Throbbing Gristle would’ve had a hard time finding a more fitting location for their New York debut and first show in the US in nearly three decades. On a chilly night in the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn, the opulent and mysterious Masonic Temple can be absolutely terrifying. Over the course of two hour-long sets, Gristle’s industrial scuzz filled out the wood-paneled auditorium and pounded the marble floors with a sound that was harsh yet rapturous.
The band sat and sound-sculpted with laptops (yes, laptops, no more handmade synthesizers here).
TG’s opening set was a score to the film The Shadow of the Sun, a 1980 Derek Jarman art flick full of baroque statues, cadavers, and flames. The band sat and sound-sculpted with laptops (yes, laptops, no more handmade synthesizers here). Genesis P-Orridge, now with blonde, shoulder-length hair, was dressed in DayGlo orange and slumped over in a chair with a guitar on lap. The dense soundtrack approached an abrasive version of a William Basinski tape loop.
The sold-out crowd of record heads, ex-ravers, Brits, and a few industrial kids didn’t know what to make of the middle act, sound and video artist Bruce McClure. Or, perhaps more likely, they were made catatonic by the pulsating drone and visually hypnotizing video projection. His setup was three film projectors and half a dozen pedals behind the audience. It was a rare US performance for the artist—who most often performs in galleries in Europe, although he resides in Brooklyn—and alone worth the $35 ticket price.
The final TG set unfolded slowly, with the tantalizing prospect that the lights would be turned off at any moment (They weren’t, much to the chagrin of everyone). Initially, the band was reserved—Genesis P-Orridge read from a music stand and Cosey Fanni Tutti stomped with a headless guitar. During a raucous version of “Discipline,” Genesis moved to center stage and taunted the crowd with grunts and screams. Antic energy flailing her about, she banged the microphone on her head to the drumbeat, sending the crowd to a head-knocking fit.
It’s gotten a lot harder to shock the hell out of a crowd since Throbbing Gristle started doing it in the mid-’70s. But if they proved something last night, it’s that when it comes to disturbing and emotionally raw performance art, age shouldn’t be a factor.
Words and images: Patrick Burns