Backstage with Genesis P - Orridge of Psychic TV

Backstage with Genesis P - Orridge of Psychic TV

November 9, 2014

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Dragoș Rusu

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Going live

Cultural engineer, merry prankster, wrecker of civilization, anti-Pope of the Temple ov Psychic Youth, musical pioneer – Genesis Breyer P - Orridge is arguably one of the most important icons of alternative culture of the latter quarter of the 20th century and beyond.

With Coum Transmissions, s/he challenged social boundaries with art; with Throbbing Gristle, s/he played a part in fundamentally redefining music; as the core of Psychic TV, s/he brought this challenge to the mainstream, ultimately becoming a seminal influence on the dance music sub-culture in the UK. S/he courted controversy with pictures of h/er piercings in the RE:Search book "Modern Primitives", experimental video projects led to h/er eight-year exile from the UK, a near-death experience led to h/er engaging in extreme body modification, along with h/er past wife Lady Jaye, to become the pandrogyne. For over 30 years, Genesis has done the unexpected, challenged everything and s/he continues to do so.

We had the chance to meet Genesis in the backstage of Control Club - Bucharest, while she was touring around Europe with the other members of Psychic TV, in order to promote the new album called ‘’Snakes’’. Initially, we were scheduled to do the interview before the concert, but eventually we made it afterwards. And it was so much better. This is a transcript.

Dragoș: So how was for you the concert tonight?

Genesis: Is it on? Are you recording it?

Dragoș: Yes

Genesis: Shall I come closer? Helloooo, how are you? This is Genesis P – Orridge, I’m in Bucharest, Romania! Well, yes, it was really nice, everybody was smiling, we were smiling and laughing, my belt kept coming down and my trousers nearly fell down like 16 times.

Dragoș: You created a very positive energy on the show, right from the very beginning.

Genesis: Good. That’s what we try. You can probably see, what I was talking about as references of seeing pretty things. I saw the Rolling Stones in Hyde Park, I saw the first gigs by King Crimson, I saw Syd Barrett, all that stuff, live, over and over and over. So these are my roots, you know? To me, that’s what a concert is meant to be about. It is about pleasure in psychedelic, about bringing people to a common consciousness raising experience. It’s not about how clever you are, or how perfect it is. I mean, the last thing you want to do is sound just like your record. You could buy a fucking record, why you want to hear it? If you go live, it’s not just even the band; it’s the people that are around you, the sweat, the noises, and all that energy is part of the gig.

photo credits: Sarah Sitkin
I want new things, I want to be confused and amazed. I don’t want to know what’s going on, I want to find out more and more and more. And the more we find out, the more amazing it really gets. Consciousness is the key.

No rehearsals

Mădălina: This is what I wanted to ask you about, the creative process. Do you feel that the words and the visuals have an impact in it?

Genesis: Definitely. I mean, that’s why there’s TV. We’ve always had visuals. And that comes from the ‘60s as well. My experience was so much more powerful when there were visuals as well, because you just don’t want to watch people doing the usual movements. Guitarists move like that, because they‘re into the music, they listen to it and they loose themselves in it. It’s because they are so deep into the sound. To me, if you want to do a show, you give as much as possible; everything you can give, you know? Jokes, if you need to, visuals, interesting ideas; everything; not just one thing, but a sculpture. You sculpture emotions and it’s easy, if you think about your own emotions.

All the songs and bad things I felt, therefore I understand that they’re all emotions. And everybody feels emotions, so it’s not that is special, it’s that something people recognize; even in some of the tones, they recognize it. Even if they don’t know what I’m saying. Because we play all over the world, they can’t possibly understand everything we’re saying. But they feel what we’re saying. When I give poetry reading, it’s the same. I gave a poetry reading in Russia and they can’t possibly know everything that I’m saying. Because even for English people it’s complicated sometimes. Like the long one, Grey hands of the Future, it was all political; that’s a really… 6 pages of… notes. And the hard stuff as well, because we never rehearse.

Dragoș: Never.

Genesis: Never. No. We have a riff and an idea. We did the new album, ‘Snakes’, in two nights. No rehearsals, no discussions. We went in the studio, the band set up in one room, we went into the other room, with a microphone, with some poems and little notes I’ve written. And when they started playing, I was like, oh, that feels like it would go with this though. And I just make it up. And then we play it back and there’s the album. Four overdubs on the album. Two nights – the whole thing was done. One take every song.

Dragoș: I suppose you have to know each other really well.

