Psychic TV

Psychic TV (PTV, sometimes spelled Psychick TV) is a video art and music group that primarily performs psychedelic, punk, electronic and experimental music. The band was formed by performance artist Genesis P-Orridge and video director Peter Christopherson (after the breakup of Throbbing Gristle) with Alex Fergusson, musician and producer (a key member of Alternative TV for whom P-Orridge had played percussion).

The band began publishing a monthly series of 23 live albums in 1986, but stopped without explanation after only 17. The tenth, a picture disk most commonly referred to as ‘Album 10,’ could only be obtained by submitting tokens contained in each of the previous nine releases. The band subsequently earned an entry in the ‘Guinness Book of World Records’ for most records released in one year.

Contributors to Psychic TV have included artists such as Coil, Current 93, Hafler Trio, The Cult, White Stains, Soft Cell, Fred Giannelli, Master Musicians of Jajouka, Matthew Best, Bill Breeze, Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, Derek Jarman, John Gosling, Timothy Leary, Rose McDowall, Andrew Weatherall, Larry Thrasher, and Z’EV.

‘Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth’ (aka T.O.P.Y.), was formed at the same time as the band and was intended to be the philosophical wing of Psychic TV, but also presented an image of being a cult-like fanclub for the group. P-Orridge left it in 1991. Psychic TV released early albums of acid house music in (1988) as fake compilations, such as ‘Jack The Tab’ and ‘Tekno Acid Beat.’ After breaking up in 1999, Psychic TV reformed as PTV3 with a new line-up in 2003.

Since Genesis P-Orridge primarily wrote lyrics, he would assemble different groups of musicians together to create the music. This accounts for the changing musical nature of PTV. Thus the history of Psychic TV can be broken up into the periods of the main songwriter that was working with him at the time.

Psychic TV was formed with the core membership of Genesis P-Orridge and Alex Fergusson in 1981. Alexander Fergusson was a member of the punk outfit Alternative TV, upon whose 1978 album ‘Vibing Up The Senile Man (Part One)’ P-Orridge had played percussion, and contributed the latter half of the name ‘Psychic TV.’ Peter Christopherson got involved in 1982 and claimed that the ‘TV’ component of the name was intended to focus on the visual elements of the outfit.

P-Orridge once claimed that, ‘Psychic TV is a video group who does music unlike a music group which makes music videos.’ Similarities can be seen in the artwork for Alternative TV and early Psychic TV releases, with a recurring pastiche on the ‘as seen on TV’ marketing style. In the earliest live performances, Psychic TV maintained much of the noisy atmosphere of P-Orridge’s previous band, Throbbing Gristle, although now with an increased use of exotic acoustic drums and other instruments. Psychic TV were signed to WEA Records and subsequently CBS based on the infamy of Throbbing Gristle.

Their first albums ‘Force The Hand Of Chance’ and ‘Dreams Less Sweet’ featured high production values, catchy pop songs written by Fergusson (with barbershop quartet vocals arranged by Andrew Pearson), and sound experiments primarily created by Peter Christopherson and Geff Rushton, a.k.a. John Balance – foreshadowing the pair’s later work as Coil. Marc Almond was also involved.

The live shows, such as those given at the famous Berlin Atonal festival, continued to bear improvised noise elements until Peter Christopherson left the group and Fergusson implemented musicians capable of improvisational pop music, known as ‘hyperdelic’ (such as that featured on the singles ‘Godstar’ and ‘Roman P.’) This led to the intended series of 23 live show recordings, which dominated most of Psychic TV’s output until 1988. Towards the end of this period Fergusson/P-Orridge completed their third proper studio album ‘Allegory and Self: Thee Starlit Mire.’ It was at this point that P-Orridge became interested in acid house and techno. Alex Fergusson left and was replaced with techno artist Fred Giannelli.

