BACKTRACKS: Throbbing Gristle – Hot on the Heels of Love

Backtracks; a series from Melodic Distraction dipping back into the archives in search of tracks that shifted the electronic music landscape. With each edition, we invite a local artist or DJ to share their most impactful music and the history behind it. This time around Jordan Swales, one half of local ambient cosmonauts Twin Galaxies, dives into the ongoing relevance of the pioneering industrialism of avant-garde group Throbbing Gristle.

Some time ago, I was recommended an autobiography by Cosy Fanni Tuti entitled ‘Art Sex Music’, and wanting to get back into reading, thought I would give it a whirl. Cosy was one of four members that comprised Throbbing Gristle, a group I was only faintly familiar with. Reading the book became an introduction of sorts to the group and as I read through, I found myself taking regular breaks throughout, checking out any tracks mentioned. 

Of the tracks I discovered, ‘Hot on the Heels of Love’ stuck with me, in many ways just by how different it was to the rest of the material. Released in 1979, on arguably the band’s best-known album ‘20 Jazz Funk Greats’, the song feels somewhat out of place compared to much of their discography and indeed with most of the material on the album itself.

The track veers teasingly close to something danceable and catchy, whilst maintaining the kind of uncomfortable dissonance typical of an outfit lurking in the background of mainstream music. The track, in the hands of another group, could have sounded like something much more akin to a traditional well known classic by shedding the strange and leaning into the song’s pop tendencies (though a bit of a stretch, ‘Your Love’ by Jamie Principle/Frankie Knuckles doesn’t sound a million miles away from this).

‘Hot on the Heels of Love’ is a group feeling out unexplored territory. By modern-day standards, it seems obvious how a producer could build a track like this. With access to contemporary production gear and the blueprints of 30 – 40 years of dance music history to draw upon, creating a track like this does not seem implausible. But take yourself back to 1979; to a world where such blueprints don’t really exist. In this vein, I keep going back to this record. It’s cool to hear a song reaching out into something unknown at the time, yet now feels so deeply embedded in today’s popular sound. Part of the nucleus of something which would one day become so familiar. 

Going back to ‘Art Sex Music’ and reading through Cosy’s portrayal of the track, she hails ‘Hot on the Heels of Love’, as an intended deconstruction of disco and lounge music. In doing so the group seemed to have stumbled across a kind of proto-techno. Seminal tracks such as ‘Hot on the Heels of Love’, and its counterparts being produced by the likes of Kraftwerk and Giorgio Moroder were quickly sowing the seeds of an entirely new genre and global musical movement. 

This article is secretly a love letter to Chris Carter, who was the brains behind this particular track. One of the four members of Throbbing Gristle, Carter had the habit of producing tracks well ahead of their time. A criminally underrated producer and one of the most forward-thinking artists of his time. 

Whilst ‘Hot on the Heels of Love’ sounds a little dated today, with its janky (yet still charming) synth work, other works of Carter’s including ‘Electro Dub 2’ (1980) and ‘Dancing With Ghosts’ (1984) sound as if someone produced them yesterday. His voyages into unexplored territory with synthesisers and their capability are inspiring, even today. An attitude shared by the rest of Throbbing Gristle, creating something entirely your own, away from popular influence seems to permeate Carter’s work. I feel his influence on electronic music seems likely to go largely unsung, so take this little tribute of mine as an attempt to steer his legacy that bit closer to the limelight.