When Carter Tutti Void invited us to spend an afternoon at their remote rural HQ, it was an offer we couldn’t refuse. Two parts Throbbing Gristle to one part Factory Floor, the threesome made their recording debut with a live album recorded at their very first gig. Now there’s a second album, ‘f (X)’, a rare non-TG release on the seminal Industrial Records. And it’s an absolute corker

One afternoon in early 1978, I stood with Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti gazing through the kitchen window of their terraced house in Hackney, east London. Trains thundered frequently over the nearby railway bridge and Throbbing Gristle’s Death Factory loomed a threatening walk away in nearby Martello Street.

What had once been another street running behind the house was now a derelict bomb site, but they took great delight in pointing out the distinctive TG lightning flash defiantly sprayed amid the National Front graffiti on a crumbling opposite wall. At that time, Throbbing Gristle were the most dangerous band in the UK, punk-struck as it was. Their 1977 debut album, ‘Second Annual Report’, had been an unexpected success, selling out of its first pressing of nearly 800.

On an autumn afternoon nearly four decades later, I’m visiting Chris and Cosey again, this time to talk about their new outfit Carter Tutti Void, and we’re looking through another window at a very different view. Over 30 years ago, determined to bring up their son Nick in a better environment, the couple left London for a quiet Norfolk village and set about renovating an abandoned former school. Instead of Hackney’s urban wreckage, our gaze is greeted by a rich, green lawn stretching to the old school’s now converted toilet block, which is framed by flowering trees and Cosey’s vegetable garden.

Pastoral calm surrounds this idyllic domain, which still sported blackboards on the walls when they moved in and began turning it into their new home and the nerve centre of their activities ever since. The only surviving blackboard is now used for works in progress. Today it’s covered with paper to hide the top secret project they’re working on.

The front room is sparsely furnished but comfortable, housing a spectacular cabinet of toys and memorabilia Chris has acquired over the years, from Daleks to Kraftwerk promo items, while Cosey’s collection of cat ornaments are spread over an adjoining sideboard. To the right is their studio, where Chris, Cosey and the third member of Carter Tutti Void, Nik Colk Void from Factory Floor, create their music. Although Chris has sold his original 808 and other analogue antiquities, he still boasts a formidable electronic arsenal, including the Machinedrum that provides the beats on Carter Tutti Void’s new album, ‘f (X)’, the first non-Throbbing Gristle release on the fabled Industrial Records since 1981.

The very positive reaction to ‘f (X)’ has taken Chris, Cosey and Nik by surprise, especially as it was only selectively sent out online, with no high-profile promotion. A combination of glowing reviews and word-of-mouth buzz has led to history repeating itself as the first (white vinyl) pressing sold out sharpish. It might seem hard to believe the coruscating washes and spectral pulsings of ‘f (X)’ were created in this distinctly rural setting, but when you consider how Chris and Cosey have always remained gloriously isolated from the fleeting trends and shallow mundanities of the outside world, why wouldn’t it be recorded in a place like this? And speaking of places like this, Norfolk is also where Nik calls home. She was born and raised here, returning after a spell in the smoke, when she fell pregnant.

Chris, Cosey and Nik sit around the large table which dominates the light-filled country kitchen, ready to commence what turns into a hugely enjoyable two-hour conversation rather than a gruelling interview. There really is no need to retread what transpired in the years after TG splintered and Chris and Cosey embarked on their idiosyncratic path. That’s a story for another time. Too much is happening in this latest phase of their remarkable career, which started when they were joined by Nik to play Mute Records’ Short Circuit Festival at London’s Roundhouse in 2011. The set appeared the following year as Carter Tutti Void’s debut album, ‘Transverse’. Conducting a parallel life in Factory Floor, Nik stayed on to add her processed Fender Telecaster and spark a new dynamic with the former TG pair, as so startlingly captured on ‘f (X)’, Carter Tutti Void’s first studio incarnation.

The invincible bond between Chris and Cosey has obviously been enhanced by Nik’s like-minded outlook and thirst for sonic foraging, the trio now sufficiently united to share the kind of telepathic creative soul searching that produces magical spontaneous combustion.

