On 13th November 2004 the Coil website at Threshold House went pure black; no links or anything, just black. Something was happening. Later that day the news broke that John Balance, the lyricist and frontman of the band, had tragically passed away following an accident at his Weston-Super-Mare home in the UK.
On November 25th 2010 – Thanksgiving Day in the USA – the Threshold House website once again turned black. Chris Carter, a close friend and bandmate of Christopherson in the legendary band Throbbing Gristle, broke the news via his personal Twitter account. Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson had died peacefully in his sleep during the early hours of the previous night.
Word spread quickly throughout the electronic ether and everyone shared the same sentiments; it was too soon, the sadness was universal and thanks were duly given for his creative output. More and more people posted their respects on journals, blogs and websites. So great was the feeling felt for his passing that a book of condolence, much like the one opened for John Balance, soon appeared online for fans and friends to collectively share their respects.
Christopherson started his career in 1974 as an artist and graphic designer for the much respected design company Hipgnosis. Credited as working on the artwork for Pink Floyd’s Animals and Wish You Were Here albums as well as Peter Gabriel’s I, II and III albums amongst others, he was later to become a full partner in the company. He also played a part in the early punk movement, working with Malcolm McClaren and Vivian Westwood at their SEX store in London and taking early publicity shots of the infamous Sex Pistols.
After meeting Chris Carter, Cosey Fanni Tutti and Genesis P Orridge in 1975, the four went on to form the controversial and subversive group Throbbing Gristle. Their extreme on-stage antics included nudity and vomiting, earning them notoriety leading to Tory MP Nicholas Fairbairn labelling them “the wreckers of civilisation“; a label they no doubt revelled in. After Throbbing Gristle disbanded in 1981, Christopherson and P Orridge went on to form Psychic TV who released two albums, the second of which featured John Balance. Following the demise of Psychic TV, Christopherson and Balance went on to form Coil who produced an extensive catalogue of work up until Balance’s untimely and unfortunate death in November 2004.
With Balance’s passing Coil ceased as a musical project with Christopherson releasing one last album featuring some of the tracks that Balance had been working on leading up to his death. He continued to re-release some of Coil’s output both digitally and in physical formats, some of it remastered with additional unreleased material added. His last Coil release was Colour, Sound, Oblivion, an extensive DVD boxset featuring an archive of Coil live videos taken from shows spanning their entire career.
Perhaps a little less known is Christopherson’s career in music video direction. He has a long list of video credits to his name covering such diverse names as Nine Inch Nails, Erasure, Front 242, Marc Almond, Rage Against the Machine, Sepultura and many more including videos for Coil. While it might be surprising to see a big name pop band like Erasure in that list it is probably his work with Nine Inch Nails, and specifically the Happiness in Slavery video that Christopherson will be most remembered. It formed part of the notorious Broken movie which was instantly banned and never commercially released due to its graphic portrayal of sadistic torture.
Always looking for new outlets for his musical talents, Christopherson was reunited with his Throbbing Gristle bandmates in 2005 when they announced the release of new material in the guise of the Part Two album and a series of live dates during 2007 to promote it. The band continued to appear live on occasion and conduct short tours, they had been touring shortly before Christopherson’s passing when Genesis P Orridge abruptly left the tour and the remaining three formed X-TG to fulfil the remaining dates of the tour. Although they played a few appearances in this new configuration the remaining dates were cancelled when the news of Christopherson’s passing broke.
During 2007 and 2008, Christopherson released the Fear Grows Rampant album as Threshold House Boys Choir and couple of intricately paper wrapped CDs as Soisong, a collaboration he formed with Ivan Pavlov of COH.
My personal memories of Christopherson go back to the early 2000’s when I first saw Coil perform in a concert hall full of goths at the Wave Gotik Treffen festival in Leipzig. I still tell anyone that will listen that that night changed my life and it really did. I had never experienced anything like it; part experimental music mastery, part ritual; the whole thing was completely absorbing and captivating beyond words. I was lucky enough to see Coil perform three more times over the next few years and it was always Christopherson who would wander onto stage before the show commenced to check everything was just so before the main event. He always did that with a glint in his eye and a mischievous grin on his face, something I noticed he often had and I found quite endearing.
I only met him once and it was at one of the Throbbing Gristle open recording sessions for the DesertShore recordings at the ICA in London during 2007. The sessions were fascinating, lights flickering and an array of gadgets and instruments utilised. After the session ended I was able to ask all four band members to sign some posters and it was Christopherson that I spoke to the longest as he explained where the video originated for the recently released Threshold House Boys Choir CD. He came across as a warm, knowledgeable and quite softly spoken man who I would have loved to talk to for a longer time. Unfortunately, I had to move on otherwise I would have continued chatting. I got to shake his hand and thank him and I am thankful for that opportunity.
The funniest exchange of that meeting was when my friend and I enquired of Carter and Christopherson what the blue flashing lights were in the back of all the equipment, expecting some technical explanation about Bluetooth communication or similar. The explanation? “We got them from PC World, they’re USB flashing lights. They don’t do anything.” That discussion still gets brought up regularly in conversation to this day. Sometimes it is the smallest and funniest things that are the most memorable.
At the time of his death Christopherson was working on several projects including mixing the long awaited Throbbing Gristle album DesertShore which is their realisation of the Nico album of the same name. Although the band held open recording sessions for the album and released a 12 CD collection of them, the album itself never materialised although it seems a 2011 release is on the cards. There was also the Coil Codex which Christopherson referred to more recently and was planned to be a comprehensive collection of every released Coil track available; details were sketchy as it was mostly an idea for future release. Who knows what will become of these projects now that he is no longer with us? Desertshore is sure to be released but the Coil projects would need someone with suitable knowledge and skill to pick up the baton; let’s hope someone close to them does that so that the Coil legacy can live on a while longer.
Christopherson’s personal legacy and contribution to underground music burns brightly and will live on for long to come. Never one to shy away from controversy and always ready to push boundaries, he was loved and respected by many and influenced countless others. There will never be another Sleazy, or John Balance, that’s for sure.
Published by Igloo Magazine [December 2nd 2010]