Moon Music - In memory of Jhonn Balance (1962-2004)
by Ed Richardson
On 15th November I got a call from a close friend, who rang to tell me that Jhonn Balance from Coil had died. At first, I couldn't register what I was being told. Whilst I never knew him personally, Balance's music continues to inspire me, whether used in ritual or just for plain listening. His death felt like a personal loss. Meanwhile, I have been aware of the split in magical and occult circles between people who knew of him and those who did not. I felt moved to write something, to honour his life and spread awareness of his work to those who have not encountered it.
When people think about music and modern paganism, they inevitably think in terms of folk or heavy rock. To a certain degree they may also think about "festival music" too or electronic music with samples by people like Terrence McKenna. However, there is another major genre that is listened to by pagans and occultists, namely the "Industrial" and "post-Industrial" musics, which started at the same time as and shared certain features with punk. This whole musical arena has been largely shunned by "decent" society, with its explorations of "darker" themes. Much of it has been directly influenced by and has in turn influenced magical themes.
Geoff Rushton, aka Jhonn Balance, has played a crucial role in this genre. Best known as the creative and driving force behind Coil, Jhonn also collaborated widely with other musicians and groups, including Current 93, Nurse With Wound, Psychic TV, Strawberry Switchblade's Rose McDowall , Thighpaulsandra and Marc Almond. He was also an authority on Austin Osman Spare and collected his paintings.
Born Geoffrey Burton, on 16th February 1962, he adopted the name Rushton from his stepfather. His interests in magic started from childhood and developed through his teens. As a teenager he was interested in the music and performance of occultural pranksters and art terrorists, Throbbing Gristle. In particular, he was interested in the contributions of Peter "Sleazy" Christopherson.
After the demise of Throbbing Gristle, Sleazy and Genesis P-Orridge formed Psychic TV with guitarist, Alex Fergusson and, simultaneously, TOPY (Temple Ov Psychic Youth) was founded. Geoff Rushton became involved in both and appeared in early live performances and recordings of Psychic TV. Collaborating with John Gosling, also from Psychic TV he performed in Zos Kia, named after Spare's system of magic. Gradually Zos Kia transformed into Coil and Geoff Rushton became Jhonn Balance and was joined by Sleazy.
Balance and Sleazy became partners and a powerfully creative force with Coil exploring varied themes including sexuality, psychedelic states of consciousness, magic and, more recently, environmental concerns. Coil's sound has always been incredibly varied, ranging from accompanied Shakespearian sonnets, to folk, to extreme electronic noise. Some Coil sounds are hauntingly beautiful. Others can be danced to while some confront and confound the senses. Where Austin Spare was interested in Sidereal images, Jhonn Balance was interested in Sidereal sound. In his article on Spare in the guide-book that accompanied an exhibition of Spare's work in 1999, Balance described Sidereal as being "of the stars". He explained how Spare's portraiture has a special relationship with the sitter, with doorways to the spirit world waiting to be found in the imagery. Coil's music brings together sounds, loops, instrumental and words and blends them into rich textures creating similar portals through sound. Perhaps Coil's most extreme example of this is the channeled sound of "ElpH" the invisible member of the group, manifesting in "malfunctioning" equipment and the flaws and glitches that occur during normal recording, editing and mixing. The album "Worship the Glitch" has been likened to a sťance.
Coil were primarily concerned with recorded music during the 1980's and early to mid 1990's and, in addition to albums, recorded film soundtracks and music for adverts. Their music was recently used in a TV documentary on John Dee.
During the late 1990's Thighpaulsandra of Spiritualised and the Julian Cope band joined Balance and Sleazy to record "Astral Disaster" and "Music to Play in the Dark". This has been described as Coil's "lunar" period and was characterized by "dark ambient" electronic soundscapes and a new richness to Jhonn Balance's voice. Recordings like "The Sea Priestess" and "Queen of the Circulating Library" explored humanity's relationship with the natural world and reminded us to "remember the sea". Coil also rediscovered their live sound during this time, performing at concerts from 1999 through into 2004.
Sadly, Balance like many other truly gifted visionaries suffered while he created. While he was lucid and known for his generosity and kindness most of the time, part of his life was overshadowed with his struggle with depression and alcohol. On 13th November 2004 there was an accident at his home. Jhonn Balance was drunk and fell from his stairs and injured his head. Sleazy was at Jhonn's house when this happened and rushed him to hospital, but he did not regain consciousness and died a little later.
With the death of Balance, Coil as a group has come to its end. As Sleazy explained, Jhonn was Coil. However, recordings that Coil were working on in 2004 will still be released. Meanwhile, the lunar spirit of Jhonn Balance lives on in his sidereal sounds as he returns to the stars.
A detailed account of much of Jhonn's life and work is give in the excellent book "England's Hidden Reverse" by David Keenan. Readers are also directed to the following websites: