(From the NME, UK weekly, 1 May 1982.)
And The War Drags On
Paul du Noyer hears Youth and Paul give their side of the Killing Joke saga
Bleak and remote Atlantic islands, nothing to fight over but a couple of penguins - aren't you sick of them? Ever since the Killing Joke task force of Jaz and Geordie staged their successful invasion, it's been Iceland-this and Iceland-that in the NME. But what of the guys they left behind?
I spoke to Paul Ferguson and 'Youth' Martin - the two remaining members of Killing Joke - to hear their side of the split-story that shook the world. Were they, I wondered, still in a state of shock?
"There was shock", says drummer Paul. "But now it's 'So what? Two bastards fucked off!'" he shrugs.
Just to recap, Paul recalls how it was singer Jaz's non-showing for a Riverside TV filming that first indicated he was leaving. Later reports had it that he'd gone to Iceland, prompted by an abiding fascination for all things occult, and was working with a like-minded local band called Peyr. Had Jaz given any hint of these plans before?
"No, not at all. From some of the lyrics that he's written on the new album ('Revelations', KJ's third LP), on reflection it's quite obvious. But at the time, no . . . Then we received a message, very much as NME did: 'I've left Killing Joke, I'm not coming back'. So from there we were prepared to get another vocalist and start in a new direction. Which obviously was too much for Geordie (KJ guitarist) to bear, and he felt he'd be safer going with Jaz".
Is that what he told you?
"No, he didn't tell us anything either. But from his whole attitude over that period it was apparent to us that he might make a move that way".
Jaz and Geordie, says Youth, have stopped all contact with him and Paul, and with the KJ company Malicious Damage.
On a brief return trip to the UK, the two defectors did discuss money matters with record company EG, but other than that and some statements to NME in previous weeks, not a dickie bird.
"Egoism" is Youth's opinion of Jaz's and Geordie's behaviour. But was that the only reason they left? Paul is reluctant to say, or to guess: "It's not the only reason, but we can only speculate - and I don't think we should. If you really want to know, you'll have to ask them. In a way it was fair enough, we all wanted a change, and it was time to do something different. But it was something that could've been discussed, we could have reached some understanding about what we were going to do."
Do you feel let down by the other two?
Youth: "Well we do, in the fact that the only thing we know of what they're doing is what we read in the NME --"
Paul: "When they say that they don't want to speak to the NME."
This abrupt severing of communications, it seems, has soured relations as much as the initial split itself. So, Youth, is there no prospect of a reunion?
Paul: "It's left us with nothing but the future, and we're very enthusiastic about that, and we've already started recording together, with a new band. It's great, because it's inspired us to actually do what we want to do."
The new group's line-up isn't finalised just yet - and neither is its name, with both factions in the break-up claiming rights to the Killing Joke moniker, an issue still to be settled. As Paul says: "At the moment, Killing Joke, and what Killing Joke stood for, is very dear to our hearts, and what has happened has been a huge Killing Joke, and what will happen is going to be another one. As far as I personally am concerned, the idea behind the name is still totally valid."
Legalities aside, do you think Jaz and Geordie still have a fair claim to that name?
"Not in the way they're abusing it," counters Youth.
Where do you go from here?
Paul: "Firstly we get our single out, and then we want to tour. I think that might have been one of our differences, in that whereas Youth and I were looking forward to going on the road again, the other two didn't want to. Basically our plan is just to build on what we feel that we've gained out of the experience. And also we're in a stronger position to bring people in that we can work with, without the sterile arguments we were getting into as Killing Joke."
Arguments about what?
"Well, Jaz was totally into his philosophy or whatever--"
Youth: "And he wanted to put the emphasis more on that than the actual music, whereas to us the music was very important."
How much do you two share Jaz's interest in the occult?
Youth: "It's an interest (shrugs) . . . but our priorities always lie with the music."
Clearly, Youth and Paul are keener to discuss the future, with special reference to their new group. According to Paul, the new stuff has KJ's "intensity of rhythm, but the mood of the music is different."
Youth: "It's much more dancey. It's still very heavy music, but at the same time dancey. When Killing Joke started, we tried to create our own sound -- then there were lots of bands that we were constantly grouped with who developed a similar sound, which used to annoy us. So what we're doing now is creating another sound which hasn't been done before."
(In fact the one newly-taped track I heard, 'What Good Friends Are For', bears out Paul's observation that "the feeling you get off it is much lighter, but the actual sound is still heavy." A highly promising foretaste.)
