'Live' From The Theatre Of Destruction
Killing Joke by Valac Van Der Veene
I blundered my way into Joke's world as Jaz was coming to terms with a new day, after all night in the studio. Muffled sounds from a room next door, indicated the cat was doing her bit to bring Youth back to the land of the living.
Joke's world is studios and cutting rooms, treks to foreign countries, occasional retreats to Wales, and a house in the Westbourne Grove area of London. This, the final enclave, is a testing ground for journalists after a story, 'friends' after a free ride, and a resting place for businessmen who haven't done too well for the Killers.
The afternoon sun rarely has a chance to penetrate the thick curtains of this apartment. Conversation is held against a backdrop of disco and dub reggae belted out at a hefty volume, making the reporter's tape machine redundant.
If you want Killing Joke, they may give you the time, but like any tribe (and more on that word later) certain initiations take place.
A cartoon house of mirrors, where everything you touch could metamorphose into alien objects - 'CHANGE'. Unsettling things - the stone cross propped up in the bathroom, upside down. And people with an uncanny mental strength, draining, methodically examining your brain. If they don't like what they see - you're out, one way or another.
The wind up - as we talk of Chinese astrology; "You're a pig, yeah, a pig person, it's obvious, don't worry, some of our best mates are pigs!" Thanks Jaz! Conversation turns towards other journalists and their fate. KJ's reputation is well established in that field. Paul Morley of NME ran home after a 'lively discussion', only a fraction of which ever hit print. Sounds' own Phil Sutcliffe emerged after a three hour interview, a wrote a strange piece comparing Joke's attitude to Dexy's Runners, of all people.
"Not one person who's interviewed us has asked questions to spark our imagination. Those that get it right, don't get printed. Morley was real lucky to get out in one piece, and as for Sutcliffe - he was okay but where did he get all that Midnight Runners crap from?"
The nihilistic aggression of Joke has reaped its fair share of casualties, and I've no intention of perpetuating the 'we're completely misunderstood' line. Jaz's view on the media came out in the first hour, as I grappled with notepad and recorder.
"Why use those barriers? Why say you're a 'journalist' and this is an 'interview'? Who tells you to act like that - if you want Killing Joke, be 'round with us, watch, feel."
I start to explain about Libel, and why notes have to be taken...
"A sign that you don't trust your feelings. You let them dictate how to do your job. Use your imagination!"
A bluff? Catch the reporter out, then notch him up on the Joke's wreckage list? The tools of the trade are slid out of sight. Friends or enemies, I decide to take up on Jaz's offer and 'stick around'.
Youth emerges, and adopts a prone position on the sofa - still half asleep. Jaz flicks through letters and fanzines. The atmosphere settles.
I ask why the album didn't ride higher in the charts.
"Because we refused to have it hyped. It would still be in the '30' now if we'd have taken 'advice'."
That from Youth, who says it quietly, no flag waving, just a line, a quote which further convinces me that the band stick to their high principles.
That album, my review, a nightmare time. Few records have hit me so hard. My emotions while listening - and, so I'm sensitive to primal aggression - but that thumping, and cutting, choking sound, induced elation, depression, self doubt and almost suicidal despair - and I kept on playing it.
Rarely does raw emotion end up on vinyl. When it does it can be a shock.
The album also brought my first taste of Joke's humour. After hours with ears glued to the speakers in an attempt to pick up some lyrics, I rang the studio in desperation for a word sheet. The lyrics arrived, written in a indecipherable hand. In perfect printing at the bottom of the sheet was the instruction 'use yer ears dummy'! I exploded!
Back to the present.
"Off stage me and Youth are the quiet ones."
"He never goes out," cuts in a comatose Youth.
"The roles are reversed on stage. I don't know or see anything from the time I walk on - it's a blank. I feel the audience, we give them what they project to us, I know I'm a different person on stage."
And seeing Jaz gesticulating over his synth like a demented politician, feeling his tension back stage before and after a gig, possession is the only word I can think of to describe this extraordinary character change. Does this frighten him?
"Why should it? It's just another part of me I'm not normally aware of."
Despite any pretension to the contrary, Jaz on stage is very much the aggressor. Now he looks almost peaceful, but the man prowls like a wolf, sniffing his friends, sending of enemies with a howl. A lethal power of forgotten or dimly remembered frustration stalks off stage as well. When you look animals in the eye, don't back off - that's when they attack.
Jaz has, more than any of the other members, reduced himself to the ultimate human animal. Hold his brown-eyed stare, cool out, survive.
The Pope walks through lines of saluting Nazi soldiers. The Pope blesses them in the Catholic way. The picture's taken from the 1930's - it's a killing joke, and they make a poster of it.
A pile of corpses lay shot in a First War trench. Machine gunned by the look of it, caught by surprise, the unexpected burst before Heaven or Hell. A top-hatted dancer alights with cane and bow tie to do a tap routine over the bodies. It's a joke made into a poster.
Can you see the black humour? All part of 'The Joke' who use shock tactics, musically and graphically to produce a reaction. Not everyone appreciates this cruel reality, not in this escapist age.
The past doesn't exist for Killing Joke. Aborigine tracking skills are needed to find even the most basic details of their formation and early months. Each member takes the subject as 'just something that happened'. They look to the future, collectively clawing for the recognition they seem to instinctively know will come.
Ask Paul about those first months, and he'll say "that's history, it's boring".
