||This article may require copy editing for grammar, style, cohesion, tone, or spelling. (July 2014)|
|Genesis Breyer P-Orridge|
P-Orridge performing with Throbbing Gristle in 2009
|Birth name||Neil Andrew Megson|
|Also known as||DJ Doktor Megatrip, Megs'on, P. Ornot, PT001, Vernon Castle, Shirley Ghostman|
|Born||22 February 1950|
|Origin||Victoria Park, Longsight, Manchester|
|Genres||Experimental, industrial, psychedelic|
|Occupations||Singer-songwriter, musician, poet, writer, performance artist|
|Instruments||Vocals, guitar, bass, keyboards, clarinet, synthesizer, violin, vibraphone|
|Labels||Industrial, Temple Records, Wax Trax!|
|Associated acts||COUM Transmissions, Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV, Thee Majesty, Splinter Test, Pigface|
Genesis P-Orridge (born Neil Andrew Megson; 22 February 1950), later known as Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, is an English singer-songwriter, musician, poet, writer and performance artist. In the latter capacity P-Orridge was the founder of the COUM Transmissions artistic collective, which operated from 1969 to 1975. As a musician, P-Orridge fronted the pioneering industrial band Throbbing Gristle between 1975 and 1981, and then the experimental band Psychic TV from 1981 to 1999. An occultist, P-Orridge is also a founding member of Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth.
P-Orridge's early confrontational performance work in COUM Transmissions, during the late 1960s and early 1970s, along with Throbbing Gristle, which dealt with subjects such as sex work, pornography, serial killers, occultism and P-Orridge's own exploration of gender issues, generated controversy — later musical work with Psychic TV received wider exposure. P-Orridge is credited on over 200 releases.
After marrying Lady Jaye Breyer P-Orridge in 1993, Genesis and Lady Jaye began "project Pandrogeny" to become Breyer P-Orridge, an entity described as an "amalgam" of their two selves. Genesis Breyer P-Orridge continued this project after the death of Lady Jaye in 2007. P-Orridge identifies using the pronouns "s/he", "h/er", and "h/erself".
Neil Andrew Megson was born on 22 February 1950 in Victoria Park, Longsight, Manchester, United Kingdom. His father, Ronald Megson, was a travelling salesman who had worked in repertory theatre and who played the drums in local jazz and dance bands. Neil's mother, Muriel, was from Salford and first met Ronald after he had returned to England after being injured with the British Army at the Battle of Dunkirk in 1940. Neil had a good relationship with his parents throughout childhood, who did not interfere with artistic interests.
In 1965, Megson founded his first band, Worm, and began production of an underground magazine, entitled Conscience, in 1966. Forbidden from selling it on school grounds, they sold copies outside the school gates.
Brought up in the Anglican denomination of Christianity, Megson became the secretary of the school sixth form's Christian Discussion Circle. Arguing that the group should encompass multiple religious views and not just those of Christians, Megson invited speakers from a variety of different ideological positions – including a Marxist from the British Communist Party – to speak to the group. Aged 18, he began helping to run the local Sunday School classes, but later came to reject organised Christianity.
In September 1968, Megson began studying for a degree in Social Administration and Philosophy at the University of Hull, but disliked the course and unsuccessfully tried to transfer to study English.
Transmedia Explorations and COUM Transmissions: 1969–1970
In 1969, Megson dropped out of university and moved to London, joining the Transmedia Explorations commune, who were then living in a large run-down house in Islington Park Street. The group, initiated by the artist David Medalla and initially named the Exploding Galaxy, had been at the forefront of the London hippy scene since 1967, but had partially disbanded after a series of police raids and a damaging court case. Moving into their commune, Megson was particularly influenced by one of the founding members of the group, Gerald Fitzgerald, a kinetic artist, and would recognise Fitzgerald's formative influence in later work. The commune members adhered to a strict regime with the intention of deconditioning its members out of their routines and conventional behaviour; they were forbidden from sleeping in the same place on consecutive nights, food was cooked at irregular times of the day and all clothing was kept in a communal chest, with its members wearing something different on each day.
