In Memoriam A Tribute to Genesis Breyer P-Orridge
I met Genesis in 1980, while I was writing for a Japanese music magazine. He turned up one day on my doorstep, a bunch of Throbbing Gristle albums and Industrial Records press releases under his arm, and his assistant Stan Bingo in tow. We had tea, and Gen moaned about my not offering him any biscuits with it (we didn't have any!). I mentioned that I was a student at Byam Shaw School of Art, and Gen told me he'd once lectured at the school, in which he told the students that they were wasting time studying art; that being gay would be useful if you were a man, and if you were a woman, you just needed to choose the right person to sleep with—the students were shocked. Gen himself hadn't gone to art school, but he remembered someone (probably Genet) saying, “An artist is someone who's obsessed with sex and death,” and commented that he was a well-qualified artist in that case—and laughed heartily.
I got kicked out of my art course (which was a rather traditional, painting-based one), and instead started working with the video medium on my own. Around the same time, Gen was starting his next project, Psychic TV. Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson produced the early PTV videos such as "A Message from the Temple" featuring Derek Jarman, but soon I got involved in putting together background videos for their live shows. This material consisted largely of experimental film and video works by filmmakers such as John Maybury and Cerith Wyn Evans, which I would edit together with Gen.
Both John and Cerith had worked closely with Derek Jarman (whom Genesis was friends with, and TG had done the soundtrack for his film In the Shadow of the Sun), and they were frequently showing their work at B2 Gallery, run by David Dawson. David, together with Roger Ely and Genesis, organised "The Final Academy," a series of events in London and Manchester with William Burroughs and Brion Gysin, as well as younger artists and music groups who were influenced by their work, such as John Giorno, Psychic TV, Cabaret Voltaire, 23 Skidoo, Last Few Days, and many more. I myself was coming from a different video art scene around London Video Arts (which later merged with London Film-Makers’ Co-op and eventually became LUX) but also starting to be involved in activities at B2. John had come from the New Romantics scene in the early ’80s and was close to a lot of the musicians of that generation, including Boy George and Siouxsie & the Banshees—the original drummer of the Banshees, Kenny Morris, later had a solo record released on Temple Records…So yes, there was a lot of overlapping of friends and scenes, and I remember Genesis especially having connections to all kinds of people from different branches of the UK art and music scene.
This was also the time when the whole pop promo business was coming into existence, and there was still room for young filmmakers and video artists to get in. David Dawson set up a production company with Paul McNally and produced promos for artists like Everything But The Girl, Julian Cope, Troy Tate, among others, with Derek, John, Cerith, as well as the photographer David Bailey, as directors. I worked on these as a camera assistant, production assistant, editor, etc.
In 1985, Genesis organised an all-day event at Hammersmith Palais, entitled Thee Fabulous Feast Ov Flowering Light, which we were asked to document on video. I can't remember much about this event except for PTV and the Icelandic band KUKL (featuring Björk, Einar and Siggi, who were to form the Sugarcubes later) performing.1 That's the hazard of filming an event—you just concentrate on your job, there's no time to absorb and enjoy the actual performance or the atmosphere. A tiny snippet of the footage was used in the “Godstar” promo, described below.
Then, Gen wanted to work with us on a film about Brian Jones. The timing was important, as we knew Robert Fraser, the art dealer who used to hang out with the early Rolling Stones, was ill with AIDS, and we wanted to interview him while we still could. Unfortunately the film never came to fruition due to lack of funds, but in the meantime, Psychic TV recorded the single "Godstar," which was the central musical piece in the whole concept of the project,2 and Gen asked us to produce the promo video for it. (By this time, David's production company had dissolved, and he and I were working as partners. We also produced the promo for Lana Pellay's "Pistol in My Pocket" around this time, directed by John Maybury and featuring Leigh Bowery and all the regulars at his notorious club, Taboo, which later became the subject of a Boy George musical.)
The "Godstar" promo didn't have a director as such, and it was more a collaboration between Gen, David Dawson, and David Larcher, another revered experimental filmmaker, plus myself at the post production stage. We did a day's location shoot on 16mm film at a roundabout near High Wycombe, west of London, with the PTV members, plus Caresse—Gen and Paula’s first daughter—and a goat, signifying the god Pan. The first goat we hired suddenly started giving birth in the middle of the shoot and had to be replaced with another. As the day went on, the second goat, which had nothing else to do, was munching its way through the bark of the tree it was tied to, and had nearly demolished it by the end of the shoot! In the evening we shot some additional footage (butterflies, etc.) at home, and all this was edited together with archive footage of the Stones. David Larcher and I did the offline-edit, prior to the online-edit attended by the two Davids, Gen, and myself. With four people throwing in ideas and suggestions, of course there were a lot of arguments, and the edit became an all-night affair (we worked at night because the downtime-rate was cheaper), but at the end of it we were all happy with the result.
At this point PTV were between major record deals, and "Godstar" was released on their own Temple Records, so the budget for the video was small—just under £5,000. But then the PTV manager and a partner in Temple Records, Terry McLellan, disappeared with money owed to us, as well as to his partners, Genesis and Paula. So we all lost money on this project.
PTV then got a contract with RCA Records, and we were asked to produce the promo for their single, a cover version of the Beach Boys's "Good Vibrations." Again, the video didn't have a clear "director" as such, and after a quick shoot with Gen at the University of London swimming pool, a small team flew with the band to Los Angeles: John Maybury, David Larcher, David Dawson, and cameraman Kevin Pither (I was in Iceland at this point with ex-PTV David Tibet and Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, as well as Rose and Drew McDowall, the Monochrome Set guitarist James "Foz" Foster, and the sound engineer Mel Jefferson, for the first sessions of what was later to be released as Current 93/HÖH album "Island.").
