Tag Archives: Coil

RIP Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson (1955-2010)

The world just lost a seminal figure in experimental music. Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson, founding member of Throbbing Gristle and Coil, died in his home in Thailand today. I’m still sad over the death of Coil’s co-leader (and Peter’s partner) John Balance. Maybe the two will meet again.

I have to confess I have always found Throbbing Gristle tough going. It’s pretty abrasive stuff. But the band had a big impact on music. Among the first creators of industrial music, they were daring and experimental and downright aggressive and what they did led to some impressive things – notably Psychic TV and Coil, which is one of my favorite acts.

Note: I posted a bit longer tribute to John here. If you’re a Coil fan you might want to check it out.

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Filed under experimental, industrial, Uncategorized, video

Tame eclecticism: Think outside the box inside this box

Friends have picked on me before, saying, “He’ll listen to any kind of crap!” Meaning they thought I enjoyed some music that was unquestionably bad. Far from it. I judge music just like anyone else does: Is this good or does it suck? In fact, some of those people enjoy bands that I would describe as sucking. What they REALLY meant was I liked some music they didn’t see how anybody could like. I will cop to that.

I love a wide variety of music and often describe my musical tastes as eclectic. A friend recently noted however that the term eclectic seems to be evolving into a genre of sorts, one that doesn’t exactly have the same meaning I give it. He describes it as “liking music no one can deny has some universal quality.”

He bases his observation largely on a KUT radio show called Eklektikos (on Austin’s NPR station on 90.5 FM) and an online station called Radio Paradise (which describes itself as “eclectic rock radio”). I’ve listened to Eklektikos a lot more than Radio Paradise, but I can say I enjoy both immensely. I can listen for as long as I have time, and I will hear music I might not have heard otherwise. I can also just about guarantee I will like every song they play.  And the fact that I do like every song makes me think my friend might be onto something.

While they do play a lot of different types of music — especially Eklektikos — I know in my bones that If I subbed as a DJ and played what I wanted to play, I would very quickly put something on that would cause the people in charge to say, “Don’t you ever play that again.” (I’m thinking of things like Coil, Lustmord, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum or even Mr. Bungle. If I found people who wanted to play those, I’d probably piss them off by wanting to play the Eagles or ZZ Top. That’s how I roll.)

There does seem to be a restriction on those examples that i can’t exactly put my finger on. While the fans of Eklektikos are very open-minded and enjoy being exposed to new music from unexpected directions, there are probably some directions most of them wouldn’t want to go. I think what it might come down to is the music shouldn’t be too challenging.

My mind is now open to the point that I don’t just enjoy listening to music from many genres or from genres I didn’t expect to like, I actually get a big kick out of artists who give me something I actively hate when I first hear it, who are able to convince me that I should love it. I like to be challenged. Of course there are times when I like to stick with old favorites and things that sound good from the beginning, but if that’s all I listen to, I will eventually get bored. My brain has to be spanked occasionally or I’m not happy.

I’m not sure if the two examples I mentioned are enough to judge whether eclectic is becoming a genre or not. In the spirit of questioning labels, however, I’m not going to cede the territory. Until I can think of something better, I’ll continue to call myself eclectic and mean what I think it means.

And don’t get me wrong. I highly recommend both the Eklektikos on KUT (and other great KUT shows as well) and Radio Paradise.

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Music genres – handles or pigeonholes? (probably both)

It’s a common complaint from musicians: “I don’t do goth/post-rock/folk/trip hop/indie/prog (or whatever). You can’t pigeonhole me!”

Same thing with fans. I’ve read a ton of forum threads complaining about genre names. “What the hell does post-rock mean? Aren’t bands still playing rock? Why isn’t it called post-rap? Post-rock isn’t a real genre.” And various other quibbles from people who hate seeing their favorite musicians get pigeonholed, or resent seeing musicians they don’t like surf their way into undeserved recognition atop some made up fad.

