was teacher who had pierced himself. He lost his job. He was ridiculed in the media. It was a terrible, terrible attack, and in the original case, there were 13 people that they were arresting through the courts, and one of them was me. And they’d got all the names by going through Mr. Sebastian’s appointments book. And then suddenly my name dropped off that list. And of course, it turned out to be, because they wanted to deal with me separately. And we found out later that was the time they began on the whole strategy to raid my house and stop me being in Britain, encouraging this horrible decadent behavior. (laughs) It’s a wild story, and if we didn’t have all the documentation, it would be hard to believe. But Jaye used to say to me when we would walk down to St. Marks and we would see all these kids with dreadlocks and loads of piercings and tattoos, and she’d look at me and go, “I blame you for this.” (laughs)
Thirsty: I wonder if those kids would have blamed you for it as well.
Photo: Todd Crawford
Genesis: No if you said it to them they’d just think you were an insane old person telling stories. I mean it’s the same with Industrial Music. Sorry am I distracting you from your interview?
Thirsty: For me? No absolutely not! I hate just asking questions, I much prefer stories. That’s what anyone has to share is these stories that we have.
Genesis: Just recently some young students moved in to the apartment downstairs from us, so we went down and said “Hi welcome, we’re your neighbors,” and they gave us a cocktail because we’re all sitting there trying to make friends, and one of them said, of course, “What do you do?” So we said rather shyly, “well we kinda make music, do some art and stuff.” And one of the guys goes, “Oh what kinda music man?” And we said, “well the first band that we were in played music and we called it Industrial Music.” And he looks at me and he goes, “Yeah!” and he pulls up his T-shirt and he’s got a big Nine Inch Nails tattoo on his arm, and we went, “well, not really like that.” (laughs) And he went, “what do you mean?” “Well it was quite a few years before they were Nine Inch Nails.” and he went, “What? What do you mean? I thought Nine Inch Nails was Industrial” and so we thought, it’s not worth trying to explain this, and then the girl said, “Oh like Modest Mouse!”
Genesis: (laughs) “No, not really.” But the weirdest thing of all was then she said, “I have over 300 songs on my computer by Modest Mouse that I downloaded.” And so we said “Oh you’re a big fan then?” And she said, “well I’ve not really listened to any.” And it was a really shocking moment for me, to realize how disconnected that generation has been because of the change in the media, you know the internet, and MTV, and all this other stuff, downloading things for free, that they don’t know the story of their own culture.
Thirsty: It’s totally washed over in the floor of information.
Genesis: They don’t know where anything came from, they don’t know that there was something at the beginning of Industrial Music, and that once it didn’t exist. It’s completely out of their mind, and that was a bit sad you know, to just think that they’ve lost that sense of continuity of culture, and it’s gradual organic changing and evolving, and sometimes the collision and clash between underground culture and the status quo. They’ve lost all of that, all that excitement, and all of that challenge, and all the information that puts it, as you were saying, into a context, a social context, and that’s worrying, because it’s much easier to manipulate people if they’re in a void, if they have no connection with anything, they don’t feel a sense of identity with any community.
Genesis: It’s a very strange time for the culture.
Thirsty: You’ve been at this for so long, and there have been so many changes through how you’ve been doing this, what it started as, what it is now, the culture that you’re working in, the first thing I thought of with you telling these stories, and being blamed for these dreadlocks and piercings, if you’re aware of this and look back at the history, things like PTV, and Throbbing Gristle, and stuff like what Vale was doing with RE/Search, seem like such prescient and central pivot points in what became these diluted cultural movements, and do you have a sense of your place in that history? Is there a frustration with how it trickles out and end up in displays of Nine Inch Nails tattoos?
