Zos Kia/Coil - Transparent
Transparent was the first album released by Coil and Zos Kia, when the two groups were closely intertwined, sharing members and songs. While John Balance formed Coil before joining Psychic TV, John Gosling's Zos Kia project was regarded as an offshoot of Psychic TV. Transparent was originally issued on cassette by Austria's Nekrophile Rekords - performed by Coil and members of The Temple Ov Psychick Youth, as a flyer stated - and it features the first recordings of Zos Kia and some of the earliest Coil material recorded by John Balance, as well as an excerpt of their first performance, where they were joined by Peter Christopherson for the first time. This Cold Spring edition marks the first time that the entire recordings from the original cassette has been issued on CD and vinyl in an unedited form. Also included are two rough recordings from Ake, a pre- Zos Kia group that performed at the now legendary Equinox Event.
Prior to the Coil / Zos Kia appearance at the Berlin Atonal festival in December 1983, John Gosling and John Balance took part in a "Performance Action" at the Air Gallery in London in August 1983. The piece titled 'A Slow Fade To Total Transparency' saw Balance and Gosling writhing in blood, cutting each other while Marc Almond read extracts from his diary in front of a stunned audience including Jim Thirlwell, Lydia Lunch, Anita Lane and Nick Cave.
Using equipment borrowed from Psychic TV who played the previous night, the Zos Kia performance at the Berlin Atonal festival featured John Balance (stick bass/drums), Joan D'Arc aka John Gosling (bass/violin) and Min (drums/violin). Their name Zos Kia was taken from the writings of occult artist Austin Osman Spare and the performance is filled with brutal poetry, pre-recorded tapes and improvised industrialised noise showing an intellectual interest in the thought of Charles Manson and the magick of Aleister Crowley.
As tapes of Aleister Crowley's wax cylinder recordings play, the performance is introduced with some Burroughs inspired words: "We've been witnessing your many and varied forms of control today. They're very effective. Very pretty". Coil would later feature on Laylah Records The Fight Is On compilation with the relentless beat and noise of 'Sicktone' but this Zos Kia track is an altogether different beast. Aggressive roars and screams are cast against a barrage of stuttered noise, feedback and primitive drumming, climaxing with the end chants of "Get it out. I want it out". A banishing ritual, echoing a Burroughs' curse, closing on a taped recitation from Crowley's Aiwass dictated The Book of the Law.
A relentless beat runs throughout 'Baptism Of Fire' amidst loose bass tones and surges of electric noise cast against percussive clatter and drum rolls. "You're a secret of mine, a species of mine" Gosling cries. I've never worked out whether the lyrics are this "zebra's on fire" or if it's the "cathedral's on fire" - which would point to the Coil track 'Cathedral In Flames'. Either way, this one is an early working of 'Thank You', a track which would later surface as the b-side of 'Rape', the Zos Kia debut single, with added scurrilous guitar work from Psychic TV's Alex Fergusson.
What I do know is that 'Violations' plays out to a backing tape of the Coil track 'Here to Here (Double Headed Secret)'. 'Violations', which Zos Kia would later cut as 'Rape' for their first single, is a powerful account of a rape perpetrated against vocalist Min in the Australian outback. The piercing screams that appear towards the end, as tapes play, of the retelling of this vicious assault is harrowing. Even after all these years the power of Min's emotional exorcism found here on this recording and on Zos Kia's 'Rape' remains undiminished. Zos Kia may have been flirting with outsider figures such as Crowley and Manson but 'Violations' and the subsequent studio recording of 'Rape' dealt with a hardened reality. Min's screams carry on to 'Poisons' against bleak hollow pummels and noise, with Balance pounding a drum while John Gosling wrestles atonal noise from his bass.
Zos Kia's appearance at the Berlin Atonal festival ends with John Gosling introducing the final track with the words "Goodnight. We'll leave you with some truth", as if 'Violations' (aka 'Rape') didn't contain enough truth. 'Truth' is made up from a speedy recording of Charles Manson interviewed during the trial for his role in the Tate/La Bianca murders, augmented by interruptions and commentary by Gosling over Min's violin scrapes and Gosling's own treated bass guitar frequencies and feedback creating a piercing, jittery musical soundtrack. Things were certainly pretty sneaky up around Sneaky Ville, as this same recording of Manson - which I'm pretty sure was taken from Robert Hendrickson's and Laurence Merrick's documentary film Manson - would later be used by Psychic TV and The Temple Ov Psychick Youth on 'Neurology' in one of its split groove recordings on their Sordide Sentimental package. Zos Kia used it first though.
