Sleazy Cinema: The music videos of Coil’s Peter Christopherson

Last week we learned that a collaboration between Coil and Mexican industrial electronic duo Ford Proco is getting a belated vinyl release.

Coil’s Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson met Ford Proco in LA in the mid-90s, but before getting in the studio together he invited them to appear in the music video he was directing at the time for Ice-T’s metal outfit Body Count’s and their track ‘Born Dead’.

That nugget of information got us thinking about the late Throbbing Gristle co-founder and Hipgnosis designer’s heaving portfolio of work on film, including dozens of music videos directed between 1986 and 2001. As well as the macabre and grisly offerings he cooked up for Body Count and repeat customers Nine Inch Nails and Ministry, Christopherson lent his uniquely warped vision to songs by Marc Almond, Robert Plant, Erasure and many other less likely candidates, even offering his services to Abba tribute band Björn Again.

From a goth-lite treatment for teenyboppers Hanson to the retch-inducing intensity of NIN’s ‘Broken’, we’ve compiled a brief history of Sleazy’s career behind the camera.

Coil – ‘Tainted Love’ (1984)

Coil’s harrowing cover of ‘Tainted Love’, which appeared three years after Soft Cell’s hit version of the song, reframed the lyrics as a sombre allusion to the Aids epidemic then ravaging the gay community; an issue that deeply affected Christopherson and his bandmate and partner John Balance. The fittingly morbid video includes several images and phrases relating to the occult and Aleister Crowley, a hero of Coil’s and an icon of bisexuality, recreational drug use and esoteric spirituality. It was also the first music video to be added to the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Christopherson later directed a video for Soft Cell’s 1991 remix of ‘Tainted Love’.

Marc Almond – ‘Ruby Red’ (1986)

Christopherson made a few videos for Marc Almond in the 1980s, including this fruity film for ‘Ruby Red’ where the former Soft Cell singer is surrounded by studs, leather, bare muscles and a cadre of campy devils – definitely on the PG end of the Sleazy spectrum.

Ministry – ‘Just One Fix’ (1992)

With hard drugs, a ton of vomit and a starring role for William Burroughs and his shotgun, the video for Ministry’s ‘Just One Fix’ is emblematic of Sleazy’s knack for combining the highbrow with the very, very low.

Body Count – ‘Born Dead’ (1994)

Shots of tanks and missiles underline Ice-T’s heavy point in the clip for ‘Born Dead’ from his thrash project’s second album, while bloody splashes of red interrupt Christopherson’s stark monochrome vision.

Nine Inch Nails – ‘Wish’ (1989)

With a big budget to play with, Christopherson unleashed his not-exactly-hidden dark side for the MTV masses. Writhing, sweating bodies add a transgressive sexuality to this gory video, one of many he helmed for Nine Inch Nails, set inside a Mad Max-style fighting cage. (Unfortunately the embed won’t play nice – just click through to Vevo.)

Erasure – ‘A Little Respect’ (1988)

Likely one of the most-watched videos in the Sleazy catalogue, Erasure’s ‘A Little Respect’ takes its literal lyrical interpretation to extremes. Unusually light-hearted fare, but worth including in order to mention the fact that he also made a video for Björn Again’s cover of the same song.

Rage Against The Machine – ‘Bulls On Parade’ (1996)

Christopherson’s lo-fi aesthetic obviously suited RATM well – the band commissioned five videos from him in the early 1990s. Billowing red flags add a welcome element of beauty and ambiguity to Zack De La Rocha’s weighty rhetoric in the clip for ‘Bulls On Parade’.

Hanson – ‘I Will Come To You’ (1997)

We can only wonder at the record label meeting that ended with a notorious Wrecker of Civilisation being tasked to direct a Hanson video, but here we are. The results are subtly disturbing, but still among Sleazy’s most family-friendly work.

Nine Inch Nails – ‘Broken’ (1992)

The notorious video for ‘Broken’ was conceived when Trent Reznor asked him for “the heaviest video ever made”. When MTV refused to play it, the NIN frontman leaked a few copies to a video shop where it was frantically bootlegged, with fans making “bad dubs of bad dubs” to pass around. “Unfortunately a lot of people, especially kids, started to believe that it was a real snuff movie,” the director later explained. “You can just about see that there is a guy with a rubber mask and a chainsaw appearing to cut someone’s legs off, but you can’t really see anything else: you can’t see all of those clues that would actually tell you it was no more real than Saw 2 or Hostel.”

For more on Christopherson’s work as a designer, find out how Hipgnosis revolutionised the album sleeve in the 1970s.



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