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Genesis: (laughs) Um, it’s a tough one, I don’t know what it was like for you, I’m not sure how old you are, but for me in the 60’s, growing up in the 60’s and actually being in Manchester, which is very close to Liverpool at the time the Beatles and everybody began, and we can remember when they were just the local bands playing in the town hall, or the youth club and things before they even made records, so we’ve had a very blessed, very fortunate perspective of being, somehow, almost always being in the hotspot, you know? Up in the Liverpool/ Manchester area when Beat Music happened and then in 67, 68 moving to London, so we were right in the middle of Swinging London in the Exploding Galaxy with all the Art Lab, and all this new music happening like Pink Floyd, and we were even at Hyde Park to see the Stones in 69, so we’ve been very connected with all of that, and at the beginning of all of that. In terms of the Nine Inch Nails being the beginning of Industrial Music, we heard about William Burroughs, because my English teacher gave me the name of “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac, and my father bought me a copy of “On the Road” at a motorway cafe, it must have ended up there by accident, and then reading that book was inspiring, I thought “who are these people? This is based on true stories.” And then we searched for William Burroughs, and eventually, hitch-hiking to London every other weekend, we’d go around all the porno shops in Soho, and eventually found a copy of “Naked Lunch” in a porno shop.
Thirsty: In a porno shop.
Genesis: It was sort of under the counter, they thought it was pornography because it was banned as obscene at first, and that was where you would also find Henry Miller, and Jean Genet, not in a normal bookshop, but in these porno shops once in a while. And so just to get one book you had to deceive your parents and say you were staying with somebody’s grandmother in London, hitch-hike down instead of getting the train so you had some money to buy a book, sleep in a doorway, and struggle round and round, walking for hours with no food, finally find the book, and then find a way back home in time to go to school on Monday morning. You know that’s an amazingly full and kaleidoscopic adventure attached to that one book. And then the book has information that you’ve never been able to access before.
Thirsty: It really connects you to that information too, rather than…
Genesis: Yeah. Now that’s all been lost because you can just click on a mouse, and the value of information, and the means of applying it to one’s life situation have become much more tenuous and fragile, and that concerns me in terms of the long-term ability of youth culture to rebel. It’s become much more of a, the youth culture today tends to have a much higher ratio of consuming than it ever did, and consuming for its own sake, rather than consuming to gain wisdom. So that worries me. But in terms of the place in all of that process, its difficult, its embarrassing to say “yes, we were the first people to call music Industrial Music,” because it sounds arrogant or self-centered, but it’s the truth. And even though it evolved and mutated into these many many disparate variations, like jazz has many different variations for example, it still broke a stranglehold of a sort of outmoded perception of reality, if you like, it opened up the options for experimentation, at least for some time, and we hope that there’s a residual sense the the culture is more malleable and can be adjusted and can be changed more easily than people imagined in the past. That that’s given sort of a sense of empowerment to people who want to be creative at different times from then on, and that’s the bit that we’re happy about if you like. The bit that we’re most proud of is, maybe we opened up a little doorway, by just bashing on it so hard, and that that doorway maybe remains ajar, and lets through kinds of other people that we can’t even imagine wanted to create. With Industrial Records, one thing we did in the news method was encourage people to send us cassette tapes of what they were doing, and then we would print names and addresses in the newsletters so they could all write to each other and exchange tapes, and that network is still in existence. People are still doing that to this day, in fact it’s becoming more popular now than it probably ever was. And noise music, certainly in the New York area is huge. There’s loads and loads of noise bands, and electronic bands, and sort of abstract lap-top bands, and so on. So the legacy is one more of, not so much individual groups or bands or products, but more a sense of the freedom to be involved in the game of creation. People feel much more able to take part in expressing themselves, communicating with other people, setting up unique ideas and sounds and sharing them, and learning how that can effect things and also how it can enhance the quality or pleasure of their own life. So that’s a good thing to have been part of. It’s the same way with piercing and tattooing too, it gives people a sense that they are reconnecting with their body. You know the all-prevailing socioeconomic power that runs Western society has always tried to police and limit people’s sexuality and their right to choose what happens with their own bodies, weather they’re women choosing and abortion, or anybody wanting to do scarification or piercings that was once upon a time illegal, that’s created a dialogue that that’s an issue, you know? That there is this long thousand year old shamanic tradition of involving the human body in the projection of will in need and desire, and that that should be allowed to be as free as possible, that no government has the right to legislate what you do with your own body. It’s outrageous. So for us it still symbolizes that kind of freedom, even though sometimes it’s become so commonplace it’s mundane. It’s better to have the freedom than not have it.
Thirsty: You feel it just continually edges toward that ultimate goal of personal freedom, yeah.
Genesis: That’s what we hope.