I totally get it. I’m the king of “you can’t pigeonhole me.” I’m 100 percent eclectic in musical taste. Politically, neither fish nor fowl.

I do think there’s a nasty tendency in some circles (*cough* Pitchfork) to use labels in order to dismiss a band or collection of bands. Like, “Oh yeah, we figured out what these guys are. Just another example of X. If anyone still cares about X, this is part of that whole X knockoff crowd. That scene is so quaint isn’t it? Moving right along…”

Just look at this list of genres: http://rateyourmusic.com/rgenre/

Drumfunk, Sqweee, Glitch-hop, Witch House and Turbo-folk are just a few of many genre names that make me scratch my head. Are these really real? Is somebody pulling our legs?

Who comes up with this stuff anyway? It used to be DJs and music journalists, but now I guess it’s mostly bloggers with a lot more hits than I get. Somehow the names catch on, silly or not. Shoegaze is one I use a lot that sounds pretty ridiculous (whatever you want to call it, I like it). It was originally a put-down for bands playing noise-drenched stuff who tended to stand on the stage and look down at their shoes, but now it’s so common that bands will claim the term.

Classifying music into groups will always be a messy business. There are some musicians (usually my favorites) who defy classification. There are musicians who get lumped into a group who sound nothing like their supposed peers.

Television’s Marquee Moon (1977) came from one of the original CBGBs bands, often touted as one of the first punk bands or even “proto-punk.” Yet to me its style has a lot in common with Magazine’s Real Life (1978), which came out just a year later and is considered one of the first postpunk albums. Can you really go from proto- to post- in just one year?

World music is a really messy genre. It can sound like anything, and isn’t everything part of the world? And speaking of the world, now everything has gone global. You have millions of musicians, talented and otherwise, making tunes on laptops and releasing them on the Internet. Anyone can be influenced by anyone. It was hard enough to classify things in the blues-R&B-rock continuum, especially when jazz and classical kept rearing their ugly heads. Now throw in influences from every country in the world and classifying anything becomes virtually impossible.

Yet we have to try. Why? Because if we don’t, we can’t find music we like, and we can’t talk about it.

I understand the principle of “it’s all music.” But don’t you think the average Chuck Berry fan would be a bit put off if you played a Godspeed You Black Emperor album said, “Here’s some of that music stuff you claim to like”? And suppose he had an open mind and even kind of liked it, but just never heard GYBE before and asked, “what is this?” Sorry, but I’m going to have to say post-rock, because he might then find and enjoy Sigur Ros. Post-rock is a clear case of “you gotta call it something.” Would you consider a Chuck Berry song rock? Definitely. Would you consider a Godspeed You Black Emperor song rock? Not too sure… Thus, post-rock.

I agree that genre names often suck, but they can be useful, even some “hairline distinctions.” For example, dark ambient. It bleeds into regular ambient (another term people argue over), as well as industrial (ditto). But there are certain groups that people who say they like dark ambient tend to like.  I like to give and get recommendations. How am I supposed to do that if I can’t pick a genre name? If I just ask for “music” recommendations, I could get anything from Beethoven to the Ramones. I like both of those, but they’re not going to help me find Coil, Lustmord or Voice of Eye.

A genre name might be a stupid word, but once it catches on and people start hanging ideas on it, what can you do? You’re pretty much stuck with it.

Still, I can’t help but wonder what will happen if people are still listening to this stuff hundreds of years from now? Are we going to get names like tenth wave Electro-acoustic-neo-post-psych-prog? Hell, that name probably exists already.

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Filed under commentary, dark ambient, indie, industrial, postpunk, postrock, progressive rock, psych, punk, shoegaze, trip hop, Uncategorized, world music

Going Up – Coil’s John Balance

Coil is a rather sinister-sounding name to me, conjuring up images of serpents. It’s also the name of one of my favorite groups, put together by John Balance (a stage name for Geoffrey Rushton, also sometimes spelled Jhon or Jhonn – I’ll stick with plain old John for this post) and Peter Christopherson aka “Sleazy” (one of the founding members of the pioneering industrial group Throbbing Gristle). The list of genres Coil has covered is quite long – experimental, dark ambient, industrial, acid house and more.

