With pounding bass rhythms and spiraling dirge melodies, the music of Coil sucks you into its hypnotic electronic embrace. Often referred to as dance-trance or death disco, the sound this band has cultivated over the years could very well be used as the soundtrack for any cinematic nightmare. Clive Barker, the horror impresario himself, commissioned Coil to write the theme music for his monstrous masterpiece, Hellraiser, but found the selections too disturbing, even demonic.
The hypnotic nature of the music has much more to it than just a surface dance quality. There is a much deeper, more encompassing purpose - that of altering consciousness and affecting the perception of reality. This alone can be considered the true essence of why Coil creates music.
"We call it 'deep listening'", explains the band's co-founder Peter Christopherson. "The music is meant to affect the head, heart and feet simultaneously. It plays to your desire for pleasure. Originally, music and tribal rhythms were used for ritual purposes - for the accumulation of sexual and intellectual energy. We'd like our music to affect the listener in that way - as say a drug would."
This would seem to be a logical desire considering the fact that much of the music was created with the aid of chemical enhancers. When Peter first formed the legendary industrial band Throbbing Gristle back in the late '70s with Genesis P-Orridge (now of Psychic TV), their experimentation with hallucinogenics and psychedelics ran parallel to their experimentation with electronics and acoustics. To this day, these so-called enhancers play a pivotal role in how Peter and the other members of Coil approach their music. The band's other co-founder, John Balance, insists that the use of such drugs is limited to creative inquiry only, and not the mindless over-indulgence associated with many musical artists. "We only use these substances - like Ecstasy and Ketamine - to help us explore alternative means for producing the kind of music we want to. Some of our new stuff is so complex that you need these aids to fully appreciate all the subtle nuances. Military and intelligence agencies have used these drugs for years to increase cognitive and perceptive capacity. They call them neurotropics or 'smart' drugs. Today, they're big in the cyberpunk and Virtual Reality scenes. Scientists use them to enhance mental capability, so there's nothing wrong with it if it's used in a positive, creative sense."
Coil's latest LP, Love's Secret Domain, attests to this partaking in chemically enhanced creativity. The initials spell out L.S.D., and the title of the single off the album is "Windowpane," an infamous form of the aforementioned synthetic derivative. You can discover a lot about the band and their interests just by reading the song titles and lyrics - and just by studying the album cover itself. As you might have imagined, it's dotted with tiny Ecstasy capsules. Just as telling, however, is the depiction of these capsules being ejected from a disembodied penis. To Coil, sensuality is the be all and end all of their creativity. They want to experience everything the five senses have to offer - and then some. The penis represents male sexuality, the cornerstone of their sensual expression. Coil makes no secret of their homosexuality and how they've integrated it into their music.
"If anything," says John, "we haven't incorporated enough sex into our music. We see Coil as a sensual entity, very much a vehicle to indulge in all things carnal. My favorite project thus far was doing the video for the song 'Love's Secret Domain.' We shot it in Thailand, and much of it was on location at a go-go boy bar in Bangkok called the Super-A Boy Bar. One scene had me performing on stage surrounded by twenty dancing boys. You'll never see that one on MTV, people. That's what I want us to be all about - raw sensuality."
While Love's Secret Domain is indeed darkly sensuous - with songs like "Where Even The Darkness is Something to See", "Titan Arch", and "Dark River" - the album is overall more upbeat than the band's previous Lps, Scatology ('84) and Horse Rotorvator ('87).
"When we were recording those albums, it was the beginning of the AIDS epidemic," explains Peter. "A lot of our friends were beginning to die, and we just didn't feel it was appropriate to do anything too upbeat. We were in mourning, and actually still in shock from it all. So obviously, a lot of the songs dealt with coming to terms with death and dying, It was a catharsis for all of us. [The band recorded an AIDS benefit single - a remake of "Tainted Love." How apropos.] Now that a few years have passed, we've learned to deal with the crisis. I see no contradiction in being able to enjoy yourself, even in the midst of a catastrophe. Constant mourning solves nothing, positive energy does. The spirit is within us to correct any situation."
Which brings us to the final element appearing on Coil's L.S.D. album cover - the sign of the pentagram, the phrase "out of light cometh darkness," and the All Seeing Eye of Aleister Crowley's magickal society - the OTO. Coil has long been associated with bands such as Current 93 and Death In June, who have been linked to satanic Crowleyan groups and the more extreme elements of Tibetan Buddhism. One of Aleister Crowley's assertions - known as the Thelemic Creed John and Peter explore. "The Darkness" from his Book Of The Law - states that history is divided into three eras. The first was the eon of Isis, the Egyptian nature goddess. Society during this time was matriarchal - feminine in character. The second epoch was that of Osiris, god of the underworld and brother/husband to Isis. This era spawned the three great religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, under which society became patriarchal - male dominated. Now we have entered the eon of Horus, the Egyptian child-god of light, offspring of Isis and Osiris. During this time, the true self of man would dominate. God would be within us rather than a separate external entity. The only allegiance would be to ourselves. Thus we see that Coil's belief of inner spiritual power follows closely with what Crowley described as the third epoch of history. "Be strong, O' man," he said. "Be positive, be lustful and enjoy the things of the senses. Fear not any god shall deny thee of this."
Peter is quick to point out, however, that the band rejects religious dogma of any kind, be it pagan, satanic or christian. "The problem we have with Crowley is the same problem we have with any organized religion - the dogma, the set of rules you have to live by. It doesn't mean we have to reject everything Crowley said and did. He basically said to follow your own nose, do what feels right to you. The power is within each of us. He was also an advocate for gay rights in a very hostile climate for such activity - Victorian England. As far as the pentagram goes, we don't use it as a satanic symbol, but as a symbol of sexual power honoring such gods as Mars and Mercury, who the OTO saw as sources of that power. We're just interested in the symbolism."
This symbolic indulgence is an integral part of Coil's music - a sound that is both thought-provoking and thought-numbing. Coil will be releasing an Ep entitled 'The Snow' very shortly. It's a collaboration with Jack Dangers of Meat Beat Manifesto that promises to be another excursion into the depths of our libidos.
"We like working with people who have the same sensibilities we do," adds Peter. "Jack's also into things deeper and darker than the so-called 'average' person."
After all, deep listening demands deep music.