Review Summary: order is lost, time spits..’80-’85 Part IX
Reviewing Psychic TV in mere words seems like a one-tracked fool’s errand, given what that collective stands for. The rhizome of 1980’s post-modernism, Psychic TV were and to some degree remain a bastion of what it is to submerge yourself in artistic concept, both ‘subjectivity’ and ‘objectivity’ shed for discursive ingress. Everything they were building at their nascence was a point of whelming the senses of their subject, an immersive and heavily chimeric process that can easier (and at times naively) be described as ‘video art.’
It follows then that listening to Psychic TV can be a wholly inferior moment to partaking in it the way it was meant to be consumed. To put a hokey f#cking spin on it, you aren’t supposed to look at or listen to art, you’re supposed to ‘experience’ it, right? In ways, 21st century post-structuralism took that idea completely on-the-nose, and propagated creating something that directly touched on every sense the viewer had at his disposal, rather than letting an unfinished burst be extrapolated. That ironically myopic banality is where the bulk of contemporary multi-media artists reside today, pumping out manicured and often heavy-handed performance pieces that usually sit somewhere between cheap simulacra and that old familiar niche of people who can neither paint, write, sing or shoot well enough, and so they do all four together at the same time irresolutely.
It makes sense that a field that depends so acutely on dousing and submersing its consumer leaves such a glaring chasm of where it can all go to shit. It’s difficult enough to affect someone in a single way, let alone create an omni-instant so focused that he/she can utterly lose themselves in it. Which makes Psychic TV all the more impressive and remarkable, since they were striving and succeeding in this practice, decades before the rampant accessibility of the Information Age made multi-media yet another creative niche that every other prick with some software and an art magazine subscription could fathom trying.
Rising from the fresh demise of similarly deconstructive pioneers Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV was the mutant child of Genesis P-Orridge, an artist whose sole aim seems to be a pursuit of anti-meaning, disassembly as a path to understanding. Occupying a space that he has described as ‘Industrial Paganism,’ his Psychic TV project came to be in 1982, and has intermittently existed since. Built on dissonant metallic noise, sputtering art-drums and atmosphere that swings between necromantic new-wave, acid house and minimalist drone, P-Orridge and his abettors performed engrossing shows that would include everything from short films set to concert music, to open-ended improvisation, and at times, an empty stage with pre-recorded live footage playing out to the audience.
Those Who Do Not
represents a relative turning point for the band, though that idea seems only a little arbitrary to an art collective that was always rooted in metamorphosis. P-Orridge’s main cohort, Alex Fergusson, of punk outfit Alternative TV, had infused their first two albums with a hooky pop veneer, aided by strings, and the industrial pulse brought in by John Balance and Peter Christopherson (of future post project Coil). Despite all the radical slants that the group’s live shows contained, the heart of their recorded music was a distinctly 80’s affair – woozy new wave that liked to occasionally dip its toes in the experimental and the strange. On Those Who Do Not
, that sheen is stripped away to expose the stark kinkiness roiling below. Recorded at a series of shows in Iceland, the LP is a brazen, at times punishing show of industrial propulsion and the high-pitched squelch of static-packed house.
The title-track opener is a sustained crescendo, ominous and filthy, streaked in random clatters and clangs, building and building and then tapering off without the cataclysm its seemingly got in its sights. It leaves a hollow moment in the listener, like hearing a sudden squeal of tires from your window, and then sitting there waiting for the noise of the crash.
The splintered march of “Unclean” is a nine-minute procession, that breaks out of its bull-headed rhythm with guitars and synths that sound like old buzz-saws, then suddenly dips into rave piano, and then pulls right back into that goose-step. “What’s a Place Like You…” lunges around on an overdubbed bass-line, while P-Orridge mutters and barks sordid confessionals, with a sample popping up in the background, of a screaming woman, unclear as to whether she is orgasming or being hurt. Even the more conventional stretches like the electric strumming of “Meanwhile 1” is coated in mood and malice and odd knells. “Meanwhile 2” on the other hand is a cello and chime-propelled piece of ambient paranoia. All of it crashes and synthesizes into one unsettling whole, deliberate obscurity that somehow slouches and staggers into something compelling. It is abstractionism at its best.
If all or any of it seems like the masturbatory endeavours of melodramatic narcissists, it’s because it is. But it isn’t any more or less selfish or indulgent than the process of any artist, no matter how conservative or abstruse, of getting up on stage and decanting in a roomful of strangers. The well-curated myth of earthly, relatable folksy musicians is exactly that, a myth. Because modesty doesn’t stand on a stage under shimmering lights. And as far as musical narcissists go, well, for some, boundaries and traditional designs aren’t enough. They want more. Go and 'experience' this f#cking band.