Psychic TV - Biography
Since forming in 1981, Psychic TV has played in just about every style at their disposal that is conducive to trance states and ecstatic experience: psychedelic, industrial, early music, Eastern, acid house, and folk music from England and all over the world. More than a mere rock group, Psychic TV was conceived as an ongoing multimedia experiment that uses avant-garde and occult strategies to expose and undermine systems of control. Psychic TV carries on Genesis P-Orridge’s lifelong work of “cutting up” the media environment in order to reveal its true nature, a project begun by P-Orridge’s mentors William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin.
From 1975 to 1981, P-Orridge was the incantatory singer for Throbbing Gristle, the extreme, visionary English band that invented the industrial genre. According to the official Psychic TV bio written by P-Orridge and Lady Jaye Breyer P-Orridge in 2004, when Throbbing Gristle split in 1981, “[Industrial founder and TG collaborator] Monte Cazazza and Gen had already been discreetly discussing a new agenda for a Psychic(k), para-military occult group for 2 years with music as its tool for changing MINDS and perception.”
Throbbing Gristle had been headquartered in Hackney, a decaying industrial borough of London, and P-Orridge returned to his apartment at 50 Beck Road after TG’s breakup in 1981. In Hackney, P-Orridge reunited with Alex Fergusson, formerly of the early punk band Alternative TV. The official Psychic TV bio strongly emphasizes Fergusson’s role in the formation of the band (“The unsung HERO of this story […] is ALEX FERGUSSON”), and credits him with persuading P-Orridge to resume making music after Throbbing Gristle’s breakup.
TG’s Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson joined P-Orridge and Fergusson toward the end of 1981, and initially the three made up the core of Psychic TV. Cazazza and P-Orridge’s concept of a “Psychic(k), para-military occult group” emerged in the branched form of the multimedia group Psychic TV (which performed, recorded, and created videos) and Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth, or TOPY. Most bands just had fan clubs, but Psychic TV had an international occult network dedicated to ritual practice and magickal exploration whose membership, according to P-Orridge, once numbered 10,000.
Except for Andrew Poppy’s string arrangements, P-Orridge, and Christopherson played all the music on Psychic TV’s debut album, Force the Hand of Chance (1982 WEA). There are moments of industrial noise, but much of the music on the album is gentle and melodic, played on acoustic instruments. The LP’s last track, “Message from Thee Temple,” is a message from TOPY spokesman Mr. Sebastian recorded in engineer Hugo Zuccarelli’s trademarked Holophonic Sound. Likewise, Psychic TV’s first single, “Just Drifting” (1982 WEA), bore a round sticker: “FIRST SINGLE TO INCLUDE HOLOPHONIC EFFECT.” Initial pressings of Force the Hand of Chance came with a bonus LP, Themes, which consists of “recordings made by Initiates of The Temple Ov Psychick Youth to accompany portions of the First Transmission, another PTV product available now on a 4 Hour Video-cassette.” 1982’s First Transmission is powerful and disturbing stuff. Dreams Less Sweet (1983 CBS) features the Emulator, E-MU Systems’ early sampling keyboard that The Residents and some pioneering Hip-Hop producers were using, and it is the only full-length album recorded entirely with Zuccarelli’s Holophonic machines. Poppy contributes choral, brass, and percussion arrangements, and the music is full of gorgeous, classical textures whose beauty Throbbing Gristle’s music seemed to deny.
Live, it was another story. Psychic TV’s assaultive “disconcert” at the Berlin Atonal festival on December 2, 1983 is documented on the split LPs Berlin Atonal, Vol. 1 (1984 Atonal, split with Z’ev) and Berlin Atonal, Vol. 2 (1984 Atonal, split with La Loora). The band inaugurated its own label, Temple Records, with the brilliant “Unclean” 12” and 7” single (1984 Temple), followed by the live full-length N.Y. Scum (1984 Temple) and the Christmas release 25 December 1984 — A Pagan Day (Pages from a Notebook) (1984 Temple), a very beautiful album of 4-track recordings by Fergusson and P-Orridge. As well as Psychic TV records, Temple put out releases by Zos Kia, Ram Ram Kino, Turning Shrines, and Vagina Dentata Organ, who’s Thee Last Supper (1982 Temple) features a recording of the last moments of the Jonestown massacre including Rev. Jim Jones’ sermon.
Also in 1984, Psychic TV contributed music to Super 8 films by Derek Jarman, who had previously collaborated with Throbbing Gristle. Later that year, Christopherson and Geoff Rushton left Psychic TV to form the group Coil. Rushton, a.k.a. Jhonn Balance, had been playing in Psychic TV since 1983, and he and Christopherson had collaborated with John Gosling in Zos Kia.
MANTIS Dance Group commissioned Psychic TV to create music for a ballet, which was released in 1985 as Mouth of the Night (1985 Temple). The sunny “Godstar” single (1985 Temple), a love song to the late Rolling Stones’ guitarist Brian Jones, was a departure from Psychic TV’s recent exercises in tonal depravity, and a hit on the UK’s Indie singles chart in early 1986. On November 23, 1986, Psychic TV released Live in Tokyo (1986 Temple), the first in the projected Live 23 series. The series proposed 23 live Psychic TV albums, one released on the 23rd day of each month for 23 consecutive months. (William S. Burroughs, the radical writer whose correspondence and friendship with P-Orridge began in 1973, popularized the idea of a “23 enigma” in his writing.) They did not completed the series as planned, though they released enough of it to earn a Guinness Book of World Records citation for the greatest number of LPs released in one market over a short period of time.
