Throbbing Gristle’s Cosey Fanni Tutti discusses her superb memoir Art Sex Music, which reflects on an incredible career that once saw the group branded as “wreckers of civilisation”.
Former Throbbing Gristle member Christine Newby, aka Cosey Fanni Tutti, has produced quite possibly the music book of the year in the brilliant Art Sex Music, a compelling reflection on her lengthy career as a rebellious provocateur in the world of art and music.
Starting with Cosey’s working class upbringing in Hull (which this year extensively celebrated TG as part of its European Capital of Culture remit), it moves on to her time as a member of artistic collective COUM and finally her extensive work in the musical avant-garde.
This latter output has taken many thrillingly experimental shapes, not just with Throbbing Gristle, but also with the duo Carter Tutti – formed with her life partner and fellow TG member Chris Carter – and its offshoot Carter Tutti Void, a superb collaboration with Nik Void of DFA electro-industrial mavericks Factory Floor.
A notable element of the COUM and TG story was how truly counter-cultural it was – not just in the music and art, but also in the lifestyle, with the group and their associates living in communes and totally rejecting mainstream society.
“You know, I didn’t think of it like that,” considers Cosey in her soft Yorkshire tones, speaking from her Norfolk home. “Someone else asked me that as well, but to be honest it was just the way I wanted to live. It was how I felt comfortable – I didn’t feel comfortable within the normal society at all, it didn’t feel like me. It didn’t fulfil me and give me what I needed from life, and the way I lived did. As you say, it was outside and on the margins, but that’s how I could operate freely and feel comfortable with my life and what I wanted to do.”
Cosey and TG may have simply been doing what felt right to them, although it certainly felt a lot more painful to the establishment. COUM caused upoar with their awesome 1976 show Prostitution at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts, a nihilistic, transgressive meditation on sex, violence and social decay, which utilised material from Cosey’s parallel career as a model for erotic films and magazines. In possibly the greatest endorsement any band has ever received, COUM and TG were condemned by Tory MP Nicholas Fairbairn as “wreckers of civilization”.
For Cosey, the scandal came as something of a shock.
“I didn’t expect all of that,” she reflects. “Like I say in the book, just before it I was modelling for Men Only and then I came back to install the show. I had no idea what had gone on while I was away. I was totally surprised, because at that point Men Only was going to be one of the last jobs I did. There were a few trickling in that I was still doing, but COUM was ending and I’d moved on. Throbbing Gristle was starting to take over.
“So when you’ve let something go and all of a sudden it’s all over the newspapers, you kind of think, ‘Well, I’m not even doing that anymore, what’s the big fuss?’ I’d made my statement, done my work and tried to hang it in on the walls of the ICA, then not been allowed to. They nearly cancelled it, which was a bit much considering it was the main theme of the show. You can’t start dissing it. So yeah, it was a total surprise.”
As the title suggests, Cosey writes quite a bit in Art Sex Music about her involvement in erotic movies and magazines. What did hope to get out of the experience?
“It was a number of things,” she responds. “Obviously for one thing, I wanted it for my art – it facilitated me doing my creative work. But on top of that, it was an extremely good way of exploring my sexuality, and also exploring a very under the counter culture, because pornography was illegal then. There was this whole world going on that fascinated me. “Finding out what went on to make those photographs and films, the process involved, the people involved and their relationships… And how they navigated through situations to get the result that they wanted. Because there was a lot of manipulation and some bullying if you like, but on the other hand, me and some of the other models, we worked our way through all of that and helped one another. So there was a lot of camaraderie.
“I mean, some of the people who produced that material worked in TV and films as well. You were getting trained cameramen and sound technicians, as well as the sleazy end of it, which was dirty old men with cameras. But I liked the whole breadth of that. I wanted to explore it from the very high class end, Men Only and so on, right down to the nitty-gritty stuff like Readers’ Wives. Because then you go from the actual reality of this underground scene, wife-swapping and making pornography – on the underground of the underground almost – to the high end, where it’s all airbrushed.”
A strong theme in the book is Cosey’s volatile relationship with the remarkable Genesis P-Orridge, whom she first met and fell in love with in Hull, before they formed Throbbing Gristle with Carter and the late Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson. Latterly, P-Orridge has attracted attention for his decision to undergo facial surgery to more closely resemble his partner, and now identifies as third gender.
Having broke up in the early ’80s, TG reformed (physically if not morally) in 2004, before finally calling it a day in late 2010 following Christopherson’s sad and untimely passing. They signed off with the wonderful double album Desertshore/The Final Report, for which they roped in similarly like-minded mavericks, including porn-star Sasha Grey, Einsturzende Neubaten’s Blixa Bargeld, and the enfant terrible of French cinema, the amazing Gaspar Noe (“a fantastic person,” says Cosey approvingly).
In all of Cosey’s adventures over the years, did she ever make it to Ireland?
“No, none of my projects ever went over,” she rues. “Although oddly enough, when I was stripping I was offered gigs over there. I didn’t take it up – I thought, I’ve done stripping gigs around London, but maybe Ireland is a step too far! But some day it would be nice to go over and do something.”
Art Sex Music is out now, published by Faber & Faber.
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