During our chat, they often make a statement, then look to the others with an “isn’t it?” or “wasn’t it?”. We ease in by discussing the effect of domestic surroundings on their music.

Cosey Fanni Tutti:
“I think what’s going on in your life has more of an impact on your music more than the environment in which you produce it. Like recording at Martello Street affected the music because of what we went through going to and from the studio, with the NF and gangs that were around. You had to watch your back all the time. There was all sorts going on politically, which we were very aware of, and punk was coming up. We went back to Martello Street for a BBC programme and it was quite shocking. People were having picnics! You should never go back, really. I didn’t like it, I felt quite angry. Give me a placard and let me go down London Fields!”

Nik Colk Void:
“Where I lived in Tottenham, the place was reverberating from six in the evening to six in the morning. The whole feel of being in London and going out the door was really claustrophobic. The area was pretty grim, but it was also very creative. When I moved back to the countryside, I was going somewhere I was completely familiar with, but after a couple of months my music started coming out a lot darker. Not intentionally, but I suppose it’s the relationship with nature opening my mind up.”

Cosey:
“In the city, that kind of environment locks you into a mindset… and it’s hard to get out of it because you have to protect yourself on all levels.”

Nik:
“I was going into central London on the tube and it seemed quite bleak, but when you get to the countryside it’s completely different. When you’re flying off to shows at the weekend, it’s nice coming back here, rather than a warehouse where you hear the sewing machines going on the other side of the wall.”

Cosey:
“It’s an age thing as well. When you’re young, you don’t even notice it. When I think back to Martello Street and even to when I was in Hull, the conditions we lived in were appalling, but that was just a means to an end. As long as I had a roof over my head and could sleep somewhere, I was quite happy. But then you realise it’s actually having an impact on your work and health, and you have to do something in the end. You go to where you know you can function and breathe.”

Chris Carter:
“The biggest thing for us was having kids, though.”

Cosey:
“You’re not selfishly driven any more once you have kids. You have someone else to think of. They become number one on the list and then what you want to do is next. That has a lot to do with it.”

How much does this environment affect your recording methods?

Chris:
“When we recorded here with TG, we did it a similar way. We all just set up in the studio. When we did the first Carter Tutti Void album, the live album, we set up in there, trying out all the ideas first, then we did it the same way with ‘f (X)’. A lot of people say the first album doesn’t sound like a live recording, but it was. The preparation for it was similar to the way we recorded this one.”

Cosey:
“We just get comfortable with the starting points. Chris writes the rhythms, then plays them to me and Nik, then we all decide whether it has legs. You start working with it and feel your way through it and take it on the stage… and everything changes then anyway.”

Chris:
“Whatever we do in there never sounds like that when we get onstage.”

Cosey:
“And we don’t want it to. We just want to know that, if we’re going to do it live, we know the territory when we go onstage and then we can go where we want. There’s no script really.”

Nik:
“We have our own work spaces, our separate tables, our tools that we’re familiar with, and that’s kind of like our language. I’ll have a different setting for each track and I’ll literally have it all written down. As far as playing in different spaces goes, you can never determine that. What Cosey is playing or what Chris is playing is always a response to the live situation.”

Chris, 37 years ago you said you were building your own equipment. Is there still an element of that?

Chris:
“Yeah, although I don’t build so much now. The stuff I do now is for myself. I don’t use it with Carter Tutti Void, but I do some programming with software. It’s a combination of how you use bits of gear in unconventional ways, putting things through other things they don’t usually go through.”

Nik:
“Do you read the manual?”

Chris:
“I do! I’ve got a t-shirt that says ‘RTFM (Read The Fucking Manual)’. I wrote for Sound On Sound for about 10 years and would have to read the manuals to write the reviews. When we’d go on tour, I used to take manuals on the road and read them like novels. I used to quite enjoy it. The thing is, I don’t like to settle too much on one piece of gear, which is why we were constantly selling old gear and buying new stuff. I like the feeling of being slightly outside my comfort zone. I’ve got favourite bits of gear, of course. I’ve got a Machinedrum drum machine I’ve had for years and I do like that. It’s like a heartbeat pulse all through ‘f (X)’. It’s quite low-res so it’s got a quirkiness which adds to that heartbeat feeling, but it’s quite a clunky, heavy machine, so I sampled it and put it on my laptop.”

