Interview: Genesis Breyer P-Orridge
On the eve of her 65th birthday, we revisit our 2014 interview with the iconic Genesis Breyer P-Orridge.
The line-up of Psychic TV has changed a lot over the years. Can you give us some insight into how those shifts occur and how new band members are recruited?
It’s a very mysterious process. We don’t socialise very often because we’re all busy with other things.
We never ever audition anybody - it’s all done based on my trust of Edley’s judgement. He has so many contacts from New York and he knows my taste in personalities to be with, which is good because touring it can be really claustrophobic. The way people are in terms relationships and not wanting to suddenly be the big superstar or anything is almost more important than musical skill. But fortunately he also picks people with really great musical skill (laughs).
The current lineup has opened us up to having a really tight sort of hyperdelic / psychedelic sound while still adhering to my obsession with improvising and chopping things up and rearranging them. Reading the Psychic Bible I noticed a lot of the material is based around the concept of self-actualisation. Given that self-actualisation is such an individual process, and working in a band is so dependent on groupthink and group dynamics, have you experienced any conflict between these two areas of your life?
What we discovered with The Church of Psychic Youth (TOPY) during the 10 year period it was active is that the self alone is not enough.
The process of self actualisation should take you to a place where you wake up and say “This is useless unless we give back to the community.” It should lead you to a place where you’re far more aware of the rest of the species, and its need for healing and change.
We’ve always believed that self actualisation is only stop one. Step two is species actualisation, and that’s why we ended up in Brighton with several houses full of TOPY people.
For those of our readers who are unfamiliar with the TOPY years, can you tell us a bit about them?
Well each TOPY group house was autonomous and had its own set of rituals and its own ideas. Every Monday night we’d all meet in our house, which was the biggest, and we’d all have a communal meal. One house would cook it, one house would clean up. Then we’d all sit in a circle and share ideas for what to do next, discuss what was working and what wasn’t working, offer proposals for future activities and so on.
We also did this thing where someone would tell their life story. The idea was that you told everything. You didn’t hide anything, and you didn’t hold anything upsetting back. You told, as far as you were able to, the truthful story of your entire life warts and all. And that’s where trust was built, because once you shared all that with people it turned into something really positive. It was a way to instantly increase mutual understanding and trust. We also regularly discussed ways in which we could help the community.
Can you tell us about some of the community work you did with TOPY?
Well there was a Dolphinarium in Brighton, which was just this vile 30 foot long concrete pool with nothing in it. There were so many chemicals in the water it was blinding the Dolphins and killing them, but rather than address the issue the owners would just quietly get rid of the corpses of the dead at night and replace them with new Dolphins. They would even give them the same names so people didn’t know what was going on. The place was making 1,500,000 pounds a year in the 90’s - that’s a lot of money!
What we decided to do was put our money where our mouth was and do something pro-active. We began to picket the Dolphinarium every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Rain or shine, we would be there to picket. No shouting, no aggression - we would just quietly stand. And when families came up to see what we were all about, we would just say “We know you want to take the children in and that they would really love to see some dolphins - but this isn’t really dolphins. It is animals being maltreated and killed for profit”, then we’d hand them a little leaflet that explained our position.
In just over a year we closed it down, and with contacts we made with animal rights groups, we were able to raise the funds to fly the two surviving dolphins to the Caicos Islands. There they were trained to catch food and brought back to health before being released into the wild. We did all that without a budget - just with belief in what we were doing, and the belief you can change things. Ironically, all of this good work was being done immediately before you were raided and shut down by the police. Can you tell us about that?
Well there is one thing the Tories hate to lose control of, and that’s their source of money. When the police did come, it was because they didn’t like our lifestyle and they thought we were trouble makers. In particular, me being the figurehead, they assumed I must be a bad person. Part of the reason given by the Police for the raid was that you supposedly had a basement where you performed Satanic rituals and the like, is that correct?
