Your cart contains 0 Items

Sex, Art and Music

MIISTA
MIISTA

In the 1970s, musician and artist Cosey Fanni Tutti radicalised the relationship between music and art through her band Throbbing Gristle and her live performances in working men’s clubs. Now, she’s an icon of electronic music, outsider art, and the women who have been left behind in its legacy. Here, she sits down with Dazed and Confused Fashion Features Editor Emma Davidson for a frank discussion on music, art and everything in between.

MIISTA
MIISTA

Action, Hayward Gallery, 1979 - Image Courtesy Cosey Fanni Tutti

“Sometimes I’d just wear nothing, or I’d end up wearing nothing, but I’d often use material to bind things"

With the lights turned down and the volume turned up, switching on Delia
Derbyshire’s seminal album Electrosonic is like stepping into another dimension. At first a disjointed and occasionally jarring series of static bleeps punctuated by long echoing silences, by the time
track three or four kicks in it’s as if you’ve been swallowed by the cosmos, as the music crackles and fizzes through the limbs and works its way around the body like an electrical current. Discombobulated drum beats, dreamy, pulsating organ interludes, and hiccuping staccato strings loop endlessly over ASMR-inducing field recordings and samples created using the most unlikely of objects, all part of an album that laid the blueprint for electronic music as we now know it.

Though Derbyshire’s impact and influence can be heard in tracks by some of today’s most revered electronic artists, from Aphex Twin and Arca, to Burial, Orbital, and more, her name is little known beyond the most nerdy of music circles. Along with the likes of Laurie Spiegel, who patented one of the earliest music software programs, and Daphne Oram, pioneer of the Oram Sounds movement and ‘godmother of electronic sound’, their names have been relegated to little more than a footnote in music history. That is, until recently.

Released almost in tandem earlier this year came two films. Feature-length documentary Sisters With Transistors told the story of a number of these trailblazing musicians, while BBC4’s Delia Derbyshire: Myths and Legendary Tapes aimed to finally give Derbyshire her flowers.

Tracing her steps from working class Coventry girl, to Cambridge scholar, to the moment
she secured a job creating soundscapes for the BBC – where she would go on to compose Dr. Who’s immediately recognisable and enduring theme tune – Myths and Legendary Tapes was scored by equally boundary-pushing musician Cosey Fanni Tutti. Using Derbyshire’s own music as a starting off point, the fearless Throbbing Gristle frontwoman pieced together new arrangements as part of what
she calls “an incredibly important project”.

MIISTA
MIISTA

Cosey Fanni Tutti, Mail Art, 1973 - Image Courtesy Cosey Fanni Tutti

“Delia’s always been part of my life, it’s just that, to start with, I had no idea it was her – she’s been rattling around in my psyche for a long, long time,” the musician reveals over the phone. “I’m not someone that takes someone’s musical style as a starting point or inspiration for my own, but I really appreciate the originality of what she did, and what a genius she was, given the time she was producing the sounds that she did. I suppose I think of her as a bit of a like-minded spirit.” 

 So great was Tutti’s respect for Derbyshire, that she and partner Chris Carter dedicated 2013 track “Coolicon” to the musician – creating the rambunctious sounds that punctuate the record, in true Delia style, by using a retro-futuristic green lamp as a instrument for experimentation. 

When it came to the film’s soundtrack, however, Tutti insists she didn’t want to put her own stamp on something that was supposed to be about Derbyshire. Heading up to Manchester, where the Delia Derbyshire archive is situated, she immersed herself in Derbyshire’s tapes. “I’ve been to archives before that are very stuffy and precious, but John Rylands (Library) was totally different,” she reveals. “Everyone was so respectful and hands on with Delia’s work, which is probably exactly how she’d want them to be.” 

It’s perhaps not surprising that Tutti feels a kinship with Derbyshire. As part of confrontational Hull art collective COUM Transmissions, and later avant-garde industrialists Throbbing Gristle, the musician and performance artist has also grappled with patriarchal constraints across the course of her half-century-long career. Channelling her forays into sex work into her art – from stripping off and simulating sex on stage, to urinating on the audience at sold-out gigs – until it became impossible to differentiate where one stopped and the other began, controversy followed Tutti and Throbbing Gristle wherever they went (“Not that I gave a shit,” she laughs down the line). 