Alex Fergusson disappeared from Psychic TV’s live performances around 1987, though he and Cazazza appear on the psychedelic Allegory and Self (1988 Temple). Though Psychic TV issued a staggering number of singles, live albums, cassette-only releases, soundtrack records, and home videos during the intervening years, Allegory and Self was the band’s first proper studio album since Dreams Less Sweet, and it was the first Psychic TV album released in the United States.
Guitarist and electronic musician Frank Giannelli joined the band in 1988. Psychic TV dove headfirst into electronic dance music with Jack the Tab: Acid Tablets Volume One (1988 Castalia), an album that presented itself as an acid house compilation by various artists but was in fact recorded by members of Psychic TV and producer Richard Norris. Norris and P-Orridge are credited on the album as producers and writers “R. Noise” and “P. Ornot,” respectively. Another “compilation,” Tekno Acid Beat (1988 Temple), followed later that same year. Both albums anticipated and contributed to the sound of the subsequent Madchester craze and the emerging rave culture. Psychic TV’s acid house period culminated in the album Towards Thee Infinite Beat (1990 Temple).
In the first months of 1992, while P-Orridge and his then-wife/bandmate Paula were in Kathmandu giving away food and clothing to the needy, Scotland Yard raided their house in England. Sensational UK media reports of Satanic violence focused attention on Psychic TV, misidentifying the band and TOPY as a Satanic cult. The P-Orridge family decided not to return to the UK, but to take refuge at the San Francisco home of Michael and Cindy Horowitz, the parents of actress Winona Ryder. Paula and P-Orridge divorced not long after the move. Also in the early 1990s, P-Orridge decided to put an end to TOPY, though some chapters have continued without official endorsement or involvement.
P-Orridge met Dr. Timothy Leary through Mr. and Mrs. Horowitz and began to accompany Leary at his lectures, projecting a video and sound environment as Leary spoke. P-Orridge started a new, Californian version of Psychic TV in 1993 with experimental musician Larry Thrasher. Thrasher and P-Orridge assembled Psychic TV’s collage-style Electric Newspaper (1994/1995 Dossier) record series; during 1994 and 1995, Thrasher co-produced and played numerous instruments on the sessions for the next Psychic TV album, Trip Reset (1996 Cleopatra), on which P-Orridge and Paula’s daughters Caresse and Genesse sing backing vocals. P-Orridge was working with Love and Rockets at producer Rick Rubin’s house in Los Angeles in 1995 when the house caught fire. P-Orridge was forced to climb out a second story window and was badly injured in the fall. As P-Orridge recovered, Psychic TV activity ground to a halt. P-Orridge and Thrasher continued to collaborate as Splinter Test, and in the late 1990s P-Orridge started the spoken word project Thee Majesty with Bryin Dall and other collaborators. In 1999, Psychic TV, consisting of P-Orridge, Fergusson, Thrasher, Matthew Best, and Terry Gilmore, reunited for a show at London’s Royal Festival Hall. Psychic TV picked the bill, which included the Master Musicians of Jajouka, Billy Childish, Thee Majesty, ? and the Mysterians, and Quentin Crisp. It was the first time P-Orridge had performed in the UK since 1991.
At some point in the early 1990s, P-Orridge met Lady Jaye Breyer, his great love as well as an important collaborator. In the course of their Pandrogeny, or Breaking Sex, project, P-Orridge and Lady Jaye underwent numerous cosmetic surgeries to more closely resemble one another, and they began to behave as a single being named Breyer P-Orridge. On Valentine’s Day of 2003, each got breast implants. One of Throbbing Gristle’s 1970’s slogans had been “NOTHING SHORT OF A TOTAL WAR.” Now Breyer P-Orridge sold t-shirts and pink buttons reading “NOTHING SHORT OV A TOTAL GENDER,” a détournement of the old slogan.
Breyer P-Orridge moved to Brooklyn around the millennium. As Alex Fergusson had in 1981, now Edward O’Dowd of New York’s Toilet Boys persuaded P-Orridge to return to writing songs and getting in front of a band. Psychic TV returned as PTV3 in late 2003, with Breyer P-Orridge, members of the Toilet Boys, Alice Genese of Candyass, and writer Douglas Rushkoff. Markus “Fabulous” Persson replaced Rushkoff for PTV3’s extensive 2004 tour and remains the band’s keyboardist. Throbbing Gristle also reunited in 2004, 23 years after their breakup. PTV3 recorded Hell Is Invisible…Heaven Is Her/e (2007 Sweet Nothing), the first new Psychic TV album in over a decade. In August 2007, Psychic TV’s show in Scottsdale, Arizona was canceled when the owner of the venue, Anderson’s Fifth Estate, learned that the band had a transgender singer.
Lady Jaye suddenly collapsed and died in P-Orridge’s arms on October 9, 2007. She had been fighting stomach cancer, which may have been related to her fatal heart failure. She is the subject of much of PTV3’s album Mr. Alien Brain Vs. The Skinwalkers (2008 Sweet Nothing), released one year after Lady Jaye’s tragic death.