(photograph found online, no credit given)
Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson: 1955-2010
Along with the rest of Throbbing Gristle, Sleazy was a bold provocateur and activist. But he was also one of the most innovative musicians of his generation
It’s impossible to overstate the influence of Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson, who died in his sleep yesterday, aged just 55. As a founding member of Throbbing Gristle, he was part of one of the most experimental and notorious British groups of all time. The first industrial band, their music covered everything from machine-like noise to almost quaintly melodic electro-pop. I can still remember the shock of realising the catchy United single was by the same people who I’d seen posing topless (along with female member Cosey Fanni Tutti) when it felt like pornography had suddenly infiltrated NME.
Formed in 1975, their outrages – which included performing naked, vomiting onstage and writing songs about burning bodies – created considerable controversy. Even the punks threw things. The tabloids frothed, and MP Nicholas Fairbairn gave the ultimate seal of condemnation/approval when he pronounced the band “wreckers of civilisation” – shortly before he was arrested for indecent exposure, thus exposing the hypocrisy that Christopherson and pals had sworn to highlight.
Throbbing Gristle’s art statements – or “sick stunts”, depending on your view – will outlive them. Christopherson was one of his generation’s first openly gay musicians, railing against homophobia and “Christian perversions” such as monogamy, while making music designed to help others live with HIV. But he was first and foremost one of the boldest, most innovative musicians of his generation.
His music has influenced everything from Marilyn Manson to techno. Joy Division’s Ian Curtis was a fan. Sleazy helped Throbbing Gristle frontman Genesis P-Orridge form the similarly influential Psychic TV, while Trent Reznor’s new band, How to Destroy Angels, take their name from the “ritual music for the accumulation of male sexual energy” of Coil, Christopherson’s trailblazing band. Fronted by Christopherson and his partner, John Balance – arguably pop’s firstly openly gay duo – Coil produced dark music that appeared in the films of Derek Jarman. Prior to this, Christopherson worked as a designer for the hugely influential agency Hipgnosis, creating iconic record sleeves for the likes of Peter Gabriel and Pink Floyd.
Christopherson was a man ahead of his time. He built electronic equipment and used digital sampling onstage years before Fairlight synths made it a staple tool in pop. He put together videos for everyone from Soft Cell’s Marc Almond to Paul McCartney. He was innovating right up until his death – in a Throbbing Gristle re-formed “to destroy our own myth” and as director of The Threshold Houseboys Choir, a band featuring computer-generated vocals.
Born in Leeds to an academic family, and benefiting from an education that enabled him to study computer programming and video, Christopherson explained that Throbbing Gristle’s innovation came about because the band were social misfits who had no idea what they were doing and so did not recognise rules. His nickname, along with his bands’ fearsome reputations, belies the truth of a gentle, much-loved soul with a benign manner, who loved “silly electronic gadgets”.
This summer, after Throbbing Gristle concerts were cancelled amid rumours of an illness, Christopherson insisted: “We are all only temporary curators of our present bodies, which will all decay, sooner or later. In a hundred years or so all the humans currently alive will have died. I take great comfort in knowing, with certainty, that thing that makes us special, able to enrich our own lives and those of others, will not cease when our bodies do but will be just starting a new (and hopefully even better) adventure … ”
Even in death, Peter Martin Christopherson is still giving us something to think about, which we should celebrate.