Nik Void and Cosey Fanni Tutti represent two generations of do-it-yourself art and noise. Cosey’s CV ranges from confrontational performance-art actions with COUM Transmissions in the early 70s to the sensory overload of Throbbing Gristle, the inventors of industrial music; from using pornographic images from her work in the sex industry in her own art, to creating pioneering electronica with fellow ex-TGster and partner Chris Carter. Nik, meanwhile, is a sculptor and noise musician, now part of post-industrial London trio Factory Floor, who are currently working on a much-salivated-over debut album in their own studio after a string of acclaimed releases on various labels.
"...the way I’ve always worked with art and music – It’s just all improvised. I’m not interested in prescriptive things or contrived things at all. It doesn’t excite me. I like the unexpected" – Cosey Fanni Tutti
Now Chris, Cosey and Nik have teamed up as Carter Tutti Void for Transverse, a one-off collaboration performed last year as part of Mute Records’ Short Circuit season at the Roundhouse in Camden. The rapturously received show saw the two women at either ends of the stage, coaxing violent noises from guitars and electronics over extended tribal rhythms provided by Chris Carter, deadpan in the centre with a laptop. The elongated, hypnotic music resembles nothing so much as a spacious, post-punk version of 70s-era Miles Davis, performed by masterful non-musicians rather than jazz musicians. Dazed brought Cosey and Nik back together to chat about objecting to spectacle, the effects of gender balance on music and the glory of being independent.
Nik Void: The audience is the fourth member, really. It’s a different environment from the studio, and obviously everything is amplified so you get different responses to the instruments you’re playing, and the audience also gives you some type of vibe, you know.
Cosey Fanni Tutti: The priority is the sound we make together, it’s not about who’s there. I know it often is to the audience but to me it’s just a way of making the sound work. For me it comes from the way I’ve always worked with art and music. It’s just all improvised. I’m not interested in prescriptive things or contrived things at all. It doesn’t excite me. I like the unexpected.
Nik Void: I have a guitar, which is quite a traditional instrument. But I don’t play it like a guitarist would play a guitar, I play it like I’ve never seen one in my life before. (laughs) And I use it as a rhythmical instrument – I use it with drumsticks and bows. So for this collaboration I just kind of went with a bag of stuff, not knowing what to expect, and just did what I do. I didn’t go back and listen to Throbbing Gristle and try and follow what that was.
Cosey Fanni Tutti: I’ve always said, right through from the mid-70s, that when you see acts onstage and they’re prancing about and everything, I’m thinking, ‘Where do people really think their music is coming from?’ That to me is spectacle, I’m not into it for spectacle at all. In fact, I’ve always tried to take that away. I do object to that.
Nik Void: It’s the notion of music or sound being entertainment which I really object to. I mean, I kind of struggle with the stage. Having a stage in a room and playing, I find that really uncomfortable and much prefer to be in the middle so everyone’s around.
Cosey Fanni Tutti: Have you done that yet?
Nik Void: Yeah…
Cosey Fanni Tutti: I didn’t like it, cos they start walking across in front of you, distracting you and tripping over the wires.
Nik Void: (laughs) That is a concern!
Cosey Fanni Tutti: It’s a pain.
Nik Void: But it’s very English having a stage, especially in a pub or something like that, you know. It’s like, put them on a stage and play. You can’t escape that, I suppose.
"Control’s a weird word because the reason I did it was because I wasn’t in control. The situation is very controlled in the pornography industry, even in the 70s, but there was a control element to what I was doing because I placed myself in that situation" – Cosey Fanni Tutti
Cosey Fanni Tutti: I find it much easier to get on with men than women, I work with men much more readily. That’s why it was so great working with you – it was so refreshing that there was a connection there, because neither of us think of ourselves as female. We’re just people, we’re gonna do what we’re gonna do. It’s not an issue to us. Everything’s open to us.
Nik Void: I look at films and pictures of you in the past (working in the sex industry and posing for magazines such as Penthouse) and I just think, wow! (laughs) You look amazing and so strong as well. You had, like, this glint in your eye and it’s almost like you were totally in control. And that’s the strength that I got from those photographs.
Cosey Fanni Tutti: Control’s a weird word because the reason I did it was because I wasn’t in control. The situation is very controlled in the pornography industry, even way back in the 70s, but there was a control element to what I was doing because I placed myself in that situation. That’s what you mean, isn’t it?
Nik Void: Yeah.
Cosey Fanni Tutti: And when I look through different magazines even now, even with Richard Kern’s books and things like that, I can read the women in there because I’ve been in that situation. And you know, it’s quite odd. You see it quite differently when you’ve been there yourself. Very differently.