COUM Transmissions were a music and performance art collective who operated in the United Kingdom from 1969 through to 1976. Influenced by the Dada artistic movement, COUM were openly confrontational and subversive, challenging aspects of conventional British society. Founded in Hull, Yorkshire by Genesis P-Orridge, other prominent members included Cosey Fanni Tutti, Peter "Sleazy" Christopherson and Chris Carter, who together went on to found the pioneering industrial band Throbbing Gristle in 1976.
On one family trip to Wales, Megson was sitting in the back of the car when he "became disembodied and heard voices and saw the COUM symbol and heard the words 'COUM Transmissions'." Returning home that evening, he filled three notebooks with artistic thoughts and ideas, influenced by the time with Transmedia Explorations. In December 1969 he returned to Hull to meet up with friend John Shappero, with whom they would turn COUM Transmissions into an avant-garde artistic and musical troupe. They initially debated as to how to define "COUM", later deciding that like the name "dada" it should remain open to interpretation. Megson designed a logo for the group, consisting of a semi-erect penis formed out of the word COUM with a drip of semen coming out of the end, while the motto "YOUR LOCAL DIRTY BANNED" was emblazoned underneath. Another logo designed by Megson consisted of a hand-drawn seal accompanied by the statement "COUM guarantee disappointment"; from their early foundation, the group made use of wordplay in their artworks and adverts.
COUM's earliest public events were impromptu musical gigs performed at various pubs around Hull; titles for these events included Thee Fabulous Mutations, Space Between the Violins, Dead Violins and Degradation and Clockwork Hot Spoiled Acid Test. The latter combined the names of Anthony Burgess' dystopian science-fiction novel A Clockwork Orange (1962) with Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968), a work of literary journalism devoted to the Merry Pranksters, a U.S. communal counter-cultural group who advocated the use of psychedelic drugs. COUM's music was anarchic and improvised, making use of such instruments as broken violins, prepared pianos, guitars, bongos and talking drums. As time went on, they would add further theatrics to their performances, in one instance making the audience crawl through a polythene tunnel in order to enter the venue.
In December 1969, Megson and Shapeero moved out of their flat and into a former fruit warehouse in Hull's docking area, overlooking the Humber. Named the Ho-Ho Funhouse by Megson, the warehouse became the communal home to an assortment of counter-cultural figures, including artists, musicians, fashion designers and underground magazine producers. At Christmas 1969, a woman named Christine Carol Newby (1951–) moved into the Funhouse after being thrown out of her home by her father. Having earlier befriended Megson at an acid test party, Newby would move into the room at the Funhouse, first taking the name "Cosmosis", but latterly adopting the nom-de-guerre Cosey Fanni Tutti after the title of Amadeus Mozart's 1790 opera Così fan tutte. Joining COUM, Tutti initially helped in building props and designing costumes, and was there when the group began changing its focus from music to performance art and more theatrical happenings; one of these involved the group turning up to play a gig but intentionally not bringing any instruments, something Megson considered "much more theatrical, farcical and light-hearted" than their earlier performances.
On 5 January 1971, Megson officially changed his name to Genesis P-Orridge by deed poll, combining a school nickname of "Genesis" with a misspelling of "porridge", a regular student meal. The nom-de-guerre was intentionally un-glamorous, and P-Orridge hoped to trigger a "genius factor". Catching the attention of the Yorkshire Post, who featured an article on P-Orridge and COUM Transmissions on 11 February, COUM soon attracted media attention from national newspapers, also featuring in an article in Torch, the publication of the University of Hull's student union, entitled "God Sucks Mary's Hairy Nipple". The article's author Haydn Robb subsequently joined COUM, as did maths lecturer Tim Poston. On 18 April 1971, COUM broadcast their first live radio session, for the On Cue programme for Radio Humberside. On the back of their radio and press attention, they performed further happenings, including their first street action, Absolute Everywhere, which brought problems with the police, and Riot Control at the Gondola Club.
