The unexpected sex education video soundtracks by the famed post-industrial band.
Coil was once of the most beloved post-industrial bands, formed in 1982 by John Balance and ex-Throbbing Gristle member Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson. Under various line-ups, the band continued until Balance’s untimely death in 2004, at which point the project was brought to a halt.
Over the years, Coil produced a variety of innovative, challenging, beautiful and atmospheric recordings, playing with themes as varied yet inter-connected as gothic music, industrial noise, neo-folk, occult vibes and ambient sounds. The band also dabbled in soundtracks – most famously, they provided a disturbing, evocative and essential soundtrack for Hellraiser, only for the music to be dropped in favour of a more traditional orchestral score. Coil’s soundtrack was judged too scary for a horror film that played with BDSM and body modification themes – imagine that.
The band also had a fascination with sexuality and its darker elements – their cover of Tainted Love remains one of the best musical moments of the 1980s, the song reconstructed as a cry of pain again AIDS, then devastating the gay community with no sign of stopping. Christopherson’s video for the track is now part of the permanent collection of New York’s Museum of Modern Art.
Some years later, the soundtrack and sex sides of Coil collided on a pair of unlikely soundtrack commissions. In the early 1990s, fresh from working on Derek Jarman’s Blue, the band wrote the music for two British sex education videotapes. Sex education tapes were all the rage at the time – not so much because the British public was in dire need of sexual instruction (they were, but that’s a different story) but because the films had found a loophole in the British authorities’ ban on hardcore porn. In 1992, The Lover’s Guide had passed the BBFC with an 18 certificate, despite having brief moments of actual sexual activity on-screen – blow jobs, penetration, erections and masturbation. By the standards of pretty much anywhere else in the free world, this was lightweight stuff, but in Britain, it caused a sensation – not only could you see these images legally – and in a well-made, slick production to boot – but you could buy it from respectable high street stockists. The floodgates were opened, and soon there was more sex education available than anyone could possibly need, with tapes of varying quality (both in terms of production values and educational worth) fighting for attention.
The Gay Man’s Guide to Safer Sex was arguably more legitimate than most, given the ongoing threat of AIDS from unprotected sex and the reluctance that some still had to use condoms and such – showing that safe sex could still be hot sex was a worthwhile cause, even if the release was still somewhat opportunist. It was made in collaboration with the Terence Higgins Trust, showing impeccable credentials. Coil provided an original score for the 1992 production, which itself was highly praised. It wasn’t officially released as a stand-alone score until 2019, oddly. Here’s the main theme:
That same year, Coil and the Gay Man’s Guide director David Lewis reunited for a less acclaimed educational tape, Sara Dale’s Sensual Massage. Sara Dale was a sex therapist of the ‘hands-on’ persuasion – not, as the British tabloids suggested (and by ‘suggested’, we mean did everything but say it upfront) a prostitute, but someone who offered massage and domination therapy for £90 an hour – and offered it, rather embarrassingly for the government, from a flat that she rented from Chancellor of the Exchequer Norman Lamont. Cue an explosion of tabloid excitement, a hasty eviction and fifteen minutes of fame for Miss Dale (or ‘Miss Whiplash’, a tabloid-given name that would later befuddle them into confusing Dale for Lindi St Clair, another dominatrix who used the same name and had connections in high places), who used it to the best advantage she could, namely a glossy – and, we should say, resolutely softcore – educational tape that taught viewers how to… well, the clue is in the title. Massage tapes were a popular off-shoot of the sex education boom, possibly because everyone knew, more or less, how to fuck, but few knew how to actually deliver a sensual massage.
The Coil soundtrack for this was less well known than their previous one – I’ll admit to almost falling off my chair when I saw this while researching an aborted book project on documentary and educational videos. It has yet to be commercially released, and unlike the Gay Man’s Guide, the tape quickly vanished into obscurity – there is no blu-ray re-release on the horizon. But it’s another great score, like its predecessor obviously primarily designed to be complementary to soft-focus erotica without drawing too much attention to itself, yet being head and shoulders above what you might expect for a project like this. It deserves a wider audience. Here’s a 22-minute megamix: