Beyond the BCB 130: Coil

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Darkness_Fish
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Beyond the BCB 130: Coil

Postby Darkness_Fish » 21 Feb 2016, 19:49

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Coil were essentially formed as a spark that drifted from the fire of Psychic TV, and went on to burn far brighter. However, the beginnings of the relationship that spawned the group go back to the days of pioneering industrialists Throbbing Gristle, when Pete Christopherson was known as Sleazy, literally the least musical in a group purposefully adverse to musicality, and John Balance was plain old Geoff Rushton, a student and writer of the early industrial fanzine "Stabmental". John had struck up a fanmail friendship with Genesis P'Orridge, and was invited to the recording of the live in the studio classic "Heathen Earth" in 1980, just as tensions in TG were fomenting the eventual split. Around the time of that split, Balance dropped out of his philosphy degree course, and turned up unannounced on Sleazy's doorstep "with an Echo & The Bunnymen fringe". The pair would be musical companions and lovers for most of the rest of their lives.

Both Psychic TV and Genesis P'Orridge were becoming more and more unlikeable, and the pair's closest friend David Tibet had already left the band to form Current 93, so Sleazy and Balance effectively drifted away and formed their own duo. There were a few pre-Coil groups, such as Zos Kia, who were closer to PTV in sound, with grinding tape loops being the order of the day, but when Coil properly emerged as a recording entity, they announced a more quietly experimental side immediately, with the single-sided 12-inch "How to Destroy Angels", a lengthy piece played on a gong (with a title later nicked by Trent Reznor for his own side-project), a supposed ritual for the accumulation of male sexual energy. Never worked for me though. Any kind of bloody energy would be a bonus.



With their debut album, Coil headed in a more song-oriented direction, with help from Jim Thirlwell under his production pesudonym Clint Ruin and guest vocals from the Virgin Prunes' Gavin Friday on "Tenderness of Wolves". But it's quite a sparse, stark album, and it's probably the album I return to least. It's probably more notable for the fact that they wanted to title it "Funeral Music for Princess Diana" originally, which would have been funnier than the faecal obsession. Fairlight synths dated far too quickly, sometimes having a fairly well-off band member (Pete was part of the Hypgnosis art collective, and director of television commercials for his day job) has a downside, cheaper synths seem to have aged better to my ears. Around this point, they released a single to support the Terence Higgins Trust, "Tainted Love/Panic", with Marc Almond featuring in the video of the rather superb funereal take on his own famous cover version. It might not have been a massive commercial success, but it was the first single ever released in support of Aids charities:



Coil really found their feet, in my opinion, with the release of their 1986 classic "Horse Rotorvator". Here, you can practically feel the energy bursting out, there's no organic whole here, no common theme. This is a band with too much enthusiasm, too many ideas to fit on two sides of vinyl. Indeed, they later released an odds and sods album of outtakes, "Gold is the Metal with the Broadest Shoulders", which is almost as impressive. "Slur" points in the direction of the route they would effectively take later, fully embracing electronics with a warmly elastic synth sound which wraps itself around Balance's most confident vocal to date. However, the outstanding classic here, and some would argue of their career, is the majestic "Ostia (Death of Pasolini)", recounting the murder of the famous director, over the top of an astonishing string section. A masterpiece of restrained emotion, filled with delicate touches, such as the sampling of grasshoppers from the pyramids in Chichen Itza in Mexico, which provide the intro and a strange background harmonic.



Coil disappeared from the scene for 5 years. This seems rather common for the band, they would disappear into recording studios, release nothing for years, and then re-emerge from the shadows with a brand new album, a bunch of off-cut releases, and a side-project or two. At this next juncture, however, Coil had fully embraced electronic music. A title like "Love's Secret Domain" doesn't hide Coil's influences, the acid house scene had just about died, and Coil seemed perfectly ready to take the death throes of popular dance music, and breathe new, slightly soiled life into its corpse. There's a couple of standard dance-floor stompers, such as "The Snow" and "Windowpane" especially, but there's also real invention with the Autechre-inspiring "Chaostrophy", and the beauty of the title track, which also brings to the fore their fascination with William Blake.




It would take another 7 years before "Love's Secret Domain" was properly followed up, yet this wasn't a barren period. Coil had scored a couple of Derek Jarman films, the controversial "Blue" and "The Angelic Converation", whose soundtrack album means that Coil have had the rare pleasure of having Dame Judi Dench on lead vocals for one release. They provided remixes for Nine Inch Nails, one of which became the title music for the film "Seven", which they weren't credited for. Ironically, Howard Shore would receive all soundtrack credits, who had earlier been drafted in by the studios to replace Coil's own themes for the film "Hellraiser" in the late 80s. But more importantly than all that, Coil began branching out in different directions, with pseudonyms such as Black Light District and ElpH. Black Light District's "A Thousand Lights in a Darkened Room" is a classic of dark minimal synth work, reminiscent at times of an early Tangerine Dream that's been twisted beyond recognition. ElpH would produce much more abstract 'glitch' works, where side-effects of the digital recording process were thoroughly explored as tools to create music. Difficult listening, but sometimes quite affecting, especially when the mystical, modern and old are intertwined, such as with the use of Leah Hersig (Aleister Crowley's wife) is used to haunting effect on "Ended".