Nik:
“When we rehearsed the new album, Chris’ set-up had changed so much. I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve still got my box and stuff which looks like a car boot sale compared to Chris’ set-up.”

Chris:
“When we rehearsed the new album, Chris’ set-up had changed so much. I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve still got my box and stuff which looks like a car boot sale compared to Chris’ set-up.”

Cosey:
“It was like a workshop, wasn’t it? When we went on the stage, I remember the audience cheering, and I looked out at them and thought, ‘They’re really up for whatever we want to do’. It was such a wonderful feeling. I think now there’s an expectation that they shouldn’t expect anything! With our Chris and Cosey stuff, and even TG, they were actual songs. This is quite different. These are non-songs. It’s the pulse. You kick in and ride with it and it goes up and down. It’s a fabulous feeling when we’re playing live.”

How did the three of you get together?

Chris:
“We first met at the ICA in 2006 when we were DJing at the Cosey Club. We had some history going back, but we hadn’t connected. I was actually in Factory Floor for a while, I did three gigs. Then Mute asked if we would collaborate with someone at the Short Circuit Festival.”

Nik:
“Initially, we were only going to do one performance, so didn’t really talk about how we were going to go about it. It just happened. We had about a week to prepare for it. And because that’s how it started, it became the foundation of how we wanted to go on. We got away with it and loved it… so we thought we’d just carry on doing what comes naturally to us.”

Were you already a fan of Chris and Cosey’s work, Nik?

Nik:
“Oh yeah. At first I imagined it might be quite scary to meet them [much laughter], but musically we clicked straight away.”

Cosey:
“We said, ‘Let’s set up your gear and try something out’. We kept going for quite a while, didn’t we? When we stopped we went, ‘Well, that was kind of easy, wasn’t it? It works then’. It was as simple as that. You don’t often get that. After Sleazy [TG founding member Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson, who died in November 2010], it was ‘I can’t get this with anyone else’. I would say there’s only Sleazy and Nik I’ve ever played with like that.”

Nik:
“I like going into one instrument with loads of different effects. I’ve got my head down, really concentrating and listening hard. I think just being able to concentrate on the guitar, which I’ve been playing since I was 16, is the best thing I can do. When I came to work with Chris and Cosey, I thought, ‘You’ve got to be loud!’, but then I realised it wasn’t about that. It was about being really controlled about what I was doing at quite a low level in order to get these intricate sounds that you won’t get when you’re blasting it.”

Cosey:
“Although it sounds like a self-indulgent way of doing it, it’s not at all. It’s all of us together. The sound is the focus, not one person or what they’re doing. It’s the little parts that make up the whole and that’s what you’ve got to try to build and be sensitive to. I think Chris is the only one who has a job, if you like, because he’s the engine, the starting point. Once it kicks in, nobody has to do anything.”

It’s just the momentum of the track?

Cosey:
“You feel it physically and emotionally and you interject with what you feel your emotions are building up to… driving it along, bringing it down, bringing it up again. And you’re feeding off the audience as well. It’s very intuitive and a wonderful way to create music.”

Chris:
“When we did the live shows, there were cheers from the audience when we did certain things.”

Cosey:
“It’s when you arrive at the same moment at the same time. It’s almost like you’ve given them a present. ‘Yeah you’ve heard me, that’s really what I wanted’. And it’s like, ‘Yeah, we did as well’.”

Is it strange for you, Nik, hopping between Factory Floor and Carter Tutti Void? There has to be some overspill, hasn’t there?

Nik:
“Not too much. I play different instruments in Factory Floor, whereas I concentrate on the guitar with Carter Tutti Void. I don’t play anything in a traditional way and I approach every instrument the same. That’s just where I’ve got to from doing this for years. I’ve found my own identity in what I play in my music. It doesn’t matter what situation I’m in, I just apply it to that.”