Recognising they would never be a commercial success, COUM gained an Experimental Arts Grant from the publicly funded Yorkshire Arts Association. Describing themselves as performance artists, they looked up to the work of the Dadaists and emphasised the amateur quality of their work, proclaiming that "[t]he future of music lies in non-musicians". P-Orridge took an increasing interest in infantilism, founding a fictitious school of art, the L'ecole de l'art infantile, whose work culminated in a 1983 event known as the Baby's Coumpetition held at Oxford University's May Festival, co-organised with Robin Klassnik and Opal L. Nations. Another invention of P-Orridge's was the Ministry of Antisocial Insecurity (MAI), a parody of the Ministry of Social Security. He created the character of Alien Brain, in July 1972 performed the World Premiere of The Alien Brain at Hull Arts Centre. That summer, COUM entered the National Rock/Folk Contest at Hull's New Grange Club with a set titled This Machine Kills Music. COUM organised events for Hull City Council's Fanfare for Europe to commemorate the UK's joining the European Economic Community in 1973, while that year P-Orridge featured a conceptual artwork, 'Wagon Train', at the Ferens Art Gallery's Winter Show, proving controversial in local press. They also put together their first book for publication; the first volume in a projected project known as The Million and One Names of COUM appeared in 1972, containing 1001 slogans, such as "COUM are Fab and Kinky" and "A thousand and one ways to COUM." Another of P-Orridge's early publications was Copyright Breeches (1973), which explored an ongoing fascination with the copyright symbol and its implications for art and society.
Following continual police harassment, P-Orridge and Tutti relocated to London, moving into a squat and obtaining a basement studio in Hackney which they named the "Death Factory". After a brief correspondence, here P-Orridge met American novelist and poet William S. Burroughs, who later introduced him to the English poet and performance artist Dick Emery. Gysin was P-Orridge's primary tutor in magic and would become a major influence. 1973 saw COUM take part in the Fluxshoe retrospective that toured Britain exhibiting the work of the Fluxus artists; it was organised by David Mayor, who befriended P-Orridge. At that year's Edinburgh Festival, they undertook their Marcel Duchamp-inspired Art Vandals piece at the Richard Demarco Gallery, in which they engaged guests in unconventional conversation, and spilled their food and drink on the floor. Exhibiting alongside the Viennese Actionists, they came under increasing influence from these Austrian performance artists, adopting their emphasis on using shock tactics to combat conventional morality. September 1973 saw them produce their first film, Wundatrek Tours, which documented a day out to Brighton, while throughout the year they sent postcards that they had designed to mail-art shows across the world.
They were prosecuted in 1975 for making collages combining postcards of Queen Elizabeth with soft-core porn, but the jail term and fines were suspended on condition they did not continue.
The Prostitution show: 1976
Their Prostitution show, in 1976 at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London, included displays of Tutti's pornographic images from magazines as well as erotic nude photographs; the show featured a stripper, used tampons in glass, and transvestite guards. Prostitutes, punks, and people in costumes were among those hired to mingle with the gallery audience. The show caused debate in Parliament about the public funding of such events. In the House of Commons, Scottish Conservative MP Sir Nicholas Fairbairn demanded an explanation from Arts Minister Harold Lever and proclaimed P-Orridge and Tutti as "wreckers of civilisation". Fleet Street was not slow to pick up the story. The reviews were cut up, framed and put on display for the remainder of the exhibition. This was also reported in newspapers, so cut-ups about the cut-ups were also put on display. COUM was found so offensive that it lost its government grant, and went on to become the private company Industrial Records. Toward the end of COUM, performances would often consist of only P-Orridge, Cosey and Sleazy, the core group who went on to form Throbbing Gristle.
The first Throbbing Gristle performance was held at the Air Gallery in London in July 1976. At that point, Throbbing Gristle's headquarters was located at 10 Martello Street, Hackney, East London, the address of an artist collective. P-Orridge and Tutti's living and work space was the mailing address of Industrial Records (IR). Throbbing Gristle released "Discipline" in 1981.
The final IR release was called Nothing Here but the Recordings, a best-of album taken from the archives of William S. Burroughs, who provided P-Orridge and Christopherson with access to his reel-to-reel tape archive.
The final Throbbing Gristle live event, Mission of Dead Souls, occurred in May 1981 at the Kezar Pavilion in San Francisco, US. Shortly after the San Francisco event, P-Orridge and Paula P-Orridge (née Alaura O'Dell) were married.
