Living In The Back Of Beyond: Coil & TG's Sleazy Interviewed
, June 23rd, 2010 09:26
Scott McKeating talks to Throbbing Gristle and Coil man Peter 'Sleazy' Christopherson about Bangkok, sexuality, Trent Reznor, and the new Coil box set Colour Sound Oblivion...
In their first incarnation, Throbbing Gristle was a civilisation wrecking, four-headed midwife that gave birth to an aggressive multitude of ugly subgenres – some wanted, some not so much. When TG’s mission terminated in 1981, Peter 'Sleazy' Christopherson found brief pastures new in Psychic TV before arriving in another epoch-defining band.
His TG days may well have been the more feted/controversial period, but it was his partnership with Jhonn Balance as Coil that ultimately made the real magick. Much more transgressive, and definitely the more adored of Sleazy’s musical projects, Coil were more a beautifully shifting collection of ideas and friends than they were a band. With Balance’s untimely passing in 2004, Coil ended. This signalled the closing of a partnership that had exploded/explored conventions in genre, sexuality, the hidden England and culture’s peripheries. In fact, if Coil ever did come across a boundary they recognised, they seemed to sail on past regardless.
Sleazy now lives in Bangkok, and is on the verge of releasing a glorious 16 DVD box set of Coil’s live work. Having interviewed Sleazy via email in the past, we took the opportunity to digitally reconnect...
When we spoke back in 2005 you seemed to have fallen head-over-heels in love with Thailand. Does it still hold the same magic it held for you when you first relocated there?
Sleazy: The magic is actually better deeper and more complex than I first thought, though at the same time I am more aware of problems of social division, and class prejudice within the country than I was when I arrived. That said I still would not live anywhere else in the world if I can help it.
As you’re currently living in Bangkok, we’d be amiss if we didn’t ask you the obvious question. Are Thai men the most beautiful men you’ve ever encountered?
S: Without doubt, and also the sweetest. It's true to say I have had better sex, and for hours, with willing, skilled and considerate STRAIGHT boys here (18 + of course) than I ever had in the West with anybody!
So, do you believe that you’ll ever settle for one guy?
S: I already have a couple of soul-mates of various descriptions but generally our relationships are no longer sexual but deeper than that... Most of the friends I have sex with are far too scary, artful dodgerish, or just plain handsome to make suitable soul-mates. I believe the "one guy" thing is unrealistic and does not answer any man's needs. Just as I think gay-marriage is about as useful as gay tampons. Inheritance, visitation, legal equality for same-sex couple for sure, but "to the exclusion of all others as long as you both shall live" is just Christian perversity.
**Ok, back to Bangkok. For those of us with only the Western media to light our way, can you give me a quick breakdown of the political/social situation in Bangkok?**
S: I am certainly no expert but I think it’s important to remember the country was only brought into the modern era recently by Western standards. King Rama the Fourth, a contemporary and possibly a friend of England's Queen Victoria (experts please forgive me if I' m mistaken on details), was the complete visionary genius who laid the foundation for all modern infrastructure, hospitals, universities, railways, banking etc in just a few years.
Prior to that the country had been something like England's dark ages, a feudal and slave based society where you were either part of the aristocracy or a slave/peasant in the field. Considering that was only 150 years or so ago, the Thais have done well in "catching up" but there is still a huge practical division between the super rich and super poor. Only their religion has made this live-able with for them, which is one reason I am so interested in it.
Unfortunately, as with some Western countries in the past, various governments have not always put as much money into education as they might have particularly rurally, possibly because they did not want the peasants getting too knowledgeable. They're smart already.
Obviously I understand if you don't want to answer this due to the current political situation, but what’s your view on the Red Shirts, and how has the uprising affected your daily life, if at all?
S: They main problem is that they managed to bring daily life in Bangkok to a standstill which has delayed the shipping of the Coil video box set Colour Sound Oblivion. It’s also decimated the tourist industry on which so many of my friends rely.
I am totally sympathetic with the run of the mill farm workers who have a perfect right to demand a better welfare state etc. But not with the red-shirt leaders who lied to them and told them they would be shot by Cambodian mercenaries if they tried to go home. Nor with those who went on a rampage of destruction when they realized they were going to be gently forced to go home. Many of the Western TV reporting ESP CNN was SO inaccurate about the truth of what was actually going on it made things a lot worse.
So, any plans to come back to the UK now the Tories are back in power?
How does it feel to finally have Colour Sound Oblivion finally completed?
S: A great relief. It will be even better when they are shipping. The recent civil unrest in this country pretty much closed it for business for about two months. Just to give you an idea of the amount of work involved, the masters alone filled over four terabytes of external hard drives (not including individual cameras etc!).
Since Coil ceased to be do you feel there has been any kind of reappraisal?
S: I continue to hear from people who only came across Coil recently and their reaction seems much the same as those who enjoyed what we were doing at the time (other than sadness it did not continue). I don't think many people now feel much different about it, other than maybe about its increasing rarity.
Coil were definitely one of a kind, do you feel anyone has taken up Coil’s mantle? Not an act that’s copied your styles, but maybe gone on a similar type of journey?
S: Any young person who is brave enough to stake their living, their survival even, on art that is outside the mainstream, not pandering to the majority, possibly even deliberately rejecting it, is on a similar journey, and I send them my love and blessing. I am not aware of anything resembling Coil musically, but then I live in the Back of Beyond - in fact I have my tongue up it!
