TEXT & INTERVIEWS

Excerpt of interview with Cosey Fanni Tutti - Work In Progress magazine Dec 7th 1993

1.
When I moved to London a friend of mine got me a job in a seedy camera shop down Whitechapel Road, Jack the Ripper territory and The blind Beggar pub that the Kray’s hung out in was just on the corner. A very lively area of London to work in. There was a room above the shop where ‘amateur photographers’ could go and pay to take pics of the photographic model (me).I was told if I started there, I’d get used to posing etc. and it would be uphill from there. It was pretty disgusting at times, boring too but I’m glad I did it. I got jobs through the shop to go and pose at photography clubs. I never saw one decent photographer at any of them, and I did a lot of clubs all over London. The guys were either train spotter types or sweaty men you’d suspect of not having a film in their camera. They never had to reload you see, when the others did! I suppose it was a good idea to start at the bottom and get to know the scene gradually. I went from there to a model agency and did the girlie mags, underwear catalogues, sex aid catalogues ( a lot of fun), films, car show and then onto the striptease work.
2.
I met Genesis way before I moved to London. We met in ‘69 at an acid party at Hull University. We moved together to London in ‘72 straight into the studio at Martello Street. Coum transmissions was formed when Genesis still lived with his parents. I never took part in any of the Coum performances at first , I built props and costumes etc. Then I became more involved as the direction started to change. Coum was musically based and took the form of acoustic improvisations, just anywhere, then more abstract scenarios started creeping in and we made entire environments for enjoyment. I suppose what’s happening now with the lights, textured rooms etc is very similar to what we did, but ours was a crude version and much more hands on. People had to crawl through a polythene tunnel to get into the hall at the venue. We had all sorts of disgusting things we used in the performances too. We encouraged audience participation until it got to the point where people became more destructive than constructive, then we changed the structure of our pastiches to involve the audience in a more controlled way. Gradually we moved from what was considered experimental theatre then, to what has become known as ‘Performance art’. There was no such classification then, the Arts Council had to come up with something.
3.
The performances varied a great deal in content, intent , complexity and duration. We went from four people sitting on chairs in the middle of the stage, seemingly shuffling bottoms around. What they were doing in fact was writing the word COUM in coloured drawing pins on the seats of the chairs. When they had finished they simply walked off in silence, then the next scenario took place immediately. We often ran many small pieces together , the more banal the better sometimes. Often it was a statement we were making about the absurdity of ‘ART’ the preciousness of it all and how you could do the most minimal piece and people would read untold definitions of Art credibility into it. Even go back in art history to find comparisons to Duchamp etc. which fueled another piece we did called Marcel Duchamp’s Next Work. That was a musical performance piece we actually took to Europe. It was quite complex and involved 12 people each with the Duchamp wheel in the stool. They followed colours projected randomly in the shape of a bicycle wheel as their musical score. They had various tools with which to play their wheel and a set of cards too. It worked extremely well. So you see, we always worked almost on a train of thought basis. Whatever happened got included or became our next piece. So when we moved to London and I became involved in modeling etc. the nudity began to appear in our work . We wanted to work out our inhibitions too and working nude helped us a lot in many ways. Bodies are wonderful objects to utilise and express ourselves through. Many of the things we did then, we just simply could not attempt in the social/art climate of today. In the 70’s and early 80’s boundaries were being redefined, therefore at some point, lines had to be drawn to depict some kind of limit. We performed anal sex live during an art performance. It wasn’t like the anal sex in a mag or film, it was anal and vaginal sex at the same time using a beautiful object we had made from a length of wood with 6” metal spikes all round it and dildos on each end. It was very tribal and ritualistic, an initiation ceremony. It wasn’t sexually arousing at all, it seemed the most natural progression of actions to us both. In fact that was the premise we based a lot of our actions on. If it felt natural and unforced it was meant to take place. At the same time we would try and work out any of our taboos as part of our performance work. We were always in battle with the Arts Council when we applied for grants for projects, yet the British Council seemed to click into what we were about with great ease. They were very supportive of artists full stop whereas the Arts Council were suspicious of artists unless they painted or sculpted. I think in all fairness we were somewhat of a risk. The more up market , fine art attitude pervaded the more radical we made our pieces. We were kicking against the complacency of art galleries, art dealers and some artists, sad to say, who wanted no change of expression in Art at all. They wanted to stick to their tired format. We were saying no one needs an art college diploma to qualify as an artist. Art is a form of expression open to all. It can take any form.
