Cosey Fanni Tutti is best known as one-quarter of the seminal Throbbing Gristle, co-founder of Industrial Records, and pioneer of its eponymous style of music. Hindsight may be 20:20. But it also simplifies, especially when combined with rigid genre categories. At a casual backward glance, industrial music seems a direct offshoot of punk. Its shock tactics, iconography, and radicalism are further distillations of the spirit of ’77. But to regard industrial musicians only as avant-garde punks is to miss their enormous contributions to electronic music over the past forty years.
Cosey herself has been looking back. This album (her sophomore solo release) is from the same period as her autobiographical Art Sex Music (2017). As she mentions in the book, TG pulled steadily away from punk before the 1970s were over. They even approached synth-makers Roland (half-jokingly) for a sponsorship deal. We can only imagine how differently acid house might have turned out.
Comparable bands Current 93 and Death in June have since adopted acoustic, neofolk palettes. But the stalwarts of Throbbing Gristle were more often turning knobs and pushing buttons. Under banners including Psychic TV, Coil, and Chris & Cosey, their synthesisers more than their guitars have pulled the worlds of electropop, ambient music, and abstract electronica refreshingly off-axis. In many ways, Tutti feels like a logical, contemporary extension of the music Cosey has made with Chris Carter over numerous decades.
Despite this, Tutti is a surprise. This album is the closest Cosey’s music has come to thoroughgoing techno. The album is driven unarguably by beats, which range from thumping “four on the floor”, through an off-kilter two-step, and on to a subtle pulse. On tracks like “Tutti” and “Sophic Ripple”, her basslines recall Leftfield’s famous “Phat Planet” – a resemblance which makes these unexpected bangers. However, don’t overlook tracks such as “Moe”, with its cerebral techno core, and its swirling background noise of a record playing quietly in reverse. Elsewhere, we get drones, dark ambience, minimal beat structures, and scattered IDM abstractions.
Cosey remains connected to her industrial roots. In “Split,” a phantasmagorical overlay drifts into demonic laughter. “Heliy” features the eerie vocal samples characteristic of TG and of Cosey’s Time to Tell (1982). Cosey has fixated on the body and its limits – in her sex work (discussed illuminatingly in her memoir) as in TG’s imagery and performance art. It is fitting that parts of this album sound like the digestive, respiratory, and circulatory systems of the body mapped into a sequencer. But while TG’s Journey Through a Body (1982) is a torturous aural collage, Tutti is a meditative reflection on where Cosey’s art has been and where the legacy of industrial music can take us. (Samuel Rogers)