Genesis Breyer P-Orridge (Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV) The world’s most famous pandrogyne sheds some wisdom

Photo: Drew Weidemann

As one of the key originators of industrial music, organizer of the occult art collective Temple ov Psychick Youth, and participant in the ambitious body-altering pandrogyne project, Genesis Breyer P-Orridge has embodied the artistic process for over four decades. Observing and critiquing culture from the vantage point of a disruptor, P-Orridge draws from the teachings of William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin, whom s/he counted as friends. Throughout the years, P-Orridge has dabbled in occult practices, pouring h/er thoughts out in a 500-page tome, Thee Psychick Bible. But h/er band Psychic TV also mastered the mainstream with the pop hit “Godstar,” which remained a number one song in Britain for months. Oh, and Psychic TV was also in the Guinness World Records for releasing the most albums in a year.

That doesn’t mean P-Orridge rests on h/er prior achievements. Recently, s/he performed with Psychic TV at a rare show at this year’s Moogfest and was the subject of the documentary Bight of the Twin, which chronicled h/er experiences with Voodoo practitioners in Benin. A second documentary, A Message from the Temple, is forthcoming.

Is there any kind of ritual or practice you undergo before going onstage with Psychic TV?

No, no. There used to be a drinking ritual where we would get plastic bottles of water and put in vodka and cranberry or vodka and orange to take onstage, and that became this really ridiculous little ritual that we used to all do. And then everyone would all go and have a pee [laughs].

The band now is without any question my favorite lineup we’ve ever had. It’s basically stayed pretty stable since 2003. We’re on our third keyboard player. Our keyboard player seems to be a bit like the Spinal Tap drummer [laughs].

But we’re so bonded at this point that it’s a true organism. Everyone’s hyper aware of what’s happening in each other’s lives, what emotional journey they might be on at that given moment. So if we feel somebody needs encouragement, it just happens.

Psychic TV is such an amazingly integrated organism that everything goes unsaid a lot of the time, but there’s an amazing amount of love. It really is a family in the truest sense.

In Benin, when someone passes away, they say that “a twin goes to the forest to look for wood,” which is explored in Bight of the Twin. You’ve been involved with the idea of twins since at least the pandrogyne project, but there’s also a history of this in the Vodun religion.

Yeah, as you carry on through life, you discover that there are twins in all sorts of hidden doctrines and groups with different belief systems. I mean, the Garden of Eden begins with twins.

So we draw those into many experiences of rituals and psychedelic trips and what have you, and myself and Jaye concluded that either symbolically or literally, we were here to reunify as a species, that things like either/or, male/female, black/white, Christian/Muslim are all tools used to control us. The only way out of control is unity, where there is no difference. Therefore, no strategies are irrelevant. That’s why we felt pandrogyny was so important as an idea, and the twins idea in Africa was just confirmation on a really exciting, deep level.

As the oldest continuous religion, Vodun would have the earliest concept of creation. We were asking them about their creation story. And they said, “In the beginning there was one god, Mahu, made up of both male and female parts named Segbo Lissa. Segbo is a female chameleon, and Lissa is a male python.” But they were one, or in other words, a pandrogyne. You can argue Adam and Eve is one being. In the earliest paintings of the Garden of Eden, the paintings were of God, Adam, and Eve, and they all have male and female genitals and breasts. The Vatican suppressed it, of course. So we’re not card-carrying dogma followers of anything, but we keep an extremely open mind.

Can you tell us about the idea of “occulture” you wrote about in Thee Psychick Bible?

That was one of those words that just seemed inevitable. There’s a TOPY [Temple Ov Psychick Youth] member now in Asheville named Chandra Shukla who got involved with what we were doing on many levels when he was a teenager while living in a very traditional Asian family. He couldn’t bring himself to surrender into repetition of what his parents had lived, so he started looking for different stories. He’s working on a Psychick dictionary of all the phrases and slogans and new word definitions we’ve developed the last 50 years.

Occulture was one of those words we just felt should always have existed. Even as a teenager, we’d read about Freemasons, the Process Church of the Final Judgment, different secret cabals, the Knights Templar, all these different organizations, some mythological, some actual, that were about, if you like, the real history of the world.