It was a very difficult time for everyone because so much was happening and changing too.It really was an exciting time. Artists set up their own art gallery and meeting place to try and cut out the galleries. The galleries had become so regressive and suffocatingly arrogant in their choice of work for exhibitions. Most of the really interesting performance work or exhibitions began to take place in Art Centres, the Art Meeting Place, Goldsmiths College, empty shops small groups of artists would rent for a week and put on live performance in the window, and exhibitions inside. I guess we all took over projecting what we had to say instead of going through the established channels. More interesting still, we took it to the shopping streets literally. The Bull Ring shopping Centre in Birmingham, not galleries. We were hungry for response and exchange of views and ideas with the people on their own ground. They felt more comfortable watching, challenging and talking when we came to them than they would have done in any gallery. It’s a sad fact that people go into a gallery and immediately assume that what is presented before them has gone through some qualifying test to become classified as “Real Art’. What we were about was ‘Life as Art’ because ultimately that is what Art is, however it is expressed. It is a view or interpretation of ‘Life’.
4.
The PROSTITUTION show was done as a goodbye to the Art scene and hello to music really. It was our retrospective exhibition as such and featured a vast array of exhibits from performances etc. The only things that got press were of course the tampax walking stick and the mags. it was a wonderful example of an organic exhibition that grew as it progressed. We added to our retrospective show all the press cutting of each day. in all their bigoted inaccurate frenzied glory! I can still remember being chased at full speed right thought the gallery by a crowd of journalists. It was madness. The neighbours and shop owners in Hackney where we lived were interviewed and asked what they thought of us what were we like and so on. They were all wonderful about us. I think the only person to bad mouth us was the stripper we paid to come and strip at the opening of the show. Strangely enough I worked for the same agency as her later on and met her a couple of times.
Genesis and myself had decided that as TG was born then COUM would cease to exist. It had become so notorious in itself as being the two of us, it wouldn’t be fair to Sleazy and Chris for future work as TG to be credited as being a ‘Coum’ project. (i.e. Me and Gen). Chris was responsible for the very existence of TG’s own industrial sound by building the equipment and creating the rhythms and sounds etc. Sleazy and he worked together on ideas for gear after a while. They had a good rapport. It’s so difficult after everything that has been written about TG to get the true picture across. People don’t even want to hear that their fantasies of how we all were may not be true. The majority of it is true, its the details that were filled in later to make the whole thing look totally planned to the finest detail that disturb me the most. Like saying TG was inspired and was an analogy for the Warhol Factory and the Velvets. That was the last thing on my mind at the time! It was a huge melting pot of ideas, observations, fantasies and experiments etc. that got thrown in and spat out the other end in whatever form seemed appropriate or totally off the wall. I think the common link between us all was that we each had a perverse sense of humour. In fact we were all perverse in our own ways and together it was a great creative force with tremendous drive and energy. We were all thirsty for new experiences and diversity in every aspect of our lives. We all supplied fodder to one another. It was great. Ultimately we all had to split because there was no way we could all carry on together once we had collated all the information and experiences that made us what we became. We all valued our freedom too much. When PROSTITUTION was set up at the ICA I was modeling for Men Only in Greece and having meals with the then editor of the London Evening News. Another bit of irony silly chit chatting away and when we both get home, he has me splattered all over the front page of his newspaper ! Chris and Gen had been really busy installing all the framed mags etc. and Gen gave me a mouthful about sunning it on the beaches of Greece while he got all the flack. Nice homecoming. That’s the first I knew of it all and ironically that was the day ‘You took my hand on the stair, no one was around....’ October love song was born. Chris and I went to the ICA together to continue with the exhibition. Come to think of it a lot happened through that exhibition really because there was Billy Idol and Tony James in Generation X who opened up for us. They were called Chelsea then. There was such a mixture of people from all over the place. Suzi and the Banshees, Nicholas Fairburn MP, Malcolm Maclaren famous artists, strippers, porn, nude mag models press people etc. It was a really explosive cocktail. Genesis got his finger broken in a fight over being accused of exploiting me. The then director, Ted Little was kicked so badly he had to be taken to hospital. There was a 7 foot black drag queen called Java who was the bouncer that night . Then there was a scare that someone had slit their wrists in the mens toilets. This little old man in a uniform came running in causing havoc. All it was, was Gen had thrown the fake blood he’d been using during the TG performance down the toilet. The whole evening was like that. Total chaos on every level.