Genesis: That’s how it works, yes. You can tell that, you can feel it. A very strong connection. And of course, Jane was with us all this years, so everybody feels her presence. NPR (National Public Radio) contacted us a few years ago, asking us to play, a few months after Lady Jaye died (she died October 9, 2007). We thought, can we possibly play without Jaye? And then we thought, we can play for her. But we were all ambivalent. And it actually went really well. They put all of us in headphones, and we all played in the same time, and then mix, and we just played, and it went out perfectly.

Alice: There’s a recording of that, I believe.

Genesis: Yes, I believe so. So, what I’m saying is that practicing and practicing doesn’t necessarily improve anything. In fact, they could kill it, because you stop feeling anything, it becomes just the same as the recording. And that’s not life. Life is always…surprising. It changes. Everyday is a bit different, no matter what you expect, is not the same. And so, that’s how we play, isn’t it? (smiling to Alice) How often do we rehearse?

Alice: It’s never the same.

Genesis: We also play other bands and do other things. Alice has her own solo album.

Learn to change

Dragoș: If you look back into your life, what do you wish you knew before?

Genesis: My only wishes… I wish I could save Jaye’s life. But then again, things have changed in a positive way, as a result of that. It’s almost like she knew that was the best way to go. And she never wanted to go old. She didn’t. She hated that idea. She said her only ambition was to be around for a great love affair, and that seems to be what happened. So you have to take what comes, and explore it. You can’t really have regrets.

Dragoș: Do you have any regrets?

Genesis: Like I said, I sometimes think that maybe if I have told her she has to see a doctor or something, she would have gone, but I don’t think so. She hated doctors. She was a nurse, so she hated doctors because she knew they’re stupid. And it was impossible to get her to do what she didn’t want. So, at the same time, we see there’s really been an incredible positive thing in terms of how the world perceives us. It changed the way people thought about me. Yeah, they saw me differently, because of that love affair. And that makes people listen more, which is really helpful. We can get people more information, and they listen. So you have to go with the situation.

After the experiences from Africa, I figured it out that there’s so much more going on that I’ve been told in the West. There’s so much more still going on, in terms of what life is. Are we really here? Or are we just going through some strange sort of hallucination of a loop, or something that happened before? And if we are, why are we going through again. To learn. To learn to change… So, everything is about learning to change. So everything that happens is to try getting to learn to change. That’s how it seems…

Mădălina: So this is the message of your music?

Genesis: I don’t know if there’s a message except loving each other, giving good energy and trying to encourage everyone else to have a moment where they feel they can relax. Love each other and not be afraid of looking silly if they dance funny. We don’t really think of having a message; except something mystical and spiritual. What makes the world so screwed up is the either-or. Good, bad, Islamic, Christian, Jewish, always either-or. Male, female, gay, straight…all these things are always a fiction of fear. Something is different, something is other than you are, so you’re suppose to be afraid. Why? So many differences is fantastic! Novelty is great!

So, if there’s a message, is celebrate difference and learn to look for unity, for things that give unity with everyone else. Because the human species is not a finished project at all. We’re still primitive, you know? The way we behave. They called it chimpanzee behavior, yeah? It’s true. And even if we are so amazingly brilliant and we are inventing things, imagining things, we’re also really stupid. And someone has to speak up about it, you know? And with my lyrics, that’s what we’re trying to do. Talk about stupidities that people play into; and it doesn’t make them happy, we all know that. It doesn’t make anybody happy, to be stupid. People still keep doing it, because they’ve been told that it’s OK to be stupid. You can’t judge, you have to give more information; it doesn’t have to be that way. You don’t have to be scared, you know? Just relax for a minute. Check it out. Everyone is having a good time. You don’t have to be scared. And no one’s quite like you.

And then you go somewhere like Africa where it’s the same. People have nothing, almost. You can learn so much from people with so little. And it seems the more we have, as human beings, the more stupid we get. Because we get greedy, we get scared of loosing what we have. What if it goes wrong? What if they leave? What if this? What if that? The number of people we meet when we give talks…And afterwards they still say: ‘have always been afraid of truly committing to a relationship, in case it didn’t work’. Well, it’s not going to work, if you don’t give yourself 100%. And even if it doesn’t work, at least you have the amazing part. So, why are you afraid of it?

Between life and death

Dragoș: What are you afraid of?

Genesis: Now? Nothing. I used to be frightened of death, for a while. That was a long time ago…

Dragoș: And now?

Genesis: Now, I’m looking forward to being with Jaye again. Now I know there’s more…

Dragoș: Do you see life as a phase?

