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Coil were an English experimental music group formed in 1982 by John Balance—later credited as "Jhonn Balance"—and his life partner and former Throbbing Gristle member Peter Christopherson, aka "Sleazy". The duo worked together on a series of releases before Balance chose the name Coil, which he claimed to be inspired by the omnipresence of the coil's shape in nature. Today, Coil remains one of the most influential and best-known industrial music groups.
|Also known as||Black Light District, ELpH, Sickness of Snakes, The Eskaton, Time Machines|
|Past members||John Balance
The group's first official release as Coil was a 1984 12" album titled How to Destroy Angels released on the Belgian Les Disques du Crépuscule's sublabel LAYLAH Antirecords. Following the 12"s success, Some Bizzare Records produced two albums, Scatology (1984) and Horse Rotorvator (1986). After departing Some Bizzare, Coil produced and released Love's Secret Domain (1991), which saw the duo incorporate the influence of the UK acid house scene.
In 1985, the group began working on a series of soundtracks, among them music for the first Hellraiser movie based on the novel The Hellbound Heart by their acquaintance at that time, Clive Barker. The group's first live performance in 16 years occurred in 1999, and began a series of mini-tours that would last until 2004. Following the death of John Balance on 13 November 2004, Christopherson announced via their official record label website Threshold House that Coil as an entity had ceased to exist.
Origins and formation: 1982–1984Edit
Coil was formed in 1982 and became a full-time concern in 1984, following Christopherson's departure from Psychic TV. Balance and Christopherson began working with John Gosling on the project Zos Kia, which resulted in four live performances and the 1984 cassette tape Transparent. Following Gosling's departure, Balance and Christopherson teamed up with Boyd Rice, and under the alias Sickness of Snakes, released the split four-track album, Nightmare Culture, with the experimental group Current 93 in 1985.
Scatology, Horse Rotorvator, and Love's Secret Domain: 1984–1992Edit
Following the release of How to Destroy Angels, Coil left L.A.Y.L.A.H. Antirecords for Some Bizzare Records. Their first full-length studio album, Scatology, was recorded in 1984 with prominent appearance of J. G. Thirlwell and Stephen Thrower, and was released in early 1985 with a 1984 copyright date. The album was largely based on the sound of industrial music as well as the Post-punk movement. While songs such as "Restless Day", "Panic" and "Tainted Love" are representative of a mainstream style, other tracks preview what would become Coil's unique electronic style. The single Panic/Tainted Love became the first AIDS benefit music release, as the profits from sales of the single were donated to the Terrence Higgins Trust. The "Tainted Love" music video, directed by Christopherson, is in the permanent collection of The Museum of Modern Art in New York, U.S.
Horse Rotorvator followed in 1986 as the next full-length release. Although songs such as "The Anal Staircase" and "Circles of Mania" sound like evolved versions of Scatology material, the album is characterized by slower tempos, and represented a new direction for the group. The album has a darker theme than previous releases, according to Balance:
Horse Rotorvator was this vision I'd had of this mechanical/flesh thing that ploughed up the earth and I really did have a vision of it—a real horrible, burning, dripping, jaw-like vision in the night ... The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse killed their horses and use their jawbones to make this huge earth-moving machine."
The artwork features a photograph of the location of a notorious IRA bombing, in which a bomb was detonated on a military orchestra pavilion. Horse Rotorvator was in part influenced by the AIDS related deaths of some of their friends. Furthermore, the song "Ostia (The Death of Pasolini)", is about the mysterious death of Pier Paolo Pasolini, as well as what Balance described as "the number one suicide spot in the world", the white cliffs of Dover.
After the release of Horse Rotorvator, Coil left Some Bizzare Records. Gold Is the Metal with the Broadest Shoulders followed as a full-length release in 1987, marking the beginning of the band's own label, Threshold House—the album is described in the liner notes as "not the follow up to Horse Rotorvator, but a completely separate package – a stopgap and a breathing space - the space between two twins," which refers to Horse Rotorvator and Love's Secret Domain.
The 13-track Unnatural History compilation was then released on Threshold House in 1990. The first three songs on the album were first released as one half of the Nightmare Culture mini-album.