Nik Void: But I feel you were in that position or situation but you did it really well. You were like, ‘Okay, I’m here.’ It’s the same as the way we use our instruments – we use them to the best ability we know. It’s like you were using your body and your image to the best ability, you know.
Cosey Fanni Tutti: It fed back into using nudity in the art actions (with COUM Transmissions) because I had a really good sense of what the body and its shapes were like after modelling. Particular poses and things they get you to do, you’re very aware. What really interested me was the naked body and the form of it, and how it can look beautiful or absolutely horrible. And you knew straightaway if it looked horrible. I’m not talking about open-legged shots or anything, I’m talking about the angles of legs and thighs, looking big when they can look slim if you just move your leg just a little bit. You know? That kind of thing.
Nik Void: I was always very conscious with my previous band about being the lady frontwoman, and I always dressed down, kind of very simply, because I wanted the music to speak more, I felt really uncomfortable with that. And that’s one of the reasons why I stopped. It wasn’t until I met Gabe and Dom that I felt like, this is where I belong, I can’t escape it any more.
Cosey Fanni Tutti: With TG, literally, we sat around and we just laughed about the thought of actually doing an LP and saying, like, in 50 years time to our grandchildren, ‘Look, can you see that? That LP there, that’s our band.’ As a joke! And then we started to think, yeah, we can do it. And we sort of twisted it round, and made our own label and all the rest of it. So it was just off the hoof, everything just fell into place. We didn’t sit down and say, ‘Right, what’s a good concept? A band that does their own album in their own studio and only does so many copies…’ That’s just happenstance. We only had enough money for 776 copies to be pressed, 'cause if you went above that it cost more and we didn’t have enough money.
Nik Void: 776 copies? (laughs)
Cosey Fanni Tutti: Then we did another thing you wouldn’t normally do if you’re in business with a record company: we gave the re-press of that record, Second Annual Report, to Fetish Records so they could start their own label up. So we actually triggered two different labels to go. And when we did our first release on Industrial, Rough Trade was just a shop then. And they said, ‘Oh, this can actually happen then, you can actually do your own label?’ And Rough Trade Records was born.
Nik Void: Amazing.
Cosey Fanni Tutti: So it triggered quite a few things. But it was a similar situation to what you have now, where you were forced into doing it yourself because of the financial situation. Everything being in such a mess. I never looked at it as a career at all. Everything I do is just, like, for now, and if it works it works, it’s great. And happily that’s worked well for me.
"You can tell we’re on the same wavelength in personality and talk, and even when we’re playing together it’s just like us having a conversation through our instruments" – Nik Void
Nik Void: Well, we’re a prime example of what’s happening with the industry. We’re not signed but we’ve carried on with jobs to pay to be able to do our art. So, luckily, we found this premises we could change into a studio, and we kind of live there unofficially and do our music. And we don’t have a producer, we have a computer that keeps breaking down. And we are engineering it ourselves and we fall out, but we end up discovering things that we wouldn’t discover if we had an engineer, which is great. And even the falling outs are great because it will make us more determined. Just like you, you self-recorded your stuff as well and listened to it and it sounds amazing.
Cosey Fanni Tutti: I think it’s fantastic what’s happening now. It’s like saying, ‘OK now, you’ve got to stand up without your stability frame. Do something yourself. Actually make music rather than just press a play button and record it.’ It’s exciting because it means that it hopefully might go into a new direction at long last. You know, I didn’t like Bowie. I just saw him as a thief.
Nik Void: I do as well! Going back to the male/female thing, I find that a lot more males like Bowie than females. I’ve never been keen on Brian Eno, either.
Cosey Fanni Tutti: Oh, I liked Brian Eno, funnily enough. Early on. Roxy Music.
Nik Void: I love Roxy Music! (laughs) Invite him round, do the next Transverse collaboration!
Cosey Fanni Tutti: Well, he can go to my website and send me an email. Actually, there was a connection, when we were in Martello Street. I won’t go into why that didn’t happen.
Nik Void: (whispers) Was he trying to hit on you? (laughs)
Cosey Fanni Tutti: I’m not going to talk about it.
Nik Void: I see… (laughs)
Cosey Fanni Tutti: That’s the thing when you work with other people that’ve been in the business a long time – they’re used to doing things their own way. With you, it’s refreshing. Someone that’s on the same kind of wavelength and is really open is wonderful. Rather than closed down.
Nik Void: Yeah, totally. You can tell we’re on the same wavelength in personality and talk, and even when we’re playing together it’s just like us having a conversation through our instruments. Would you say my guitar screeching was higher or lower than your guitar screeching? (laughs)
Cosey Fanni Tutti: I don’t know!
TRANSVERSE is out on CD, vinyl, and download on Mute from March 26
Photography by Pedro Koechlin