TG really did take over from where COUM left off, because we never expected to be in such demand. We ran the mail order and general info service as well as doing gigs, recording and releasing TG and other people too. Sleazy Chris and myself all had ‘jobs’ too.
5/6.
The COUM TRANSMISSIONS performances were silent other than the noise of the movements of ourselves or objects involved in the piece. A few in the beginning were known as acoustic doo dahs using prepared pianos, guitars. bongos, talking drums etc. We even incorporated a Dixieland jazz drum kit once. There was Marcel Duchamps next work, that was a musical performance and the performance in the Bull Ring in Birmingham called ‘Orange and Blue’ was later done in a gallery under more controlled circumstances as a musical piece. The room was divided into two down the middle, even the floor. One side entirely Blue(Female, Cosey, Positive) the other entirely Orange (Male, Gen, Negative). We were underneath a pyramid (again split orange and blue). The entire range of objects and ourselves changed colour over the period of an hour. As we changed from one to the other we also took on the characteristics of one another too. There were contact microphones all over the objects, so the performance created its own soundtrack too. It was one of my favourite pieces, it took a lot of concentration. A lot of our ritualistic actions that took place in these performances were pointed out to us as being from various tribal ceremonies and some of my favourite objects had significant meaning within different religions and traditions etc. Instances like that fueled my curiosity into Magick, Numerology etc. So I came into Magick etc. by practicing in my own naive intuitive form. Reading about Magick came second and I still adhere to the theory and text you read must not become the gospel .I never read first and then tried to create the Magick, I was instinctively in tune . Anyone who knows anything can appreciate what I am saying. Some of the performances were video taped but Gen took most of the COUM archive and I have no idea where it has ended up now or what is being done with it. I have heard some of the tapes have been sold but I would be the last to know given the circumstances. there was an attempt to edit me from all COUM documentation of any kind. Whether that project was fulfilled or not I haven’t a clue. ‘Those who deny the past are condemned to repeat it’ as the saying goes.
7.
’After Cease To Exist’ was a mixture of documentation of TG etc. and then the personal self indulgent pastiche Chris, Sleazy and myself set up, (in particular the castration)and the girl on the bed scene. All three of us were into that seedy B/W amateurish home sex scene films/photos at the time and the sadomasochistic practices too, so we just did it for our own enjoyment really. It wasn’t meant to shock anyone or make some mind boggling statement either. You have to remember we were about people exploring their capabilities on all levels and we did just that but allowed access to our experiences as a way of opening up the channels to guiltless communication. As for people laughing at the scene you would have to ask them why and the people who fainted why etc. I’m not into dictating interpretations of the work I ‘we done, that would make it a one way experience and pretty futile to me. We’ve used some pretty disturbing images during our shows both as TG and C&C and I like to think we ‘we done so with a lot of thought behind it. We’ve never used violence, sex etc. as a visual entertainment, more a visual statement to be considered and discussed. Chris and I have had numerous deep conversations (the after gig autopsy) with lots of people about why we used certain images etc. in our backing videos .Our visuals have had their place within the music and the mood that was set at the time. They were used to enhance the sound and also to trigger emotional responses and the thinking process too. It’s all too easy to go to a gig and prance about, go home and repeat the same thing next weekend, but I don’t see ‘gigs’ like that. Never have. That kind of escapism entertainment is well catered for already, and it has its function, but to escape from feelings and what is happening around you all the time, is not healthy. A bit of realism now and again does you the power of good!
