(From New Music News, UK music newspaper, 14 June 1980)
If Jokes Could Kill
Jane Garcia keeps her head as Killing Joke explore the deadly side of mirth.
"The critics hate us for one reason, and that's because we're four totally different people - visually, musically, everything - and they can't put us into any fucking category. So far, the press haven't got a clue about where our motives or inspiration come from 'cos they've never really sat down and asked us the questions. We wouldn't talk to that cunt from the NME so he just made up his own mind - and he wrote a load of utter bullshit, rubbish." --Jaz Coleman: Killing Joke.
If that's not throwing down the gauntlet, I don't know what is . . . .
Considering the dedicated following Killing Joke have deservedly built up in their mere ten months together - packing out good-sized venues by playing a fierce punk-influenced music - their press coverage can only be described as abysmal. Apart from the expected single/gig reviews, I can only remember the negative NME feature, a refreshingly positive but pretty uninformative Zigzag piece and that's about it.
I wanted to talk to the band precisely because, apart from the personnel, line-up and that sort of thing, I'd learned nothing whatsoever about them from anything I'd read previously, and also because I liked their records: the reggae-influenced 'Nervous System' and the more representative single 'Wardance/Psyche', and loved having my brains completely scrambled by the power and energy of their live performances.
Just in case you've blinked and missed the dense wad of verbiage written about Killing Joke - which isn't difficult - it's worth stopping here to recap on their ... background.
The band was formed by Jaz and drummer Paul after the break-up of their previous musical incarnation, Matt Stagger. Their interest in the occult and an intention to run the new band under those influences made it difficult to find other members until a strangely-worded Melody Maker ad (asking for people into "total anonymity and complete exploitation") brought them lead guitarist Geordie and a lot of nagging from a persistent would-be bassist called Youth, whose nerves had rendered him completely ham-fisted at an earlier, failed audition. After being knocked into shape musically by Geordie, he was accepted and has since become the group's most instantly-recognisable personality, due mainly to his multi-purpose - "eat-in-it, sleep-in-it, live-in-it" formerly-white suit and a resemblance to our dearly-departed Sid that would have even Mrs. Beverley doing a double-take if she passed him in the street.
Being 'Sid reincarnate', Youth found himself playing bas in Lydon Minor's 4 Be 2's, until deciding to leave them recently after the completion of his contractual obligations, much to the annoyance of Swami Jock McDonald, who has apparently convinced himself that the lines in Killing Joke's 'Psyche': "Look at the controller/A Nazi with a social degree/A middle-class hero/A rapist with his eyes on me" are about his not-so-good self. (Personally, I'd have thought 15 seconds with Jock McDonald would be enough to convince anyone that he isn't exactly dripping with degrees, social or otherwise . . . obviously, I can't vouch for the other claims.)
After releasing the 10-inch 'Nervous System' on their own Malicious Damage label, the same record was re-issued as a 12-inch by Island, although everyone's favourite excuse - artistic differences - soon caused a mutually-acceptable parting of the ways. Having reverted to Malicious Damage for the latest single, Killing Joke are on the verge of signing to a major minor, but necessarily anonymous label. (Work that one out, indie fans!)
So the arrangement was that we should all meet at 3 o'clock on a Friday afternoon at the elegantly bombed headquarters of Malicious Damage. With a threat of "Don't be late, or else" hanging over my head, I arrived exactly that - by 7 minutes - to find Jaz descending the steps on his way out, having given up on me as being just like the other "journalists" - disinterested and a liar. It transpired that only he'd turned up for the interview - the others were still recovering from the previous night's sortie at the Clarendon Hotel. No matter - he's an astute talker with an abrupt manner, starting every sentence with "Listen" -- as though half-expecting me to suddenly entertain myself with a book during our conversation -- and ending them with "right?" But I've excluded this extravagant verbosity for the sake of our readership.
Although I'd noticed the presence of a fire-eating character at some of their gigs - you can hardly miss him, seeing how he shoots a four-foot flame out of his mouth during every "Wardance" chorus - I didn't actually know Killing Joke's black magic affectations until their manager, Brian Taylor, made it abundantly plain. I mentioned this to Jaz, and got a lecture on religion and the occult for my pains:
"Well, that shows how much you know about it if you think we were influenced by black magic. . . . Forget the music for a bit, I'll go into the inspiration and explain it: before Christianity in Britain and Europe, there was the old religion. . ."
I suggest paganism.
