How Coil’s ‘Love’s Secret Domain’ reshaped industrial music for the dancefloor
Influenced by emerging electronic techniques and the rave scene, industrial outfit Coil's third album 'Love's Secret Domain' is full of trippy, drug-fuelled dichotomies and collaborations, and still sounds as thrilling and experimental as it did in 1991. Andi Harriman speaks to the album's producer Danny Hyde and learns its story
“I remember thinking, ‘What the fuck have we made?’” Danny Hyde says of Coil’s ‘Love’s Secret Domain’ — known as ‘LSD’ — which turns 30 years old this spring. As a producer and engineer, Hyde worked with the band’s permanent members John Balance (Geff) and Peter Christopherson (Sleazy) throughout the mid-1980s and onwards; a key figure in the rotating cast of artists who contributed to Coil’s visionary sound. Originally released on Wax Trax! Records in 1991, ‘LSD’ is a psychedelic orgy. Rave elements such as acid basslines and soft kicks are cloaked in welcoming, simplistic loops. Within ‘LSD’ there is iridescence and brightness, as the trippy abbreviation suggests, but there are also shadows and darkness; a nightmare disguised as a fantasy, a framing which appeals and appalls many to Coil.
Before ‘LSD’, Coil focused on barbarous noise — the thumping of metallics and the whirring of tapes, the bedrock of the industrial genre. Christopherson, who had been in Throbbing Gristle in the 1970s and early ’80s, partnered up with Balance of Psychic TV, who formed Coil in 1982 as a solo project. By 1984, Balance and Christopherson had committed to Coil full-time and released their first full-length album, ‘Scatology’, soon after. The confrontational sound lended to their socio-political commentary: a cover of Soft Cell’s ‘Tainted Love’ (and its adjacent video), a b-side to ‘Panic’ from ‘Scatology’, reckoned with the AIDS crisis and the terror felt in the LGBT community.
The band’s discovery of rave music in the late 1980s shaped their approach to their music moving forward; rougher edges were smoothed down, and elements such as house, calypso, and new age were folded in. While their industrial contemporaries focused on the militant basslines of electronic body music or heavy metal guitar samples, Coil dove into the rhythms and beats of London’s raucous club scene, and built a sonic richness that most of their peers hadn’t yet dared to explore.
Hyde met Coil in 1986 when he was 23 years old, after working with post-punk bands The Chills and Savage Progress. His composure in handling another band that was “speeding off their nuts all night” impressed the manager of London’s Paradise Studios, who recommended him to Coil. Hyde — whose initial appeal, he believes, might have been his surname, as if he was akin to the fictional character Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde — immediately felt close to the band, more so than his other clients.
“I had a really weird tripping experience in Amsterdam when I was 21,” remembers Hyde. “It was the best and worst time of my life, all in one evening. I was still trying to get over it [when I met Coil]; going through this trauma. I figured they’d understand what the hell I was going on about.” The band, like Hyde, had explored taboo subjects such as mysticism and alchemy, and understood the hedonism that comes with mind-altering experiences. Almost immediately, Hyde felt like they clicked.
That being said, Hyde had his work cut out for him in the studio. Coil’s 1986 album, ‘Horse Rotorvator’, is a brutal record that he found difficult to complete: “Geff said ‘Horse Rotorvator’ was ‘the jawbone of the last horse in the world, and some man got the jawbone and trawled the soil with it’. I was hungover and on my way to the studio once, and I said to my ex-wife, ‘My god, I’ve got to go work with these guys. I can’t face it today, I cannot face it.’ It was definitely moody.”
Between ‘Horse Rotorvator’ and the rejected 1987 ‘Hellraiser’ movie soundtrack — “we were using toy pianos, it was like a dysfunctional asylum nursery” — there was a sense that they wanted to break new ground with their next album. “Coil was always moving,” says Hyde. “If you worked in the studio with them and you’d try to replicate what you’d done before, you’d always get from Geff, ‘No, that’s old Coil, I don’t want that’.”
In 1989, Coil — whose line-up now consisted of Balance, Christopherson and Stephen Thrower (formerly of Possession) — began working with Hyde on ‘LSD’ in various locations around London; at Point, Milo and Matrix Studios. Moving on from the funerality of ‘Horse Rotorvator’, ‘LSD’ sank contemporary club music into a crude, sexualized bog of samples and loops, swollen with unlikely instruments and influences — an oboe here, some William Blake poetry there. “It could be a porno soundtrack running underneath a drum beat, it didn’t matter, it could be anything,” says Hyde.”
Not quite industrial, not quite disco, ‘LSD’ was a confusing concoction — one that even Hyde had trouble comprehending. Even so, “there was never a master plan and that’s what made it fun,” he says. “Everybody could feel free. In the beginning, Geff would come in with his notebook of lyrics and [other band members] would come in with a loop from a harpsichord... or some obscure record,” says Hyde. “Then, later on, you could say, ‘Look, I’ve been working on this. I’ve got this tune here. What do you think?’”
The idea of a democratic studio meant all ideas, loops, or sequences, no matter how outlandish they seemed, would be considered. “That’s a perfect environment to work in,” Hyde says. This freedom allowed Hyde to explore new techniques of his own, such as time-stretching drums and vocals, and designing pseudo 3D panning effects. For the latter: two separated modulated auto-panners controlled two Eventide Harmonizers, which were set to modulate tiny delays. When the two sides of the mix phased against itself, allowing for millisecond movements to phase shift, a 3-D-like effect was created. While the technique itself is barely audible, it contributes to the album’s lush sonic intricacies.
