Throbbing Gristle in a Box

Still functioning Gristleizer Unit from 1977

If you want to do your homework on which band or artist actually invented what we now euphemistically refer to as “Industrial” music, you’re going to have to dig past Trent Reznor and Skinny Puppy to get to the true pioneers of the genre, the ‘70s British quartet Throbbing Gristle. Talk about a sick band of geniuses. The first time I heard Throbbing Gristle’s “Hamburger Lady” it freaked me out so bad I had nightmares for 2 weeks. Throbbing Gristle’s music was something like the aural equivalent to today’s Asian horror cinema. If you’ve always wanted to know how these guys got their instruments to sound like implements of medieval torture, TG’s own Chris Carter explains his ground-breaking invention, the Gristleizer Industrial audio effects unit on the band’s website, Throbbing Gristle Dot Com.

Here’s an intriguing explanation of what the unit does from a 2004 interview with Carter on Planet Origo, which should give all you audiophile geeks out there a sonic boner:

“When I was about 12 years old I was given a “Young Scientist” electronics kit that included instructions and parts to build a basic radio, a small amp, a flashing lamp and so on, which I really enjoyed making. I then subscribed to Practical Electronics magazine and spent my pocket money buying electronic components to build the monthly projects. By the late sixties I was building synth circuits such as oscillators, filters, amps etc. from scratch . . .

When I joined TG I built an effect unit called a Gristleizer for each of us. This (now infamous) box of tricks consisted of a smallish metal case containing an LFO, VCF, VCA, a pre-amp, various front panel controls and LEDs. Certain settings on the Gristleizers were very distinctive and it’s often regarded as imparting one of TG’s trademark sounds. We used them on almost everything: synth, guitar, bass, violin, tapes, rhythms and of course on Genesis (P-Orridge’s) voice. The beauty of the Gristleizers was that its range of sounds was so extreme, which also meant it could sound completely different depending on the instrument. The sounds included slow modulated filtering, a metallic ring-modulation effect, clipped and fuzzed distortion and tremolo. At the time there was no other battery powered effect unit capable of such a wide and weird range of sounds. When TG finished I was constantly being asked by musicians to build more Gristleizers but it was something I only did for a few friends. Ultimately I built about 10 units in total but I know there are at least two (just about) working.”

Thanks to Boing Boing for the tip.

0 thoughts on “Throbbing Gristle in a Box”

  1. Fascinating reading, Gail!!

    I love getting rare insight into bands like Throbbing Gristle that don’t get nearly half the credit/notice that they should…

Leave a Reply