Asked about the LA shoot, David Larcher says, "Kevin and I had to skiddaddle out a back window of the hotel letting the gear down by rope into Lee's convertible…whom I had met on the street corner two days before….that’s a long story." Kevin shot the band in the back of the convertible, lip-synching to the song, while Lee drove them around LA. I believe the scene on the beach was also shot by David and Kevin. John Maybury directed the scene in the swimming pool, of Gen walking around in water with song texts floating around him. The scene also features a couple of local characters that John had met, and a brief shot of a poolside birthday party—Caresse's, I believe.
Sadly, John's partner, Trojan, passed away while the team was working in LA, and John had to fly back immediately, while the others continued with the shoot. By then I was back in London too, and it was such a mad time with all the mourning, the funeral, and the post production of the video going on all at once, I don't remember the exact sequence of events any more, except that we delivered the video on time to RCA (and yes, this time we did get paid the agreed budget of £18000). As this was a much more straight-forward, performance-based pop promo, I did most of the offline edit myself, with a little help from David Larcher. Gen and the rest of the team were not involved in the post production.
After this period, I don't remember working with Gen on further PTV video material, although we remained friends and visited each other from time to time, while the family were still living in England.
In the late 1980s, I was busy working with John Maybury, as his producer and offline editor, on various pop promos (Boy George, Sinéad O'Connor, The Jesus and Mary Chain, etc.) and his art productions. I also had my own video art work going on, including two pieces for Channel 4 TV and a video single project for Mute Records, with musicians Holger Hiller and Karl Bonnie (of Renegade Soundwave), under the name Ohi Ho Bang Bang.
After a successful career as a promo director, John Maybury went on to direct feature films, including the Francis Bacon biopic Love is the Devil (1998), and continues to direct, mostly for American TV, today.
Cerith Wyn Evans also directed a couple of promos for The Fall, featuring Michael Clark and company and Leigh Bowery (both his close friends), which my company also produced. He has since moved away from filmmaking to installations, including his collaboration with the reformed Throbbing Gristle in 2008, A=P=P=A=R=I=T=I=O=N. I saw this beautiful piece at the Yokohama Triennale, and it was definitely the visitors' favorite: everyone had their mobile phones out and spent a long time around this work. Cerith is also a member of Susan Stenger's band Big Bottom (a Spinal Tap reference), who appeared as the supporting act to TG, when the latter played live to the newly restored print of Derek Jarman's "In the Shadow of the Sun" in Berlin in 2005.
Stan Bingo, real name Daniel Landin, who had accompanied Gen when I first met him, was at the time living in the house next to Gen's on Beck Road, a street full of artists.3 He was working with TG in various capacities, including video recording of the TG gig at Oundle School, which was later released on VHS. He can be seen in group photos of the early incarnation of Psychic TV. He later formed Last Few Days, who played at The Final Academy mentioned above, and as a filmmaker has also worked with 23 Skidoo and the Yugoslavian band Laibach. He also got into the promo business in the mid ’80s like the rest of us, and has worked on many of our productions as a camera assistant, as well as for other directors. He is now a highly esteemed cinematographer; his credit as director of photography includes the film Under the Skin (2013) featuring Scarlett Johansson.
After I moved to Berlin and the P-Orridges moved to the USA (or rather decided to stay away from the UK after the satanic child abuse fiasco—that's another long story), I only got to see Gen whenever s/he came over to Berlin for a concert, performance, exhibition, etc. The last time we met up was in 2011, when the film The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye by Marie Losier was premiered at the Berlin Film Festival, followed by the Genesis Breyer P-Orridge/Tony Conrad/Morrison Edley concert, which was also part of the film festival. I remember going around to he/r hotel the afternoon after the show, and getting drunk on Gen's duty free vodka, while catching up with all the news and gossip, including the demise of the reformed TG. Since then, PTV have performed a few times in Berlin, but I was unable to attend those due to my own health issues, which meant, sadly, I didn't get to see Gen for the last nine years of he/r life.
However, I was very glad to catch he/r exhibition at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York in 2016, and was amazed at he/r sheer productivity. It was reassuring to see s/he was going through such a creative period, after the hard times following Lady Jaye's passing.
It is truly sad to lose an old friend and a colleague, but the traces Gen has left on the art and music scenes are here to stay, and s/he will live on in the vast catalogue of the works s/he has left behind, and in the minds of those who encountered and interacted with he/r.
(Thanks to HÖH, David Larcher, and Eva Schmidt for fact checking.)
- Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, who was in PTV at the time, tells me that the Virgin Prunes, the writer Kathy Acker, and Death and Beauty Foundation also performed at this event, among others. The latter band was founded by the painter/artist Val Denham, who has produced cover artworks for Throbbing Gristle, Marc Almond, Psychic TV, among others.
- Gen has later written a full background story both to "Godstar" and to the original film project, in the liner notes to Godstar: Thee Director's Cut, the CD album released in 2004
- There is a very interesting documentary by William Raban called 72-82, about ACME, the artists housing association who had many houses on Beck Road on their list. Cosey Fanni Tutti is interviewed in the film (all interviews are in voice only). In the booklet accompanying the DVD there are a couple of wide shots of the whole street and its residents, including the P-Orridges talking to late Helen Chadwick. https://www.thisisunbound.co.uk/products/72-82-a-film-by-william-raban