During this period Fred Giannelli, Dave Ball from Soft Cell, Richard Norris who later formed the Grid with Dave Ball, John Gosling, engineer Richard Evans and other techno artists released music not only as Psychic TV, but also a variety of ‘fake’ names. The idea behind this was to release ‘compilations’ of these imaginary artists, creating a sense that a healthy acid house scene existed in the UK. The key studio albums of this period were ‘Jack the Tab – Acid Tablets Volume One,’ ‘Tekno Acid Beat,’ ‘Towards Thee Infinite Beat,’ and ‘Beyond Thee Infinite Beat’ (2×12″ remixes which could be played at 33 or 45 rpm), as almost all of the live shows in this period were based around the songs on these albums. From ’88-90 PTV was very stable as a live unit and did more gigs and touring than any other version of PTV before or after. A long tour of the USA and UK in 1988, Europe in 1989 and another long tour of the United States in 1990.

In 1990, Psychic TV released the song ‘I.C. Water’ as a 7″ and 12″ single on the 10 year anniversary of the death of Ian Curtis from Joy Division. The sleeve was a hand drawn image of Ian Curtis derived from a famous photograph. The song was from the album ‘Towards Thee Infinite Beat.’

In the early 1990s, Vice-President of Elektra Records, Howard Thompson took an interest in signing Psychic TV. He explained that he was going to take a one year sabbatical from the music industry and he had been asked to run a major independent record label and he wanted to sign Psychic TV to that label. The label was in fact, Herb Alpert’s and Jerry Moss’s new imprint Almo Sounds, after the sale of A & M Records. Studio time was booked and Genesis P-Orridge, Fred Giannelli and Matthew Best went in to Brilliant Studios in San Francisco to record demos. Four tracks were recorded and rough mixes delivered and were rejected by Almo Sounds. The songs were entitled: ‘Snowflake,’ ‘Intoxication,’ ‘E-Lusive,’ and ‘Avatar.’

P-Orridge claimed initially that he was deported, although later admitted that he decided not to return to England from Kathmandu, where he and his family had been on holiday (after selling an Austin Osman Spare painting to Chris Stein from Blondie for $10,000 to finance the trip). They also spent some time with Tibetan refugees and chose to go into ‘self-imposed exile.’ This was after a video he had created was falsely presented as evidence of Satanic ritual abuse in an edition of Channel 4 TV’s ‘Dispatches.’ The segment was later discredited, though not before his house was raided by the police, and the allegations were repeated in other media. He said that he felt he would not get a fair hearing if he returned to England, so the family moved to California.

Shortly after moving to the US, P-Orridge underwent a divorce which traumatized him immensely. Most of the output during this period was made up of re-releases of earlier albums, especially by industrial music record labels who released the albums as a ‘paying of respects’ to the founder of industrial music.

In 1992 Kim Cascone (founder of Silent Records) introduced P-Orridge to Larry Thrasher, co-founder of the mid 80’s San Francisco experimental noise band Thessalonians. This began a new period with Psychic TV returning to its psychedelic pop roots with Thrasher co-producing and co-writing the critically acclaimed ‘Trip/Reset’ as well as the album ‘Cold Blue Torch’ and new experimental explorations which centered around the spoken word poetry of P-orridge in releases like ‘Thee Fractured Garden’ and ‘Breathe.’ ‘Thee Fractured Garden’ was a seminal example of this period where Psychic TV blended ambient music, samples and sound collages with spoken word. This eventually led P-Orridge and Thrasher to create offshoot groups Splinter Test and later Thee Majesty, which focused on the spoken word and sonic experiments.

Other notable releases upon which P-Orridge collaborated with Thrasher were the ‘Electric Newspapers,’ a series of open source sample releases that blurred the sampling CD concept with a stream of consciousness listening experience. Material from the releases (there are six in total, but only four have been released) is mostly taken from the CDs PTV released with Thrasher along with contributors such as Skinny Puppy and other notable musical allies of this time. The original motivation for the series was to ensure that the PTV sample files were archived after the loss of the entire PTV sampling library in the dramatic five alarm fire at the Houdini Mansion on Laurel Canyon in Hollywood.