Genesis: Yeah. Myself and Jaye say it’s life loops. That is as it if we really felt like we had been before, and that we are here again because we hadn’t figured things out. There were certain things we fucked up. And the whole point is to find the figured stuff out. Jaye was the most fearless person we ever met. Nothing to be afraid of. She inspired me to think very differently about everything. We had a deal; that whenever one of us died or dropped our body, that we would see if it’s possible to communicate from beyond. Mainly because we spent a lot of time with Tibetan Buddhists and we were convinced some of us do reincarnate, and if they do, that means it is possible to maintain a sense of self without a body, that your consciousness can retain its sense of being someone. It’s not easy, obviously. But it can. And so, we said how could we try and communicate, and know it was real? You can’t say, ‘I think I’ve heard someone talking to me’ or ‘I Think I saw Jaye in the crowd’. What could we have? So we came up with three conditions: it has to be something that happens physically; there have to be witnesses (so you can’t just go like ‘I saw this’ or ‘I heard’, you know?); and it must have special meaning to you. Both. That’s what we came up with.

Three days after her body was buried, we were all seating in a room at my apartment; Jaye’s apartment as well. Alice was there; Edley was there, my two daughters. There were seven people. And my daughters were saying ‘you should come back to California with us, papa. We’re worried about you. We’re worry you’re gonna’ kill yourself.’ So we were thinking about it, and suddenly, from nowhere, we thought ‘if we go to California, we need a photograph of me and Jaye, together, to take’. So we wandered of to the bedroom, and on Jaye’s side of our bed she had about 20 photographs of us kissing all over the world. And right in the middle it was a picture of us in Kathmandu, in the Himalayas. Both wearing red robes on a chair cuddling, so it was two heads kissing. Perfect. That’s the pandrogyne. That’s Jaye and me as one being, you know? So that’s the one I took it back in the other room, put it down on about 7 feet from where we were sitting. The other people were on a semi-circle, and children were ‘so, what are you going to do? Are you going to come with us in California?’ As they said it, the picture rose up, it was faced out, it flowed to the cross 7 feet, in front of me, turned the right and gently dropped the floor, in front of me. Everybody saw it. And we looked down and we said ‘I think Jaye wants me to stay here, with her’. So physically happened, there were witnesses and it had special meaning. How fucking strong is she to do that in three days? I mean, really?

And there’s been other thing equally as specific sense. Even though there’s always been a bit of me that was an existentialist, there’s just no way. Something else is going on.

Mădălina: The symbol of the Psychic cross.

Genesis: Yes, that was me in .. about.. 1980. I draw it one day. The vertical is 3, the two longer crosses is 2, and the one in the middle is two thirds of that, so there’s always 2 and 3. But if you arrange psychic cross in a particular pattern, then, the negative space is a swastika. So the psychic cross is the opposite of swastika and its meaning it’s the positive of that negative. I didn’t even know when I designed it. 8 years later, somebody sent me this drawer of this pattern and I was like ‘oh fuck’. And then Jaye would say ‘well, of course’. She had this other same, the of course factor, ‘of course you did it that way’. Instinctively, you know?

Dragoș: Somebody said that death doesn’t exist because you can’t live it.

Genesis: Yes. Where is that line? Where’s the line between awake and asleep. Where’s the line between life and death? There isn’t one.

Dragoș: Do you think it has anything to do with believing? If you believe, it might happen, if you don’t, it won’t happen?

Genesis: We have a say, change the way to perceive and change old memories. The body can die. Jaye said the body is a cheap suitcase. But the body isn’t who you are. Consciousness is. So what matters is consciousness. So yeah, that can continue. Obviously.

When you let go the obsession that Western especially has on the human body, medicine wants to preserve the body and all this stuff about physical material reality, it’s the greatest mistake of western thinking. If you go somewhere like Africa, or India, or Nepal, or Thailand, they’re all ‘well, obviously there’s more than that!’ They don’t even have a question! It’s in the West, where we get more and more materialist and we forget the spiritual and make ourselves fucking miserable because we forgotten how important thinking is. How important emotions and experiences are. The obsession with physical things is a tragedy in the west. We would disagree with someone like the Catholic Church who says the body is not sacred. The mind is sacred. Thinking is sacred. The body is just a cheap suitcase that carries the mind, as Kaye would say. Timothy Leary used to say ‘we only have a body to move the mind so we can move our mind around.’ It’s just a machine. Material life it’s a very brutal environment. In order to experience physical life, you have to have a body. But it goes out fast, because it’s hard being here.

Dragoș: Do you think consciousness is forever?