I think people are more desensitised now to overload situations and its the overload that’s to blame. The placement of violence and the context in which its set is questionable at times. People on mass are not emotionally developed enough to deal with that overload. They need to be guided some way, given something tangible to them that can help them see ‘the point’. I think generally we’ve been emotionally suppressed too long and the overload is like giving license to ‘react’ but we don’t know how to and assimilate at the same time. So generally all these images flash at us, we see, we react or not and we ignore them in the end. We’re back to square one really. We see it but we don’t want to know because we’ve not been taught how to assimilate it to our advantage and learn from it . It’s become just another visual entertainment . It’s not healthy. I suppose what started out as an honest attempt to reveal information to people about the realities of this world, have been corrupted by the unscrupulous who saw the opportunity to make money from the curiosity and desire to know and experience more. That's how the ‘independent’ music labels got swallowed up, regurgitated and spat out in a more palatable form by the major label subsidiaries. The majors saw the commercial potential and the danger also.It was easier to be seen to accept it , but ultimately they bought up and buried everyone they could. Those who survived were a poor imitation of their former selves. The disruptive threatening energy, drive and power had been dissipated by the business man once again. Now we are left with the task of recreating that network of independence all over again.
8/9.
TG began before punk and was a mischievous but serious reaction to the BeeGees etc. that was suffocating the music scene at the time. What more can I say? We stripped the ‘sound’ down to its raw form by producing ‘non music’ white noise etc. and questioning audiences responses to that. We put forward the girl of the band not as a pin up Farrah Fawcett Major type but as leather jacketed or combat uniformed female with simulated gashed boobs etc. We wanted to tear down the pretensions and the stereotypes that really made us sick. It wasn’t particularly a political stance we were making. We’d just had enough and what we wanted as ‘entertainment’ was not being catered for. So we created our own entertainment and invited people along. It wasn’t easy, we had lots of fights and nasty situations but we were very determined to carry on. We really enjoyed playing around with the promotion game of the record business and designed the TG logo as a means of instant recognition of THROBBING GRISTLE which we were able to utilise as badges, patches etc. We got together the phrase ‘Industrial Music for Industrial People’ etc etc. Most of the people who got into TG were aware of the irony we were indulging in and went along with us. Later on I think that irony and sense of humour and mischief was replaced by a form of ‘hero worship’ despite our policy statements against that very approach to ‘bands’. We had become as you said a victim of our own success in more ways than one really. The mail order and correspondence side of Industrial Records became so huge that with four of us working every day and most evenings all week we still never caught up. That affected our recording and researching areas of interest that cropped up and also got in the way of doing gigs etc. Plus the fact that Chris, Sleazy and I had to hold down some kind of job to provide money to live so Industrial would only support itself and projects and not provide incomes for us. The only financial benefit we allowed ourselves was £250 each from the US gigs. The rest of the money was ploughed back into Industrial for the next release etc. and paid Gens rent and phone bill, as we used Beck Road as the mail order office and base . You have to remember that TG was never meant to be around as a wet nurse for people or a guiding light as to what they should be into now. it was primarily there to make people think for themselves to get up and be curious and act on their feelings instead of suppressing them. To get themselves under control in a way. It was a wake up call! When you think of all the catalysts that have been and what has been achieved by the people who recognise their awakening as being attributed to that person or event , then I think TG achieved a lot in its short life, and we never expected to be together like Status Quo is now! How sad to think that someone one from those daze would make it the highlight of their year to go to the annual TG Christmas gig. The annual fix. We would have failed for gods sake.
10.
By the time DOA was recorded there was much pulling in different directions in more ways than one. Gen and I were splitting up for one and Gen’s solo track speaks for itself. We always had our own ideas for tracks anyway so it seemed right to all self indulge for that album. My track was inspired from a visit to my sister as a means of getting my head together as to where I went next, I recorded her children playing. It all seemed so simple to me, I could see more clearly how damaging the whole scenario was becoming back home for all of us really.
11/12.
The so called TG gig in the mid eighties wasn’t TG at all. It was an attempt to resurrect TG as TG LIMITED (ie. Gen). Someone rang us and told us about the ad. Sleazy also rang and we decided that we should put out a press release declaring it as being false and not to attend. Luckily the music press were behind us and we managed to get it in the next issue. Some people who had come from abroad never saw it and paid for a TG gig that never was. I was told not a many turned up in the end and those who did felt very cheated. The reasons behind it are pretty obvious to us but Sleazy , Chris and I felt we had to at least let people know we had nothing to do with it. The same with lots of things like that, bootlegs etc. Its a real pain in the arse but fodder for bad Karma to the people involved I say. Sow what you reap.