Psychic TV, a video art and music group that primarily performs psychedelic, punk, electronic and experimental music, was formed in 1981, with its first song, "Just Drifting", based on a poem by P-Orridge. That same year, P-Orridge founded Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth, a loose network of people operating as a blend of artistic collective and practitioners of magic.
Psychic TV made its debut in 1982 at an event organised by P-Orridge, David Dawson, and Roger Ely, called The Final Academy. It was a 4-day multimedia celebratory rally held in Manchester and at the Ritzy Cinema in Brixton, South London. It brought performers and audience together with literature, performance, film and music. PTV, Cabaret Voltaire, 23 Skidoo, Z'EV, John Giorno, William S. Burroughs, Brion Gysin, Terry Wilson, Jeff Nuttall, and The Last Few Days participated to honour the cut-up techniques and theories of William S. Burroughs, Ian Sommerville, Anthony Balch and Gysin. Video projection and early sampling were used here, as well as whispered utterances by P-Orridge reprocessed as a soundtrack to Gysin's Dreammachine by the Hafler Trio.
In the mid-eighties, Psychic TV aimed to release a live album on the 23rd of each month for 23 months in recognition of the 23 enigma. The group didn't reach its goal but still managed fourteen albums in eighteen months, thus earning them an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records. The liner notes to each of these releases functioned somewhat like mini-manifestos in the tradition of the Situationist International or William S. Burroughs' Electronic Revolution in addition to recounting aspects of the recordings contained therein. For example, the fourth album in this series, Live In Reykjavík, featuring part of a ritual from Godhi Sveinbjörn Beinteinsson includes liner notes that refer to Christianity as "sham X-tianity," in reclamation of a Pagan heritage via an Ásatrú marriage, over which Beinteinsson presided, below a statue of Thor in "the wilderness".
Psychic TV produced music for the 1984 West German music revolution film Decoder, and Genesis P-Orridge was given an acting role in it.
Psychic TV returned to the stage in 2003, with a concert in New York under the guise of PTV3 and was accompanied by (with the exception of Genesis) an all new line-up. In September 2004, an extensive tour of Europe (covering 16 countries) and North America was launched. 2005 saw the band return to the studio, recording their first album in over 10 years (Genesis also spent 2005 working with Throbbing Gristle on what would be their first album in over 25 years).
In January 2006, the new PTV album was announced on P-Orridge's website. Hell Is Invisible... Heaven Is Her/e was recorded in NYC and features Nick Zinner (Yeah Yeah Yeahs) and Gibby Haynes (Butthole Surfers) guesting on some tracks. To inaugurate the release of Hell Is Invisible ... Heaven Is Her/e, PTV3 hosted a five night residency in September 2006 at Galapagos Art Space in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York. Mr. Alien Brain Vs. the Skinwalkers was released on Sweet Nothing Records on 8 December 2008.
In January 1996, Genesis and their second wife, Lady Jaye (née Jacqueline Breyer), relocated to the New York borough of Queens in the US. Following their move to Queens, the couple began an ongoing experiment in body modification, aimed at creating one pandrogynous being named "Breyer P-Orridge"; they received breast implants and adopted gender neutral and alternating pronouns. In a 2011 interview with The Village Voice, Breyer P-Orridge described Queens, where the couple shared a brownstone residence that Breyer P-Orridge had purchased in Ridgewood, as an "ideal" area for the enactment of such an experiment:
... we arrived as husband and wife, me still dressing and technically behaving male, and all the local shopkeepers who knew Jaye from being a kid, all the neighbors ... And then over the years, we transformed more and more until we were both running around in miniskirts, dressed the same, and none of them said anything! Except in the pharmacy, where very politely, one of the Pakistani guys we knew very well there ... he says one day, "Hope you don't mind me asking, but you probably want us to say 'Miss P-Orridge' now, don't you?" We said, "That would be good!" And that was the one time anyone even mentioned that anything had happened.
In 2012, again with The Village Voice, Breyer P-Orridge explained the ethos behind the term "pandrogyne": "We came up with "pandrogyne" because we wanted a word without any history or any connections with things—a word with its own story and its own information."