Genesis: Yes. I do now. I think everybody finds that out, sometime. Everything is recording all the time. The planet is recording. Think about it, we could still go to New Guinea and see people living in the Stone age, or even before the Stone age. And every era of human history is still going on somewhere on the planet. You go to Dubai and is a sort of mixture of the medieval and the modern. It’s all recorded. Fossils and everything else…it’s all being recorded. When somebody has a child, it starts with two single cells, which is how they say life began. And it goes with mutation into multi cells and it becomes like a tiny fish, and it becomes an amphibian and then a reptile, and then it becomes a monkey, and then it becomes a human. And first it’s not male or female. The Tibetans have said for ages that there’s nobody in there for at least 39 days.

The original story

Dragoș: Pandrogyne, first.

Genesis: Exactly. We start as a pandrogyne. Adam and Eva were pandrogyne because she came from his body. So it’s one body creating two. When two people have an orgasm together, they are pandrogyne while having an orgasm. That’s why I was so fascinated for looking to the original story. It’s why I went back to Africa and I’m going again. My question to all the high priests every time was ‘what your creation story? What’s the mother story? The earliest story?’ They wouldn’t tell me for the first two weeks, they kept ignoring me. And then they finally got to trust me ‘cause I was doing ceremonies with them. And in the end, a high priest gave me a book, that he printed, it was not available, it was just notes.

The divine original being is called Mawu-Lisa. Mauw is a python and Lisa is a chameleon. Mawu is female and Lisa is male, but it’s one. It’s a pandrogyne. ‘Of course!’ as Jaye would say. And on the last night, he invited us all to his house for dinner. And afterwards, that song about snakes is a true story. We went into his special room, for his audience, and he sat into his big chair, his disciple was lying on the floor, prostrated like this, and then it looked to me. The disciple went off and came back with a big glass filled with dead pythons and chameleons. And he got a shot glass, it poured one for the disciple, another one that he drank it and then everybody in the crew drank one.

Dragoș: How did it taste?

Genesis: Horrible! Dead python and dead chameleon? Yeah! It’s fucking horrible. We were all thinking secretly, ‘we’re going to be really sick tomorrow!’ But you can’t say no. And then he said something else, and the guy went off and came back with a jar of black powder. And it poured black powder on the floor and the disciple liked it and on the floor. And then it poured some more and everybody licked it of the floor, one by one. And then it came back with some white powder. And we had to lick white powder of the floor. Nobody got sick.

We got back to America. We went to my apartment in New York and the next morning I got up and I thought I was in Africa again. And I was in New York and I was asking myself ‘am I here or am I in Africa, ‘cause I can’t tell right now.’ Back and forth, between Africa and New York. I had to stay in the apartment for three days, ‘cause I didn’t know where I was. Wasn’t horrible, it was just weird, you know? They were equal. I guess that was what it was teaching us. A few days later, they all had weird experiences, not exactly the same, but everybody had a weird experience that was relative to that. So, whatever it was, it wasn’t really specific, it was just a trigger for you to learn something, you know? And Benin, where we were, is the only country in the world where voodoo is a state religion, and has been for over 10 000 years. It is the oldest continuous religion on the planet. That’s why I kept saying ‘what’s the original story? What’s the mother story?’ If anyone knows it, they do.

And then, they started talking about the twins. This, you know? (Genesis looks at her mini wood doll hanged on h/er neck). We discovered that when we were walking around, people would come up, children, mothers, all kinds of people come up and kiss it or touch it or pray to it. We gradually realize there’s a whole sub story about twins. Adam and Eve are twins, Mawu and Lisa are twins. During the half year that’s gone on before we go back, Hazel Hill Mc Carthy III), would start getting emails from professors of anthropology in America and England. One of them had done a study of the incident of twins. In the entire world except Benin, there are four pairs of twins per thousand births. In Benin there’s 25 to 40 pairs per thousand births. Nobody knows why. They can’t see a genetic reason. So that means the original story is all about twins.

Then we found out, in September, at the end of the month, they have a big festival every year, for twins. The first weekend is dead twins; the second weekend is living twins. So we thought that we have to go back and find out some more. They’re gradually teaching us some kind of story, but they’re doing it in their own way. It’s fascinating. Because I’m 65 and I say ‘O, I’ve done all this stuff, been to jungles, and all over Himalayas’, and then I go to Africa and I’m ‘oh my God, I know nothing! Shit…here we go again.’

But that’s what so great! I love novelty. I want new things, I want to be confused and amazed. I don’t want to know what’s going on, I want to find out more and more and more. And the more we find out, the more amazing it really gets. So…yeah…who fucking knows….but consciousness is the key. Definitely. ‘Cause we have been working with Native American shamans, we worked with Shiva Sadhus (religious ascetic or holy person), Naga Babas, Tibetans, it’s been a lifetime search for me. What’s the original story? What is fucking going on? Am I even here? I don’t really know. Especially if you do psychedelics as well, which I did, because I grew up in the ‘60s. In those days it wasn’t for fun, it was a try to find out stuff, you know? We had to learn and find out, meet new dimensions, worlds. And it never stops. It’s fabulous. This is great. Who knows what’s next?

