I first glimpse Chris Carter, legendary British synth innovator, with Cosey Fanni Tutti, the mother of dark, industrial music, in their converted Norfolk schoolhouse. Spook the cat is snoozing on their sofa and Chris is ensconced in the studio. “He’s putting together his stuff for a gig tonight,” says Cosey, in her velvety, Northern, authorative voice – and despite Chris’ welcoming grin, that’s me told to let the man alone with his art.
These lovers, known for their fizzing and questing synth-pop as Chris & Cosey and the seminal industrial sounds of Throbbing Gristle, have worked, loved and raised a son (and now grandson) between them.
Previously associated with fellow pioneer, Genesis P-Orridge, who is now a third gender, the two have pursued individual and group projects. They recently released new album, ‘Triumverate’, as Carter Tutti Void, with guitarist Nik Colk Void, by turns driven, breathless and chunky.
The capacity of Chris and Cosey to respond to a collaborator or live crowd remains unleashed yet controlled – as I discovered, leaping on a banquette next to our Resident DJ Caoimhe Lavelle, at their sold-out summer gig, this year, at Manchester’s Band on The Wall. Live synths, drumming sequences, basslines and Cosey’s french horn revved their familiar material towards precipitous dance grooves, responding both to their 5 weeks of rehearsing for the UK’s leading city of house music and to the ecstatic energy of their fans.
Together, they are gentle, humorous and practical, Cosey immediately settling me with another cushion for my injured spine. For someone who’s negotiated gender roles, whether posing as a porn model in situationist art, or in her relationship with Genesis, Cosey’s attitude to inclusivity, growing up in white, post-war, Council Estate Hull, fascinates me. We discuss how she viewed boys and girls growing up, before later discussing, with Chris and Nik, the female and masculine forces of Carter Tutti Void.
COSEY: There was one little boy called Paul who was fostered in the street next to me. He was black and I remember – I’ve still got it upstairs – one Christmas, when I was asked what I wanted from Father Christmas, I said, a little black doll. My sister never got one. I related to Paul, he was my friend, but none of my other friends were of colour. And I had a big baby doll from a display in a baby shop and it was a boy doll, which you didn’t normally get. So, I had a boy doll and two little dollies and they were all friends and that’s interesting because I was inclusive from a very early age.
“I was crossing over gender roles from a young age” – Cosey Fanni Tutti.
It might have been to do with my dad bringing back beautiful dark marble
statues from India (of Ganesh and Shiva). I was fascinated with them. My mind was open to that – nothing like that on a council estate in Hull. My cousin would visit and he’d play with my dolls and I’d play with his cars. I was crossing over gender roles from a very young age.
The Demented Goddess: In Carter Tutti Void, you’re one man and two women. Who’s the leader, or does it change according to what you’re composing?
CHRIS: There isn’t a leader… it’s a democratic collaboration. It’s true that most of the tunes we played began with one of my rhythms, so I guess you could say I usually lead the way into the process of building a track. But that’s only a starting point for the track to take on a life of its own. From that initial point on it’s always equal input from each of us.
(DG): The electronic music you make together is dark yet transcendental. Which of you three tends to drive your sounds into the darkest territory and what’s the attraction?
CHRIS: Personally I don’t think it is any single influence but probably a combination of the different tones and textures each of us brings to the mix. We each have an untapped darker industrial component to what we do – in our other projects and within CTV – and that seems to come to the surface more readily in CTV.
“There isn’t a leader” – Chris in the studio, by Cosey.
COSEY: I have a tendency …I am driven to dig deep and dark and dirty when I’m creating in the studio or playing live, especially with CTV. Tapping into inner powerful energy, exorcising as a call for response, to communicate and ‘converse’ by using sounds that evoke both a physical and emotional reaction. It’s all about sharing and co-creating the moment in a given situation.
DG: Are there any sounds, BPMs, or instruments – horns, guitars, drums – that bring a more Thor-like, or bullish, feel to your creations?
CHRIS: Guitars. There’s something unique and unpredictable when you put two experimental guitarists (Cosey and Nik) together because they don’t play like regular rock guitarists. Maybe it’s a gender thing but there’s no posturing, they don’t have anything to prove, so instead you get these amazing tones weaving a texture that you won’t often find in other guitar based bands.
COSEY: I’d say the guitars, too. They’re raucous, unapologetically strident, take no prisoners. I also have a bank of sounds that I manipulate and put through effects and use these to emphasise the raw power of the rhythms or place as counter rhythms.
NIK COLK VOID: I play the guitar with extended techniques using bows and sticks with effects which can produce some deep tones and ear defying high tones. When Chris produces rhythms that become denser I tend, as a reaction, to use either the bow or drum stick to create a counter rhythm on the body of my guitar. This can become quite physical and in a way ‘bullish’. The harder and speedier the hits, it’s like hitting a drum; crazy feedback occurs which can become intense.
Nik Colk Void by Georg Gatsas: “I felt a detachment, playing in the normal way, as it verged on the masculine.”
I’m not into conventionally playing my guitar, I think this is why Chris and Cosey asked me to join them. I felt a detachment, playing in the normal way, as it verged on the masculine. As soon as I began to unlearn and harness a more performative way to make my sound, the door opened. I see it as a tool of expression and voice.
DG: In your experience, which of the genders is most perfectionist?
CHRIS: Well, I don’t see being a perfectionist as dependent on gender, surely it’s more of a personality trait. And one I admit I suffer from, to a degree.
DG: There are powerful female bassists, like Kim Gordon, Gail Ann Dorsey and Ida Neilson; pianists like Nina Simone and Kate Bush; and drummers, like Daisy Palmer (Goldfrapp) and Sheila E. However, synths seem to go beyond gender; once you start changing frequencies and voices, you can reach an immense freedom of form. You guys are well-known to improvise and leave in ‘errors’ – much like Bowie and Eno. How do you compress freedom with exploration – when do all three of you know you’ve bagged a finished piece?
COSEY: I’ve never asked myself such questions as they’ve never entered my mind as to whether (as a woman) synths and software gave me more freedom. I’ve always embraced a free approach that in itself is all about exploration. I see no other way to be as a person or artist. As for knowing when a piece is finished… sometimes it’s so glaringly obvious, as in it just feels ‘complete’ and can happen surprisingly quickly. Other times you have to work through the ‘resistance’ and allow the piece to take form, especially with CTV which is all about ebb and flow and not tweaking to perfection. The ‘errors’ are important, they are where our presence is felt and heard, there is no ‘fault’ sonically or personally.
NIK: I don’t see mistakes, just diversions that can take me to someplace new. When we first got together we began playing almost straight away without any preconceived ideas, plans – we get into a transient headspace and begin to fly. After experiencing this, most endings seem to happen naturally.
Carter Tutti Void were talking to Soma Ghosh.
Follow on Cosey, Nik, Chris and Carter Tutti Void on Twitter: @nikvoid,@coseyfannitutti,@chris_carter_,@cartertuttivoid
Follow Soma: @calcourtesan