Though the controversy often overshadowed the group’s actual music, Tutti and Throbbing Gristle’s colossal impact on music cannot be overstated. If Daphne Oram and Delia Derbyshire birthed electronic sound, the band picked up where they left off and sprinted with it through the late 70s and into the early 80s – laying the groundwork, in part, for the industrial, experimental, and glitching techno that dominates the scene today. 

I ask, then, if she thinks the whole package would have been better received were they to drop it in 2021, when attitudes towards sex and gender are more positive than they once were. “They’re not though, are they?” she responds. “I don’t think it would be that different – we’ve come a long way since the 70s, but I do get the sense we’re going backwards, which isn’t a good thing. So I think we’d get a very similar response, only via social media instead of newsprint.” She pauses, laughing wryly: “But I’d still do whatever I wanted, of course.” 

“It was important I was in the zone when I was doing songs about the dangers of sex or the enjoyment and the pain and the love of sex”

Another arena where Tutti has long done what she wanted is fashion. Unsurprisingly, as is usually the case when a person is considered something of a style icon, it’s not something she’s ever taken particularly seriously. “It’s always just reflected my life and what I was doing at the time,” she tells me. “I was very into Mary Quant and Chelsea Girl and all those things until I was about 15 or 16 when I became less bothered. I was quite lucky, because my mum taught me how to make things myself. I couldn’t wait to become different from everyone else, rather than be the same.” 

Her stage looks, however, are a different story. Decked out in fetishistic, skintight latex, studded leather bras, PVC corsets, and rubber hotpants, the (often homemade) costumes Tutti wore were intrinsic to her performances and served to further push the boundaries of sexuality, gender, and the body. 

“Sometimes I’d just wear nothing, or I’d end up wearing nothing, but I’d often use material to bind things – my legs would be bound, for example, which rendered them objects and introduced them as part of the performance, so my body was part of the presentation,” she explains. “We (Throbbing Gristle) also wanted to present as an industrious, disciplined unit, which is why there was a kind of uniformity to what we wore on stage – which also neutralised gender.”

Later, as Throbbing Gristle disbanded and Carter Tutti found their feet, the duo’s gigs in fetish clubs informed Tutti’s looks. “It was important I was in the zone when I was doing songs about the dangers of sex or the enjoyment and the pain and the love of sex,” she says. 

Notably it’s mostly clothing from this era that the musician has kept tucked away in her wardrobe and storage. “I have all my stripping costumes, and some of the fetish gear as well,” she adds. “I actually went back to look at some of them and latex rots down, so I’m just left with this backing, with all the buckles and studs and whatever else in place, which in itself is quite nice.” 

I (selfishly) suggest that, given a biopic based on her 2017 autobiography Art Sex Music is currently in the works, now might be a good time to put her costumes on show as part of an exhibition. “We did actually include a few pieces in the TG24 exhibition, including a pair of blue Nike running shorts I wore in a Throbbing Gristle promo shot,” she responds. “I was standing there looking into the case, and a girl came up and stood next to me and said ‘Did you really wear those?’ And I said ‘Yes, why?’ and I suddenly realised how tiny they were. I had no idea how small I was, and actually, I didn’t really care,” she laughs.

As well as the upcoming biopic, Tutti isn’t quite ready to let go of Delia Derbyshire. Landing next spring comes a new book which dives into the creative bonds that unite her, Derbyshire, and 15th century visionary mystic Margery Kemp. “When I was researching for the soundtrack, I picked up this autobiography, The Book of Margery Kemp, in a little bookshop,” she says. “The more I read up on each of them, the more surprised I was by how our worlds intertwined, and how we had all had to fight against society’s expectations of how we should be.” 

MIISTA
MIISTA

Cosey Fanni Tutti, Sex un Bonne Idee, 1975 - Image Courtesy Cosey Fanni Tutti