"Yeah. Corn dollies, the fertility rites of the earth and all these cultural things. In that age, the pentagram - the five-pointed star - was used and the age of Pisces happened with the coming of Christ, then the six-pointed star came in, the Star of David. Now we've gone into the age of Aquarius (cue hippie chorus) and we use the seven-pointed star. You may have noticed it's drawn on the floor at our gigs. This time, what I believe and what I know the band has total confidence in, is that the number seven is just the time of awakening. You can take that any way you like. We work with the seven days of the week and the seven planets that have the most influence on the earth, depending on days. Yesterday, for example, was ruled by Jupiter and the full moon in Sagittarius . . . ."
Really? I should now confess that my knowledge of astrology and the occult about equals my knowledge of the mating habits of hyenas. So if he's talking nonsense, write to Jaz about it, not me.
He continued: "Basically, we get a lot of our inspiration from the occult, and when we play, we take it very seriously. We've got a basic knowledge of astrology and we employ people who are good at it and the occult side of things to help us use it. That's why we have a wizard at the gigs."
The wizard? You mean the fire-eater?
"Yeah, he's just a wizard. (Just a wizard? --Bemused Ed.) It's as simple as that. We had a lot of experience with fire - we all lived in the same flat, which burnt down. Youth burnt his hand recently and a number of people have got burnt (Island Records for example?). There are two fire signs in the band and the whole band is ruled by fire, by the whole will to survive. We were all doing various rituals at that flat that burnt down, rituals to get the other member of the band. You must remember we're working on a totally different level to all other bands because we believe in what we do - it's our religion, if you like. Well, it's not really religion, it's certainty.
"We're all aware of how the band was created and the forces around the band that protect us. They've taken us so far and they'll take it a lot further. I don't care whether people believe in it or not. I know the planets and the science of the earth, and the influence they have. We use music because it's still one of the only things that people accept that they can't see. We're a superb band and we're gonna get big. No two ways about it, because the energy we create is fire, and we mean every emotion we put out. I want to make people cringe with the intensity they feel. To go beyond words. We want to be the last band to reflect all that happens in the next ten years. Our desire level is beyond belief and that's why it's going to succeed. We want to work ourselves mentally up to a degree that we actually become a living reaction."
If you say so chum, but whatever their aims and beliefs, Killing Joke seem to attract that endearing bunch, the Crass fans, who find their raucous music and upon first, superficial, listening, seemingly anarchic lyrics, has the perfect beat for thumping each other over the head to. I wondered if that bothered him.
"I don't give a shit who comes to the gigs. They can kick the shit out of each other, quite frankly, and then enjoy themselves. We'll play as violent as they get. We just go with the overall feeling, and when we've had enough of playing, we'll fuck off. Those people will never be able to put the feelings we give them into words - we don't expect that from them. But they understand it. We're like a drug to them - the energy level of an audience now is such that you need a high energy band 'cos they have to get it out of their system. They need us 'cos we're one of the few bands who mean it and believe in what we're doing. Public Image do, but they're about it."
I suggest Siouxsie & The Banshees and wish I hadn't bothered.
"The Banshees? They're fucking rubbish - a pop band. Paul, the drummer, likes them. I hate their guts (well, leave them on the side of the plate. --Nutritional Ed.) Angelic Upstarts, Sham 69 - fucking shit. The fans have got Public Image but their energy level is too much for something like PiL."
While he claimed to speak for the whole band, it seemed unlikely that Youth, with his carefully cultivated image of depravity and over-indulgence, would be very sympathetic.
It seems I was wrong.
"Youth stands for all that his name is. Youth, full stop. What they talk about in the papers - the degenerate youth - that's him. He's the earth part of the band, the front. He's got the face, everything for it. People have to have a nice face to look at, so they can look at him. He lives in what he wears, it's his total personality. What we all wear reflects us totally."
But considering Killing Joke are supposed to operate on a different level to other groups, they haven't exactly been averse to cashing in on Youth's similarity to the late John Ritchie. Jaz shoots a disdainful glance.
"Of course we use it. If that's where people's minds are at, God help them, but we'll use everything we can get. We're going to use those people as well - you can print that. We're the killing joke - the final. If it catches on in fashion, we'll find that totally hilarious. We don't give a fuck."
And do you know something chillun' I really don't think he does.
Jaz told me to talk to the rest of the band, so the following day, I visited them again and spoke with manager Brian Taylor and the drummer, Paul. To be honest, most of what they said reiterated points Jaz had already made, except to stress that they were all very sympathetic to his views. When I said that Jaz had suggested another conversation - with them - Brian laughed and said: "Yeah - he'd get thumped if he said anything they don't like."
Funny, that - I got exactly the same feeling.
Before I met Killing Joke, I admired them for their music and lyrics, and now I admire their ambition too. Their apparently total belief in themselves and the influences that surround them may be naive and even ridiculous to the cynics amongst us, but it's succeeded so far and there's no reason for it to suddenly stop.
Like it says on their badge: "Killing Joke: Laugh at your peril." After all, it's in the stars.