Like the original cassette released by the Austrian Nekrophile Rekords, Transparent features a number of disparate tracks from both Zos Kia and Coil attributed to Zos Kia / Coil with a couple of archive recordings from the original tape being given their first appearance on this edition from Cold Spring. 'Sewn Open' taken from a rehearsal session from October 1983 is a crepuscular instrumental, with primitive scraping guitar and blackened atmospherics. It like the following 'Sicktone' fits the appellation "monochrome psychedelia" a term they were flirting with at the time, which is something which which would easily fit the later guitar noise of Matthew Bower's Skullflower. Skullflower were formed from the ashes of Pure who included future Zos Kia member, and now esteemed tattoo artist Alex Binnie. Let's move on though. The second inclusion of 'Truth (Version)' is pretty much that, an earlier alternate take of the Charles Manson voiced track where he ruminates on reality, judgement and truth. For whatever reasons, both 'Sicktone' and 'Truth (Version)' were dropped from Coil's Threshold House reissue of Transparent which included a shorter excerpt of 'Silence And Secrecy (Section)' too. This Cold Spring edition reverts to the original Nekrophile Rekords issue of 'Silence And Secrecy (Section)' featuring an edited version of the first ever Coil performance, involving Sleazy, recorded live at Club Magenta, at the Ritzy Cinema, Brixton in 1983. Creating atmospheric noise using the amplified shrill sound of cicadas and treated violin, along with non-music elements such as the smell of Frankincense and out-of-phase strobes the performance was described as "an exercise in extended tension" in order to create a sense of expectation which is ultimately unfulfilled. The secret being that there is no secret. Given the amount of Coil material resurfacing since the death of John Balance and Peter Christopherson I'm surprised that no-one has yet released the full performance of 'Silence and Secrecy'; I've had a copy on tape for years though it's not been listened to in years either.
The excerpt from 'Silence and Secrecy' isn't the only Coil material on Transparent. Transparent also includes two tracks recorded by John Balance before he joined up with Sleazy, Genesis P-Orridge and John Gosling in Psychic TV. Both recorded in 1982 'Stealing The Words' is a rather forgettable primitive recording combining bird calls and duck quack with even more primitive electronic sounds. It could easily be regarded an early version of the ideas furthered on 'Silence and Secrecy'. The other track 'On Balance' represents the first ever recording under the name of Coil. Balance's home recording of chiming electronics and drum machine rhythms was submitted to but ultimately failed to appear on Rising From The Red Sand a series of compilations curated by Gary Levermore featuring Nurse With Wound, Attrition, Konstruktivists, Lustmord, the Legendary Pink Dots and countless others operating in the sphere of what Dave Henderson in his weekly Wild Planet column in the UK music paper Sounds termed "difficult music". In the end Gary Levermore, who would go onto form the Third Mind label, passed on John Balance's pleasant but quite directionless submission to the then burgeoning scene of "cassette culture" and in doing so missed out on being the first to issue a Coil recording.
The Cold Spring edition of Transparent is rounded off with two tracks from Ake, a pre-Zos Kia group, who like Matthew Bower's Pure performed at many of the previously mentioned shows. One track captures John Gosling and Min performing the earliest live reading of 'Rape', this time without the Coil backing, taken from the Mary Dowd and Produktion organised Equinox Event, a near-legendary one day festival featuring Club Moral, John Murphy's Krank, Etat Brut, The Death and Beauty Foundation (featuring Val Denham), Pure. Ramleh and David Tibet's Dogs Blood Order were to make their debut performances here. Coil like Nurse With Wound and Whitehouse who were to be the "mystery band" were scheduled to appear but didn't perform. 'No Mas' the other track falls into the realms of industrial noise. Ake continued for a while extending their line-up with Pure members Alex Winsor and Alex Binnie both of whom would turn-up in later formations of Zos Kia. For a short time at least, Alex Binnie would return to work with Pure's Matthew Bower in his new project Skullflower but that's another story.
The music found on Transparent is primal, brutal revealing the interests that surrounded Coil, Zos Kia and the early years of Thee Temple ov Psychic Youth (TOPY) / Psychic TV. The co-mingling of Zos Kia and Coil was destined not to last. This formation of Zos Kia ceased to exist shortly after. Following their debut single John Gosling would transform Zos Kia into a more rhythmic outfit, first as Zos Kia meets Sugardog, then just Sugardog before morphing into Mekon, a Wall of Sound artist whose big beat and electronic releases have featured everyone from "Mad" Frankie Fraser to Afrika Bambaataa, Marc Almond to Schoolly D to Alan Vega, Leslie Winer to Bobby Gillespie as well as soundtracking various fashion shows, including some for the late Alexander McQueen. Mekon's work is worth checking out. Min hitched a ride with the peace convoy. John Balance left to concentrate on Coil with Peter Christopherson refining their approach first with the ritual based How To Destroy Angels and then the more textural atmospherics of Scatology before establishing themselves as the group we now know, love and miss. Transparent offers an insight into those early years, capturing that sense of youthful nihilism, which fuelled those early years.
The force of these early years may have been lost in the form of their later work; Charles Manson became something of a go-to bad guy and slipped into a (devil's) hole for Balance and many others but the works of Aleister Crowley and Austin Osman Spare continued to exert an influence and act as a continuous inspiration on Balance. Transparent represents a time that was fertile but also a futile explosion of juvenile energy fusing drugs, drink, music, art and action that helped shape an entire generation of outsider musicians most of whom continue to this day. It's well worth seeking out if you're interested in the evolution of Coil and John Gosling and those associated with the early years of Psychic TV. Transparent is released by Cold Spring on CD and as a double 12-inch vinyl set with booklet. A limited white vinyl edition of 500 is available exclusively from Cold Spring. For more information go to Cold Spring
Zos Kia, Berlin Atonal Festival, 3.XII.1983