Final reflections on the Killing Joke of old?
Paul: "It was almost settling down to be a secure job, and security tends to lead to staleness, and so we split. Wonderful. It means we can become involved in real living again, instead of in that institution."
Youth: "It does inevitably end up as an institution with time. It does get into a structure which you feel like breaking away from. And since it's happened, we feel this surge of excitement."
And yet for Paul, who co-founded Killing Joke with Jaz, and for Youth, who shared a flat with Jaz for two years, the break-up isn't without some measure of personal regret. Both maintain they're pleased with 'Revelations', the third and final group album (out this week). They're sceptical of Jaz's prospects in Iceland. The local group Peyr, as Youth recalls, were "basically in awe" of KJ, and would be for Jaz a sort of personal fan-club (although NME's latest information is that Peyr are somewhat disillusioned already), and neither believes that Jaz has come up with any genuinely new music.
"I find it sad," says Youth, "that if he really wanted to get away from everything, that he should just try and continue in the same way."
Paul, meanwhile, signs off with a more conciliatory message for his lost colleagues: "Good luck. I just hope they find what they're looking for."
(In the same issue, there appeared this review of Revelations)
So Where's The Punch Line?
It's interesting that the final chapter in Killing Joke's litany of doom should appear the same week as The Cure's towering 'Pornography': a twin reassertion of primal rock in answer to the endless diet of pop candyfloss that otherwise holds sway.
That, though, is about as far as the connection goes. Where The Cure's melancholic vigour is mastered by an hypnotic surfeit of tensions and an undertow of song, Killing Joke run themselves ragged in a savage maze with loveless relish. Robert Smith's vision is unswervingly romantic; Jaz Coleman's amounts to an expulsion of dreams. 'Revelations' is agony on the leash of Coleman's humourless sarcasm, and it's a real ordeal to get through.
There's nothing remotely romantic about Joke's flagellation of rock structure. 'We Have Joy' is about the closest they come here to any kind of positivism and even there the content militates against it: "I saw the laughing one -- this was the West/He said take your spear and puncture the flesh/We have joy -- we have joy!"
As Barney Hoskyns pointed out in his excellent investigation of Joke, this is not some descent into punky depravity or anarchic sleaze: it's the sound of an annihilating efficiency with a sheen cleansed of gratuitous noise-making. Killing Joke's components fit their aims with machine-tooled precision. Coleman's voice negotiates the tripwires of excess with a furiously cold purpose -- he doesn't bother to scream or rave, just spell out the black sickness of Jokeworld philosophy with a caustic deliberation. Geordie's chords are the churning red afterlife of Jaz's diatribes. In the brutal wrath of 'The Pandys Are Coming' and the closing 'Dregs' Geordie's resource hooks up Joke's entire nervous system.
As Barney pinpointed, however, it's Paul Ferguson's drums that are its real heartbeat. Ferguson's tattoos contrive an endless loop of muscle that somehow fuses timekeeping and panel-beating. That it is dependent almost entirely on skins -- cymbals are used so sparingly they spark like flashbulbs in a dungeon -- only heightens the sense of complete darkness in Joke's universe.
'Revelations' (and I won't dwell on the multiple ironies of the title) sees Joke absolutely in control and presented in a manner which they couldn't have surpassed; so its pointlessness serves to finger the waste of their existence as a group. If Killing Joke believe in their nihilism as profoundly as they appear to -- and 'Revelations' certainly suggests that -- then their manners give the lie to their doctrine. To pose a rejection of emotional order with music of such rational rigour must be Joke's ultimate self-inflicted jest.
The terrible purpose of 'Revelations' -- interrupted only by the static lament of 'Good Samaritan' where Jaz is accompanied by Geordie's almost acoustic strumming -- surges out, tumult in excelsis, but its absence of any vein of feeling leaves it alone in a damned void. Conny Plank has recorded the music; he doesn't seem to have acted as any kind of temperate agent, although on, say 'The Hum' (where an ominous electric cloud looms out of the background) his skill has robed Joke in their most presentable cloaks.
For all its strength, 'Revelations' is empty and exhausted. There was simply no place for this group to go: "I wonder why I'm here and the bodies go by half-awake" goes 'Chop-Chop', in pretence of bewilderment. There is absolutely no use for this kind of hatred. I can't see that anyone will miss Killing Joke.