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Coil Zos Kia Marc Almond - How To Destroy Angels
How To Destroy Angels cover
"It was in 1983 I took part in an art piece with Psychic TV member John Gosling. I did a reading about a person destroying themselves with drugs (anyone we know?) while both Jeff and John undertook a ritual of bloodletting and scarification on stage beside me, culminating with Jeff urinating and John defecating. Even Nick Cave, who was at the performance, was disgusted." - Marc Almond in Tainted Life, the autobiography.

A Slow Fade To Total Transparency (How To Destroy Angels) took place at the Air Gallery, London in August 1983, alongside performances from Matthew Bower's Pure and Jill Westwood's Fistfuck. At the time, Almond was still working with Dave Ball as Soft Cell, although as their next album conceded they were embarking on the art of falling apart. The performance coincided with the release of Almond's offshoot group Marc and the Mambas second album, Torment and Toreros, a sprawling double album that was critically panned by some upon release - which, thankfully, is now more forgivingly appraised - was just hitting the charts. Coil who were then the solo-project of John Balance, were in the early throes of distancing themselves from Psychic TV. Almond had been on the fringes of Psychic TV ever since meeting them at the offices of Some Bizarre. The previous year he had recorded Throbbing Gristle's 'Discipline' for Flexipop magazine and had sung and co-wrote with Psychic TV on Force The Hand of Chance. Almond was no stranger to performance art, having studied at Leeds Polytechnic during the seventies taking part in student performance pieces such as Icebox which involved nudity, mirrors and bloodlettting.

A Slow Fade To Total Transparency was Coil's second performance. Their first performance occurred earlier that month at the Magenta Club at the Brixton Ritzy Cinema where Balance with Peter Christopherson performed 'Silence and Secrecy'. A 15-minute piece of sensory overload utilising out-of-phase strobe lights, incense smell and the deafening sound of amplified insect noises, augmented by violins and tapes. Balance described its Crowleyan intentions to Grok magazine as "a sense of expectancy that is never fulfilled". The secret being that there is no secret.

A Slow Fade To Total Transparency (How To Destroy Angels) although another ritual based performance was something else again though. Again in conversation with Grok magazine about these two performance Balance commented "for the most part we seemed to be doing it for a jaded, apathetic crowd of art groupies. That's how it seemed. The whole thing was so incestuous and every move you made, everything you did or said was noted and compared to something previous. I feel Coil can move out of that area and I want it to." However, anyone who has viewed the video recording included in the DVD collection of Coil's performances in Colour Sound Oblivion or on youtube would note that the transgressive nature of the performance seems to draw on the theoretical, physical and taboo breaking extreme performances of the Viennese Actionists, who would in turn influence the self-explorations of Coum Transmissions. Even Thee Temple of Psychic Youth's rituals, and especially those documented in the underground video cassettes of First Transmissions, seemed to inform the Coil "performance action".

It's an intense and slow-paced performance with Gosling robed in a nightshirt and seated for much of it. Balance is naked except for a rubber thong pierced with nails. They wind tubes around their bodies, smearing oils, creams and glitter onto their skin, slicing their skin and smothering blood over themselves and each other. Balance plunges a syringe into his arm and attempts self-strangulation. It descends further into degradation. Balance tilts his body and urinates, the piss dripping from between his legs, while later Gosling unleashes a stream of piss to the floor and towards Balance. Approaching the end, and just slightly out of shot, Gosling defecates. For what it's worth, I'm pretty sure Balance who looked like he was administering some sort of blood enema earlier on also defecates. It makes no difference though it's an extreme performance, filmed by Cerith Wyn Evans who at one point was going to make a film based around the original idea. Of course, Evans assisted Derek Jarman on The Angelic Conversation whose soundtrack was composed by Coil and featured excerpts from the debut Coil release, How To Destroy Angels.

The audio of the performance has been superbly cleaned up to the point you can clearly discern the words in Almond's reading. Black clothed and confined to the corner he rushes through a raft of pages, speaking, cursing and spitting out words. It's a litany of destruction that could be attributed to a relationship but it could just as well be, as his autobiography suggests, his own relationship to drugs and alcohol. Almond's own increasing drug use and the damning critical reception to Torment and Toreros sowed the seeds of a breakdown Almond was to suffer soon after.

