In For The Kill
The dark humour of Killing Joke. By John Gill
The Horror! The horror!
For one afternoon I played Sheen to Killing Joke's Brando (we even touched on vegetable rites!) although, naturally, neither side cared to take the simile to its logical conclusion. I didn't want to do it - if the Stranglers can beat up journalists and get away with it, what would this bunch do?
"As you can see," said Jaz, glaring theatrically across a table in an office of EG Records, "we're not really nasty people."
Indeed, no, although they do seem to relish the fear they detect in other people. But even Youth can, this afternoon, summon up a friendly smile. The only signs of their prickly nature were a few droll references to a certain review of 'What's THIS For ...!'. I'd called their them irresponsible and 'new brutalists', and was here to get the riposte from the horse's mouth.
"It only takes a person with a bit of brains to see through," says Paul, "to see what actually influences us."
Killing Joke are annoyed with the press, for calling them Nazis, misrepresenting them and constructing the grim image.
"It comes totally from them," says Jaz, "they seem to read each other's articles, use each other's expressions and just build on what's already been written."
Although they can't or don't want to put their finger on it, Paul seems to imply that the media have plainly misread the idea behind Killing Joke. "We all believe firmly that we have a destiny to fulfill as Killing Joke," he says.
The explosively verbal Jaz strikes up, "And we take it beyond music. Music is only one side of it. We like to physically go through the experiences we write about."
While feeling they have a "destiny to fulfill" they won't say that Killing Joke are pre-destined. "We feel as though we are fulfilling some of pre-determined path, gut we've got no answers as to what it is."
But even that can't explain the mythology which has blossomed rapidly around Killing Joke. Prodded further, they offer:
"Our music is certainly a lot more powerful than anything else," says Paul. "I think maybe people are frightened of that."
"It's not a question of the music being strong and evil," Jaz adds. "I just think it sums up, basically what is going down. It's as simple as that. We feel comfortable with the music. It just feels very natural to us."
Wouldn't they even agree with (it would seem) the consensus that their music is black and doomy?
"Not at all!" they chorus. "Not at all!"
"That's something that mystifies me," says Jaz. "I don't see our music as black in the slightest. It's your interpretation of black. I find music that's designed for commercial reasons more black, quite frankly."
"I think our music is hyper-optimistic," Paul says.
"Oh yeah!" laughs Jaz. "It's out to inspire lust!"
Geordie, silent at the other end of the table, now chips in, "Full of life! Passionate!"
They wont even accept eyewitness accounts of live Killing Joke being "tribal" or "oppressive".
"They've been taking too many drugs," says Youth.
Jaz says they're communicating "what's going down out there, which is pretty heavy from the punter's point of view." But he's at pains to state that they are not "glorifying it, or making the situation worse. We're just making note of it, and putting it into musical form."
What exactly is going down is never concretely stated, although certain examples are given. They have their own language, and Jaz's flights of metaphysical eloquence would suggest they see it as blindingly obvious. That it is not so obvious to others they will concede. Pushed to a point of (mutual) exasperation, Jaz bursts:
"I just see it as relevant! You can analyse it to kingdom fucking come, can't you?"
Possibly inviting retribution, I asked if Killing Joke care. Jaz takes this as meaning the business, music, money. No, I cut in, beyond music. Life!
Paul is indignant. "Too fucking right we care!"
"Of course we care!" says Jaz. "I mean, just the fact that you ask, right?! It's our life. We've seen it from many different angles, I can assure you. We don't preach our own methods but, like Paul says, we treat it as sacred. Our music may seem almost infernal to some, but to us it's sacred. It always will be."
"Sacred's your life," says Paul.
So I smartass back, was the reverend Jim Jones' life.
"We care about mindlessness like that, as well," Paul counters. "That is one thing we do want to say with the music. Don't believe what you see and just follow it."
Jaz is still taking umbrage, so I explain I just want to know, and print, Killing Joke's morality.
