Note: Click here to see all entries in this ongoing series.
Who They Are: Coil were a creative collaboration between producer-programmer-visual artist Peter Christopherson (ex-Hipgnosis and ex-Throbbing Gristle) and his long-time creative and life partner, singer-composer-poet John Balance, along with several key long-term associates, most notably Thighpaulsandra. The pair were extraordinarily prolific from their founding in 1982 until their ending in 2004, which followed Balance’s tragic and untimely death in his home by misadventure involving alcohol. Christopherson (known colloquially as “Uncle Sleazy” to those who adore him) also died young in 2010.
When I First Heard Them: I first heard of them soon after their founding, likely via some music magazine, but in pre-Internet days, scoring obscure records by strange experimental groups from the UK was a bit of an expensive chore, so it took me a while to start my collection. I think the first song I actually heard by them was “The Wheel” from the 1985 Some Bizzare sampler album If You Can’t Please Yourself You Can’t, Please Your Soul. I bought that record soon after its release, and consider it to be one of the finest and most mind-bending compilation albums ever made; it is the only “Various Artists” entry on my Top 200 Albums of All Time list. While “The Wheel” does not quite make my Top Ten list below, it did soundtrack one of the more profound moments of my life, per entry #5 at this post.
Why I Love Them: They were as complete a creative package as any music geek could ever want. They worked with electronics, and they worked with organic instrumentation, often together. They recorded in isolation as a duo, and in band formats with an incredible cohort of co-players. They were ferociously noisy, and capable of creating the very sweetest melodies. They were exceptionally provocative when they wanted to be, especially in publicly and proudly writing about their experiences as gay men at a time when that was commercial and social anathema. Their music can agitate, soothe, aggravate and inspire in equal measure. I’ve let it be known to those who love me that I would like the #1 song below to be played at any funeral/memorial service held in my honor, and I have a key lyric from the #2 song below tattooed on my left leg, so it will be incinerated with me, when that time comes. Coil have spoken to and moved me to my core for decades. They were special on every front, brilliant artists all around. What’s not to love?
#10. “Slur” from Horse Rotorvator (1986)
#9. “Teenage Lightning 2” from Love’s Secret Domain (1991)
#8. “Restless Day” from Scatology (1984)
#7. “Who’ll Fall?” from Stolen & Contaminated Songs (1986)
#6. “Going Up” from The Ape of Naples (2005)
#5. “Ostia (The Death of Pasolini)” from Horse Rotorvator (1986)
#4. “Love’s Secret Domain” from Love’s Secret Domain (1991)
#3. “Bee Stings” from Summer Solstice: Bee Stings EP (1998)
#2. “Amethyst Deceivers” from Autumn Equinox: Amethyst Deceivers EP (1998)
#1. “Fire Of The Mind” from The Ape of Naples (2005)