This is classic Almond though, uninhibited and set free from the confines of the lyrical pop song format, tearing apart a relationship broken down by frequent drug use in a scorching bitter monologue. His reading, beginning with the startling opening yelp of "Hey, enema brain", is littered with base and brutal images: "Chemical toilet overflowing, overused"; "you're like a burst colostomy bag, a right fucking mess" and "as I always say a way to a person's heart is through their naval cavity or just follow the biggest bluest artery through a needle" - demolishing, denigrating and debasing his former lover. His lover's once angelic beauty ravaged by a litany of drugs and its debilitating effects on the eyes, skin, hair, body and eventually their hygiene, personality culminating in episodes of domestic abuse. This really is the dark age of love. In true Almond kitchen sink style, the action all occurs within a backdrop of domestic situations and household furnishings.

The pre-recorded soundtrack - by Balance and Christopherson - is set to an almost indistinct score of humming and queasy drone filled with wheezing, whistling frequencies. Peter Christopherson is credited as providing the live mix, but on the video you can spot him, pillar side capturing images with his camera. Eerie whistles ring out and descend into ominous drones before chimes clang signalling the end of the action when Gosling exits the performance area, as Balance collapses to the floor, spasmodically writhing his body slapping against the shit and piss drenched floor jerking, moaning and convulsing before Gosling returns and leads Balance to the exit, the performance and track ending on a studio treated slam of a door.

Although the performance, subtitled How To Destroy Angels shared a name with Coil's debut 12-inch; that, uh, release had specific intentions of being a functional tool designed as "ritual music for the accumulation of male sexual energy. Based on the god Mars and constructed around the numerology of the Kabbalah, its instrumentation involved a subtle and resonant drone of bullroarers, gongs and swords. The remix by John Gosling included here is radically different to the original release. From an interplay of gongs and bullroarer whirr the restless driving rhythm acts as a canvas to daub excerpts from the performance and the single along with repeated demands of "Mangia, Mangia" taken from Pasolini's Salò. Elements of the performance can be found in the processed clanging chimes and eerie whistles as waves of noise flow. Listening even closer you can perhaps hear the sound of processed gongs and the keening of swords. Shrouded and set within a shimmering Burroughsian interzone, the 9-minute remix pulses along to rolling flurries of mid-eastern rhythms and wails. It's certainly provides a more upbeat take when compared to the extended remixes Coil and Steven Stapleton produced on the expanded CD version of How to Destroy Angels.

The final track, 'Baptism of Fire', captures the raw vision of Coil and Zos Kia when the line-up and setlist of the group was interchangeable. Another live version of 'Baptism of Fire' featured on Transparent documenting the Zos Kia/Coil performance at the Berlin Atonal festival a few months later. The version here dates from October 12 1983 - a date which coincides with the anniversary of the birth date of Aleister Crowley - and is an excerpt from a Zos Kia / Coil live performance at Recession Studios, London, in a space operated by the punk activist band The Apostles. Featuring the same line-up of Gosling, Balance and Min it is more vocal with Gosling whooping and speaking on lyrical variations around the theme of "secrets" over pumping electronics, frantic snare drum rolls, noise and the clink and clatter of industrial percussion. Although an early lyrical take, 'Baptism of Fire' would evolve into 'Thank You' which would eventually appearing fully formed as the flip side to the eviscerating 'Rape' single. Transparent was recently reissued by Cold Spring on CD and vinyl.

This Cold Spring edition of How To Destroy Angels is a worthwhile audio document of the raw vision of one of the earliest manifestations of Coil. The performance is so visceral and extreme, you'd might be surprised that the video recording captures attendees such as Nick Cave and Jim Thirlwell skulking out. Both of them, along with Marc Almond and Lydia Lunch would form the Immaculate Consumptive within the year. The performance also marked the beginning of an enduring relationship between Marc Almond and Coil. For a while Coil would continue to perform with Zos Kia, before Coil as John Balance and Peter Christopherson began to develop tracks which would surface on their debut album Scatology and on various compilations. Even with the addition of the two extra tracks, this Cold Spring edition of How To Destroy Angels is really intended for Coil obsessives and fanatics. God knows what Marc Almond fans and those who came to Coil later in their more song based phase will think of this. For others it represents an essential document in the early history of Coil involving performance, ritual and music. For more information go to Cold Spring

Coil - A Slow Fade To Total Transparency, Air Gallery, London, 24 August 1983



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