Thirsty: That’s the goal obviously. It’s interesting, like you said, noise music is this big thing these days, and I’ve talked to noise musicians and they don’t seem to have, and his is a very broad generalization, but they don’t seem to have a sense of that context and that history of what they’re doing. They’re operating, a lot of them, very much within a style, and it’s a more extreme style, sonically, than what’s been accepted for a while, but that drive for freedom and divergence seems kind of lacking.
Genesis: Yeah, it’s a strange one, but when we’ve been playing out, Psychic TV lately, the last tour we just did a couple weeks ago in Europe, in Spain and Italy, the audiences were three or four times larger than the years before, and the enthusiasm was incredible. And we’ve noticed that’s been happening everywhere; when we played in New York a couple weeks ago that was true too. The two most common things that people say are, the first one is, “You all look like you’re having so much fun on stage. You’re all smiling, and you laugh an you make jokes, and you look so happy.” Which is, to us is fantastic because it’s true. And the other thing they say is, “We didn’t realize that it could be like this. We’ve never seen anything like it before.” And of course, if they’d been around in 1967, 68, 69, it would have been very commonplace, that a band would try and immerse every sense: sound, light, touch, smell. We would do things in the 60’s where we would have lots of scents, we would have vats of jelly for people to get into naked, and toys to play with, and piles of leaves, and balloons, and smoke, and all sorts of strange sculptures to climb on, and it would be basically almost like a circus of sensory overload, and that’s what we grew up with, so we can’t see why anyone would ever give less, how someone could go onstage in just a pair of jeans and a t-shirt and play for 35 minutes just staring at the floor. That just seems like a real waste of an opportunity.
Thirsty: Isn’t that an interesting reaction though, that we’ve lost sense of that possibility that we have of creating these experiences?
Photo: Todd Crawford
Genesis: No we haven’t lost it, people just got lazy. It’s the bands that should be making the effort because the audience appreciates it, we’ve found that. We’ve traveled all over the world, and it works wherever we go, so the response is there, it’s a natural response. Psychic TV, we create, it’s temporary, but while we are there, we’re creating a safe zone, you don’t have to be cool, you don’t have to be cynical, you don’t have to worry about weather everybody else is looking at you and thinking you shouldn’t be dancing because it’s silly, all these other things that normally effect people’s ability to be lost in the musical experience, and the visual experience, we remove those as fast as we can by being absurd if we feel like it, you know, we’ll stop in the middle of a song and just try and outdo each other with the stupidest dance, and then carry on playing again. And it very quickly sends a message that pleasure can be very powerful, that it’s a great release, and when you release it in a communal setting, there’s a certain bonding that happens, and really a big sense of relief that you can just enjoy yourself, and feel connected to people that in some ways see the world the same way that you do, but in a positive sense rather than in a negative one. Hence our slogan sometimes: “Pleasure is a weapon.” Times change and with them the strategies change, and our sort of massively psychedelic approach that we’re using these days, it wouldn’t have worked in the 70’s when we were doing Throbbing Gristle. Throbbing Gristle came in a time of austerity and hardship, miner strikes, and oil shortages, and people were very scared and very insecure and very angry, Britain had so many riots in that era, so TG was also abrasive and angry, and we were trying to point out the hypocrisy and bigotry of the powers that be, and they’re lack of interest in the well being of people. The message is always ultimately about evolution, but the style or the package depends on the particular moment and the context of its society, and it keeps changing. Same way with Acid House and raves in the 80’s. That was another strange moment where there was almost a zeitgeist of tribalism. People suddenly got rid of the sort of anger and nihilism of punk and decided that they wanted connection again, and they wanted to collaborate, network, and take care of each other which is always to be encouraged. Sadly the music got railroaded into TV ads and the background music of football games. (laughs) But for a little while there, there was a really beautiful moment of communal concern. So whenever those things happen it’s always best to encourage that moment, and hope that some people are forever changed. Many will fall back into habitual ways of being, but some will be changed.
Thirsty: Has it been a fluid progression, or have you hit these moments where…
Genesis: There definitely seem to be hot spots.
Thirsty: And then do you say, we have to adapt now, or is it just so in tune that this new thing comes out of whatever you have been doing?
