Throbbing Gristle vs. Machine Sex

The Industrial Revolution of San Francisco

P>Though San Francisco might be eternally hampered by the stereotyped perception of a hippie wonderland replete with flowery hair, free love, and fluffy puppies, in reality, SF has long been as much a haven for radical dystopians as it is for their wistfully upbeat foils. From robot circuses to urban exploration to electric sheep, San Franciscans have a demonstrated predilection for the bionic, the blighted, and the bizarre. Add in a penchant for situational absurdism and a fervent appreciation for electronic music predating the Summer of Love, and it becomes clear why San Francisco was ground zero for the first wave of North American industrial noise music, and the city with the strongest connection to its European progenitors — Throbbing Gristle.

Throbbing Gristle is, in every sense of the word, the seminal industrial band, whose confrontational performance tactics, nihilistic lyrics, and audio sampling techniques foreshadowed acts as divergent as Skinny Puppy, Negativland, and 2 Live Crew, despite their repeated assertions that they were not really meant to be a band at all. "Assuming that we had no basic interest in making records, no basic interest in music per se, it's pretty weird to think we've released something like ten albums ... that have had an effect on the popular music scene forever." So declared Throbbing Gristle's Genesis P-Orridge in the Industrial Culture Handbook, first published in 1983. Beginning their Bay Area association in 1976 through correspondence with Oakland-based shock artist Monte Cazazza — who traveled to England to assist with their nascent Industrial Records project and coined their company slogan: "industrial music for industrial people" — Throbbing Gristle's aural extremism was also painstakingly documented by local champion of the underground V. Vale, first through fifth issue of the publication of RE/Search, and then through Industrial Culture Handbook.

It wasn't just the Dada-esque, cut-up compositions of Throbbing Gristle and Bay Area-based industrial noise peers like Boyd Rice and Z'ev that gained an early foothold in the collective consciousness of the SF underground. Survival Research Laboratories, founded in 1978 by Mark Pauline, gave mecha-fetishism a physical expression — with installations of and performances by a bevy of robotic entities, often decorated with animal carcasses for ultimate shock value. SRL's first public event, Machine Sex, featuring dead pigeons on a conveyor belt trundling toward a rotating blade, debuted on St. Patrick's Day 30years ago. Not long after, Vale introduced Pauline to Monte Cazazza, who became one of SRL's early collaborators — and the bridge between the musical and mechanical arms of industrial culture.

Industrial music, permanently positioned outside the mainstream by design, has long struggled for recognition in the U.S. But early industrial's lasting influence on the Bay Area arts is readily apparent in the confrontational panhandling robots of the Omnicircus, the large-scale mechanical sculptures of the Flaming Lotus Girls, the electro-noise/"weirdcore" performances of the Katabatik Collective, the flesh-eating fantasia of industrial music club MEAT, and even in the Mad Max-ian flamethrowing antics and electronica oases found at Burning Man and live looping sensations such as Kid Beyond and Loop!Station. Considered in that vein, you could say a little bit of Throbbing Gristle resides in us all. Chew on it.


With DJs D-SYN, pink noise, R.M.S.

Thurs/23–Sun/26, 11 p.m.-2 a.m., free

Space Gallery

1141 Polk, SF

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