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Carter Tutti Void – Transverse review

Trevor Jackson’s recent Metal Dance compilation offered a timely reminder of the power, poise and intensity of the 1980’s finest industrial electronic music. While almost faultless, there was one glaring omission: a lack of material from arguably the greatest of all industrial synth-punk bands, Throbbing Gristle. For those with a passion for the dark, often metallic synthesizer tones, thunderous basslines and concrete-grey atmospheres associated with post-punk industrial music, Throbbing Gristle were always the poster boys and girls of a generation. Their music – experimental, challenging and in-your-face – sounded like it was beamed-down from another planet, possibly using dusty Cold War-era machinery fashioned in the deepest backwaters of rural Siberia.

Since then, few bands have got close, or even attempted, to match Throbbing Gristle’s steadfast dedication to music inspired by urban decline. It’s only now, in the midst of the West’s deepest recession for decades, that a new pretender to Throbbing Gristle’s crown has emerged: Factory Floor. Now signed to DFA, London-based trio Factory Floor make music that is in turns aggressive, depressed, bleak, razor-sharp and blunt. Combining vintage analogue synths, distorted guitars, zoned-out vocals and a healthy dose of experimental swagger, Factory Floor’s music is every bit as intoxicating as that of Throbbing Gristle. Thrillingly, they still adhere to many of the production techniques used by those original masters of the 1980s industrial groove. There was naturally much excitement when Mute Records – the original home of Throbbing Gristle and other 80s industrialists such as Cabaret Voltaire and EBM heroes Nitzer Ebb – announced that Throbbing Gristle’s Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti would be joining forces with Factory Floor guitarist Nik Void for a one-off performance at 2011’s Short Circuit presents Mute festival at Camden Roundhouse.

Suffice to say, that performance has gone down in legend. Featuring Carter “manipulating a large table of electronics” (as Juno Plus’s Scott Wilson put it) while Tutti and Void offered discordant guitar tones and fuzzy electric textures, it transfixed a thrilled crowd packed into the Roundhouse’s smallest performance space. There was, Wilson noted, an almost telepathic link between the three musicians; while you’d expect this from Carter and Tutti, Void’s almost instant understanding was a revelation. Luckily for those of us who missed that one-off show, it was recorded for posterity and now sees a release on, you guessed it, Mute. For those were at that performance, Transverse will bring back thrilling memories. Split into four parts – each hovering around the ten-minute mark – it offers a complete, unedited recording of the trio’s breathtaking live show. Complete with muffled crowd noise and a hissing, straight-to-tape analogue feel, it almost sounds like a long lost recording from 1984. The trippy artwork – designed, apparently, to look like it’s moving – hints as to the contents. From the word go, Transverse is hypnotic, unsettling and occasionally nightmarish – a post-industrial vision built around synthesizer drones, electronic pulses, barely recognizable guitar textures and out-there sounds. Opener “V1” sets the tone, with radio interference, white noise and snarled guitar snatches rising and falling over a locked-in 4/4 pulse. It’s rhythmic groove suggests a vast communist army on the march, their destination unknown.

“V2” moves things up a gear, adding a distinct, surprisingly loose bassline and distorted vocal textures into the pitch-black mix. It’s noticeably more psychedelic in its construction, with angry bursts of guitar and hissing percussion adding to the tense atmosphere. If “V1” evoked images of an army on the move, “V2” is the sound of bloody slaughter. It’s perhaps a surprise, then, to find that “V3” offers a calming riposte. Built around a classic industrial dub rhythm – dub being one of the inspirations of choice for Carter, Tutti and many other ‘80s industrialists – it doesn’t so much drift as slowly slide, building up pace across its slender nine-minute duration. Righteous anger has turned to post-traumatic stress disorder.

Transverse is completed by closer “V4”, perhaps the most out-right industrial of the four tracks. It is willfully metallic, breathlessly rushed and, at times, unflinchingly distorted. Carter manipulates a throbbing synthesizer rhythm, while Tutti and Void let loose, seemingly keen to finish on a high. If we had to pick one piece of music to accompany us on a late night wander through long-closed factories and silent steel mills, it would be this. As a collection of experimental industrial music, Transverse is special enough. Yet the live element lifts it to another level altogether. There’s a fuzzy, muddled spontaneity that gives it almost endless amounts of energy. You can just imagine Carter, Tutti and Void on stage, plugged into the main frame, creating something special.

Matt Anniss


1. V1
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5. V4 Studio (Slap 1)