Psychic TV’s “Black Joy” is a visually-arresting experience, a swirling cut-up musical collage

By on November 2, 2017

Psychic TV’s Black Joy — now streaming in our Concert section over on Night Flight Plus — is a collaboration between Genesis P-Orridge and band and filmmaker Karen Bentham, capturing them at the zenith of their psychedelic “acid house” dance phase.

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Described by some as a video masterpiece, the resulting film — previously available on two separately-sold VHS tapes — is a visually arresting sonic/aural experience, a swirling cut-up style musical collage intercut with additional video SFX.

This collaborative work was originally created years before Genesis P-Orridge met Lady Jaye, with whom s/he would attempt to become one being through the Pandrogeny Project, which you can read more about here.

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The Black concert footage — shot during their acid house phase on their Towards Thee Infinite Beat tour at the Subterrania Club in London, circa March ’91 — was originally intended for use during their concert tour in Japan the following year.

The concert footage for Joy originated with a live show at Manchester Poly in October 1988, and was intended to be used in a music video.

Genesis and the band essay a number of Psychic TV tunes, including “Candy Says,” “Arcadia,” “R U Experienced,” and more.

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Karen Bentham filmed the promotional video for “RU Experienced” in English film director Derek Jarman’s beautiful post-modern Prospect Garden retreat, located on the shore near Dungeness nuclear power station in Kent, England.

Psychic TV had provided the soundtrack music for several of Jarman’s films, including Pirates, a film about William S. Burroughs, and Jarman directed a 90-minute film, La edad D’or, about Psychic TV’s ideas for Spanish National Television (TVE), which was filmed in Barcelona and Cadaques, Spain, on the beach near Salvador Dalí‘s house.

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William S. Burroughs and Genesis P-Orridge, Duke Street, 1973 (photo by Johnny Brady)

All of this footage was spliced together — like much of P-Orridge’s creative endeavors over the last four decades, beginning with the industrial sound collages of Throbbing Gristle — by applying Brion Gysin and William S. Burroughs’ literary cut-up technique.

Read more about Psychic TV below.

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Genesis P-Orridge burning hair with “Sleazy” Peter Christopherson for a Psychic TV poster

Psychic TV were a video art-enhanced music collective created, in 1982, in the wake of the punk and industrial music countercultural revolutions.

Genesis P-Orridge — the group’s central figurehead, artist and provocateur — formed the group with “Sleazy” Peter Christopherson after the June 1981 demise of their previous band Throbbing Gristle.

They were noted for their cropped haircuts (no more than an eighth of an inch) and an identifiable band symbol, consisting of a vertical stroke, and three slightly shorter, equidistant strokes through its middle, looking something like a triple cross.

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Throbbing Gristle

They were initially joined by Alex Fergusson of Alternative TV, as well as P-Orridge’s then-wife Paula, Current 93’s David Tibet and Marc Almond.

As for their name, Psychic TV did not accept the preoccupations of institutionalized television, with its assumptions about entertainment and value, and as the “first step towards deprogramming the viewer,” they used visual TV and video screen backdrops onstage, showing footage of rituals, genital piercing and other collage-style montages.

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They were dedicated to transgressive arts and the Occult, and musically fully intended to pick up where Throbbing Gristle had left off, creating an “anti-cult” that drew upon on “the tenets of provocation, transgression, and the DIY ethos to form an internationally reaching network bound together by an esoteric sensibility.”

They strove “to transcend the normative constructs of culture, sexuality, order, and reason, examine and undermine systems of power, and reach ecstatic states of being.”

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Along with initiates from Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth (TOPY), P-Orridge and Christopherson’s alarming new propaganda-spewing musical collective was meant to act “as a catalyst and focus for the Individual development off all those who wish to reach inwards and strike out.”

Psychic TV’s debut album, 1982’s Force the Hand of Chance (Some Bizarre), explored man’s cruelty, perversion and his relentless self-destructive nature through a mix of enhanced audio hellaciousness and stunning visuals (both film and performance theatre).

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Their debut album was followed by Dreams Less Sweet (CBS) and the first of many Psychic TV live albums, NY Scum Haters (they would ultimately end up in the Guinness Book of Records for the mind-boggling collection of live albums they released).

Psychic TV would eventually find a few of their recordings placing high on the UK Indie charts, with “Roman P” (#13 UK Indie) and their Unclean EP, which charted at #12 on the same chart.

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In April of 1986 they managed to chart at #1 on the UK Indie chart with “Godstar,” dedicated to the late Rolling Stones founder and multi-instrumentalist Brian Jones (#67 UK Singles), and their remarkably faithful cover of the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” charted #65 UK.

In 1988, Psychic TV began veering more and more into the techno dance arena, charting with “Tune In (Turn On) to the Acid House” (#8 UK Indie). P-Orridge is generally given credit for coming up with the term “acid house.”

Psychic TV formally disbanded in 1997.

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A film titled A Message From the Temple is, we think, still being assembled after achieving backing via Kickstarter, and it promises to be the first official authorized documentary about Thee Temple Of Psychick Youth, tracing its influences and inception to its dramatic downfall and enduring legacy while exploring TOPY’s 1981-1991 period through interviews and archive footage.

The film is being directed by Jacqueline Castel (who curated the Genesis Breyer P-Orridge archives at London’s Tate Britain).

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Until the documentary arrives, we have Black Joy, a vivid and colorful reminder that Psychic TV were one of the more visually-arresting, chemically-altered musical collectives, especially during the late ’80s and early ’90s. You’ll find it streaming over on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.