Today’s The Guardian newspaper includes an informative and respectfull obituary of Jhonn Balance – “joint founder of Coil, a focal point for English avant garde pop music” – by Richard Smith.
Joint founder of Coil, a focal point for English avant garde pop music
Saturday December 11, 2004
In 1983, John Balance, who has died after a fall aged 42, founded, with his then partner, Peter Christophersen, the band Coil. The original collective, briefly called ZosKia, also featured Marc Almond on vocals, and John Gosling. Coil’s first release was How To Destroy Angels (1984), 17 minutes of “ritual music for the accumulation of male sexual energy”.
John and Peter turned Coil into a duo in 1984. Alongside Genesis P-Orridge and David Tibet, Coil became a focal point of an English avant garde music. John was also a member of Psychic TV, 23 Skidoo, Death In June, Current 93 and Nurse With Wound. Coil was the only band based around a gay male couple and they delighted in the “male sexual chemistry” this created. In the mid-1980s, gay pop was coming out of the closet, but Coil were the first resolutely queer group; their words dealt with desire, disease, dirt, death and drugs, and their collages sounded dark, dank and dangerous.
They were aided in the studio by Stephen Thrower, and collaborated with the vocalists Almond, Gavin Friday, Rose McDowell, Clint Ruin from Foetus, and Annie Anxiety from Crass. Their first album, Scatology (1985), was “a study in human degradation”. Inspired by Brion Gysin’s literary cut-up technique, Peter was one of the first musicians to use samplers, then a painstaking business involving 1/4 inch tape loops and primitive Apple computers.
Coil funereally reworked Soft Cell’s Tainted Love cover. Their album, Horse Rotorvator (1987), made when many friends were dying of Aids, was darker still. But Love’s Secret Domain (1991) was informed by acid house and the psychedelic guru Terrence McKenna.
Derek Jarman was an idol turned friend. Coil provided soundtracks for his The Angelic Conversation (1985) – with Judi Dench reading Shakespeare’s sonnets over music – and for Blue (1993). Their music for Clive Barker’s film Hellraiser was rejected by its Hollywood producers, but they provided the soundtrack for the Terrence Higgins Trust’s The Gay Men’s Guide To Safer Sex video.
John was a farmer’s son, born Geoffrey Burton, in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire. When his mother remarried, he took the surname Rushton. He attended an Oxfordshire boarding school, but, diagnosed with schizophrenia, spent time in a mental hospital. He took solace in Aleister Crowley’s works, and, as “Scabmental”, wrote a fanzine and made music.
John met Peter – then playing keyboards for Genesis P-Orridge – just before his 18th birthday. In 1981 John quit Sussex University after one term, and they became lovers. Before Coil, they appeared on Psychic TV’s albums Dreams Less Sweet (1983), and the live NY Scum.
In the 1990s, Peter and John – now “Jhonn” – moved to an old Somerset schoolhouse, making commercials and videos for acts ranging from Ministry to Bjorn Again. With programmer Danny Hyde, guitarist William Breeze, Drew McDowell, and Spiritualized’s Thighpaulsandra, they released ever more experimental material as Coil and as TheEskaton, ELpH, Black Light District and Time Machines. There were reissues of earlier work: the Unnatural History anthology series and the stunning Musick To Play In The Dark.
People described John as lovable, but shy, moody and difficult. David Kennan’s book, England’s Hidden Reverse: A Secret History Of The Esoteric Underground, painted him as highly demanding and a heavy drinker. An album featuring Coil-associated acts, Foxtrot, was released to help fund his 1998 rehab from drink and drug problems. He recovered, but split with Peter, though they remained close friends.
John is survived by his partner, the artist Ian Johnstone.
· John Balance, (Geoffrey Burton), musician, born February 16 1962; died November13 2004