Artist Profile

coil was formed around 1983 from within a close-knit community of likeminded British bands. In 1980, John Balance, then in Psychic TV, started recording solo demos and experiments under a variety of names, including Zos Kia, Stabmetal, and eventually Coil. By 1983, he’d recruited fellow Psychic TV member and Throbbing Gristle alum Peter Christopherson to make Coil a duo.

Since then, Coil has been one of the most mysterious and exceptional groups to come out of the British industrial scene. Along with peers like Nurse With Wound and Current 93, Balance and Christopherson (together with an ever-changing cast of collaborators) have pursued a dark, mystical, uncompromising aesthetic. Their early work evolved from clanging industrial noise (as heard on the early Zos Kia document Transparent and Coil’s debut Scatology) to a more polished, but still very dark, techno sound on 1991’s classic Love’s Secret Domain.

But during this period, Coil was far more active than their album output (three proper full-lengths and two remix collections) would indicate, releasing a wealth of limited-run singles and contributing songs to numerous compilations. These rare songs have mostly been gathered on a series of three Unnatural History collections, which reveal Coil experimenting with ambient, industrial, film soundtracks (they scored Derek Jarman’s The Angelic Conversation and recorded an ultimately rejected score for Clive Barker’s Hellraiser), and straight-ahead techno.

Love’s Secret Domain, however, was the album which garnered Coil its most praise yet. Almost universally lauded as the band’s greatest achievement, this album mixed relatively accessible dancey electronics with overtones of dementia, violence, and fear, creating a record that was strangely disturbing without being as overtly “industrial” as previous Coil offerings. The album even caught the attention of Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor, who commissioned Coil to remix several NIN songs for the Further Down the Spiral EP, and signed the band to his Nothing Records label.

Ever since, Coil has supposedly been working on their debut for Nothing. A batch of songs for the album—which has been tentatively titled Backwards—has been continually reworked and revised over the nine (!) years since Coil signed with Reznor’s label. According to Coil, the label has put no pressure on Balance and Christopherson to actually turn in some finished product, and so they haven’t—much to the frustration of their fans.

Thankfully, the group has been far from inactive in the intervening years. While Backwards would technically be the “official” follow-up to Love’s Secret Domain, Coil has skirted a proper follow-up by self-releasing a wealth of limited, mail order-only albums on their own Threshold House/Eskaton imprint, often under pseudonyms. The first of these was 1995’s Worship the Glitch, credited to ELpH vs. Coil—where ELpH is a spiritual entity that apparently worked some kind of mystical influence on Coil’s music.

1996 saw the release of the ambient excursion A Thousand Lights in a Darkened Room, recorded as Black Light District. The album was to have been the first of a planned series of three BLD albums, but the other two volumes, in typical Coil fashion, have never materialized. In 1998, the band coined their newest project, releasing the self-titled Time Machines album with four long static drones (each named after a different hallucinogenic drug) meant to “facilitate time travel.” After that, Balance and Christopherson (together with Thighpaulsandra of Spiritualized and Drew McDowell) reverted to recording under the name Coil, and have sporadically released new material through mail order ever since.

This is the position the band is in now. With a long and frequently brilliant career behind them, Coil remains very active, touring (almost exclusively in Europe) and recording constantly. This year saw the quasi-release of the excellent The Remote Viewer, available only as a CD-R at the group’s European concert dates. The band will ring in 2003 with the release of four live CDs recorded in the past two years, to be followed by three live DVDs. Even if Backwards never surfaces, it seems unlikely that Coil will stop recording and releasing their unique music anytime soon.

Quick Facts:

Current members: John Balance, Peter Christopherson, Thighpaulsandra, Drew McDowell

Location: London, England

Style: avant-garde electronic music

Labels Appeared On: Eskaton, Threshold House, Chalice, Some Bizarre, Wax Trax, Force & Form, L.A.Y.L.A.H.

Major Releases:

Scatology (1984, Force & Form)
Horse Rotorvator (1986, Some Bizarre)
Gold Is the Metal (1987, Threshold House)
Unnatural History (1990, Threshold House)
Love’s Secret Domain (1991, Wax Trax)
Stolen & Contaminated Songs (1992, Threshold House)
How To Destroy Angels (1992, Threshold House)
[as ELpH vs. Coil] Worship the Glitch (1995, Eskaton)
Unnatural History II (1995, Threshold House)
[as Black Light District] A Thousand Lights in a Darkened Room (1996, Eskaton)
Unnatural History III (1997, Threshold House)
[as Time Machines] Time Machines (1998, Eskaton)
Musick To Play in the Dark (1999, Chalice)
Astral Disaster (1999, Eskaton)
Musick To Play in the Dark 2 (2000, Chalice)
Constant Shallowness Leads To Evil (2000, Eskaton)

Starting Point: Love’s Secret Domain (1991, Wax Trax)

Essential: Unnatural History II (1995, Threshold House)

By: Ed Howard
Published on: 2003-09-01
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