Death of a Magus

Obituary for Genesis P’Orridge (1950-2020),
by Christophe Becker*

The Cardinal: You’re in dire need of prayer. I suggest you make a retreat.

Father Lamont: A retreat? Why not an advance?

–John BOORMAN, Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977).

Don’t believe what the papers say about Genesis P-Orridge, born Neil Andrew Megson, February, 22, 1950 in Manchester. The man did not invent Industrial Rock—not by himself anyway. He wasn’t the indecipherable creature he wanted you to believe in and pray to, an irregular beast for dangerous, senseless times. How ironic that a man who claimed that information is power sees his life and death condensed into the same trivial aspects and tired phrases.

Yes, Orridge was once considered a “wrecker of civilization” by Conservative MP Nicholas Fairbairn. And yes, again, he was thought to be the batty leader of a perplexing cult—Thee Temple ov Psychic Youth. But there was so much more to him.

In 1975, Orridge founded the art group COUM Transmissions with Christine Carol Newby (aka Cosey Fanni Tutti). His performances were oftentimes challenging, now and again half-hearted. Orridge, like so many of his contemporaries, was a part-time whiz. The now famous Prostitution scandal at the Institute of Contemporary Art, London, 1976, epitomizes the savoir faire of an artist who comprehends how easy it is to build up publicity. His new band, Throbbing Gristle, founded with Cosey, Chris Carter and Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson, revolutionized music. Their albums were innovative, aggressive, uncompromising.

In 1973, Orridge stopped by William Burroughs’ flat in Duke Street, and befriended both Burroughs and Gysin. Burroughs taught him about the cut-up method and tape recorders. He taught him about the forces of Control and how to wage effective war against them. Orridge worked to apply Burroughs’ tactics to music with infrasound and ultra-high frequencies, and became a dedicated archivist**. Thee Temple ov Psychic Youth itself was nothing more than a tongue in cheek religion based on some of Burroughs’ programmatic texts.

In 1981, Orridge released Nothing Here Now But The Recordings (1959-1980), a collection of experimental sound cut-ups recorded by Burroughs and Ian Sommerville at 9 rue Gît-le-Cœur, in Paris and, in 1984, both Orridge and Burroughs were to perform in Muscha’s mindboggling film Decoder with FM Einheit, William Rice, and Christiane Felscherinow.

Don’t believe what the papers say about Genesis P-Orridge.

He was no guru, no Existential Terrorist. But he was one of the few artists who challenged society through his wit. He was a fabricator, much like Burroughs, he was a trickster, a mock magus, an idealist, a fearless experimenter, a compulsive liar and a unique entertainer. He was today’s idea of a necessary genius.

* With thanks to Noëlle Batt.

* “Indeed, after Balch’s death in 1980, the original negatives of many of the Burroughs-Balch-Gysin collaborations were so disregarded that they were very nearly thrown onto the scrapheap—quite literally—and were only saved by the timely archival intervention of Genesis P-Orridge (Sargeant 1997: 187-8).” Jamie Russell, “Guerrilla Conditions: Burroughs, Gysin and Balch go to the Movies” in Retaking the Universe: William S. Burroughs in the Age of Globalization, edited by Davis Schneiderman & Philip Walsh (Pluto Press, 2004), 170.


throbbing gristle – discipline

Interview with Genesis P-Orridge discussing William Burroughs – 1981

Further reading:

Book of Lies: The Disinformation Guide to Magick and the Occult (being an alchemical formula to rip a hole in the fabric of reality), edited by Richard Metzger, preface by Grant Morrison. New York, NY: Disinformation Co., 2003.

Genesis P-Orridge Esoterrorist: Selected Essays 1980-1988. Denver, Colorado: OV-Press, 1989.

The Lives & Art of Genesis P-Orridge. Brooklyn: Soft Skull Shortwave, 2003.

Thee Psychick Bible / Thee Apocryphal Scriptures ov Genesis P-Orridge & thee Third Mind ov Psychic TV, compiled and edited by J. A. Rapoza. San Francisco: Alecto Enterprises, 1994.

Re/Search # 6/7, Industrial Culture Handbook. San Francisco: RE/Search Publications, 1983.

Re/Search # 12, Modern Primitives. San Francisco: RE/Search Publications, 1989.

Fanni Tutti, Cosey, Art Sex Music. London: Faber & Faber, 2017.

Ford, Simon, Wreckers of Civilisation: The Story of Coum Transmissions & Throbbing Gristle. London: Black Dog Publishing, 1999.

Sargeant, Jack, Naked Lens: Beat Cinema. Berkeley, Soft Skull Press, 1997.