Probably one of the greatest influences upon me in my adult life if music from the first wave industrial bands, COIL. Founded, and mostly maintained with assorted guest appearances by Peter Christopherson and John Balance. Christopherson was a member of Throbbing Gristle, the group that coined the term, “Industrial”. After that seminal group terminated their mission, Genesis P Orridge went on to found Psychic TV with Christopherson and Balance. Both Balance and Christopherson left after a few records to start COIL. The element of fine recording quality stood in start difference to previous projects. In fact COIL always had ties to a mainstream; Christopherson did album work for Pink Floyd, and videos for the likes of Samantha Fox. Madonna is reputed to have bought a photo by Man Ray after seeing the cover of their record, Scatology. But all that was paying the bills so they could keep up their own, decidedly counter-cultural work with COIL.
It was a time when such artists and fans alike thought we could change the world, and like a last gasp of 1960s utopianism, we worked across all lines. There was explicitly gay work, as well as the machismo swagger of The Birthday Party, the elegance to records by The Swans,or the confrontational extremism of Whitehouse. What we shared was we stood in opposition to society, and dared to think we might actually survive to see a better day in spite of evidence to the contrary.
In all of COIL's work there was finely crafted art, but always with an ear to the underground. Some records like Angelic Conversation were elegant, symphonic works set to Shakespeare sonnets and made into a frame by frame super 8 movies by Derek Jarman. Then they had their noise records, some being single notes played over the length of an EP and released as box sets meant to cause drug like effects, audio or visual hallucinations. Then there were the dance records, one with Annie Anxiety on vocals as a prostitute trying to get both paid and free cigarettes from the trick she turned. What is this doing if not painting a picture of the world they found themselves in, without moralizing. COIL recorded the very first record to benefit AIDS relief and research, a dirgy cover of Soft Cell's Tainted Love.
They lived hard, known for excessive drug use and drinking. Balance died a few years ago after a month long drinking binge sent him toppling down the stairs. Christopher son followed a couple years after that, dying of 'natural causes' at the age of 55.
But it is not an extremism I want to celebrate, but the work of fine artists who stood on the fringes of a society they wanted to change. These works changed me, politicized me, helped make me an artist. As I write this Genesis is dying as well. Derek Jarman is long gone, as are many who were actively engaged in trying to make a better world, and I am playing the collaboration COIL made with equally influential publisher, Adam Palfrey, who in perhaps a twist of irony died last month after falling down stairs.