Listening to the album, there’s an underlying hostility between genre tropes throughout. Album opener ‘Disco Hospital’ begins with distorted, gurgling vocals, with a sample that lacerates like a cracking whip. A total contrast to the uplifting grooves of disco, the sound is gruesome and uncomfortable. The following track, ‘Teenage Lighting 1,’ moves to a tender, Latin-inspired beat, a surprising volte-face from one genre to another.
‘Love’s Secret Domain’, the title track, “starts with a bontempi machine, and the next minute we’ve got classically trained string players — completely different ends of the spectrum,” recalls Hyde. Even within the loose given framework of late ’80s dance music, Coil folded in elements that were uncommon to ravers. Flamenco guitar lines — “I mean, who the hell in an industrial band will say, ‘Let’s get a flamenco guitarist’?” — are twisted and layered into a sensual house groove, most prominently on ‘Teenage Lightning 2’.
Alongside Coil, Hyde worked on remixes with ’80s dance artists such as Flowmasters, Frankie Bones, Tommy Musto, Lenny Dee and Adamski. In line with that work, Hyde reportedly owned only the second-ever Akai MPC 60 sampler in the UK. He remembers bringing his hardware into the Coil sessions, including a Korg Polysix: “I found myself doing lots of dance stuff for the rave times, so it was all caught up with my samplers and my sequencers. As we moved into ‘Love’s Secret Domain’, obviously, those machines came along for the session. I think they influenced the album quite a bit.”
While Coil’s interpretation of dance music, particularly techno, was twisted and tortured, ‘LSD’ still writhed to a four-four beat. This combination titillated industrial outsiders — Coil were verging on approachable. “Tracks like ‘The Snow’ and ‘Windowpane’ are quite traditional, they’re not so strange that they’d scare people away,” says Hyde, of the songs more obviously rooted in dance music.
“‘The Snow’ is quite a conventional tune now, looking back,” he suggests. A simplistic beat, maybe, but its atmosphere is still chilling, as icy synth daggers pierce through a jazz piano solo. “Geff decided he wanted to do a dance track in five seconds. Peter got his King’s Singers [‘The Oak and the Ash’] sample and I got a beat going,” Hyde explains of ‘The Snow.’ It was produced together in a matter of hours, perverting a British choir ensemble into a psychedelic trance rhythm.
Spontaneous collaborations became part of it all too. Michael McAvoy, a classically trained jazz pianist, was recording in the studio next to Coil, and having known Coil before the ‘LSD’ sessions, McAvoy joined in. “We gave [McAvoy] half an ecstasy pill, he went off, and about 40 minutes later came back and said, ‘Hey man, I love this track you’re doing, I’ve got to play’,” remembers Hyde. “We gave him a keyboard and he jammed that kind of piano thing all over it.”
‘LSD’ took collaboration beyond guest appearances: each player offered their own twisted touch, allowing their presence to loom throughout. Marc Almond, who had found mainstream fame with synthpop duo Soft Cell, lent Coil his haunting vocals on ‘Titan Arch’, which induces listeners into a trance-like state with its swirling sounds. Elsewhere, the legendary Charles Hayward, of British band This Heat, lends his intense, experimental drumming to the sound. The most dreadful song on ‘LSD’ comes from ‘Things Happen’ — an eerie descent into the spiral of after-hours affairs — which features anarcho-punk band Rubella Ballet’s Annie Anxiety, an On-U Sound associate, on vocals: “You know I think your time is running out / What was your name, anyway? / No lipstick on his collar, but maybe it was blood”, purrs Anxiety, her voice as suspenseful and dizzy as the music.
“We just put the microphone in front of her and away she went,” Hyde says of Anxiety’s recording session. “She did a couple of takes and then we just compiled from that, but the vocal had to be placed pretty much in the correct place. We just chopped up what she’d done.” Chop, stretch, tweak: the result is a collage, an intuitive synthesis of sound that is, inherently, industrial because of the hardware manipulation. “We would abuse the machines and see where they go,” says Hyde of their process. “We were time-stretching stuff before people really had got to grips with what it was being designed to do.”
Alongside Hyde, Coil created in ‘LSD’ a style of music for anyone to get lost in, to explore both mind and body. It toys with oppositions: decadence and destruction, the makings of their drug-induced lifestyle. Coil and Hyde reached the apex of this during a five-day sleepless mixing marathon which Hyde says, due to a massive intake of ecstasy and cocaine, resulted in hysterics. “If we weren’t wrecked, we wouldn’t have survived... although, we almost killed ourselves anyway.”
Coupled with extreme fatigue, the drugs caused them to hallucinate: “There was a time when we were lying on the floor laughing because we were so screwed up. We were in a different world,” Hyde remembers. On the edge, mentally and physically, Coil’s cataclysmic completion of ‘LSD’ took its toll on them. “We all swore we’d never do that again,” Hyde says. “It was quite intense. The price we paid was that we all knocked a few years off of our lives during that session.”
And as a reaction, Coil were forever changed both as artists and people. ‘LSD’ propelled them into the wider avant-garde, away from the confines of the underground industrial music scene. The dualities of ‘LSD’ — industrial and dance, present and hallucinatory, darkness and light — allude to an impending threat of mania that lingers in Coil’s music. Thirty years after its original release, it’s a bizarre trip for anyone who jumps on the ride.