Like what was the real reason that the first World War happened? It was a fight between two members of the same family, Queen Victoria and Kaiser Wilhelm, and they had a family argument and neither of them would back down, and then we have a war where millions die. So what were the real reasons that we went to war? Why was America so rich and powerful in the 50s? Profit came from the war where the Morgan bank financed both sides. If you start looking into the nitty gritty of where control really resides, there’s probably 100 families that tell us the primary story of what’s really gone on so far.

Occulture is a great framework to think about these latent practices and organizations that have always been there throughout history outside of the mainstream.

When I was a teenager, I started to daydream. “Wouldn’t it be fabulous if someone or myself identified the real history of the world?” It’s a long, big topic, but the bottom line is we’re constantly fed stimulation, but we’re not constantly fed education, and to me, that’s very suspicious. And it’s a vested interest. We want to keep the true story quiet. The real reasons that they decided to go to war in Iraq, was that for the oil or was that ego? We don’t know, but it wasn’t the reason they gave.

A cult is hidden from the eye and culture is a control system. Occulture is also about people’s hidden motives. You know, Burroughs was brilliant at revealing these kinds of dynamics in society, and his work with Brion Gysin, with cutups, still to me is one of the greatest tools for breaking control, because it reveals things that cannot be revealed any other way except through what appears to be random chance.

People now are surrendering on a level that we’ve never seen before. My years of mental formation were heavily influenced by the liberationist concepts of the 60s and some of the most positive changes that happened in society. Squatting, prison’s rights, organic food, gay rights, women’s rights, alternative medicine, yoga, there’s an endless list of changes that occurred. There’s a huge array of simple but identifiable improvements in the lot of humanity that came from that era, because we said, “Let’s take our daydreams really seriously. How would we like to be treated? How would we like to live? Why can’t we? There must be a way.”

One of the ways we believe that has to come in the next real step of rebellion is communities. Not communes, but communities and collectives where people share their resources. So if there’s 10 of you, you don’t need 10 cars. Maybe three for emergencies. Sell the other seven and you’ve still all got access to cars. The money from those seven can buy a new computer that everyone uses or pay for the roof to be fixed.

It’s always shocking to me how many people are terrified of sharing. They’ve been trained to think in terms of career as a success. You know, in the art world, which we’ve been dabbling in lately, it’s all about divine inspiration. It’s not a continuum, but in fact, everything that we make is a continuum.

My life, I’m thrilled to say, is the result of all the different things that have happened and influenced me. All the people we’ve met, all the people that have spoken to me, all the places we’ve been, all the books we’ve read, all the music we’ve heard. All of that is what we then percolate and refine in order to make a response or create an object or a piece of music that we feel contains what we know so far in some way, in the hope it will inspire others to be less afraid of sharing.

You were listed by Guinness World Records for the most albums released in one year. What was your work ethic like then?

Well, I don’t know if it’s true anymore. I’m sure someone’s beaten us. A lot of them were live concerts released on vinyl. We were on CBS Records when we did Dreams Less Sweet, and then I wrote “Godstar,” a great little pop song, and I went in to Muff Winwood, the head of A&R, and I said, “Muff, listen to this tape.” And he went, “Hmm, it’s not weird like the other stuff.”

I said, “No, but it’s a great pop song and this is what I want to do now. We’ve done the weird, now we want to do psychedelic pop.” And he said, “Oh, no, no, no. We don’t want the music to change like this. Your scene is weird music, so you’ve got to keep doing weird music.”

And we said, “Muff, we just left your label. And I’m going to prove that even a monkey could make this into a hit record.” [laughs] I released it myself with a new label, Temple Records, and it was number one in the indie chart in Britain for 16 weeks, and it got into the top 30 in the national chart, too. It was our big hit.

To get the money to do a proper mix, I went to my bank manager and said, “Could you possibly loan me some money to remix this song?” And he went, “I don’t know, what’s the collateral element?” “Well, I don’t have any. I’m on the dole, living in a squat.”

And I don’t know how, but the conversation changed and I was talking about bootlegs, and we came up with this idea to do a series of live albums that people collected, and each one had a token in it, and when you had all the tokens, you got a free record that was only available in that way.

And on that agreement of me saying we’ll do that, he loaned me the money to do proper mixes and recordings of all the psychedelic stuff. That’s how we got in the Guinness World Records, because I was releasing a live album every month and then there were other records too, and it just built up to about 14 in a year or something, which at that time was a lot. We were next to Michael Jackson in the Guinness World Records.