Love's Secret Domain (abbreviated LSD) followed in 1991 as the next "proper" Coil album, although a few minor releases had been produced since Horse Rotorvator. LSD represents a progression in Coil's style and became a template for what would be representative of newer waves of post-industrial music, blended with their own style of acid house. Although the album was more upbeat, it was not intended as a dance record, as Christopherson explained "I wouldn't say it's a party atmosphere, but it's more positive." "Windowpane" and a Jack Dangers remix of "The Snow" were released as singles, both of which had music videos directed by Christopherson. The video for "Windowpane" was shot in the Golden Triangle, where, Balance claimed, "the original Thai and Burmese drug barons used to exchange opium for gold bars with the CIA." Christopherson recalled "John [Balance] discovered while he was performing that where he was standing was quicksand! In the video you can actually see him getting deeper and deeper." Furthermore, Thai friends of the group commented that they had known of several people that died where Coil had shot footage for the music video.
A music video for the song "Love's Secret Domain" was also shot, which was initially unreleased due to its nature: as Christopherson explained, "We shot 'Love's Secret Domain' in a go-go boy bar in Bangkok; with John [Balance] performing on stage with about 20 or 30 dancing boys, which probably won't get played on MTV, in fact!" As of January 2015, the music video is viewable on more than one YouTube channel. Stolen & Contaminated Songs followed as a full-length release in 1992. However, as with Gold Is the Metal..., it is a collection of outtakes and demos from the LSD era.
Soundtracks and side projects: 1993–1998Edit
Coil separated their works into many side projects, publishing music under different names and a variety of styles. The pre-Coil aliases, Zos Kia and Sickness of Snakes, formed the foundation of a style that would evolve to characterize their initial wave of releases.
Before embarking on their second wave of side projects and pseudonyms, Coil created a soundtrack for the movie Hellraiser, although they withdrew from the project when they suspected their music would not be used. Furthermore, Coil claimed inspiration for Pinhead was partly drawn from the piercing magazines that director Barker borrowed from the group. Balance explained after the release of Stolen and Contaminated Songs, in around 1992:
Yeah it would have been brilliant but we wouldn’t have carried on, because they were changing everything and they weren’t being very nice to us, the actual film people. They were keeping us in the dark a lot. We said we’d had enough just at the same time they decided they wanted to use Howard Shore. They just wanted normal film music. They didn’t want anything too scary which is sad and ridiculous for a horror film.
Also in 1992, Threshold House released a "Remixes And Re-Recordings" version of How to Destroy Angels. Nurse with Wound's Steven Stapleton contributed a remix of the song, "How To Destroy Angels II".
Beginning in 1993, Coil contributed music to two of Derek Jarman's films, Blue and The Angelic Conversation. In addition, they recorded soundtracks for the documentary Gay Man's Guide to Safer Sex as well as Sarah Dales Sensuous Massage, though both remain unreleased.
Much like the pre-Coil aliases, Coil's series of side projects represented a diverse basis from which the group evolved a different style of sound. While Nasa Arab—credited to the group's project "The Eskaton"—was Coil's farewell to the acid house genre, the following projects, ELpH, Black Light District, and Time Machines, were all based heavily on experimentation with drone, an ingredient that would define Coil's following work. These releases also launched the start of Coil's new label Eskaton.
Transparent was reissued in CD format in 1997 on Threshold House. A disc and booklet were packaged in a "thick" slipcase, which was released in partnership with the World Serpent music company.
Late Coil: 1998–2004Edit
After the wave of experimental side projects, Coil's sound was completely redefined. Before releasing new material, the group released the compilations Unnatural History II, Windowpane & The Snow and Unnatural History III. In March 1998, Coil began to release a series of four singles which were timed to coincide with the equinox and solstices of that year. The singles are characterized by slow, drone-like instrumental rhythms, and electronic or orchestral instrumentation. The first single, Spring Equinox: Moon's Milk or Under an Unquiet Skull, featured two versions of the same song, the second version of which included an electric viola contribution from a newly inducted member, William Breeze. The second single, Summer Solstice: Bee Stings, also featured performances by Breeze, and also included the industrial-noise song "A Warning from the Sun (For Fritz)", which was dedicated to a friend of Balance and Christopherson's who had committed suicide earlier that year. The third single, Autumn Equinox: Amethyst Deceivers includes the track "Rosa Decidua", which features vocals by Rose McDowall. The single also features the song "Amethyst Deceivers", later reworked and performed throughout most of Coil's tour—it was eventually re-made into an alternate version on the LP The Ape of Naples. The fourth single, Winter Solstice: North, also includes a track sung by McDowall, and is partially credited to the side project Rosa Mundi. The series would later be re-released as the double-CD set, Moon's Milk (In Four Phases).
Astral Disaster was created with the assistance from new band member Thighpaulsandra, and was released in January 1999 via Sun Dial member Gary Ramon's label, Prescription. Although the album was initially limited to just 99 copies, it would later be re-released in a substantially different form. Musick To Play In The Dark Vol. 1 followed in September 1999, and a few months later Coil performed their first concert in 16 years.
