Genesis Breyer P-Orridge – Artist, performer, writer, musician
Born February 22, 1950; died March 14 2020
Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, who has died aged 70, was an artistic provocateur, whose taboo-busting actions helped kick-start a form of electronic primitivism that gave rise to a latter-day Noise scene. Breyer P-Orridge’s entire life was an artistic experiment, whether as part of performance art troupe, COUM Transmissions, as one-quarter of industrial auteurs Throbbing Gristle, or at the head of the more psychedelically inclined Psychic TV.
Breyer P-Orridge and COUM were denounced by Conservative MP Nicholas Fairburn as ‘wreckers of civilisation’. This followed the opening of Prostitution, COUM’s pornography-fused 1976 exhibition at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts. Prostitution also launched Throbbing Gristle, whose quartet of Breyer P-Orridge, Cosey Fanni Tutti, Peter ‘Sleazy’ Chrisopherson and Chris Carter produced a form of confrontational electronica that pioneered a genre named after the band’s record label, Industrial, before imploding in 1981.
In 1992, Breyer P-Orridge was exiled from the UK following false claims of ritual child abuse in a later discredited Channel 4 film. More recently, Breyer P-Orridge embarked with their wife, Lady Jaye Breyer P-Orridge, on the Pandrogyne Project, in which both underwent extensive body modification to become physically matching, non-gender specific beings. Following Lady Jaye’s passing in 2007, Breyer P-Orridge documented their life together in Life as a Cheap Suitcase (Pandrogeny and a Search for a Unified Identity), a major exhibition at Summerhall as part of Edinburgh Art Festival. It was as much act of devotion to Lady Jaye as art show.
In 2017, former partner and band-mate Tutti laid bare a darker view of Breyer P-Orridge in her acclaimed memoir, Art Sex Music. She outlined a manipulative and exploitative figure, allegedly capable of psychological and physical abuse. In one passage, Tutti described Breyer-P-Orridge dropping a concrete block from a balcony, missing her by inches as it smashed to the ground. Breyer P-Orridge dismissed the claims, though never formally challenged them.
Christened Neil Andrew Megson, the boy who would grow up to reinvent themself several times over was born in Manchester, and while at Solihull School became fascinated by the occult and avant-garde art. At Hull University, Megson produced counter-cultural magazines and organised sit-ins before dropping out to join the Transmedia Explorations commune in London.
Back in Hull, Breyer P-Orridge co-founded COUM, living communally and performing in local pubs. In 1973, Breyer P-Orridge and COUM came to Edinburgh care of Richard Demarco to perform their Marcel Duchamp inspired Art Vandals piece, in which guests at the event were engaged in conversation as performers spilt food onto the floor.
Breyer P-Orridge took part in a short-lived Throbbing Gristle reunion in 2009, performing their now lionised form of live-art music-theatre at Tramway in Glasgow before leaving the group.
In an interview with the Herald in 2014 prior to their Edinburgh exhibition, Breyer P-Orridge’s attitude went counter to their reputation.
“We live in a society that’s based on violence and war,” they said, “but what really matters is how you relate to other people. We should be being kind and compassionate, and discussing how we can be better people.”
Regarding their work, Breyer P-Orridge maintained that “we’ve never wanted to shock. We only ever wanted to seduce. That is the glue that holds everything together, romantic love, and the fear that you might never meet that perfect other half. But we were blessed.”
They are survived by their daughters, Caresse and Genesse, with former wife Paula Brooking, aka Paula P-Orridge.
The Herald, April 2nd 2020