On this day in 2004, Jhon Balance of the band Coil fell off a balcony in his home to his death at the age of 42.

A flatmate introduced me to the music of Coil by way of their album Scatology in 1990. Scatology contains a frighteningly beautiful, slow, dark version of Tainted Love along with songs that more obviously betray the industrial origins of the band, given that the other core member of Coil was Peter Christopherson of Throbbing Gristle. Balance and Christopherson were lovers and were already examining the toll of the AIDS crisis in their music and their graphics. (In other circles, Christopherson, who died in 2010, was a member of the Hipgnosis graphic design collective.)

Balance and Christopherson were both members of Psychic TV before splitting off to form Coil in 1984.

Around the time I started listening to Coil, they released the acid house-inspired Love’s Secret Domain which went into heavy rotation on my CD player for quite a while. And is still one of my favourite albums.

Coil went into hibernation for much of the nineties – I’m sure I’ve read somewhere that Balance spent a good portion of the decade fighting various addictions, but started releasing new music again in 1998 with the Solstice and Equinox singles, Astral Disasters, and Moon’s Milk in Four Phases, among several others preceding their return to live performance in 2000 or so. The last several years of Balance’s life were astoundingly prolific. There are studio albums and live performances and collaborations and plans.

Not only were Coil prolific, their music spanned a wide range of styles. As noted, Love’s Secret Domain has an acid house component; early work like that found on Scatology and 1984’s Horse Rotorvator are perhaps gothic, but not in a romantic sense. Related bands like Current 93 often get the label Neo-folk. That could apply, I suppose. Moon’s Milk and Astral Disaster tend towards dark ambient. (And, again, talking about music is like dancing about architecture. Coil resisted musical categorisation to such an extent that they once issued the sticker above.)


About two years before his death Coil performed in Prague at Palac Akropolis. I’d been prepared to go to Vienna for a gig that occurred two days later but was announced about a month earlier, but happily they came to the town I lived in at the time. Songs from both performances make up the 2003 Live Four release. My friend Chris and I went to the show together. You might guess by the way I write about their styles and their albums, that I did a very poor job of convincing friends what a great show it would be. (I still suffer this.) Chris, however knew some of their music well, and neither of us were disappointed.

The show was nearly sold out and was one of the most compelling shows I’d ever seen, between the visuals, the musical performance and the attendant stage performance of Plastic Spider Thing (described by performers Massimo and Pierce as “a highly moral, yet sexually explicit exploration into the relationship between the spider and the fly”). I feared during the performance that the band, and Balance in particular, wasn’t actually connecting with the audience. It may have been my own projection, but it was not shared by Balance himself.

After the show, I purchased a CD at the merch counter (which Balance and Christopherson autographed), and had another beer. In a moment when Balance wasn’t chatting with someone else, Chris went up to him and asked about a sample used on Love’s Secret Domain. ‘Oh, he said, that’s from Nicholas Roeg’s Performance.’ The two of them talked about Roeg’s films for a few minutes and to break a silence, I piped up how much I had enjoyed the show. He replied that the best shows were those in which he could play off the energy of the audience and that he really felt it that night. Oh, okay then. I then mentioned having enjoyed Derek Jarman’s The Angelic Conversation, a movie for which Coil had performed the music. (It’s also notable for Judi Dench’s readings of several of Shakespeare’s sonnets.) He became quite wistful in that moment. That movie, an examination of (among other things) homoerotic desire, he told us, had been a love letter of sorts. Jarman himself had succumbed to AIDS a couple of years before, and I have little doubt that he wasn’t the only person involved who had already died. I know we spoke for the better part of an hour and I was tempted to ask him to come home with me. I didn’t necessarily want him, but he obviously needed to be held. Alas, I lived well outside the centre of town at the time, and wouldn’t have known how to explain the poet I’d brought home to my flatmates. So I lost that chance.

His death shocked people who followed the band because he’d been suddenly so productive. Three completed Coil studio albums (Black Antlers, The Ape of Naples, and The New Backwards) were released after his death. I’m not a believer in such things, but not long after he died, someone produced an extensive horoscope on Balance in which he drew the conclusion that few if any people of note had been born under the same convergence of astrological phenomena, and that perhaps meeting Christopherson had provided him opportunities the stars had not.