Will Colour Sound Oblivion be a full stop? Will there be any more music released from Coil’s vaults?
S: I intend to make a Coil Codex which will be like a digital encyclopaedia containing everything of interest recording wise (40 albums and many more rarities and demos) and hundreds if not thousands of pages of Jhonn's notes and photos of us on expeditions that inspired songs (on various planes or levels of existence!), reviews from the time etc. That way anything of interest to possible future researchers will continue to be available - apart from the huge amount of scanning (already underway) we have to wait for the Apple vs. Flash war to conclude so we can decide on the most future-proof format to use. Not CD, obviously!
It's possible also that Brainwashed will be releasing some of the later CDs that were very hard to find in the US. I would have thought that CDs were things that homeless people hang on their super market shopping carts to make them look less depressing but apparently some Americans still buy them for the data they contain.
When you think back, if you ever do, what do you think of the legacy and influence of what you've created as part of Coil and Throbbing Gristle?
S: Obviously I'm pleased when lots of people tell me "you changed my life", or "I had the courage to become an artist" or "live with my HIV status" or whatever because of my records. Life and society is made up of a "bell curve" - most people are somewhere in the middle in their tastes, attitudes, Lifestyles etc, but for those of us on the fringes (and let's face it with 7,000,000,000 people in the world right now, even those of us at the very extremes of the curve, have at LEAST a few million others just like us out there somewhere right now - no one is alone!). If I can die knowing I've helped put a few of us outsiders in touch, helping one another, particularly helping pass on what we know to other new people, and encouraging each other to be more proud of who they are, I will be a happy man.
One of the most evil things in the world (that happens every day unfortunately) is seeing a father say to his kid "you're useless... You'll never amount to fucking anything" and watching the kid's eyes glaze over because he believes this bitter twisted lie to be true...
I see Trent Reznor has borrowed the title of Coil’s first official release for the name of his new band, How To Destroy Angels. How did that come about and is it true you’re going to be doing something with them in the near future?
S: Always the perfect gentleman, Trent asked if I minded before going public and I told him I would be delighted. I am working on some things using his raw tracks but I don't know if he will ever want to use them because the music I am enjoying working on now sounds like what you might hear if you were coming out of a K-Hole in a Phnom Penh gay brothel where they were playing a very scratched copy of Coil's Time Machines album on vinyl, probably at the wrong speed!
2010 is looking like a busy year for you…
S: After shipping Colour Sound Oblivion, theres the aforementioned music for Trent and music for myself, which involves making several new instruments from scratch. I also have another project which will be a source of HD video podcasts with both musical performance and more ambient but powerful video footage. Coil, in a way, included a subliminal message that honesty and independence from any existing system could work, and I would like to continue and extend that message.
Whether one regards one's present situation as Hell or Paradise is at least partly to do with one's way of looking at it. Awareness is a big thing in Buddhism, and in meditative practices of all kinds. I think a lot of people in the West are miserable for reasons they could change in 20 minutes if they really wanted. Just to see your life could be paradise if you took certain steps is surely a start. It's just that too many people find a reason not to take the first step, or keep postponing it till it's too late (though incidentally maturity is no impediment in Thailand - most men appreciate the wisdom, charm, beer, and oral dexterity of their older uncles - or aunts, come to that!). Some countries seem to be retreating into bigotry and fear right now, and my answers are not for them.
Have you been having some trouble lately?
S: Trouble, no - I make a point of always knowing were exactly the invisible precipice lies...
You don't think we're becoming a more tolerant world in general?
S: Tolerant? In general I think, no. The world of Frankie Howerd, Kenneth Williams and Are You Being Served had an innocence to it because taking a mean, evil or hypocritical attitude to these lifestyle outsiders just didn't enter anyone's head. Now it's virtually impossible to find men who are willing to be scoutmasters or even teachers because of the prejudice they know they will encounter volunteering to work with children, no matter how gifted and straight the men obviously are. I'm not even sure the Scouts even exist in western Europe anymore...
There are plenty of places "a long way from Kansas" where one can do many things that are kind, fun and consensual, as well as perfectly legal, that would cause 99% of the journalists in the rest of the world apoplexy or at least to see their chance at becoming famous and rich by telling lies and distorting the truth. Obviously I don't want to encourage them.
Without good leaders and good examples of genuinely moral behaviour, I'm afraid humanity is not naturally enlightened. Catholic leaders in particular seem to have been lacking in this respect in the last 30 or 40 years, though there are lots of other examples...
Here's a thing, you always come across to me as a thorough gentleman, and I've never heard a bad word said about you. Do you think it’s because of your very open attitude to sex or some strand of homophobia that has led to the mainstream media opinion of you as a possibly unsavoury or dangerous figure?
S: Some people are initially perplexed by the seeming contradiction between the name Sleazy and my friendly open and gentlemanly nature. And living at the edge of that bell curve, in the back of beyond, does trigger concerns in the more faint hearted that I might be some kind of Gary Glitter character - certainly there are many unpleasant Englishmen in Thailand just as there are in England.
I just try to continue to live my life honestly and happily, helping local people where I can, bringing when I can, any new found knowledge or insight to the western public via music or art. If sometimes this means sticking your head over the parapet, or even "going over the top", I try to do so when it's safe (and legal) but we owe it to the people who were in this foxhole before us, to do our bit for our comrades in arms.
All the more so if those arms have multiple self inflicted scars, or home made tattoos or even, bless them, dirty finger nails...