Genesis: We seem to have been blessed with sort of an ability to observe the popular culture, and sort of sense when something is pretty much inevitable, that there’s an inevitable shift coming or happening, and then we try and amplify that, and focus on it, and try and make it happen faster and more usefully, make it have more impact, and draw people’s attention to it. And then when we feel enough people have taken note of that, that shift of emphasis in the culture, then in a way our job is done and we look for the next thing. Which is one reason we sort of seem to play hopscotch or leapfrog. We’ll be really involved in something to a certain point, and then we’ll abandon it and leave it to the mass culture to finish that particular aspect of it while we look for the next thing, that’s out nature.
Thirsty: The interesting thing with artist that operate in the form of just constant change, you get, I’m sure, “your stuff back in the early 90’s was so great, why don’t you do that anymore? Why don’t you do what you used to do, that was the pinnacle?” And that’s missing the point entirely it seems.
Genesis: Yeah. We do get that a lot, people who tell us which was the best thing we ever did. (laughs) But yeah, it’s a process. We’ve said so many times, even on the back of all the temple records, the process is the product. And that’s very literal, the process of breaking habits, and trying to decondition oneself, even from one’s previous expectations, is quite a struggle. It’s very demanding to abandon something often as it just becomes successful, so that you kind of throw yourself back into poverty every time you’re about to break even. There’s lots of temptation to repeat oneself and become formularized, but in the end, if one has a long-term view of things, and a long-term view of one’s own life, the best thing to do is always keep on trying to change, and trying to evolve, and trying to refine the essence of what it is you’re seeing in the culture that you feel is important. So to fall back on formula and become easily recognized, “Oh that must be a Genesis song,” or “oh that must be a Gen painting because it’s got stripes, and Gen always does stripes.” That’s not what we want. We want people to go, “What is that? That’s interesting. Oh! Gen was involved.” That’s more exciting for us. And we’re very hard to please. We get bored quickly so we’re always pushing pushing pushing at ourselves, and try and find out, what’s the next layer, what haven’t we seen yet, and what haven’t we forced ourselves to confront?
Thirsty: Well that’s the big question then, what’s the bigger motivator, that will, or boredom?
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Now things have shifted a little bit because we’re pretty sure that pandrogony is the last big project, and it seems to encompass all the things that went before in different ways, and tie them up into a much more neat, much more meaningful knot. That in the end everything really was motivated by a strange but very real sense of devotion to the human species. That despite being dismayed, and shocked, and upset and embarrassed by a lot of human behavior like war, and cruelty, and so on, that nevertheless, deep down inside is this great love for and great empathy for the human species. We’re these amazing creatures that have this miraculous ability to build technology, and invent, and discover aspects of physics, and engineering, and biology that are almost God-like in their power and the things that we can do now: little boxes, that you can speak to people anywhere in the world, millions of people talking at the same time, and television, we take all these tools, all these toys for granted, but they’re all miracles. And the only thing that art should really be about is healing and giving to the human species an evolutionary impetus that’s not damaging and not negative. Our real destiny hasn’t begun, we’re just moving out of our prehistoric phase, and reaching a point where as a species, we can actually choose how to evolve next: what we can look like, weather or not we'll travel and colonize Space, weather we get rid of politics, and war, and violence, and weather we finally actually just care for each other and become proud and honorable creatures instead of cruel and selfish ones. And there really isn’t any other reason to be here on this planet but to give, and to care, and to try and improve what’s happening. And everything should be about that really, no matter what it’s name is. So pandrogony for us, for example, is about inclusion, and about the different warring factions, the binary systems finally surrendering to become just one focused new form of being that looks into a future: that’s about growth, and wisdom, and compassion, and adventure, but always without cruelty.
Thirsty: I can’t imagine a better way to end this. That was a fantastic message of, I feel, everything. Everything you’ve been doing, and have ever done, and certainly why I’ve been so influenced by everything I’ve ever ever picked up or read. I really appreciate it.
Thirsty: Not necessarily, if you’re happy to keep going, I am too.
Genesis: Well do you have any specific questions about the album?
Thirsty: Well I much prefer what we’ve been doing. I hate to do the music journalist, “How’s the album? How’s the tour been going?” If you would like to take a moment to plug yourself, you’re more than welcome.
Genesis: No no no. It’s not really our way is it. We’re very inefficient at commerce. (laughs) No thank you for the chance to speak.
