Epilogue: JG Thirlwell’s inspiration

JG Thirlwell by Scott Irvine 2006

Since my first post was about how JG Thirlwell inspired me, it seemed only fitting to let the Foetus man have the last word. 


I’m sorry to see Princess Stomper’s entertaining blog disappear and hope she continues her observations elsewhere. In light of the “inspired” theme of her blog, I was asked to comment on what inspires lately. You can get an idea of this by looking at my Tumblr blog, where I make entries about cultural events that I’ve experienced and other stuff.

But I’d like to comment on the fertile community of artists in NYC that work outside of the gallery system, and create unselfishly for the love of it, and in doing so have created their own cosmos. Continue reading

Taped crusader: my cluttered collection of cassettes

I’ve had a pile of cassette tapes gathering dust for maybe 15 years. I figured it was time to go through them. Sorting through some old belongings, I discovered an old walkman that still worked. Bingo! What would be on these dusty old tanglers? I was mostly hoping to find a phone interview I did with Nivek Ogre, or a face-to-face with Fear Factory, neither of which saw the light of day thanks to a mishap in a house move. They must have been in the other pile of tapes, which got damaged. Nope. On this one, I found …


It’s in a Smashing Pumpkins sleeve, but is actually a bootleg of Ministry in 1994. I went through a brief phase of picking up dodgy tapes – cassettes and videos – from the Camden Market. The bloke on the stall claimed to be mates with Killing Joke, and said they let him onto the stage to stand at the side to get the best footage. I never bought one of his Killing Joke tapes, but I did walk away with Skinny Puppy’s 1986 Ain’t It Dead Yet and NIN in Dallas, 1990. I’m guessing this is from that market stall.

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#trendingtopics – Music Shuffle

From Facebook:
Time for another one of these.
Write down the first 25 random songs that come up on your MP3 player, iPod etc. I used Last.fm set to My Library station.
No cheating!
No editing!

I thought I’d give it a go, using Last.fm, just to see what would happen. I found it interesting because it was forcing me to listen to things that I hadn’t heard in a while or given a particularly fair listen, and playing things out of the context of how I usually hear them. There’s some good songs here …

1. Foetus – Verklemmt

Bit of a no-brainer for me, considering how much I’ve been listening to this lately. I find the video hard-going (made by Alex Winter from Bill & Ted, it’s got literally thousands of cuts), but it’s a great song from the album GASH.


2. The Kinks – Dead End Street

Ah, I never tire of this song. I used to play it a lot when I was unemployed and starving-broke, living in a miserable bedsit in one of the rougher parts of South London.


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Steroid Maximus – Ectopia

Q: I thought you were going to STFU about JG Thirlwell until HIDE came out.

A: Yes, but I got bored waiting and bought this instead. I liked it, and figured I should instruct you to run out now and buy it right away.

Q: Exactly how bored?

A: Well, while I was listening to it, I figured I’d draw a little picture of Thirlwell in Photoshop.

Q: You know that pic’s completely f***ing terrible, right?

A: Yes. I’ve never drawn anything electronically before, so I figured I’d teach myself to draw while listening to Ectopia.

Q: That’s some exquisite level of boredom. Pray, what possessed you to take up a new artform in which you have no experience and clearly not much aptitude?

A: JG Thirlwell is my muse: he makes me want to make things. Actually, he makes me want to hug kittens out of sheer joy whenever I hear the sweet, sweet noodlings of his creative brain. I need to buy a kitten just so I can exuberantly hug it. Only problem is that I don’t really like cats.

Q: I … see. And what does Thirlwell make of your obvious eccentricity?

A: Money, mostly. Buy this album, it’s very good.


JG Thirlwell: Hide and Seek (Foetus interview 2010)

JG Thirlwell - still from NYC Foetus

[This article was originally published by Brainwashed.com. I used the name Anna Station as an allusion to the Novation A-Station.]

