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In memoriam: Peter Christopherson

Music video pioneer, electronic music innovator and Throbbing Gristle/Coil co-founder Peter ‘Sleazy’ Christopherson has passed away, aged 55.

Forever pushing boundaries artistically and creatively, Peter Christopherson – who died in his sleep on 25 November – was a true exponent of multimedia long before the term had even been coined, writes David Davies.

Christopherson first made his mark as the third partner in Hipgnosis – the celebrated British design agency established by Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell that created many of the most memorable record sleeves of the ‘70s and ‘80s. Hipgnosis was arguably most closely associated with Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, and Christopherson contributed to sleeve designs for both acts, including Zeppelin’s Presence and the Floyd’s Wish You Were Here.

In parallel with his visual work, Christopherson’s burgeoning interest in alternative/underground music prompted his first forays into recording and live performance as a member of Throbbing Gristle. Alongside bandmates Cosey Fanni Tutti, Chris Carter and Genesis P-Orridge, Christopherson helped to take the ideas that had fuelled preceding artistic collective COUM Transmissions out of the galleries and onto the concert stage.

Archival recordings and found sounds were incorporated extensively into TG’s work, often in the service of exploring dark and disturbing subject matter. Christopherson’s particular interest in the band’s dissection of sexual mores earned him the affectionate soubriquet of ‘Sleazy’; the nickname stuck.

Often deceptively ramshackle, the band’s unsettling soundbeds were created by a distinctive blend of traditional and electronic instruments, many of the latter purpose-built by Carter and Christopherson. Reflecting the grey, utilitarian air of the late ‘70s, they fostered a new genre, industrial, with their most enduring albums – 1977’s Second Annual Report and 1979’s 20 Jazz Funk Greats – yielding little of their power to provoke more than three decades later.

Subsequent to TG’s split in 1981, Christopherson continued to pursue dual, but increasingly intermeshed, interests in visual and musical media. As one of the first wave of ‘name’ video directors, he helmed promos for The The, Robert Plant, Diamanda Galas, Rage Against the Machine, Nine Inch Nails and many others, while he also lent his talents to several influential commercials. In music, he pursued a more melodic course as co-founder – with life and creative partner Jhonn Balance –of Coil, recording a dozen albums that brought rare and exotic instrumentation to frequently dazzling soundscapes that reflected the pair’s interest in pagan and other non-orthodox religious ideas.

The group’s live shows incorporated increasingly elaborate use of video, whilst Christopherson also became one of the musicians to use samplers extensively on stage.

Coil continued until Balance’s premature death in 2005, since which time Christopherson had pursued two new projects – SoiSong and the Threshold HouseBoys Choir – from his new home in Bangkok. He also participated in a successful Throbbing Gristle reunion and, most recently, a new trio, X-TG, featuring all TG members minus Genesis P-Orridge.

In addition to acknowledging his extensive creative contributions, many of the obits have paid tribute to Christopherson’s kindness to colleagues and admirers. As TG/X-TG colleagues Cosey Fanni Tutti and Chris Carter concluded in their own online tribute: “Sleazy was a kind and beautiful soul. No words can express how much he will be missed.”

Image: Peter Christopherson self-portrait, 2005