Their dark echoes are still to be heard resonating through music’s further reaches.
Luke Turner 2012
Last year’s reissues of Throbbing Gristle’s back catalogue made for a timely reminder of just how groundbreaking a group they were. Not only did they invent the independent record label and become arguably the most transgressive union of art and music we have ever seen in the UK, but their sonic and aesthetic extremism was a year zero far more revolutionary than anything achieved within the punk canon. But what of their legacy? A consideration of Current 93’s 1984 album Nature Unveiled is a timely reminder that the dissonant march begun by TG was not entirely hijacked by stomping Goths in gigantic leather boots.
Founder David Tibet was a fan of Throbbing Gristle who attended many of their concerts, inspired by their non-musician attitude and interest in ritual atmospherics. After their 1981 demise he joined Genesis P-Orridge’s Psychic TV, and when that relationship soured he left to form Current 93, of which to this day he remains the only constant member. Tibet’s fellow travellers in this new group, who recorded Nature Unveiled in London’s Roundhouse, included Steven Stapleton and John Fothergill of Nurse With Wound, and Annie Anxiety, now to be found recording under the name Little Annie.
Of course, Nature Unveiled remains a challenging listen today – but neither has it dated. Its 19-minute opener Ach Golgotha (Maldoror Is Dead), which features choral song and a loop of the notorious Aleister Crowley chanting “Om”, is unlikely to grace the iPods of those who fall for Florence + The Machine’s fancy-dress Wicker Man cult sing-along shtick. It’s a stunning piece, nevertheless, to be listened to on headphones alone in the dark of night, and suggests an exploration of the blurred lines between Christianity and our older, pagan heritage. The track progresses through detuned piano rumbles, crepuscular vocals and snarls from Tibet (“The sun went black / The moon it bled”) atop the squeal of drills. On the flipside of the original LP is The Mystical Body of Christ in Chorazim (The Great in the Small), which again features monastic chanting under gabbled incantation, this time from Annie Anxiety. It ends with a panicked, digital shriek. Yet as was the case with TG – and indeed with much music from the darker fringes – this is not cartoonish or abrasively off-putting, but confrontational and entirely immersive.
The past year or so has seen a definite turn towards darker subject matter and atmospherics in electronic music. And in contemporary groups like Demdike Stare and The Haxan Cloak, or the rich textures of Raime and Ekoplekz, Current 93’s dark echoes are still to be heard resonating through music’s further reaches.