If you’ve listened to music in the past 30 years, or even turned on your television, you’ve heard JG Thirlwell. He’s released over 40 records under 19 different identities. He’s the Venture Bros guy. The MTV Sports voiceover man. The remix king. Foetus, Steroid Maximus, Manorexia, Clint Ruin, Wiseblood, Baby Zizanie and DJ Otefsu. From no-wave to neoclassical, minimalism to math rock; JG Thirlwell makes noise sound like pop and classical sound like punk. From sound-sculpting with Nurse with Wound to remixing Pantera; from making a video with Karen O and Spike Jonze to writing symphonies for robots, Thirlwell has been around.

The gorgeous, pouting redhead swigging wine from the bottle in 1996 was not JG Thirlwell. It looked like him, sure, but this guy was all swaggering excess and seductive charm; the real JG Thirlwell is shy, cultured and softly-spoken. He’d made the switch several years before, but now the impostor had taken over. Fuelled by acid and alcohol, he had blistered his way across the various scenes of the ’80s and ’90s until almost destroyed by his own myth. JG Thirlwell is back now, and has spent the past decade making better music than ever. With a new album, HIDE, out next month, Thirlwell has agreed to tell all: about the man I met, about the man he is, and about the extraordinary music they’ve made between them.



James George Thirlwell was born on 29 January, 1960 in Melbourne. He’s often called “Jim” but goes by “JG.” He spent 12 years at an all-boys Baptist school and hated it so much that he excelled for fear of being held back. He became withdrawn and antisocial – describing himself once as “a s***head” – and sought comfort in books, art and music.

When was the first time you remember really enjoying music?

JGT: My first musical memory is singing Viva Las Vegas to a little girl called Viva in kindergarten. I must have been three years old.

Who do you still love listening to now who you enjoyed hearing as a child?

JGT: I used to love The Monkees, particularly Mickey Dolenz’s smokin’ big band number Goin’ Down. The Monkees was the first group I ever saw, in Melbourne in about 1968.

JG’s Scottish mother took him to the UK from time to time, and he felt more at home here than Australia, where he felt culturally isolated. At 16, he graduated and spent two years at Art College where he found himself training as a teacher instead of the course in graphic design he had intended to take. Frustrated and unhappy, he amused himself with low-level mischief before fleeing to London, where his mother had once studied music. He’d packed a couple of bags, told his parents he was taking a vacation, and didn’t return.

JGT: I haven’t been there in over 30 years and I don’t miss that country. I will no doubt visit one day. I’ve never actually been invited to perform there but Kronos Quartet played the first piece I wrote for them there last year.

It was 1978 when JG arrived in London and found work as a buyer for Virgin Records. Through this he was able to keep a close eye on all new releases, as well as obtaining sound files and soundtracks on vinyl for use in samples. Example: he put a voice clip of Vincent Price on two tape loops to play back in and out of phase, Steve Reich style. He began chopping up tape clips and making charts of what pitch they’d form if he played them back at different speeds; a DIY primitive sampler.

Minimalist experimental acts like Reich, John Cage and Phillip Glass were his main inspiration, along with the post-punk acts of the day – but Thirlwell’s heart seems to be in classical music (particularly Bartok and Penderecki). He’s always claimed he “can’t really play anything well,” but he seems to compose well enough these days: he writes the music electronically and then sometimes works with an arranger to generate the score for each instrument.

On the documentary NYC Foetus (part of the LIMB release), it’s suggested that you like the impersonality of classical music. What made you decide to make (for want of a better term) rock music instead?

JGT: I never said I think classical music is impersonal, I think [sound engineer] Martin Bisi said that. I don’t think classical music is impersonal at all; I think it can be highly emotional. Just listen to the closing of Stravinsky’s Firebird – there won’t be a dry eye in the house! I don’t just make one style of music.

JG was particularly excited about post-punk experimentalism. He was inspired by the DIY ethic of the time – the tools to make your own music were available and anyone could do it if they had the ideas. He regularly went to see bands such as Throbbing Gristle, Joy Division, Wire, Scritti Politti, and Nick Cave’s group, The Birthday Party. At first he played with PragVEC and Nurse With Wound, but then sought to create his own music.

