Named as Britain’s worst place to live in the 2003 book Crap Towns, Hull has regularly been the butt of jokes. The fact that the city voted overwhelmingly for Brexit in last year’s EU referendum probably hasn’t helped how some people view the place either. So it would have come as a surprise to many when they discovered that Hull would be the UK’s City of Culture for 2017, a year long festival of arts and culture which was inspired by Liverpool’s stint as European Capital of Culture in 2008.
Once a thriving port which served as a gateway to Europe for centuries, EU restrictions led to the sad collapse of Hull’s fishing industry during the 1970’s and 1980’s resulting in job losses and dislike of Brussels. What many don’t know is that the city has long been a haven for artists, with perhaps the most infamous of them all being the controversial Dadaist art collective COUM Transmissions. Founded by Genesis P-Orridge, they were labelled by one Conservative MP as “wreckers of civilisation” thanks to their challenging performances and exhibitions during the 1970’s.
When COUM disbanded, its core members went on to form industrial music pioneers Throbbing Gristle, who during their five years together from 1976-1981 would change the industry forever. Going beyond punk, the four-piece took the industrial aesthetic very seriously. Coining the slogan “industrial music for industrial people”, they earned a reputation for their dystopian, anti-commercial sound and for being uncompromising in their exploration of a range of taboo subjects. Although they reformed in 2004, they would separate again in 2010 after the death of Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson.
Carrying their legacy forward, Carter Tutti Void are a cross-generational collaboration between former Throbbing Gristle members Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti (aka Chris & Cosey), and Nik Void of Factory Floor, part of a new wave of “post-industrial” artists that have emerged in the past decade. After first coming together in 2011 to play an improvised set at Camden’s Roundhouse as part of Mute‘s Short Circuit Festival, playing live is not something the trio do all that often. So to be one of the no more than 250 people lucky enough to catch them at Fruit in Hull was something quite special.
Carter Tutti Void largely go about their work with Chris Carter creating the pulsing beats and repetitive rhythms that their sound revolves around, which Cosey Fanni Tutti and Nik Void then respond and react to (and each other) by manipulating guitars, electronics and vocals using various effects and other methods. It was an example of industrial techno at its finest, with mechanised grooves which build and gradually evolve over approximately 10-minute pieces that are filled with all manner of manipulated noise, some of it resembling a machine having a horrific nightmare.
Chris Carter barely looked up from the vast array of gadgets and gizmos laid out on the table in front of him. The other two reacted more on impulse, one example being where Cosey Fanni Tutti appeared to loop a mic tap which was then turned into a beat. Being the hometown girl, it was a particularly special occasion for Cosey Fanni Tutti, who helped curate the COUM Transmission art display housed a few doors down at the Humber Street Gallery, where the night prior she also hosted a reading of her forthcoming autobiography Art Sex Music. Cosey Fanni Tutti was particularly taken aback during the first real pause in their set when the audience broke into rapturous applause. It was something which was then repeated after each track until they left the stage.
Visually, the contributions of Nik Void were the most fun to watch, repeatedly stepping back from the table to face the audience as she manipulated her brown and white Telecaster with a drumstick, a bow and an array of effects pedals. It’s almost as if she operated in her own world, while at the same time being restricted by the oppressive beats and rhythms being served up, steel-like constructions which are capable of crushing almost anything in their path.
Although it’s difficult to name specific tracks with absolute certainty (each time they perform they sound different), there were several compositions which many didn’t recognise and could have been new material. There seemed to be something played which strongly resembled ‘V2’ from their 2012 debut Transverse, as well as tracks like ‘f (2.2)’ and ‘f (2.7)’ from their 2015 follow-up f (x). The press release which accompanied their second LP stated that it was “not for the fainthearted”. It’s a warning that packed even more of a punch when hearing their material in the flesh. An extremely powerful and immersive performance.