During this era, a book was published of Breyer P-Orridge's writings, poems, and observations, called Ooh, You Are Awful ... But I Like You!. In the mid-1990s, Breyer P-Orridge collaborated with different people in music, including Pigface, Skinny Puppy, and Download. Breyer P-Orridge also performed with Nik Turner and other former members of Hawkwind.
In June 1998, Breyer P-Orridge won a $1.5 million lawsuit against producer Rick Rubin and his American Recordings label for injuries sustained while trying to escape a fire at Rubin's home in April 1995. According to Breyer P-Orridge's attorney, David D. Stein, Breyer P-Orridge was staying at Rubin's home, as a guest of Love and Rockets, when the fire broke out. Breyer P-Orridge tried to escape the house by crawling through a second-story window and fell onto concrete stairs. Breyer P-Orridge suffered a broken wrist, broken ribs, and a pulmonary embolism, as well as a shattered left elbow that, according to Stein, has prevented P-Orridge from playing bass or keyboards—Breyer P-Orridge remained in hospital for a total of ten days. The jury found that the liability for the fire rested with Rubin and American Recordings, and awarded Breyer P-Orridge US$1,572,000 in compensation.
In 1999, Breyer P-Orridge performed with the briefly reunited late-1980s version of Psychic TV for an event at London's Royal Festival Hall, called Time's Up. The MC for the event, via pre-recorded video, was Quentin Crisp, it was recorded and released as a DVD. Time's Up is also the title of the first CD by Thee Majesty, Breyer P-Orridge's spoken-word project with "noise" guitarist, Bryin Dall.
In December 2003, Breyer P-Orridge, using the alias Djinn, unveiled PTV3, a new act drawing upon the early "Hyperdelic" work of Psychic TV with media theorist Douglas Rushkoff among its members. On 16 May 2004 all four former members of Throbbing Gristle performed at the London Astoria for the first time in 23 years.
Breyer P-Orridge appears in the 1998 film and 2000 book versions of Modulations, in the 1999 film Better Living Through Circuitry, in the 2004 film DiG!, the 2006 documentary Monks: The Transatlantic Feedback, in Nik Sheehan's 2007 feature documentary on the Dreamachine entitled 'FLicKeR', and the 2010 documentary "William S. Burroughs: A Man Within."
Genesis and Lady Jaye Breyer P-Orridge embarked on a years-long pursuit of pandrogyny, undergoing a series of plastic surgery procedures in order to become gender-neutral human beings that looked like each other.
We started out, because we were so crazy in love, just wanting to eat each other up, to become each other and become one. And as we did that, we started to see that it was affecting us in ways that we didn't expect. Really, we were just two parts of one whole; the pandrogyne was the whole and we were each other's other half.
On 9 October 2007, Lady Jaye Breyer P-Orridge died. The cause of death was a heart condition that was possibly related to stomach cancer. Psychic TV cancelled its North American tour dates in the aftermath of Lady Jaye's death. A memorial was held at the PARTICIPANT INC. Gallery in New York City on 8 March 2008 . As of January 2013, P-Orridge's official website says, "Since that time Genesis continues to represent the amalgam Breyer P-Orridge in the material 'world' and Lady Jaye represents the amalgam Breyer P-Orridge in the immaterial 'world' creating an ongoing interdimensional collaboration."
Psychic TV's current incarnation, PTV3, released a CD/DVD set, Mr. Alien Brain vs. The Skinwalkers on 9 December 2008. On 4 November 2009 it was announced that Breyer P-Orridge would retire from touring in any and all bands (including Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV) to concentrate on art, writing and music.
Breyer P-Orridge sold the Ridgewood, Queens property that he had shared with Lady Jaye in New York for over a decade in June 2010. Prior to Breyer P-Orridge's move to a one-bedroom Manhattan apartment residence in New York's Lower East Side, he held a "garage sale" in the basement of a Queens art gallery and sold a range of personal items, such as "punk-rock dresses with safety-pinned seams, a volcanic-rock-shaped mirror-ball blob, and a pink glass perfume bottle", in addition to a considerable collection of dildos.
P-Orridge has two daughters, Caresse and Genesse, with former wife Paula P-Orridge (born Paula Brooking). A nude portrait of P-Orridge and Paula appeared in the Icelandic publication Eintak in 1994.
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