While I was in university the campus radio station was an endless source of musical discovery for me. They had a huge selection of vinyl spanning the past twenty years of the station and most of it was very strange indeed.
Still, when I did my radio show I tended to stick to the bands that I already knew, occasionally dipping into the new releases to broaden my horizons. Left to my own devices I might never have fallen in love with Foetus.
But during every show I found myself entertaining the night janitor from the House of Friendship, and he was a musically adventurous guy. He'd call up and challenge me to, for instance, play punk bands from Quebec or find some random song on an old David Bowie album. That guy introduced me to Roxy Music...and one fateful morning he asked me to play some Foetus.
I was familiar with IDEA of the band -- crazy solo project by rude guy with multiple names -- but I'd never heard any of the music. There are some bands that you avoid getting into because you know you'll need to listen to most of their catalog in order to understand their "mythology," and Foetus was one of those. A cult band, diverse, mysterious, difficult.
I played "Bedrock," and after I got over the fears of losing the CKMS broadcasting license I was instantly in love.
J. G. Thirlwell -- the man behind the band -- is a strange sort of genius. He makes music using an alter ego that is so unpleasant you can barely tolerate him -- his song "The Fudge Punch" was one of the few songs we were forbidden to play on CKMS -- and his style is meticulous and lock-step. He pioneered the idea of "industrial big-band" and he has been the only person to pull it off successfully, thanks to his sampledelic brilliance. Mixed in with his often filthy lyrics are strings of disarming, hyper-intelligent wordplay. Thirlwell is not a guy you'd like to eat dinner with, but you'd sure want him remixing your album, and you might want to co-author a book with him.
After fifteen years of independent obscurity he was signed to Sony and released "Gash," which I now consider his best album: a tidal wave of guitars, distortion, horns, relentless drums, and undistilled Thirlwell hatred. While by no means the best song on the album, the video for "Verklemmt" sums up Thirlwell nicely, and it seems designed to make video compression algorithms cry.
The Sony thing didn't work out and Thirlwell has gone back to the independents, producing albums under various names, composing respectable songs for high-brow outfits, and remixing the bands that he helped to inspire in the first place.
Thirlwell and his live band are fantastic, but all of the live Foetus clips on YouTube have terrible sound quality. In fact, despite the huge number of video projects he's been involved in, there is precious little Thirlwell material on YouTube at all. So rather than present something inferior and unrepresentative, I encourage you to explore the Foetus-world all on your own.
Must-have albums: "Gash" is just wonderful, but you should REALLY pick up the "Male" double-CD live album...power, power, power! I also highly recommend the "Pedal to the Metal" EP he made with Roli Mosimann under the name "Wiseblood." Albums to avoid: "Deaf" and "Ache" -- his first two full-length releases -- are pretty obnoxious, all clinky and screechy. For fans only: "Sink," the CD of assorted singles, compilation appearances, and experimental pieces, and the dedicated fan should also check out the percussion-crazy Lydia Lunch collaboration called "Stinkfist." Smelly.