(Eruption of laughter)
Yes, isn’t that ridiculous? We were living on a hill of chalk in Brighton. When we decided we wanted a Koi Carp pond with a couple of fish in it, it took myself and several people helping on the weekends literally two or three months to pickaxe out the smallest possible pool we could make for them. To make a basement you would have had to blow the hill up! It was bedrock!
It was all just a ploy, both to scandalise us and alienate the general public from what we were doing. And of course, they never mentioned the good work we were doing. Every Sunday we had a shop in the park where everything was free. People would just take what they wanted. Stuff we didn’t need, stuff we didn’t have to have or that wasn’t relevant. We gave it away.
We were also working with the TOPY network to regularly ship off huge loads of clothes to Kathmandu so the children had something to wear in winter. Then when we went there to visit in person, we began a soup kitchen at the monistary. Every morning at 5am we would get up and go with the children to the Stupa, cook rice and dhal on big open fires, and anyone who came would eat and be given clean drinking water twice a day. This was all done using our funds.
So for three months or so we fed beggars, lepers and refugees twice a day. While we were doing that, we were being accused of performing Satanic rituals in our non-existent basement (laughs). It was a pretty weird and devastating thing to have happen.
And they’ve still got all of your work and property they confiscated during the raid, haven’t they? They kept everything and they’ve always refused to let us know what happened to it. The one thing that bothered me the most was that my two children suddenly couldn’t go home; they couldn’t see their grandparents, they couldn’t see their school friends. Every photograph of them growing up was taken and destroyed, so overnight they suddenly had nothing. For a kid of 6 or 8, that’s worse than a divorce because you don’t just lose a parent, you lose everything.
Very Christian behaviour, then?
They’re not real Christians. Even Christ said the Old Testament is wrong, but what do the fundamentalists quote when they want to justify themselves? The Old Testament.
He said you don’t need temples and churches, for God lives within each of you. So what do they do? They build huge monoliths and get as much money as they can. What did the Christ figure do? Throw out his money. So are they Christians? Doubtful.
I know you were only here for a short time in Australia back in 2012, but what were your impressions? To be honest, as a person who grew up in England, it reminded me a lot of England in the 50’s and the very early 60’s - as if it had been frozen in time. There’s almost this sense of hesitation in the culture.
One of the problems, as I’m sure everyone in Australia would know, is distance. It’s a huge distance for people from the USA and Western Europe to travel, so it’s a big commitment to get there. And it’s expensive. We were asked to go many times, but when you’ve got six musicians and someone doing video, the cost becomes incredible really fast. So it’s a big deal just to set up one or two gigs, and that’s probably what has put Australia into a bubble.
Your work was considered shocking and vulgar to a lot of people just a couple of decades ago, but is now being collected by some of the most prestigious art establishments in the world. How does this backflip by the art community make you feel?
For us there has been an amazing irony over the last couple of decades. We had a show in 1976 called Prostitution at the ICA in London, which caused one of many national scandals (laughs). The main thing that freaked them out was a sculpture that was made using used tampons. One of them was an art deco clock, and we had taken out all the works and put a month’s worth of used tampons in it and called it It’s That Time of the Month. They said we were ruining society. We thought they were just witty little silly jokes, but the British parliament and the police thought these things were threatening the entire fabric of the world. Well last year the Tate Britain - not the Tate Modern, I’m talking the old establishment version of the Tate Modern - bought my archive. And when they bought it, they said “Do we get the tampon boxes?”. They’ve been exhibited in the Tate Britain, the Barbican and various other museums all over Europe as a seminal piece of art. Vindication!
Do you think it’s possible for artists to shock audiences anymore? People probably won’t believe me, but I’ve never tried to shock anyone. I have just never censored what we want to discuss. When scumbag journalists for bad newspapers can write whatever they want in order to make a profit, we think artists should be able to say whatever they want too.
The important thing is that you truly invest everything you’ve learnt so far, in terms of wisdom, into whatever art you make. Inevitably, sometimes you’ll assemble something that will resonate beyond all expectation - positive or negative.