eter Martin Christopherson, aka Sleazy, is a big red blip on the timeline of alternative music; how much more genuinely influential can you get than being a founding member of Coil, Psychic TV and Throbbing Gristle? The answer, as you may have guessed, is none more.
From the early 80s Jhonn Balance and Sleazy, along with a revolving door of additional members (Cyclobe’s Stephen Thrower and Thighpaulsandra being the most enduring), and several pseudonyms (ELpH, Time Machines and Black Light District) have been exploring a coterminous and esoteric musical vision. It’s impossible to simplify their roles as you would with conventional artists; both take the roles of engineer and visionary, their catalogue encompassing directions driven more by lunar cycles than commercial considerations.
For better or for worse, he has played a large part in the invention and definition of electroclash, industrial music, Nine Inch Nails (they’d be a lot less scary without Sleazy’s vision and input), dark ambient, music to make you shit your pants and music as part of ritual magick.
Presently gearing up for a full website/label overhaul, a label rethink and the one off reformation of Throbbing Gristle and several European Coil dates, Sleazy took time out to talk with Stylus about the current state of affairs.
You were recently in Thailand mastering some live Coil material live stuff, did you enjoy the trip?
It wasn’t so much a trip, more a relocation. I still have an apartment in Bangkok and plan to be there permanently as soon as is practical, maybe this autumn.
What makes it such an ideal home for you?
Most importantly, it seems to me that the barrier between the immediate everyday reality and the world of ghosts, spirits, and visions—a parallel reality that people in the West usually only glimpse using psychedelics—is much thinner there. You frequently pass between one and the other without realizing. I don't know whether this is due to the latitude, lassitude, spicy food, oriental lay lines or something else. I have no real idea, I just know that if you wander with an open mind, and receptive senses, you are regularly confronted by sights or visions as surreal, evocative, and gorgeous as any MDMA or DMT experience, without the need to take any drugs at all. In fact drugs just anesthetize you to the sensation, so are best avoided. Quite apart from the fact that they are heavily illegal and one should always have a healthy respect for local laws, if you value your own freedom and safety.
Next, I love the way the people look. Coming back to the UK last month the airport was like a scene from Doré or Dickens' vision of Bedlam; everyone looked diseased and deformed somehow. Not only that, but the Thais are, by and large, a truly sweet and generous race, you can smile at the scariest looking thug in a dark alley and, chances are, he (or she) will be flattered and flash you his (or her) most charming grin. And the food, what can say? I love it. Western food seems bland and unbearably heavy to me now.
More or less everything (food, rent, utilities, transport, but not Apple Macs’) is about a quarter the price of the West especially the UK, so a modest Coil income goes four times further.
There are some things in Thailand that present problems though. The main one for me is that in the UK it's easy to be motivated to do a lot of work (or a lot of very expensive 'play') since there's basically nothing else to do! In Thailand there are a million beautiful ways to pass the days, so motivating myself to get things done there is much harder.
The England that I grew up in, which was an inspiration to me for so long, has changed a great deal and I am no longer able to see any good side to it.
In what ways has this decline manifested itself?
It seems to me that now virtually all artistic endeavour in the UK is actually regarded simply as a means to an end; a means of obtaining fame, a lifestyle, a flat-screen TV, an Audi or the right flowers in the right pot. I’m including people starting up as musicians, artists and fashion designers, the people who will shape the cultural identity of the country in years to come. Nobody seems to be doing these things just because they are driven to, any more. So their work is compromised.
TV seems to be shaping the tone of the nation, and is the number one subject of daily conversation. Despite (or maybe because of) the proliferation of TV channels, very few TV programs or program-makers bother about quality any more. British TV, by and large, is based on the principle of sneering at the misfortune and, particularly, the ill-advised choices of others i.e. interior design, partners, location of house purchase, plastic-surgery etc. Even advertising is mostly based on fear; the fear of what will happen if you do not have the product in question and consequently people spend most of their time flipping between being afraid what others think of them, or thinking badly of others.
And do I need to mention the foreign policies of the government or the fact that the opposition is even worse than they are? Of course my view is only from where I sit—I'm sure the UK has many excellent qualities I have somehow missed. The only other reason for staying in the UK was Jhonn Balance but though we will no doubt continue to collaborate we are no longer 'boyfriends', and he seems to me to be attempting to turn into Oliver Reed.
How do you stand with your Nothing records contract?
Technically we signed a deal memo, and not a contract. We still owe them a record and intend to deliver one but in what form it will be and via what entity it will finally be available we don’t really know at this point. The whole structure of music creation and distribution is slipping uncontrollably over a 'chaotic event' at the moment. I guess they should never have released that butterfly.
How easy was it to set up your imprints Eskaton and Threshold House, and how easy is it to run?
Easy in so far as we don't really do anything, which is not that good for the artists concerned! Tips on running a label? Don't set one up. Instead set up a website which just recommends or introduces interesting artists or people to one another. All artists have to learn how to set up their own paid-download sites. If they leave it to labels they'll just go on getting ripped off for ANOTHER 50 years...Links and recommendations are the only things that matter now.
In these days of downloads, is it important to Coil (and you) to still create special editions of the work you do?