"He wants us to sum up the morality as four different people!" he says. "What words can we give you to describe when we feel there's no words to describe it. I'm lost for words. That's why we use a term like Killing Joke. That's why, before this band happened, we used to use that, when it got to that level of emotion. There are no words to describe that. I'd love to see how you use words to describe that."
Would they agree with the tag that they're extreme ironists?
"It's a bit more tragic than irony," offers Geordie.
"But that in no way hinders our concern for what's going down," Jaz adds. "Like that word, worship. I could never understand the reasons for worship, they've never been explained. The reasons behind worship, the reason why it's always been necessary."
He then goes into a long, complex tirade against the use of religion as a means of social control; against the politicians who, since time immemorial, have used religion to rule and oppress people.
As an example of this, he whips out a Freemason's apron. Depending on your point of view, the Freemasons are either a charitable version of the Boy Scouts for middle aged business men with nothing to do with their spare time, or a recruiting front for the Illuminati. The Freemasons are religious heretics, some would say pagans. The Catholic church despises them, although the Protestant church (not to mention every other social institution) is full of them.
Their rules of secrecy mean that whoever gave Jaz the apron (and here he gets very cagey) can expect, according to the litany of Masonic intonation, to have his throat slit and his tongue torn out and thrown into the sea. They're almost playing with fire waving the thing around, and not one of them would pose in the apron for the fear of retribution. (I'm playing with fire - the start atop the London Masonic Temple stares straight through the window of the Sounds office!)
The point of this party piece is, as Jaz explains, that the benevolent aspects of Freemasonry have been twisted, that the bank manager now rolls up his trouser leg in homage to Money and Power.
They are not dabbling in the heady world of paranoia theories here nor, they claim, are they just railing against that control.
"The people who have this responsibility," Jaz nods at the prone apron, "it's all just money now. I can see how it's gone. Now, instead of the architect building his beautiful building with that inspiration, now he does it to money. It's like cubes (i.e.: buildings) reflecting pure economy. That's just one angle, but it all comes down to the same thing again. Every direction leads to the same place," he quotes 'Unspeakable', "one fucking thing which we mustn't talk about."
As another example, Jaz offers, "You get something like the leader of this country. She leads a very physical life, she can't see beyond her own lifespan. She says, 'Right, 25 nuclear power stations all over England. She's on such a physical level of thinking that she can only think the length of her own lifespan, and not the generation to come after that and the generation after that. I find that terrifying. What can we do except forward, until we're in some sort of position of responsibility ourselves."
"We are now in a position of responsibility," Paul corrects.
Killing Joke, or people in general? I ask.
"Everyone is to some degree," he replies. "As Killing Joke and as people getting things into the papers that people read. Considering how many mindless people there are who can take what we and others say as gospel because it's written in the papers, then we have got some responsibility towards them... The songs themselves are own attempt to open up people's eyes - "
" - to understand the situation we're in," Jaz finishes.
Are they playing devil's advocate?
"To some degree, yes," says Paul. "That's perhaps the irony of it."
While it's not a crusade as much (a soft parade?), the intensity and violence with which they engage with 'what's going down' would seem to require a certain personal strength. Do they think Killing Joke are taking a big risk?
"The whole of life's a risk," Jaz says.
"It could end with us killing ourselves," Paul says. "That would be the ultimate killing joke, wouldn't it?"
Jaz continues, "We haven't reached a position yet where we're getting any real confrontation. Maybe that's to come. Who knows?"
Taking on a hostile cosmos (oh dear) is hardly the first thing on a young band's shopping list. When asked what differentiates them from all the other complacent buffoons they say, "We do." Full stop.
What makes them so special? Are they born victims?
"No," Paul smiles. "We're born winners."
I hope they are. Something tells me this is going to be a long flight, and I can't dispel the nagging fear that they've bitten off more than they can chew.