The fire, which burned down the 18,000 sq ft mansion, left P-Orridge in the intensive care unit at Cedar Sinai hospital with life-threatening injuries after he (along with members of the band Love and Rockets ) jumped from their bedroom windows to escape the flames. Results of this event sent P-Orridge on a two-year health sabbatical to recover, during which he was involved in a million dollar lawsuit against Rick Rubin, who owned the Houdini Mansion. P-Orridge won the case, but was left with a metal plate and eight screws in his permanently disabled and reconstructed arm.

In 1998 P-Orridge announced that he primarily wanted to move into spoken word, which is when Campagna left the band to pursue his own projects, and turned to focus on Thee Majesty with musical lineup of Larry Thrasher and Bryin Dall. Thee Majesty continues to perform to large halls and galleries in Europe playing improvised sound sculpture to mostly improvised spoken word and they released a CD called ‘Time’s Up’ up 1999.

In 2005, the Voiceprint record label in England re-released several older Psychic TV and Genesis P-Orridge albums under the name Thee Majesty, and also a new album recorded with the band Cotton Ferox. Also, a 2005 release ‘Mary Never Wanted Jesus’ credited to Genesis P-Orridge & Thee Majesty featured archive PTV material alongside new Thee Majesty recordings. PTV, as a rock entity, had a ‘final show’ in 1999 at The Royal Festival Hall in London. This show also marked the end of P-Orridge’s exile from the UK.

In 2003, with encouragement from drummer Eddie O’Dowd (Toilet Boys), Genesis reformed Psychic TV with an all new lineup, returning to the stage with a concert in New York under the guise of PTV3. The concert featured video projections by Sam Zimmerman (Crash Worship). In 2004, an extensive tour of Europe (covering 16 countries) and North America was launched. 2005 saw the band return to the studio, recording their first album in over 10 years (P-Orridge also spent 2005 working with Throbbing Gristle on their first album in over 25 years). Additionally, a few more dates were performed in Europe throughout the year. In 2006, the new PTV album was announced by P-Orridge on his website. ‘Hell is Invisible…Heaven is Her/E,’ the album, was recorded in New York and features Nick Zinner (Yeah Yeah Yeahs) and Gibby Haynes (Butthole Surfers) guesting on some tracks. P-Orridge describes it as ‘The Dark Side of the Moon for the 21st century.’

The 2006 shows included an ‘all new video light show’ by Sterile Cowboys & Co. (a.k.a. Nicolas Jenkins) – three screens of heavily overlaid video with the middle screen overlaid by yet another layer of ‘analog’ projections including moiréd overlays and liquid/oil effects performed by ‘something human’ aka Caleigh Fisher a friend from the TOPY years. Videos from the upcoming album and DVDs were previewed as works in process. Much of the video work revolves around Breyer P-Orridges exploration of the ‘pandrogyne’ (when Jacqueline Mary Breyer married Genesis P-Orridge in 1993 she changed her name to Lady Jaye Breyer P-Orridge as part of their Pandrogyne project to evolve into a new gender as a single being they called Breyer P-Orridge). Part of the project involved undergoing painful plastic surgery procedures in order to become gender-neutral human beings that looked like each other

Lady Jaye died suddenly in 2007 at home in Brooklyn from a previously undiagnosed heart condition which is thought to have been connected with her long-term battle with stomach cancer. She collapsed and died in Genesis’ arms. Psychic TV’s current incarnation, PTV3, has recently released the new CD/DVD set, ‘Mr. Alien Brain vs. The Skinwalkers.’ The album, which was released in December 2008, was the first full length release since the death of Genesis’ ‘other half.’ According to Genesis: ‘We started out, because we were so crazy in love, just wanting to eat each other up, to become each other and become one. And as we did that, we started to see that it was affecting us in ways that we didn’t expect. Really, we were just two parts of one whole; the pandrogyne was the whole and we were each other’s other half.’

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