The debate of the relative merits of ownership of special things vs. the possession of special information will never die. I prefer the latter but Jhonn the former. To be sure, the experience of holding an object, especially a hand-made object will not be equalled electronically for many years. I’d like to think Coil are weeks rather than months away from offering our work as downloads.
How will Coil be manifesting itself live and have you retired those fluffy suits?
The last few tours were very taxing for Jhonn, and I wouldn't want him to put himself at risk although this could make for a great show! I'm pretty sure I will be there, I have a lot of new ideas since having been away, so whatever it ends up being will be interesting. Regarding the suits, to be honest they are getting a bit stinky! I think the next Coil look will be something between Mary Poppins on ketamine and the Funeral of King George VI.
Regarding the RE:TG event (Throbbing Gristle reforming for one live show), what do you think people are expecting of the performance, and what will it be like?
I have no idea what people are expecting; the few that we have spoken to seem very conflicted about wanting the 'hits' but not wanting nostalgia. But it will be worth every penny as this is absolutely a one time only show. There are tentative plans however to document the event for a DVD release later in the year; also for those who really cannot be there you should be aware that some purchasable material will be available exclusively at the show, so get your friends to get it for you if you can’t attend.
What do you think of the recent Throbbing Gristle remix package Mutant TG?
Although I personally have passed through the time of my life (and drug taking habits) when so-called 'dance' music really worked for me, I still appreciate it and try to keep well informed about what's happening. I think it’s a cool package and hope it will introduce new people to our sound and point of view.
Will reaching 50 mean anything to you?
It will mean living in a place where youth is not regarded as the equivalent of quality (in music, opinion, and wisdom, in anything in fact) and not living in the TV and magazine driven West.
How do you feel about the England's Hidden Reverse book? (A few people I know who've read it felt that it made Coil a lot more human and less intimidating, are you aware of people's perceptions of you, Jhonn and your work?)
(Laughing) I never meant to be intimidating! I hope the book does show us in a more human light, we’re pretty normal really it’s just the world that’s backwards. I felt that way about William Burroughs until that sunny day in Kansas when Jhonn and I went shooting with him. I just forgot he was my number one hero and just became a really cool and fascinating old bloke.
I reckon it’s probably better not to think about anybody in 'heroic' terms at all, but just be polite and, if possible, interesting to all the people you meet. Just treat everyone with the same generosity of spirit, and chances are they will do likewise.
What was your best experience in producing videos?
Actually I directed them, which is more about figuring out what it should be about and then making it happen in front of the camera when it is running, no mean feat sometimes. Whereas producing is about money and organization both of which I’m hopeless at, but I’m sure you knew all that.
I suppose the videos that were the most true to what Coil were about were the two Coil videos we shot in Thailand, “Love's Secret Domain” and “Windowpane”, which we hope to release later in the year on DVD with a lot of other bits and pieces. Maybe also the extensive work I did for Nine Inch Nails, during the 90s.
The best adventure was probably shooting the Infected series for The The in Peru and Bolivia, though other shoots in Sao Paolo, Brazil (Sepultura) and Calcutta (Henry Rollins) were amazing too. It’s really true what they say about Travel broadening the Mind.
In the end I gave up directing commercially for other people because it was rapidly becoming not enough to have talent, you also had to be some kind of tyrant or asshole just to get your ideas across. Nowadays you have to be a cunt in that business before people will even take your calls. Perhaps the tsunami that's hitting the record industry will wash away the video industry too and leave new, refreshed and fertile ground and new distribution paths for talented people to bring out new and better work. I hope so.
Your Threshold House site has teased people long enough, what exactly are we going to see on your DVD project Wild Boys of This and Other Worlds?
(Laughing) Well, I’ve got lots of ideas but none confirmed! More tease I'm afraid. I suppose loosely one could say that I hope it will do in moving pictures what Coil does in sound. As a solo project, it will not have traditional Hollywood resources although many of the technologies that cost a thousand dollars an hour five years ago are now available on my Powerbook. It will just take time to figure them out.
Sleazy’s all time Classic LPs [in no particular order]
Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band - Trout Mask Replica
Stockhausen - Gesange der Jungerling
Lou Reed - Berlin
Arvo Part - Summa
Nico - The Marble Index
Coil - Music to Play in the Dark I
Coil - Music to Play in the Dark II
Is it alright to vote for my own stuff as classic? These are very full of the way I was feeling when Jhonn and I started on different paths, though I didn't know where they were going to lead at the time.
What records have you been enjoying recently?
My friend Bee (Bangkok DJ and founder of Futon and Thailand’s Rehab club) recommended Peaches’ Fatherfucker to me, I suppose you could call her the Patti Smith of this century. I like her dirty mouth, anyone who sings a song which goes “all you men, and boys...shake your dicks, shake your dicks" is alright with me.
I'm not so keen on Sean Paul’s reggae stuff but I do like the production on the weird tracks on Dutty Rock. I recently visited Cornelius in his Tokyo studio and we started a mutual admiration society, By Humans is particularly good.
Folk used to be the F word in my house but not any more, try Sweet England by Jim Moray. None of my friends can understand why I like this. I first heard his stuff on Radio 3's Late Junction (available as audio-on-demand from their website). That show is one of the only consistently refreshing places to hear music that inspires me.
By: Scott McKeating
Published on: 2004-04-12