33 1/3 Odyssey: Throbbing Gristle’s 20 Jazz Funk Greats

Yes, this is the twentieth installment in the series where we give love and thought to those little books of single album appreciation, the 33 1/3 series, appropriately spotlighting an album with “twenty” in its title. This was not intentional, as I actually just figured that out, because I was going to be writing up this book this week anyways, due to its author being scheduled to present at the 2009 Pop Conference at EMP|SFM.

Part 20: 20 Jazz Funk Greats by Drew Daniel

Drew Daniel is one of a handful of arguably well-known working musicians who contribute to line of the pocket-sized fetish tomes of the rock write jones, his work in Matmos (on Matador) being praised and secretly envied by noisy boys and girls in the press and at dim dark shows. He participates at the EMP Pop Con both in the “Copyright Criminals” panel (Saturday, April 17, 10:45-12:15 PM), which is actually a “sneak peak” about a movie that heavily endorses the kind of sampling that Daniel’s own band does; and the same day he gives his own specific presentation on “Why Be Something You’re Not? The Afterlives of Queer Minstrelsy” during the Con’s “How Low Can A Punk Get?” panel theme (5 PM-6:30 PM).

Both these topics seem very much tied in to Daniel’s own life, and the lives of the band Throbbing Gristle as well, around which the release of this post-punk classic was a certain apex. This is the gateway release for most “industrial” fans back in the day, as the soul-mocking title and the LP cover cleverly co-opted lounge music culture while the music itself castrated rock of any macho libido and replaced it with an ebony dildo of sonic subversion. Released in 1979, weird, repetitive, and resisting any attempts to be categorized or to please the listener in any simple way, as a punk kid you didn’t fuck with “20 Jazz Funk Greats.” It was essential to the collection of Fuck Shit Up records, like Black Flag’s “Jealous Again” EP, The Fall’s “Live At The Witch Trials,” Lou Reed’s “Metal Machine Music,” or early Poison Girls hardcore.

But people did try to bring TG down for it, as contemporaneous critical responses delineated at the back of the book attest. “The album is entirely devoid of personality or glamour,” one reviewer wrote. “Steve Morley in NME decried its ‘dreary indulgence’ and found it ‘deliberately listless and loveless,'” Daniel’s describes. The album’s creators, Genesis P. Orridge, Chris Carter, Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson, and Cosey Fanny Tutti, had been creating crunching noise and alarming live spectacles built around it for several years already. Seeing their early performances is somewhat like seeing what Chris Ott said about Joy Division, “the end of pop.” But it was more than that; it was post-rock before its time, post-consumer culture of any kind. To buy and not steal a Throbbing Gristle album seemed sort of an insult to the band (unless you were one of those extreme anarcho-libertarians sprouting up in the music scene).

Daniel’s is a fanboy of the band, which is easy to be if you were a kid from the Canadian sticks like he was and heard the sort of audio that could sweetly terrify the jocks who kicked your ass daily. Fortunately, he is also an expert interviewer, and the band members join with his love to reveal chaotic, clashing, but earnestly honest assessments of how the record came together. (This reason alone makes it one of the top five 33 1/3 books published so far; it’s not “just the facts” but even the extrapolation is ruggedly informed and uniquely coherent to the series.) The details themselves, of shared lyric writing and the lifestyles that went into them, is electrified journalism even if you’re not a fan of the band, genre, or this particular record.

For example, the author himself once worked as a stripper and identifies with Cosey in that she brought a love for the milieu of disco into the band’s work, misperceived by aggressive hardcore punks like me as mere abusive irony. TG is credited with being the first “industrial” band but was also the first to evolve the form — attempting to craft a sonic accidental novel on “20 Jazz Funk Greats” by making it be about not only life and death, but all the mundane, crappy, weird shit that happens in a single day in the life of an alienated human being (all of them) as well.

Daniel’s is surprisingly young for a guy who seems to have absorbed the UK zine culture, New York and British brutal art movements spawned after TG, and many dimensions of “transgressive politics” that shape a work of this sort. He is easily one of the best recurrent presenters at the Pop Con, one year showing off his permanent Germs cigarette burn (taking us deeply into the very private and possibly dangerous, music-worshiping place the panels often only hint at), using his negative energy as a sound terrorist but arguing his cases clearly there — and in this extremely well-researched analysis of a much-feared bastard of a rock album.

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