A colleague enters the room.

Genesis: Oh, come in. We were just discussing the nature of reality. What else is there to talk about? Love and reality, that’s it. And love, love is always here with me.

Ian Curtis

Dragoș: Love will tear us apart.

Genesis: Aha… You know I was the last person whom he spoke to before he committed suicide? That was awful. It was the days before cellphones.

Dragoș: Why do you think he did it?

Genesis: He was in love with his Belgian girlfriend, and he felt really guilty about growing beyond his wife and child. He hated being in Joy Division, he didn’t want to be in it anymore. He wanted to do something more interesting. He was a big fan of Throbbing Gristle.

Dragoș: He was 23 or something…

Genesis: Yeah…very young. He was a big fan of TG, I was sick of being in TG, so we actually had a plan and we started to actually do the plan, which was we’d arrange to have a gig in Paris, at La Palace, which would be Joy Division and Throbbing Gristle. And at the end of both set, he would say ‘I’m not quitting Joy Division to start a band with Gen’ and I would say ‘I’m not quitting Throbbing Gristle to start a band with Ian’. And we would start a band together. But then, that asshole, Tony Wilson – sorry, I shouldn’t…- he said ‘you got to go to America’, and the other three guys, who were very nice, I liked them all, I got friends with them all, they wanted to go to America. And he said ‘I’m not going, I’d rather be dead’. And he meant it. And they thought ‘oh, he’s always being dramatic, he doesn’t mean it’. But he did mean it.

He rang me up, that night, he was in Manchester, I was in London, and he sang, word perfect, ‘Weeping’, which is about my attempt to commit suicide. And I just thought ‘why is he singing my suicide song?’ ‘Oh, he’s going to’ try to commit suicide. Shit.’ So I started to ring everybody in Manchester that I knew. Factory Records people, the manager, Jon Savage, everyone. They were all like ‘he’s always being dramatic, he’s not going to do anything’. I was ‘somebody has to go around to his house’, and they were like ‘no, no no’. People didn’t have cellphones in that time. So he killed himself. I felt awful, ‘cause I was 300 miles away, I couldn’t do anything. Maybe I should have called the police, but, you know, you don’t want to call the police, you want your friends to go around.

Dragoș: He must have had a lot of courage to do it.

Genesis: He hanged himself; that’s really hard…Horrible. Jaye always said that suicide is a kind of temporary insanity and if somebody could just delay it, you get past that crisis point, and then you could probably stop it. But there was no one who was prepared to go around and do that. It took me more than 10 years to listen to Joy Division again after that, I just couldn’t listen. I just cried if I tried to. There are about three books now that mention this story, but for ages it kept quiet, because they felt guilty too, you know? And they didn’t know that we’re going to’ start a band together. None of them; not even Tony.

It was really weird too. We were playing with Peaches in Brussels, in 2006. And Jaye came up to me after we played and said ‘there’s someone here to see you. I know normally you don’t want to see anyone, but I think you want to meet this person.’ And this beautiful woman came in, it was Ian’s girlfriend, she came up and she said who she was and we both started crying and held each other. She died this year…She was so young. And we never met before. She was really special.

He used to come visit whenever he was in London. You know whom he listened to before he did ‘Closer’? Frank Sinatra. He was really into Frank Sinatra.


After almost one hour, we stopped here, since there were a lot of people asking ‘where did Gen disappear?’ At the end I ask Gen if it’s possible to sign a record. It is the first volume of ‘Acid Tablets’ by Jack The Tab, one of two fake compilations produced by Psychic TV in 1988 (the other is Tekno Acid Beat). Even if there are a lot of (fake) artists appearing on the compilation, it is mostly Genesis’ work, with help from Fred Giannelli). ‘’This is such a great record!’’, Genesis recalls while signs it. ‘’I remember we had such a great fun while recording it. Imagine it, at that time, (1988), there was no acid house.’’ The room starts to get crowded. So crowded that I even meet a Romanian guy living in New York, who is actually the neighbor of Edley ODowd, the drummer from Psychic TV.

main photo credits: Valeriu Cătălineanu // Control Club
other photo credits: Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye
About the Author

Dragoș Rusu

Co-founder and co-editor in chief of The Attic, sound researcher and allround music adventurer, with a keen interest in the anthropology of sound.

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