In 1980, he set up his own Self Immolation label and eventually forged a manufacturing and distribution deal with the fledgling Rough Trade to put out his records – each released under a variant of “Foetus” (Foetus Under Glass, You’ve Got Foetus On Your Breath, etc.) – a word he loved for its baffling taboo status and weird spelling, as well as its connotations of potential. Around this time he began working with Einstürzende Neubauten, financing and helping to assemble Stratagien Gegen Arkitekturen Volume 1. As his own manager, agent and publicist (as well as performing all the instruments and designing the sleeve art), he created the aliases to make the idea of selling his music more palatable. As he told in NYC Foetus, he didn’t want to be touting his music to people saying, “Please will you play my record?”

On the press releases he wrote, he pretended Foetus was Frank Want, Phillip Toss and two Brazilian statistics collectors; he claimed Scraping Foetus off the Wheel was Frank Want and Clint Ruin. Frank Want is credited on releases by Orange Juice and The The. (Matt Johnson’s one of his closest friends: he’s performed with The The playing synthesizer, guitar and even the kitchen sink.) These characters were inspired by the mythology The Residents built up surrounding their releases, and his early press releases advised “the Foetus family prefers to retain a degree of anonymity so the observer can have no preconceptions about the music via the appearance of the perpetrator, the artefact must be judged on merit alone…”

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Adventures in Music: Last.fm

Pandora always had the sense to see that my taste wasn’t “industrial” or “rock” or “pop”, but “songs with strong hooks and elements of electronica, featuring syncopated rhythms, in predominantly minor keys, with strong vocals and extensive vamping”.

It’s all moot now, though, because Pandora stopped streaming to the UK a couple of years back, which means we just have Last.fm, and Last.fm streams by genre. That means that a fan of NIN must automatically like Stabbing Westward (not really!); that if you like Blur then you have to like Oasis (*shudder*); and heaven forbid you type in Gwen Stefani unless you really want to listen to Fergie (and, let’s face it, most people don’t).

Still, I thought I’d give it another go yesterday on the recommendation of a friend, and installed their ‘scrobbling’ tool, which rummages through your record collection to dig out the stuff you really actually listen to. Wow! Have I really listened to Foetus over 280 times in the past month? OK, then: let’s see what “Foetus Radio” throws up. I read on Twitter that one person hated their Foetus station on Pandora because “it didn’t know which style to pick”. That, my dear, is precisely the point …

Jarboe – Red
I don’t even know how to begin to classify this, except that I could definitely listen to more. It reminds me a bit of Ruby – or more specifically, of when Silverfish’s Lesley Rankine was singing for Pigface: just abrasively feisty female vocals over searing breakbeats.

Steroid Maximus – Chaiste
Hooray! Quentin Tarantino wrote a soundtrack! OK, technically it’s JG Thirlwell, but it’s what would happen if QT did write soundtracks.

The Damage Manual – Sunset Gun



I saw this lot live once – accomplished my dream of walking up to Jah Wobble and saying, “Mr Wobble: may I shake you by the hand?” (He obliged). They sound exactly what you think ex-Killing Joke members fronted by Chris Connelly would sound like. One of those promising bands where nobody can quite work out why they weren’t enormous.


Nurse With Wound – Wash The Dust From My Heart
I had a lot of preconceptions about what a seminal goth-industrial band ought to sound like: unfavourable enough to ignore them, at any rate. They’re actually very good – quite mellow and listenable, and not at all what I was expecting. It actually reminds me of dreamy Creation act The Telescopes – that very warm double-bass sound and lazy jazz aesthetic.
Chris Connelly – July
OMG! I had totally forgotten this album existed! I probably have it in the attic somewhere. I still know all the words. Connelly impersonates David Bowie over a pared-down indie-rock guitar sound. Good song.
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