Queens Of The Circulating Library followed in April 2000, with production credit given to Thighpaulsandra. The single-track, full-length drone album is the only Coil release made without the assistance of Christopherson. Musick To Play In The Dark Vol. 2 followed in September 2000, and Coil began to perform live more intensively, a period that also included writing the music for Black Antlers in between a series of mini-tours. Coil also released a series of live albums around this time. Constant Shallowness Leads To Evil, a noise-driven experimental album reminiscent of Christopherson's work with Throbbing Gristle, was first sold at a live performance in September 2000. Coil finally released Black Antlers in June 2004.
In contrast to many of their earlier releases, Coil's later material is characterized by a slower sound which relies more on drone than acid house. This change in sound was reflected in their live performances, as songs like "Ostia" and "Slur" were slowed down from their original pace, as well as re-recordings of "Teenage Lightning" and "Amethyst Deceivers" that were later released on The Ape Of Naples.
Coil's live incarnation is associated with a distinct legacy. The first live shows took place in 1983, but after only four performances, 15 years would pass before they would play live again.
On 14 December 1999, Coil performed elph.zwölf at Volksbuehne in Berlin. Although the performance lasted just under 18 minutes, it marked the beginning of a new era of live performances. Coil would go on to perform close to 50 additional concerts, with varied set lists as well as performers.
Coil performed twice at the Royal Festival Hall in 2000. The first concert was in April, as part of a weekend curated by Julian Cope, when they first performed as the full band line-up – and wearing the "fluffy suits" that would become a staple of live performances for the first time – performing Time Machines. They performed again in September, sharing a bill with Jim Thirlwell (as Foetus) on that occasion. Both performances were full sets.
Coil's performances were surrealistic visually and audibly. The signature fluffy suits, an idea inspired by Sun Ra, played a foremost role at the live shows. The suits would later be used as album covers for the release Live One, while other costumes appear on the covers of Live Two and Live Three—straitjacket and mirror-chested hooded jumpsuit, respectively. Video screens projected footage and animations created by Christopherson, while fog machines created an eerie atmosphere. Balance would often screech and howl during performances, which would add to the effect.
The band's performance at the 2003 All Tomorrow's Parties festival was released as ...And The Ambulance Died In His Arms. Released on Threshold House in 2005 as a digipak, a Thai version was released the following year. ...And The Ambulance Died In His Arms was released under a name chosen by Balance before his death in November 2004.
Many Coil performances were released, including the widely available releases of Live Four, Live Three, Live Two, Live One and ...And The Ambulance Died In His Arms, as well as several very limited editions, such as Selvaggina, Go Back Into The Woods and Megalithomania!. Video recordings of several concerts were released on the DVD box set, Colour Sound Oblivion, in 2010.
Deaths of Balance and ChristophersonEdit
Balance died on 13 November 2004, after he fell from a second-floor landing in his home. Christopherson announced Balance's death on the Threshold House website, and provided details of the circumstances of the death. Balance's memorial service was held near Bristol on 23 November 2004, and was attended by approximately 100 people.
The final studio album, The Ape of Naples, was released on 2 December 2005. In August 2006, the rare CD-R releases, The Remote Viewer and Black Antlers, were "sympathetically remastered" and expanded into two disc versions, which included new and recently remixed material. A comprehensive 16-DVD boxset, titled Colour Sound Oblivion, was released in July 2010. A "Patron Edition" was pre-orderable in November 2009 and sold out in three hours. Christopherson also discussed the possibility of releasing Coil's entire back catalogue on a single Blu-ray disc.
In November 2006, the official Coil website posted the following announcement: "Following the success of Thai pressings of The Remote Viewer and Black Antlers, and after many requests, we are planning to expand the CD catalog still further." A few days later Duplais Balance and Moon's Milk In Six Phases were announced. Furthermore, an expanded vinyl version of The Ape Of Naples, which includes the album The New Backwards has been released and a two disc version of Time Machines has been announced.
Six years after the death of Balance, Christopherson died in his sleep on 24 November 2010 in Bangkok, Thailand.
Style, instruments and creative methodsEdit
Coil worked in such genres as industrial, noise, ambient and dark ambient, neo-folk, spoken word, drone, and minimalism, creating what Balance explicitly referred to as "magickal music". Balance described early Coil work as "solar" and the later work as "moon musick".
