(From Punk's Not Dead, UK music magazine, ca 1981.)
Killing Joke: Lust For Life
The Pope walks through lines of soldiers. He looks benign and holy. He gives the soldiers a benediction. The soldiers are Nazis. This is a real picture; it comes from the thirties. It is a Killing Joke poster, and depicts a Killing Joke.
It is First World War France. A group of British soldiers are ordered to charge out of their trenches across No Man's Land and capture the German trenches facing them. They are dead before they're even out of the trench. Scythed down by vicious bursts of machine gun fire, they lie immobile in those bloody trenches, their faces twisted in tortured surprise. From nowhere a dancer bedecked in top hat and tails alights on the corpses to tap dance over their memory. This is another Killing Joke poster depicting another Killing Joke.
Brutal, savage, black humour, full of irony and indictment -- Killing Joke go way beyond the polemics of straight society, using shock tactics to ram home their own bleak and total condemnation of social hypocrisy.
Like Theatre Of Hate, they are not a punk band in the normal sense of the word but many punks relate to them for their spirit of defiance, subversion and total intensity.
Live from the Theatre Of Destruction, they would tear down the lies of civilisation, expose it for the barbarism it is built on. Their tools are as savage as their irony, the music brutal, vicious and uncompromising.
Their latest album, What's THIS For, released this June was given a five star rate in Sounds, where the reviewer described it as the walking, talking incarnation of evil, 'the first tangible evidence of the New Brutalism', 'an album of incomparable verve, energy and aggression,' 'a vicious loveless wanton assault on the senses'.
But the review concluded -- that the band didn't seem to have the ability or responsibility to control the monster they've let loose.
Jaz of the Joke riposts: "It's not a question of the music being strong or evil. I just think it basically sums up what is going down. It's as simple as that. We feel comfortable with the music. It just feels very natural to us. It's not BLACK in the slightest. It's your interpretation of black. I find music that is designed for commercial reasons more black, quite frankly. I think our music is optimistic -- it's out to inspire lust."
So what exactly is going down for our murderous jesters? Attempts to uncover their past meet with stilted responses that it was 'just something that happened', though the band firmly believe that they have a destiny to fulfill.
They were born/conceived about two years ago, developing as a tribe, a self-supporting, mutually dependent alliance of like minds. They believe idealistically in returning to a more natural tribal way of life, utilising long-forgotten natural currents.
Correspondingly their music is body music, designed to awake the savage in the soul, music that is exhilaratingly tribal ('bestial disco' one observer called it), yet underpinned by doomy jungle warnings as they say, 'warning sounds for an age of self-destruction'.
No wonder their relationship with the press has been so strained, so many journalists freaked out uncomprehendingly, their complacency shattered, their set ideas disrupted, their synthetic friendliness repulsed.
"Not one person who's ever interviewed us has asked questions to spark our imagination," says Jaz. "And those that get it right don't get printed."
Some have tried to trivialise them, twisting their tribalism to write them off as little more than doomier Adam Ant, whom Jaz detests.
"Nance music for sex people ..." he sneers. "Those people don't even know the meaning of the word. A tribe is self-supporting, not self-congratulatory. It just makes me sick."
Glam, futurism and every other manufactured trend that the band consider 'bury their heads in the sand' come under fierce attack. To them, The Tribe isn't a marketable commodity -- it's the only way for survival.
Jaz: "You get something like the leader of this country. She leads a very physical life. She can't see beyond her own life span. She says, right, 25 nuclear power stations all over Britain. She's on such a physical level of thinking that she can only think the length of her lifespan, and not the generation to come after that and the generation after that. I find that terrifying.
"We are aware that we are in a position of responsibility. Considering how many mindless people there are who take what we and others say as gospel simply because it's written in the papers that we have got some responsibility towards them.
"Our songs themselves are an attempt to open people's eyes up, to make them think and understand the situation."
Paul: "Of course it is a risk. The whole of life is a risk. It could end with us killing ourselves. That would be the ultimate killing joke, wouldn't it?"