13/14.
By the time Chris and I released Heartbeat we’d accumulated so much in the way of ideas and samples etc. for tracks we could indulge in we were really enjoying that freedom. We’d started to move away from the gloom subject matter towards the end of TG. When the relationships ended it was like a breath of fresh air not to have to listen to vocals about rejected love and tormented betrayed souls etc. All three of us wanted to experiment more with the structure of the music and drop the vocals really. Adrenalin and Distant Dreams were a real struggle at the time. Chris in particular felt musically compromised so Heartbeat was a great release for us both. We started collating material for it during the last TG USA gigs. Put Yourself in Los Angeles, Hairy Beary etc. People tend to forget 20 Jazz Funk Greats etc. and the muzak that was ever present at some stage in at the TG concerts. As C&C we experimented with areas of music we were intrigued by. Martin Denny for one, the most well known influence. It wasn’t just his music but the image, the era and the venues he played. We drank in Don the Beachcombers before it got torn down .It was great. All the kitsch decor and framed photos of stars drinking cocktails while listening to Denny and his band. Also we’d experimented with the metal percussionesque, industrial sounds, frequencies etc.we wanted to widen our horizons. The TG music had become a safe zone and for me I’m never comfortable when I start feeling safe. I get suspicious of myself and my motives for remaining in situations that don’t challenge me in any way. I think the only thing that was intense about TG at the end was the atmosphere! So in a way splitting TG was not a way of escaping the intensity of it but realising that TG was dead and we all had to move on. What you say about C&C being more subtle is true. It’s OK to crack open the nut but you don’t then go right ahead and pulverise it with another hammering do you? That’s what Chris and I wanted to achieve with our music. We wanted gentle seduction, into the realisation of the true content of the lyrics and sound. TG was the nutcracker. Everyone always asks us about the rhythms we have used as if we never used them before. Has everyone forgotten Discipline? What a Day? and all the other Industrial rhythms Chris came up with? We’ve always been fascinated by the Magick and strength of rhythms and that’s why we got into the Martin Denny type Latin percussion etc. We experimented with tribal drums and got into the Exotika mode and somewhere along the way the more commercial side of music met up with us. We recorded when and as we chose, we never followed trends, never have. But we do get accused of being ‘ more commercial’ as C&C and I still maintain it was a meeting in time. Even now, tracks from TRANCE are played at clubs. That was 1983! So we meet again. If we were after commercialism we would have taken up the offer to support Depeche Mode, we would have taken up other offers along the way, but it never sat comfortably in our minds. How could we go and play Sleeping Stephen live to Depeche Mode fans? We could have played, but not a C&C gig as we should be. We would have had to compromise. It’s not as if we dislike Depeche either we actually like their work, so we would have liked to meet up with them etc.
15.
Going back to the tracks, we never recorded any tracks that were meant to be for TG, because we all four of us were always there to complete the tracks. Too many cooks in the end. It was just good to get away and do what we wanted and take the piece in the direction we felt it wanted to go. Now we can either of us recognise when one needs to take a back seat for a while and maybe come in with suggestions when the need arises later on in the composing, recording process. With TG , it was so democratic it was detrimental to a point and eroded the freedom somewhat.
16/17.