Coil incorporated many exotic and rare instruments into their recordings and performances. The group expressed particular interest in modular synthesizers, including the Moog synthesizer. Coil are among the few artists who have been granted permission to use the one-of-a-kind experimental ANS photoelectronic synthesizer (see ANS). Other instruments the group incorporated into their music included the theremin and electronic shakuhachi. During Coil's later period, marimba player Tom Edwards joined the group, and performed on the live albums Live Two and Live Three, as well as on the studio album, The Ape of Naples.
Coil utilized techniques such as the cut-up technique, ritual drug use, sleep deprivation, lucid dreaming, granular synthesis, tidal shifts, John Dee-like methods of scrying, instrument glitches, SETI synchronization and chaos theory.
Coil's distribution and marketing techniques sometimes included releasing a limited number of albums, thereby making them collectors' items among fans. Including things such as "art objects", blood stains and sigil-like autographs in the packaging of their albums, Coil claimed that this made their work more personal for true fans, turning their records into something akin to occult artifacts. This practice was markedly increased in the later half of Coil's career. However, Balance expressed interest in having regular Coil albums in every shop that wanted them. Some critics have accused Coil and its record company of price gouging. In 2003, Coil began re-releasing many rare works, mostly remixed, into general circulation. They also launched a download service, where a large amount of their out-of-print music is available.
Coil had many associations with pagan beliefs and were sometimes labeled satanic. Balance explicitly referred to himself as a "Born Again Pagan", and described his Paganism as a "spirituality within nature."
Christopherson, however, described the beliefs of Coil as unassociated:
We don't follow any particular religious dogma. In fact, quite the reverse, we tend to discourage the following of dogmas, or false prophets, as it were. And we don't have a very sympathetic view of Christians up to this point. The thing we follow is our own noses; I don't mean in a chemical sense.
- John Balance was the founder of Coil and was the primary vocalist and composer of Coil's music.
- Peter Christopherson was the chief producer.
- Stephen Thrower worked as a full-time member of Coil from 1987 to 1992.
- Drew McDowall began collaborating with Coil in 1990 and was officially inducted in 1995. He left the group sometime between 1999 and 2000.
- Rose McDowall, Drew's ex-wife, provided vocals for several Coil tracks including "Wrong Eye", "Rosa Decidua" and "Christmas Is Now Drawing Near". She also collaborated with Coil for the short lived project Rosa Mundi.
- Ossian Brown had been a Coil collaborator since about 1992 and joined the group in 2000, touring extensively with them and working on several recordings up until the final Coil album The Ape Of Naples.
- William Breeze was Coil's electric viola player between 1997 and 2000.
- Thighpaulsandra became an official member on 26 January 1999 and participated until the final album, The Ape Of Naples. Most notably, he created the entire instrumental for the album Queens Of The Circulating Library.
- John Gosling performed with the initial live incarnation of Coil and on Transparent.
- Tom Edwards of Spiritualized participated in Coil's live incarnation, and was Coil's marimba player from 2000 on.
- Cliff Stapleton played hurdy-gurdy on several live performances, as well as in the studio for Coil at various points throughout the 2000s.
- Massimo & Pierce of Black Sun Productions were members of Coil Live in 2002. However, they were stage performers, never contributing musically other than reading the poetic introduction to "Ostia" during live performances.
- Mike York was part of the Coil Live collective for a limited time.
Influences and legacyEdit
Although Coil expressed interest in many musical groups, they rarely, if ever, claimed to be influenced by them. Coil explicitly stated the influence of such non-musical sources as William Burroughs, Aleister Crowley, Brion Gysin and Austin Spare. Furthermore, the group were friends with Burroughs and owned some of Spare's original artwork.
Balance encouraged fans to trade, discuss and discover new and different forms of music, stressing the importance of variety. Music that Coil expressed interest in is diverse and wide-ranging, from musique concrète to folk music to hardcore punk to classical to techno. Among the musicians Coil expressed interest in were early electronic, experimental and minimalist artists: Harry Partch, La Monte Young, Karlheinz Stockhausen (once referred to by Balance as "an honorary member of Coil"), Alvin Lucier, and Arvo Pärt. Coil also expressed interest in krautrock groups including Cluster, Amon Düül II, Can, Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream. Rock musicians and groups Coil have expressed interest in are: Angus Maclise, Captain Beefheart, Flipper, Leonard Cohen, Lou Reed, Nico, Pere Ubu, The Birthday Party, The Velvet Underground and The Virgin Prunes. Coil expressed an interest in the Russian composer Igor Stravinsky, and in 1986 used a sample of a piece of his music on the Horse Rotorvator song "The Anal Staircase". Furthermore, on the album Black Antlers Coil dedicated a song to Sun Ra and covered a song by Bam Bam.