Cosey:
“I think the difference is in the fact that expectation has gone with us, so you can sit back and lose yourself. There isn’t an aim or a format as such with us. It could be anything. It could be a 60-minute track or a two-minute one.”

Nik:
“With Factory Floor, you do think about how people are going to enjoy the tracks. You always feel like you’re working on music you did yesterday as opposed to tomorrow… I don’t find that with Carter Tutti Void. The next Factory Floor album is the last one of our contract with DFA and after that I’m looking forward to being able to put tracks out as we record them. We finished a single a couple of months ago and that’s not coming out until next year because there isn’t anywhere to do the vinyl pressing. Psychologically, that’s a bit strange when you want to evolve with your music.”

Chris:
“That is a big drag with vinyl. I wanted ‘f (X)’ to come out sooner, but we we couldn’t get the pressing. The majors have jumped on the vinyl bandwagon and are buying all the time in the pressing plants. It’s outrageous. If you want to press vinyl, you’ve got to have so many pressed a month to keep your account open. Only the majors can do that. Our white vinyl sold out quicker than we thought it would, so now we’re trying to get it repressed on black and that’s proving to be a problem.”

Cosey:
“The people that started this and created a market have been pushed out by the majors. It’s the third time this has happened to us. It happened when we did TG’s ‘Second Annual Report’ and didn’t expect people to like it. Then with Chris & Cosey’s ‘Heartbeat’ album, which sold out, and now with Carter Tutti Void!”

Chris:
“For this one, we didn’t even bother to do any promotion. With ‘Transverse’, we had Mute and that’s a big machine. I can understand why we got so many reviews for that, but it’s been the same thing for this. It’s word of mouth as well. You only need a couple of good reviews. The Guardian gave it their Record of the Week, which was really good.”

It’s impossible now to convey the overwhelming impact that came from going to see bands such as TG or Suicide. Listening to ‘f (X)’ reminds me of those times. It sounds like nothing else out there.

Cosey:
“To me, this album feels like when you have something deep inside that has to be exorcised. It’s not like a nasty thing, it’s just that you bring out everything you want to give to whoever you’re with to play alongside you. And because there are no boundaries or limits, anything can happen… which is a fantastic feeling. When you went to a TG or Suicide gig way back then, there was a feeling in the room that it was you lot against the world.”

After Sleazy died, you spectacularly brought home his dream project of re-imagining Nico’s ‘Desertshore’. Do any of you have any long-standing personal favourite albums?

Nik:
“I have to say mine is Nico as well… ‘Chelsea Girl’ and ‘Desertshore’. I remember when I first heard the Velvet Underground when I was 11. I heard Nico’s voice and said, ‘Who’s that man singing?’. After that, I was really interested in the fact I thought it was a man’s voice and the feeling behind it.”

Cosey:
“The sense of control in her voice is amazing. There’s a kind of strength and vulnerability and a real honesty about her feelings. There was always a thing with me and Sleazy where we’d be trying to stamp the fact that I have validity whether I’m female or male. There was always that agenda going on. You must come across it with Factory Floor. There’s one girl in the band and if there’s a technical problem it’s ‘What have you done?’. I didn’t used to notice it, but it pisses me off now.”

Nik:
“There’s an assumption that the man in the band is the technical one and does the work and is the boss. If only they knew!”

Cosey:
“Our generation fought to do what we did. We put ourselves out there and got all the flak for doing that, but there comes a point where it’s an accepted thing and there’s not the knowledge or the understanding of how hard it was to get there. You shouldn’t have to put up with comments that are basically deep-rooted sexist and misogynistic, especially from alternative, anarchist type people.”

After the success of ‘f (X)’, what’s next for Carter Tutti Void?

Chris:
“We’ve been recording the live shows and got some really good stuff, so we’ll do another album next year. We recorded the two nights we did at Oslo in London and they don’t sound anything like the album! We’re also doing a project we can’t talk about at the moment.”

Nik:
“The great thing I found in this project is it goes on its own natural path. We haven’t discussed what we’ll do next at all, have we?”

Chris:
“We don’t talk about it much, we just do it.”

‘f (X)’ is out on Industrial Records

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