Although I didn’t know it at the time, I must have seen Thighpaulsandra live a few times around the turn of the millennium, during his tenure as a member of Coil. My recollection is hazy, but I definitely saw them at least twice at the Royal Festival Hall in London, the first time as headliners, the second time as support act to Icelandic also-rans Sigur Rós. According to Brainwashed, those concerts took place in 2000 and 2002 respectively. On the second occasion, I watched Coil’s excellent performance (which included the spectacle of two naked men covered in body paint walking up and down the aisles, handing out apples to the audience), but naturally had no interest in Sigur Rós. So I swiftly adjourned to the bar, where I remained for the entirety of the headliners’ set.
Fifteen years later, it was high time to check out Thighpaulsandra once again, this time in a solo capacity. Responsibility for the evening lay with Walter Robotka of Klanggalerie, a label and mail order operation that has been a constant fugitive presence during my years in Vienna. The consistently underrated Klanggalerie has been responsible for a long series of excellently produced CDs of electronica, industrial, way out rock and the just plain weird. While much of it is new music, the label really comes into its own with its reissues of often rare albums from the 1980s and earlier, many of an important archival nature. What’s more, Robotka organizes occasional concerts in Vienna, many of which I’ve wished to attend but been unable to for one reason or another. I would certainly have been at concerts by Robin Storey, Roma Amor, Farbfelde and Eric Random, for example, if work, illness and other domestic commitments hadn’t prevented me from doing so.
Anyway, Thighpaulsandra, whose real name is Tim Lewis, put on a fine show in Vienna to a gratifyingly large audience (the Rhiz seeming nicely packed on this occasion). The performance confirmed my suspicion that Lewis had more than a passing hand in the beguiling shift in Coil’s music that occurred around the time of the Musick to Play In the Dark Vols 1 and 2 albums. Of the whole post-Industrial scene that was so important to me in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Coil initially affected me the least. That all began to change around the turn of the millennium, as both Current 93 and Nurse With Wound began to run out of inspiration, while the music of Coil became ever stranger and more seductive. As another auxiliary Coil member, Drew McDowall, said:
“[Thighpaulsandra] was very important… he brought this whole other dimension to Coil, a much more musical dimension. He also gave the whole thing a Prog rock sensibility, which was really good.”1
Bearing out the truth of McDowall’s words, Lewis used some kind of modular synth set-up to deliver a performance that was rich in arresting moments, uncanny atmospheres and vast sheets of noise. Glowing synth textures and fragmented, twinkling melodies evoked Coil at their most lunar, while occasional resonant vocals added drama and gusto to the mix. The only jarring note was struck by Lewis’s onstage get-up, a completely unnecessary sparkly thing topped off by a pair of ridiculous shoulder pads. But given his single-minded pursuit of the perfect sound, I’m more than willing to forgive him this dire sartorial faux pas.
On the other hand, it would be remiss of me not to mention the fact that Cosey Fanni Tutti, formerly of Throbbing Gristle, publicly took Lewis to task on Twitter a couple of years ago for apparently selling the archive of another former TG (and Coil) member, Peter Christopherson, for personal gain:
It would be interesting to hear Lewis’s side of the story, but as far as I’m aware he has made no public statement on the subject. All I will say is that, in matters relating to TG, the positions of people who were in the group clearly outweigh those of people who weren’t.
Earlier in the evening, I broke one of my cardinal gig-going rules by turning up at the venue in time to see the support act. I soon wished I hadn’t, as I endured forty-odd minutes of join-the-dots industrial music courtesy of Michael Everett. Everett’s set was everything that Thighpaulsandra’s wasn’t – meretricious, irritating and shockingly rote. Consisting of dreary, flatulent rhythms interspersed with drones, frequencies and sampled voices, the set was accompanied by garish and uninspired visuals. The video projection came to a standstill after twenty minutes or so, although whether this was by accident or design remained unclear. Whatever the truth of the matter, the stoppage provided a handy metaphor for the paucity of ideas in Everett’s music, which stubbornly recapitulated without development, reaching a point of stasis from which it was fatally unable to recover.
1. Quoted in David Keenan, England’s Hidden Reverse (first edition, SAF Publishing, 2003), p.278.