Coil's influence on electronic music has become more evident since the death of Balance, with electronic musicians from all over the world collaborating on a series of tribute albums. Some notable artists who appear on these albums are Alec Empire, Chris Connelly and K.K. Null (see ...It Just Is). Nine Inch Nails front-man Trent Reznor also expressed the significant influence that the group had on his work in February 2014:
[Coil's] 'Tainted Love' video remains one of the greatest music videos of all time. I was always more attracted to Coil than Throbbing Gristle; the darkness and the scatology really chimed with me. If it's not immediately obvious: Horse Rotorvator was deeply influential on me. What they did to your senses. What they could do with sound. What Jhonn was doing lyrically. The exotic darkness of them permeated their work.
The track "At The Heart Of It All" (found on Scatology) later became the name of an Aphex Twin track on the Nine Inch Nails remix album Further Down the Spiral; Coil also provided remixes for Further Down the Spiral as well as "Gave Up" on the remix album - Fixed (EP). Furthermore, in 2010, Reznor, Mariqueen Maandig and Atticus Ross started a new band called How To Destroy Angels—named after the Coil song—which received Christopherson's blessing after Reznor made contact with him.
Coil's rapid musical output over two decades resulted in a large amount of releases, side projects and remixes as well as collaborations.
Primary, full-length, Coil studio albums:
- Scatology (1984)
- Horse Rotorvator (1986)
- Gold Is the Metal with the Broadest Shoulders (1987)
- Love's Secret Domain (1991)
- Stolen & Contaminated Songs (1992)
- Astral Disaster (1999)
- Musick to Play in the Dark Vol. 1 (1999)
- Queens of the Circulating Library (2000)
- Musick to Play in the Dark Vol. 2 (2000)
- Constant Shallowness Leads to Evil (2000)
- The Remote Viewer (2002)
- The Restitution of Decayed Intelligence (2003)
- Black Antlers (2004)
- The Ape of Naples (2005)
- The New Backwards (2008)
- Backwards (2015)
- Aston 2016, p. 366: "In 1985, UK duo John Balance and Peter Christopherson, a.k.a. electronic experimentalists Coil, recorded a new cover of ‘Tainted Love’ as a benefit for the Terrence Higgins Trust, the charity named after one of Britain's first AIDS casualties."
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Influences[:] Skinny Puppy[,] Foetus[,] Coil[,] Ministry
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- Tham, Joseph (2013-07-18). "Noise as Music: Is There a Historical Continuum? From Historical Roots to Industrial Music". In Goddard, Michael; Halligan, Benjamin; Spelman, Nicola. Resonances: Noise and Contemporary Music. Bloomsbury Publishing USA. pp. 257–272. ISBN 9781441118370 – via Google Books.
- Webb, Peter (June 10, 2010). Exploring the Networked Worlds of Popular Music: Milieux Cultures. Routledge. ISBN 9781135910792 – via Google Books.
- Whittaker, Jason (May 13, 2010). "6. Trannies, Amputees and Disco Queens: Blake and Contemporary Queer Art". In Bruder, Helen P.; Connolly, Tristanne. Queer Blake. Springer. ISBN 9780230277175.
- The Wire (November 7, 2002). Undercurrents: The Hidden Wiring of Modern Music. Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 9781441109934 – via Google Books.
- Worley, Matthew (September 30, 2017). No Future: Punk, Politics and British Youth Culture, 1976–1984. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9781107176898 – via Google Books.
- Young, Rob (August 19, 2010). Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain's Visionary Music. Faber & Faber. ISBN 9780571258420 – via Google Books.
- COIL Interview Collection
- Heathen Harvest Interview with Coil (1 April 2004)
- Stylus interview with Peter Christopherson. (12 April 2004)
- Christopherson, Peter (September 1, 2006). "Interview with Peter "Sleazy" Christopherson". Heathen Harvest. Interview with Grant Regnaert and Paul Ferguson. Archived from the original on October 31, 2006. Retrieved October 12, 2017. Reprinted in: Christopherson, Peter (August 29, 2006). "Peter Christopherson: The Million Dollar Altar". Brainwashed. Interview with Grant Regnaert [GR] and Paul Ferguson [PF]. Brainwashed, Inc. Retrieved October 12, 2017.
- COIL - Robert Jelinek (Ed.) DER KONTERFEI 017 / Paperback / ISBN 978-3-903043-06-0 (November 2015)