That’s really incredible. What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned from studying Austin Osman Spare?

The potency of the orgasm. The idea that you can open up any inhibitions or gateways that might normally be closed between layers of consciousness and actually reprogram your neurology, your brain, your mind. That in fact the orgasm is a moment of absolute unity. And of course, two beings having a simultaneous orgasm is a superb image of androgyny where the two become one. Spare said that’s when you can reprogram a self.

You decide how you really want to change or what you need to achieve. The choices you make afterwards, without you really being aware of it, will always be geared towards what your mind thinks is going to get you closer to the desired place. You’ll continue with certain activities, drop others, maybe end or begin a relationship, travel or stay home, whatever it is. Those decisions will be made to maximize your potential of reaching the most divine version of yourself. That’s what he taught me.

Can you relate a memorable encounter you had with William S. Burroughs?

Oh, god. [laughs] Memorable… I don’t know if it’s memorable. I’m trying to think… no, I can’t. I mean, there’s lots of little things, but it was the entirety that really made him so special. You know, at one point we came over to New York when we were still in England. I think it was in 1980 and we were in the bunker. William wanted to try the Raudive experiments of using a crystal radio set plugged into a tape recorder to get the voices of the dead to appear in the static. Have you ever heard about that?

I haven’t, no.

Konstantin Raudive — I think he’s Latvian — did a book called Breakthrough, and it’s just full of all these conversations with the dead recorded on blank tape using this little crystal set. It’s incredible, and there was a record with the book so that you could actually listen and hear some of them, but unfortunately, that’s been lost. But we recommend you have a look at that at least.

Yeah, I’m definitely going to. That seems super interesting.

It is. But we did it together, me and William. We still have the reel-to-reel tapes.

You have to release those.

Well, actually, it’s funny you should mention that, because when we did it, me and William listened to them back afterwards and, “Ah, there’s nothing.” [laughs] But now that technology’s improved we were just talking to Ryan Martin [of Dais Records], and he wants to play those tapes through really high-quality speakers and see whether we can hear things. The thing that made me a little bit unsure about Raudive is that most of the voices he heard were speaking in Latvian. And you think, “Really? Do they actually know that this is a Latvian speaking? Or is he just imagining Latvian because that’s his language?”

Right, like out of all the languages, why would it be Latvian, or even something humans created?

Yeah. So there’s a question mark, but it’s an interesting area. Certainly there are voices. That seems pretty definite. My hope would be that they’re voices from alternative dimensions. You know, when people take psychedelics, no one asks, “Why were you traveling? What did you want to learn that was so important and who did you want to benefit beyond yourself?” We think about all these people who now do DMT and ayahuasca as psychedelic tourists. It’s like Mount Everest, which is drowning under human feces and trash. People are leaving behind their consciousness trash. They’re popping into these other worlds where all the DMT creatures are and looking around. “Oh, wow, man. Look. Ooh.” Like they’re having a picnic at the zoo. Isn’t that really impolite? You know, in that kind of situation, we believe you should cleanse yourself, bathe, talk to the spirits, ask for permission, and really be hyper aware that you’re visiting somebody else’s world.

The other thing I often wonder about is, are we ripping holes in the veil between these two alternate realities where things can come through into this apparent dimension that we didn’t invite? Now, what exactly is happening? It needs to be thought about much more seriously, in my opinion, before you do that. Now, are you letting things come back this way without even realizing it, and if you are, what are those things and what’s their agenda, and are you leaving a big mess like Mount Everest?

Right, like it’s shortsighted for us to think that we can have these experiences without affecting either ourselves or another realm.

Exactly, and it’s a typical short-sighted human response. It’s an aspect of the capitalist society that should be very carefully kept away from the sort of shamanic spiritual experience. If we make a mess on Everest, how dare we go somewhere even more precious until we know what we’re doing and we’re respectful? This is an example of thinking about things from different directions when you’re working, and that’s an occulture moment too, you know? What’s hidden in this process? What might be going on? And you can look at it and think of certain things that seem ridiculous. But maybe somebody’s having dinner in the DMT world and then we pop in going, “Hey, this is interesting. Oh, sorry I’ve stolen your food. Blah, blah, blah, blah.”

It’s a great way to consider it. I never thought about it that way.

Oh, good. Well, see, that’s what we’re here for.

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