Boys From The Crap Stuff
Zigzag, September 1985

by Tom Vague

'Better that the whole world should be destroyed and perish utterly than that a free man should refrain from one act to which his nature moves him.' (K.Marx)

'I think we have a deviant viewpoint. But the important thing for me is we're not saying that our viewpoint is the only one. It's just a viewpoint which is as true for me as Mary Whitehouse's is for her. Although I might disagree with her violently, I would not do anything to stop Mary Whitehouse holding her opinion. Just as I should hope, albeit a vain hope, that she would do nothing to stop me holding my opinion.' (Sleazy Peter Christopherson of COIL)

I'm obviously not going to get through an article on COIL without indulging in any crap jokes...

When the excrement hits the fan what Coil are about is the pursuit of pleasure. If this pursuit entails the realization of unconventional hidden desires all the better. In fact conventional pleasure and desire are the things that COIL would flush down the pan, along with the Mary Whitehouse christian ethic that any pleasure gained from an unconventional source is a sin. They're not the first to come out of this particularly medieval closet, as their album sleeve notes outline; acknowledging the efforts of Salvador Dali and the Surrealists. But, considering the subject matter they choose to make their point, COIL's approach to it is arguably one of the most effective. For a start an album, 'SCATOLOGY' by name, and by nature, that has not only won them a certain commercial acceptance that neither of the two-man nucleus of COIL had experienced before. As co-founder of THROBBING GRISTLE, Sleazy Peter Christopherson has never been that far away from a taboo or two, or the ensuing wrath of the supposedly libertarian press. And taboos and slaggings were never thin on the ground for him and present day coil-laborator John Balance in the intermediate incarnation of PTV. Yet as Gen and Co. remain reviled, even in their most conventional phase to date, COIL have taken the 'darker side of life' cliché to it's logical conclusion, touching on the subject that nobody touches: Shit. And they've turned it into gold.
John Balance, the moody and intense, young punk of the pair, puts it down to 'coming clean';
"I always had in the back of my mind this three point plan, where we were going to introduce COIL gently, then slowly get it harder and even more extreme and explore in a new way, without it being anything like Neubauten or SPK because that's been done before."
"So by our standards 'Scatology' is the most accessible," laughs chubby faced Sleazy, who although considerably older and more experienced than John, has the younger face of the two and the air of a schoolboy prankster about him.
It's only an air mind you. Conventionally speaking 'Scatology' is anything but accessible. On the surface it's an inventive, compelling collection of noises, rhythms, chants and scratch-ditties, articulately honed and directed in such a way as to attract more than just the hardcore Noise-Freak.
The predominating subject matter is ... another matter. Open minded to the last (cough!) I skirt round the issue and consider aloud the danger of desensitizing by dwelling on the dark side all the time. Sleazy comes clean;
"I am personally interested in the subject matter of our album. And I don't think the way it was presented was done in a particularly shocking way. It was done much more from the point of view of sharing new information and experience, that most people aren't likely to have come across."
But surely when you're up the creek, knee deep in existence, the object is to search for some beauty in life, not subject yourself to the more repulsive side. Or is it?
"That's Oscar Wilde!" jibes John, and Sleazy counters;
"I agree, but who's to say what's beautiful and what's repulsive. That's what the record's actually about." On the whole COIL's personal or metaphorical approach had been interpreted as cleverly dealing, in a kind of purgatorial way, with common needs in everyone. Bringing out the child's innocent fascination before conditioned guilt is instilled. So we've established that they're not pruriently trying to exploit disgust, but did they intend to test people?
"Fundamentally ourselves," offers Sleazy, "I think we're testing ourselves particularly. If you say yes, we're testing people, that sounds like it's an intentional thing."
"And that sounds like we've got the answer," continues John, "which is never what we presume."
"I think what we do is a celebration of the things that we enjoy," says Sleazy, reiterating. "Whether they're silly things like shit, or whether they're important like spiritual things, the fact that we might find beauty and pleasure and fulfilment in different areas than the conventional ones, is one of the things that makes us interesting and possibly sets us apart from Go West, who seem to be completely, so deeply entrenched in M.O.R. music for the masses, as it were, that I think they have nothing whatsoever to say of any interest.... I won't get to do a Go West video now."
As odd as it may sound, for such a tasteful chap as Sleazy Peter Christopherson, he is something of a (professional) authority on conventional consumer-orientated pop music. From his work with hippy design group 'Hipgnosis' in the early 70's (he was later responsible for the notorious 'BOY' shop window display and the censored first ever Sex Pistols photo-session in a public toilet) he now holds down a day job as a promo-video maker for, wittily named, 'Hipgnosis' off shoot 'Greenback Films', with whom he's been partly responsible for all kinds of real horrors, best not mentioned in these innocent pages.
Stimulants and tranquillizers; Shake in your shoes technocrats. For the time being the Balance remains:
"It's like when people ask what will the next entertainment boom be? Will we get TV's that you can touch and feel and smell? The same thing applies. 90% of the stuff broadcast on these machines is going to be as much rubbish as what's on Radio 1. The technology will move up but the content will remain static and boring. It's a static society. Anyone who's on the boundaries pushes outwards, society tolerates it to a certain extent, because some evolution is necessary. But if you go too far you get your wrists slapped or you become a symbol like Boy George and get accepted back again like some anti-body in the blood stream ... I mean I think we do find strange things beautiful. That's not to say we have a deviant view point." (!?!)
COIL recently put a deviant strain into the consumer-pop mainstream with a devastating re-working-cum-parody of 'Tainted Love'. (Nurtured and programmed by omnipresent virus in his own right, Clint Ruin.) Apparently it's some kind of in-joke at 'Some Bizarre', and along with it's vinyl coupling 'Panic' a 'sick but meaningful, desecratory but sensitive, well intentioned' joke about the paranoia epidemic AIDS. ie. It's instigation by the virulent strain of reactionary conservatism sweeping the country. A far more dangerous disease than any dodgy germ-warfare tactic. All the profits from it go to The Terence Higgins trust, which offers help and advice to AIDS sufferers.
The essence of this and their soundtrack for Jarman's latest baby, 'The Angelic Conversation' ('Isn't exactly Raiders of the Lost Ark': Sleazy, with soundtrack album, 'The Sound of Music' forthcoming) is an intuitively simple and humane new approach to an old problem. By their most unconventional means COIL have found some light at the end of the tunnel.