Much of Coil’s music is challenging. I often find it exciting, but at the same time dark and witchy. And no wonder. John was a student of Aleister Crowley and thought of himself as a magician. I’ve read that some of the odd sound effects in his music are actually sigils – magic spells that were spoken, then chopped up, altered and sent out into the world. I don’t believe in magic or witchcraft, but knowing that he did believe it gives his music a certain spookiness. Coil’s music often involves themes such as obsession and dominance.

But there was another, softer side to John Balance. Some of his creations are simply beautiful. “Going Up” is a perfect example. It’s part of an album called The Ape of Naples that was produced after Balance died from a freak accident – he fell off a balcony in his own home, while intoxicated.

Vocals were sung in a high falsetto by Francois Testory.

The lyrics are taken from the opening theme of a British sitcom set in a department store, called “Are You Being Served?” (I’ve never seen it, but I’ve played a clip from it on Youtube).

“Ground floor perfumery, stationery and leather goods, wigs and haberdashery kitchenware and food…going up First floor telephones, gents ready-made suits, shirts, socks, ties, hats, underwear and shoes…going up Second floor carpets, travel goods and bedding, material, soft furnishings, restaurant and teas. Going up!”

In between the lyrics, low in the mix, John comments, “Are you ready to go now?” and finishes with “It just is.”

With a bit of engineering magic, his partner and mate Peter Christopherson was able to pull John’s words out of a live performance that took place not long before he died.

I never realized what the lyrics were until I looked them up, but I got the gist of the song. On the surface it might be a recitation of department store items, but Coil made it into something more. It’s about the hope for something more than what’s around us, hope for something beyond death. John made it into his own epitaph.

Beautiful, isn’t it? It makes me think of men, especially gay men – Balance never kept that a secret – who are contemplating death and hoping against hope that they might make it to heaven even though everyone’s told them they’re going to hell, or nowhere at all. The list of mundane items actually makes a very nice metaphor: Going up a department store escalator or elevator and wondering if there are other levels above the ones we can see. I don’t know if there are, but if so, I hope John found them.

Here’s another song that shows the sensitive side of Coil:

And here’s the perhaps more typical, “witchier” side:

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Filed under acid house, dark ambient, darkwave, experimental, industrial, Uncategorized, video

Jango – my Internet radio till further notice

I might have found the Internet radio to carry me through the busy times ahead at work: Jango. I’m still giving it a test run, but at this point, I am extremely happy with it. Almost as happy as I was with Pandora before they pissed me off. Just made two stations that compared very well with a couple I made in Pandora: Dark Electric Dreams (featuring artists like Legendary Pink Dots, Coil, Severed Heads and Gary Numan) and Smooth Soul (featuring a lot of Philly Soul by the likes of The Dramatics, The Spinners, Blue Magic and the Delfonics.)

I have a feeling their algorithms aren’t as sophisticated as the one Pandora uses. No mention of anything like a “Music Genome Project” and when you rate a song – don’t like, like or love – it tells you whether it will play that song again, not whether it will play songs “with similar qualities.” Also, you can share via e-mail and by posting a link to the station, but you can’t embed on Facebook or Twitter. Still, I’m getting the mixes I want so far, and they have artists like the Legendary Pink Dots and Paul Schütze, so there’s a decent selection.

They don’t have Flaco Jimenez or Texas Tornados, which is a WTF, but they have Fela Kuti. Pandora didn’t have him, which was a bigger WTF.

No mention yet of any “free music limit,” but then again, it’s still early. Right now I’m happy. Will I stay happy? Will this radio make a devil’s bargain to stay in business? Can any online radio stay in business without one? Time will tell.

Here’s a link to my Dark Electric Dreams station, and one for Smooth Soul. Give ’em a whirl and see what you think.

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