An album that appears to be devoted to an obscure faith known as “The Temple ov Psychick Youth” might be accepted on face value — after all, various cults have produced albums of devotional music to spread their gospel among rock fans. However, when the musicians behind the project are the former leader of Throbbing Gristle — merry prankster Genesis P-Orridge — and onetime Alternative TV-er Alex Fergusson (joined by Peter Christopherson, also a TG co-conspirator) it becomes much harder to judge where religious sincerity ends and elaborate put-on begins. (With hindsight, the notion that overzealous conceptual shenanigans can spiral out of anybody’s control offers a third alternative.) Adding to the confusion, Stevo, who runs Some Bizzare (the label that originally abetted the group), is quoted on the back cover of their first album: “A naive person can open his eyes in life, but someone with his eyes open can never end up naive.” Just who’s kidding who here?
Force the Hand of Chance, regardless of its sincerity or utter lack thereof, is an amazing package: two records (one purported to be the partial soundtrack of a four-hour videocassette), a poster/booklet, pictured costumes, symbology and mail-order merchandise offerings. Musically, the main disc is a weird assortment of quiet ballads, screeching white noise, simple pop and more, with lyrics by P-Orridge that drift over terrain not all in keeping with the mystical concept. At times, form far outweighs function and some songs become merely effect without substance; others stand up nicely on their own regardless of the accompanying baggage. The adjunct record, Psychick TV Themes, uses real and imagined ethnic instruments from various exotic cultures to produce instrumentals that range from crazed to cool, intense to ephemeral — something like Eno’s ambience filtered through a Spike Jones sensibility.
Dreams Less Sweet is another remarkable record, no less appealing for its equally abundant bizarrity. From the sweet vocal pop of “Hymn 23” or “White Nights” to pan-ethnic soundscapes and soundtracks that employ everything from English horn to Tibetan thighbone (as well as a lot of found sounds), PTV display an ineffable mastery of avant-garde dadaism as well as traditional musicmaking. Like tuning into a radio station overrun by university-educated acid-freaks, Dreams Less Sweet provides a thoroughly unpredictable and unsettling, yet profound, experience. The LP originally contained a bonus 12-inch entitled The Full Pack. (The cover photograph, while seemingly innocuous, is an astonishingly vulgar visual double entendre. Shades of Lovesexy.)
PTV has since continued to release disturbing live albums, featuring different lineups around the P-Orridge-Christopherson-Fergusson core. Berlin Atonal Vol. 1, recorded at a festival in December 1983, matches a grisly side of speaker-shredding, grinding, excruciating chaos by PTV with a side by American percussionist Z’ev. The limited edition N.Y. Scum Haters — an all-PTV onslaught, captured at New York’s Danceteria in November 1983 — is better organized and recorded, more varied and sporadically more musical. There’s still a lot of fearsome noise, but there’s also some respite from the mania. Berlin Atonal Vol. 2 is shared with a band called La Loora; Those Who Do Not is a double-LP live in Iceland. Extending the group’s influence into other artistic endeavors, PTV was commissioned to score a ballet, a work which became Mouth of the Night.
As strange as it may seem, PTV hit the UK charts in early ’86 with a catchy pop single (“Godstar”) about Brian Jones; that song was later remixed and included on the group’s first-ever American release, Allegory and Self, joined by a typical PTV assortment of delicate tapestries and unsettling madness. In the meantime, PTV had begun releasing a series of 23 albums — all concert recordings, titled after the venue’s locale — on the 23rd of each month. Squeezing out fourteen British LPs (either some not listed above or somebody has the dates wrong) in eighteen months got the group into the Guinness Book of World Records, but Genesis — himself no stranger to hallucinogens — had already turned his attentions to the burgeoning acid house dance scene, finding in the smiley-face warehouse-raves Ecstasy environment the perfect vehicle for his subversive socio-musical plots and semiotic fascinations.
Under the PTV banner and a variety of pseudonyms (including Jack the Tab, a collaboration with journalist Richard Norris and ex-Soft Cell synthesist Dave Ball) used to create all-PTV pseudo-compilation albums, Genesis became a major underground force on the UK dance scene. Towards thee Infinite Beat conveys some of what he’s been up to: a few songs (like “S.M.I.L.E.” and “I.C. Water”) co-written by guitarist Fred Giannelli, but mostly varispeed grooves of bass and percussion lightly layered with guitar, keyboards and other instrumental touches as well as non-singing vocals and found-sound debris. Even on the sketchiest constructions, Genesis’ demented imagination fills the tracks with enough action to keep them from being totally tedious. Beyond thee Infinite Beat, the associated remix record, delves deeper into house with extended — in some cases overhauled and retitled — deconstructions of a half-dozen tracks.