Thirsty: Absolutely. Let me see if there’s anything, I love that this took a life of its own, I prepared questions beforehand.
Genesis: We were wondering, is your “horserotovator” (my e-mail) is that named after the COIL album?
Thirsty: Yes it absolutely is.
Genesis: It’s always been a great title actually.
Thirsty: That album really just kind of blew me away.
Genesis: Yeah it’s a classic, definitely.
Thirsty: To answer your thought earlier, I am 25 years old, very much of the generation with no history, but I’ve always been very attuned to, I love history and I love collecting these stories.
Genesis: Thank goodness for people like you.
Thirsty: It’s important. It’s very important because like you said you have people reacting to your shows saying, “wow I didn’t know this was possible,” and there are all these things that we’ve already done as a species, as a culture that are possible, and we just need to reconnect with that.
Genesis: Yeah, and soon.
Thirsty: And soon!
Genesis: A lot of negative forces out there right now so it’s an important time.
Thirsty: Do you find people have trouble accepting this incredibly embedded, far-reaching, and positive message if they’re coming to you through a door of Throbbing Gristle or something of a much more aggressive time?
Genesis: Yeah. TG fans tend to be the most fickle and nihilistic, that’s always a problem, because it’s significant, a lot of us are forever excited from the music we discovered in an adolescent peak. For me it was the Velvet Underground, or the bands we were listening to in our late teens, and that always has a very special place in my cultural vision, and my memories, but we’ve always, as you know, been against addiction and against habits, and against repetition, so all we can do is hope that they’ll let go of that overly sentimental obsession, and try and start the forward moving and forward thinking. Looking into the past isn’t very healthy except sometimes to remind ourselves of mistakes, but getting stuck in a historical moment is counter-productive. We’re much more in favor of living in the present, looking at the future. What can the future be?
Thirsty: Do you find you have more possibility now or less?
Genesis: No, probably just by the virtue of being older, and having survived for as long as we have, we’re tending to get a few more invites to do a few more various things, like the first week in April, we’ve been invited with Thee Majesty to do an installation and a performance at the Pompidou in France, and we’re going to Istanbul, and Romania, and Russia we’ve been to a few times so just by virtue of continuing to exist, we get a few more opportunities than we used to. We do much more varied things, in the last few weeks we’ve toured we’ve been to Rutgers, Columbia, and NYU giving lectures about pandrogony and doing exhibitions and so on, being a visiting artist. So there’s a certain increase in people who seem to be listening, and we feel duty bound and honor bound to try and always talk to anybody who says they’re listening.
Thirsty: Do you think opportunity for exposure is analogous to absolute possibility for change?
Genesis: No. It’s more just the dialogue with people who feel they also want to be involved in evolutionary change, that’s the bit that’s important. Getting the chance to speak with people. We still don’t get put on television, we still have never been played on the radio, that hasn’t really changed at all (laughs). You wont see us on Conan O’Brien as one of the rock bands, or Jay Leno. Sadly, cause I’m sure it would stir things up if they let us on. (laughs)
Thirsty: So you wouldn’t turn em down though?
Genesis: Oh no! No. Absolutely not. Not at this point. Because again, there’s just so many people who just don’t know what’s out there, so if we can sneak through and surprise people with the power and energy and variety of what we do in an unlikely context, it could encourage and inspire a lot of other people, and that might generate change in something as monolithic as the television, cause they’re the hardest ones to crack. And I bet you, if a lot of young people saw PTV3 on TV, full-on live, with the videos, and me in my mini-skirt, it might make them go, “My God, that looks exciting, I want to do that!”
Thirsty: Well it’s interesting, I just shot off an e-mail interview with Gerry Casale from DEVO this week, and I mention that because I’ve had three of my friends from a generation before mine, they’re all 10 years older than me, and they’ve all described in exactly the same detail with exactly the same amount of severance seeing DEVO perform on Saturday Night Live, when they were about 10 or 11 years old and just thinking they were absolutely from another planet, and just having this life-changing experience seeing them on the tube.
Genesis: There you go. Yay.
Thirsty: So it’s absolutely a possibility.
Genesis: That would be fun. It’d be interesting to see what happened (laughs). Ok.
Thirsty: Well I’ll give you a call if I see you’ve got a Conan O’Brien spot coming up.