We decided to stop doing live work last year before my BPM problem. It’s primarily because we do not feel any significant surge of energy or new experience in performing live. The set up where ever we go is always a club of some kind. We are expected to ‘put on a show’ etc. We’ve done just about everything we could hope to do in public and there is little that will inspire us to get on stage again. For that reason I don’t think its fair to present yourself as a person that fulfils the ideals of the audience and leaves you with a taste of self betrayal. Its hypocrisy. I’d sooner record and release our work and let it be heard as it should be, on a good system, headphones if preferred. In a quiet dark room, in a club etc etc. We provide the music and then people can chose under what conditions they listen to it. The only side of the gigs I miss is the people. We did always enjoy talking and meeting people who had written to us. That’s not meant to sound like a cliched statement. I do miss that because I’ve corresponded with some people for years and I’ll probably never meet them now. Such as it is, we were never ones to advocate the pedestal approach to ‘musicians’, so the carrot of being ‘CHRIS & COSEY’ on stage does not tempt us at all. We have trouble dealing with ‘fans’ like that. The responses we got varied from totally over the top hysteria like in Los Angeles, Frankfurt to a stillness that made you wonder if you’d played at all. It’s weird I can’t say we’ve had a bad response overall for a C&C gig.Laid back yes, but when the autopsy begins you learn that the audience were so overawed or they never clap at all for bands and they clapped for you. etc etc. It’s always interesting to hear what people thought and felt about the shows. Any misconceptions or new observations all add to the overall picture being expanded. We’ve always found the Melkweg in Amsterdam to be like playing to a massive sponge, that soaks it all up. It’s weird. Even in the COUM daze they lay there and absorbed all these whipping, vomit scenarios going on in front of them without a word or reaction. Ironic really because we played our first and last C&C gig there. What a way to start and finish! I’ve been mauled, caressed, asked to have someone's child, the usual. It’s all been fun really, no real nasty events like with Coum & TG. Then there were bottles and chairs flying at you, abuse, spitting and dealing with Skinheads and Hells Angels was all expected then. There are so many anecdotes of off the wall situations we found ourselves in. Great when I think back. All of that gave me what I have today. It’s weird because the energy of youth is there to be used to grab as many experiences as you can. It’s almost like running against a clock, because you reach a stage in your development when the adventure drive slacks off because you have done so much and the energy gets used up assimilating all that has happened, your priorities change. You make use of all that knowledge. If you haven’t accumulated enough along the way, you’ve missed the boat . Exploring is never the same when you’ve acquired common sense. Its always best first time round. The age of innocence and naivity can’t be recaptured. That’s how we feel about gigs. We’ve moved on to something else now.
18/19.
We always plan to release videos but we get screwed up by time. We finish one project and hope to get the video done and along comes something else. Video takes ages to do, the way we do it anyway. We don’t have the sophisticated equipment we’d like, so we have to go to ingenious lengths to try and get the effects we want. Lucky buggers with access or money to get access to great gear can do it so quickly. We’ve got tapes and tapes of live shows we want to edit together for release and I think this year we’ll get that done. We spent a lot of time working on the videos we used in live work and we hope to utilise some of those in the release. They worked really well, but then that was then and nowadays everyone is using video projection and cut ups etc.
‘ALLOTROPY’ never got released as a video. We have a copy ourselves but the artists involved never really got it together. The idea and concept was better than the reality really so maybe it’s a good thing in the end. 20/21. The use of subliminals nowadays is not such a secret but I think people sometimes gladly surrender to the seduction and others who are more cynical will not give in at all on any level. The worst form is advertising and money based use of subliminals, be it smells or imagery. We never used them for that purpose as we’ve said. We do still use them for various reasons. Just to hide spoken words we feel should be there but not as an obvious vocal, or sounds buried deep down that give an intangible foundation to the mood of the track. We always use them in videos, always. I think we have to remember that a subliminal is a means by which you get someone to do something they would not normally do. That doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing, it could be to their advantage to accept the suggestion. That’s what we use the technique for. It’s part of the work we create, it enhances and is an integral part of the piece, as much as any other sound.
22/23.
Our studio is not really open to other people. We’ve done mastering and editing for friends but we don’t like the idea of letting people use the gear. The studio’s in our house anyway, and we’re pretty choosy about who comes here. We have had requests to use it to get the C&C ‘sound’ and make use of Chris’ techniques but I’m possessive about that. It’s often too easy for people to pay for someone else hard work and walk away with the credit. That’s happened too much. Besides, the whole point of individual work is the fact that they have their distinctive sound .If they don’t want to put in the research and work to acquire it, they shouldn’t be doing it. We’ll support anyone who tries and is starting out but we want to encourage self achievement and acclaim.

Excerpt of interview with Cosey Fanni Tutti
Work In Progress magazine December 7th 1993.