All Coil's years of experimentation, and recuperation (part of the time between recordings was due to Balance's time in rehab fighting alcoholism) seemed to pay off, as they entered the last 5 years of their existence. And for these 5 years they really stamped their importance across the music scene, every release was utterly essential, every release far outclassing their contemporaries and newer upstarts. They re-emerged in fully electronic form in 1999 with the two volumes of "Musick to Play in the Dark", absolute masterpieces of darkly shimmering mysticism. Even more surprisingly, this new Coil started playing live gigs, forays into the public arena were very few and far between, but by 2003 they had played enough gigs to release four live albums, ranging from the majestic twisted dance-floor stompers of "Live Four", to the awkward impenetrable 2CDs of live drone on "Live One", recorded at London's festival hall. However, although the music was seemingly unsurpassable, all was not well within the core group. Balance's alcoholism had fully taken hold, and Pete Christopherson had had enough, the pair split, on seemingly amicable turns, but Balance's troubles brought the group to a swift and fatal end. On November 13th, 2004, John was in a drunken stupor, didn't live up to his pseudonym, and fell down a flight of stairs, killing himself instantly, bringing to an end the existence of the last truly great industrial act. An album would later follow, "The Ape of Naples", which itself was largely culled from fragments of live gigs and forgotten studio recordings. However, it stands as a landmark of electronic music, and I would urge everyone to spend some time delving into it's profound delights. The album, like their last ever live gig (which it samples from), ends with a majestic, sprawling, pseudo-operatic cover of the theme tune to 70s tv sitcom "Are You Being Served". I know not the relevance of this, but for some reason, it really does feel like a fitting end. No-one but Coil could turn a crass jingle into a moment of genuine spiritual beauty. Here's that last live performance of the theme, "Going Up":

Last edited by Darkness_Fish on 10 Jan 2018, 21:23, edited 4 times in total.
Like fast-moving clouds casting shadows against a hillside, the melody-loop shuddered with a sense of the sublime, the awful unknowable majesty of the world.

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Re: Beyond the BCB 130: Coil

Postby Deebank » 21 Feb 2016, 20:14

Fantastic stuff
I intend to delve further.
Nice work.
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Re: Beyond the BCB 130: Coil

Postby Darkness_Fish » 22 Feb 2016, 13:46

Cheers, you can't really go wrong with any Coil, from the mid 80s onward.
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Re: Beyond the BCB 130: Coil

Postby Jeff K » 22 Feb 2016, 14:16

Thanks! I love Coil but there's so much stuff of theirs I've yet to hear, or find.
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Re: Beyond the BCB 130: Coil

Postby fange » 22 Feb 2016, 14:31

A very interesting read! The music from "Hellraiser", you say? A few things to delve further into there, cheers D_F.
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Re: Beyond the BCB 130: Coil

Postby Darkness_Fish » 22 Feb 2016, 20:31

fange wrote:A very interesting read! The music from "Hellraiser", you say? A few things to delve further into there, cheers D_F.

Unreleased themes to Hellraiser, at any rate. They were friends with Clive Barker, who'd asked them to score the film. Apparently the film company decided to go in-house for the score, as it was cheaper than having to pay an artist royalties. Difficult to find now, even I don't have a proper copy of the themes (though most of them are on their "Unnatural History II" comp). Here they are in youtubular fashion though:

Like fast-moving clouds casting shadows against a hillside, the melody-loop shuddered with a sense of the sublime, the awful unknowable majesty of the world.

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Re: Beyond the BCB 130: Coil

Postby trans-chigley express » 23 Feb 2016, 00:30

Never knowingly heard them before and musically there's interesting stuff in those clips. I like it more when it goes into Dead Can Dance kind of territory. I have trouble with the vocals though which spoil some nice music for me.

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Re: Beyond the BCB 130: Coil

Postby Ghost of Harry Smith » 23 Feb 2016, 03:56

An excellent overview that has filled quite a few gaps in my listening knowledge, cheers. I don't own much Coil except Horse Rotorvator, which is a singular work. In my imagination, Scott Walker was listening to Horse Rotorvator and 'Ostia (Death of Pasolini)' loads when he was making Tilt.

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Re: Beyond the BCB 130: Coil

Postby pcqgod » 23 Feb 2016, 17:37

I only have a remix of 'How to Destroy Angels.' I was wondering why I didn't have more Coil, but then I saw the prices on Amazon.
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Re: Beyond the BCB 130: Coil

Postby Darkness_Fish » 10 Jan 2018, 21:18

Bump's Secret Domain
Like fast-moving clouds casting shadows against a hillside, the melody-loop shuddered with a sense of the sublime, the awful unknowable majesty of the world.

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Re: Beyond the BCB 130: Coil

Postby joklend » 24 Feb 2018, 02:13

Ghost of Harry Smith wrote:An excellent overview that has filled quite a few gaps in my listening knowledge, cheers. I don't own much Coil except Horse Rotorvator, which is a singular work. In my imagination, Scott Walker was listening to Horse Rotorvator and 'Ostia (Death of Pasolini)' loads when he was making Tilt.


Well, Farmer in the City is also about Pasolini's murder, so possibly so.

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Re: Beyond the BCB 130: Coil

Postby joklend » 24 Feb 2018, 03:46

That's a really good write up of what is a special band to me. They're a band that have come to almost wholly exist on the internet now, abetted by the obscene prices of their albums in a physical format (a quick check on Amazon finds three copies of Love's Secret Domain: £54, £99 and £211).

I don't have much more to add but here are some more links.

From 'Ape of Naples'


From 'Black Antlers'


From 'Music to Play in the Dark'

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Re: Beyond the BCB 130: Coil

Postby never/ever » 24 Feb 2018, 05:01

I never got into their darkwave/dance stuff of their later years but Sca tology, Horse Rotorvator, Gold Is The Metal and the Hellraiser-themes are epic!
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