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Weaponized Pleasure: Psychic TV Plays SF Pride 

Wednesday, Jun 22 2016
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"Don't think of it as a jam band," Genesis P-Orridge pleads with me.

"The songs are very tightly structured, but there are segments that are improvised, just like jazz."

No one with even the most casual knowledge of Psychic TV would categorize the anti-authoritarian, post-punk-by-way-of-psychedelic-rock art project as a cousin of The String Cheese Incident, but P-Orridge and their bandmate Edley ODowd (aka Morrison Edley) are fretting. The job of condensing what ODowd calls their "improvisational journey" into 45 minutes — their allotted time on Pride's main stage (Sunday, June 26, at 2:45 p.m.) — might be a challenge when they're accustomed to playing for two hours or more.

"Some of our songs are 25 minutes," P-Orridge says. "We're going to play some of the more poppy things, not necessarily simpler lyrics, but a friendly approach, so people can go, 'Oh wow, I didn't know they were that exciting and catchy, and I want to see them again.' Our audience is getting younger and younger."

P-Orridge, who uses plural pronouns, has a longstanding connection to San Francisco musical history. Their previous band, industrial music pioneers Throbbing Gristle, played its last show (before reuniting decades later) at Kezar Pavilion in 1981. Fans of T.G. should be warned, however: For musicians who've written — by their count — some 1,500 songs in total between them, their sets will be slanted toward the new, and away from the darkness.

"I think it's important to note that for the main stage, we're erring on the side of happy," ODowd says. "Because in light of what's going on in the world, we think it's important to put out the positive. This faction of Psychic TV was born out of a friendship between Gen and myself, and we just made a decision at one point that it was going to be fun."

"We've even had the slogan 'Pleasure Is a Weapon' on T-shirts," P-Orridge adds. "We've got mosh pits now of people that are grinning. They're kind of cuddling mosh pits, instead of shoving."

Psychic TV has been particularly active lately, having finished a new album, Alienist, that arrives Sept. 16, and ODowd plans to reissue the band's 1982 debut, Force the Hand of Chance, in August. (He prefers to keep mum about the details for now, but notes that it's the culmination of a four-year struggle with Warner Bros.)

Apart from music, P-orridge, whose partner in life and art, Lady Jaye, died in 2007, has been on the forefront of a revolutionary rethinking of gender for decades. (Genesis and Lady Jaye identified as a single individual, Breyer P-Orridge, as part of a project called Pandrogeny, in which they dressed alike and underwent surgeries to resemble one another more perfectly.) And more recently, at age 66, P-Orridge will be the new face of Marc Jacobs, displaying pin-curls that took four or five hours to complete.

I ask them if their understanding of gender has changed in the last five years.

"You're asking me to write a book in three sentences," they reply. "The short answer is absolutely."

While noting that it was "truly and absolutely unconditional love that led myself and Lady Jaye to want to merge" — and that it was Edley ODowd who introduced them — P-Orridge says that at bottom, their fusion of music and radical politics is really about laying waste to the oppression inherent in all binaries, unto the outermost ripples of space-time.

"What we're seeing right now is the thrashing of a social and political dinosaur as it withers and sees the end of its dominion," they say, "and that is in absolute contrast to what we want, which is an ongoing, guilt-free future where our main concern is the health and nurturing of the species, and then to apply that to entering space, colonizing space and possibly other dimensions. Who knows? But the ways they've been doing things for the last two or three thousand years just don't work, or we wouldn't be having wars every other day. Something is wrong with the way human beings are behaving, and it's not the general population."

It's a retro-futuristic message with appeal to contemporary stirrings of magick and the occult, no doubt. But in many ways, the members of Psychic TV are punks of the old-school, no fans of audience members who record their shows.

"It's personally very frustrating," ODowd says of people who hold their phones aloft. "People should let the moment be the moment and not try to document every single second."

"It's a very accelerated form of narcissism," P-Orridge says. "They're doing it to say 'I was there.' And it's not about I, it's about 'We were all there, and for a moment it felt like a band and us were one family unified in our intention amongst ourselves, all of us — people who run the building, the band, all of us — for a moment we're all equal again.' And that's a powerful message."

That's not to say they're bereft of empathy for awkward weirdos.

"It's always about reminding people just how much they lose by building these little cocoons around themselves so that they don't look uncool or get stared at as they dance weird," P-orridge says. "We were intimidated to the point of near-paralysis, and that's partly a strategy by the media and those behind the establishment — whether it's music, business, or anything else. We find that what we do really liberates and rejuvenates people's memory that they can do whatever they want. It doesn't matter if you wiggle and jerk around, because the music is what makes you want to do that. You can do it, and once one of you does it, so might someone next to you — and that's kind of a metaphor of changing the world, one person at a time."

Beyond extolling the virtues of losing yourself in an immersive musical experience, these self-described ecstatic mystics have one message, and that is not to wear black. That might not be a sticking point at San Francisco Pride, but by way of mock caution, P-Orridge relates a story of a "mini-rave" on the Thames they threw "round the same time the Sex Pistols did."

"Ours said on the invite, 'Altered states welcome, no one wearing black will be allowed entry to this event,' " P-Orridge says. "Up rolls The Clash and their little posse, and they're all in black, and our security people took great pleasure in refusing them entry. They had such put-on faces as we sailed away and left them."

It's unlikely that anyone will be turned away from a show whose performers want everyone to change the world, one kiss at a time.

"Come with an open mind, honey," P-Orridge says. "And lithe muscles."

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About The Author

Peter Lawrence Kane

Bio:
Peter Lawrence Kane is SF Weekly's Arts Editor. He has lived in San Francisco since 2008 and is two-thirds the way toward his goal of visiting all 59 national parks.

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