Jaz expects you to "use your imagination" - a frequently used reply to most of my questions at the initial meeting. The band has an obsessive desire to eradicate their histories, not because of any skeletons in cupboards, more because they were 'born' when KJ became 'The Tribe' 18 months ago.
But it's the early coincidences and planning which led to a 'tribal' band, supported by faithful helpers at Malicious Damage and a few close friends. I'll continue to use that evocative, often wrongly applied word 'tribe'. KJ had the 'primitive feel' long before pirates and sun drenched Robinson Crusoes preened their way along the capital's streets.
Those early days, when every hour was a fight for survival, honed the unit into a powerful, isolated, mutually dependent and ferociously demanding bunch of guys. Significantly, Adam of The Ants was to be seen at several Joke gigs earlier in 1980.
Jaz feels bitter that Joke's pure idealism of returning to a more 'natural' lifestyle, playing body music which pounds the brain, has been contaminated and mangled by the Ants and Co into perverse "dance music for sex people!" "Those people don't know the meaning of the word. A tribe is self-supporting, not self congratulating. Just makes me sick," followed by a flood of injectives to ram his point home.
June '79 saw the start of KJ. Jaz was calling around to manager, Brian Taylor's house and met Paul. Musical ideals, common interests - especially in the 'natural sciences' of astrology and tarot - brought the two together to form a band, solely dedicated to projecting their ideas. The music had to be good, the environment controlled for the production of 'warning sounds for an age of self-destruction'.
"Jaz has a power and perception that still frightens me," says Brian.
Jaz, magnetic, remote, an ability to use words like knives, all too often touching a sensitive point in even the most thick skinned observer. Paul's quieter and is probably the most articulate and visionary of the pack. His power simmers beneath a cool exterior, threatening to boil over and incinerate everything in sight - volcanic. Thank God he's got those drums to beat hell out of.
Bass and guitar were the next requirements, procured by the inevitable music paper ad, which according to Geordie are the only pages worth reading in the music press anyway. Several years' guitar playing and he'd never been in a band, and on this auditioning trip to town, Geordie didn't even bring his instrument. How this soft spoken Northerner got into an instant argument with Jaz, remains a mystery, but it earned him a roof and a group.
Youth, the fourth ingredient, had made a name in certain circles, but casually just left a phone number with the embryonic Jokers. He was living a classic 'deprived artist' existence on the top floor of a notorious Earls Court rooming house. The gang of three roamed that area in search of the elusive bassist, who was eventually captured.
To start with he was indifferent, and the first of several crises came to a head when the band moved to Gloucestershire for rehearsals.
The gentlefolk of parochial Cheltenham didn't appreciate Joke's early song writing.
"That's one place we'll never be allowed to go back to," remarked Brian. On one of his visits to the town, he was confronted with the sight of the group under virtual siege. The neighbours were complaining, the Noise Abatement Society had been called in, and the Police were knockin' on the door every few hours.
Another problem, to the despair of the group, was that Youth either refused to, or simply couldn't play. Jaz and Paul went into town to mull over the situation and drown sorrows, leaving a frustrated Geordie with the Youth.
Something clicked in that hour away. When they returned Geordie had fired up the bass player's imagination with a few primitive licks, and the two were riffing away - no problem now.
Time for gigs, and a support slot with The Ruts, and later, three dates With Joy Division -a group who Jaz recalls "were the most manic-depressive bunch he'd come across."
We all know the tragic sequel to those bands, and the irony of them playing with Killing Joke, although coincidence, is similar to the twist of fate which put KJ in New York shortly after Lennon's murder.
The first single (on Malicious Damage) was paid for by Jaz' s constant companion and mentor, Jasmine, and demonstrates the degree of loyalty KJ can inspire from their followers.
The 'born to burn' philosophy took more than just an abstract meaning as a flat and hotel were damaged by inexplicable blazes, and 'The Wizard' was introduced into the act as a fire eater.
This gentleman had associations with Jimmy Page, and provoked a series of rumours which amazed the band when I told them. The two wildest ideas flying about were that one of the group had worked at Swansong, Zeppelin's London base, and that KJ had been sponsored by Mr Page! All totally incorrect gossip from someone's inventive mind.
An incredible trek to Frankfurt ended up with a view of the City from behind bars! Joke's leap had been interrupted by the intrusion of an 'over-refreshed' (pissed as a newt) German, who entered their rooms at the hotel. Joke kindly 'escorted' the guy back to his own room and locked him in.
Our hungover schnapps drinker woke with a head like a bear, and a grudge against British rock bands, so he wrecked his room and called the police to show what these disgraceful people had done.
To anyone who knows the German police, the sequel was inevitable. The English speaking hotel staff who knew some of the facts, quickly forgot their bilingual abilities, offering no help for Joke who were handcuffed and put in a wagon. Dragged out of that jail, Joke came back to Britain to find a tour hadn't been co-ordinated, leaving them with a frustrating few weeks to kick their heels.
Three more singles eventually saw the light of day, remaining in the alternative charts for many weeks, providing good footing for the album and more recent tour, which unfortunately terminated early as each Joker contracted autumnal bugs.
A deal with EG management injected vital cash, while keeping artistic control firmly in the hands of the group and Malicious Damage, with Polydor distributing the records. This expansion was necessary says Paul, but there is an irritation with having to deal with the machinery of larger companies.
On the second day of this assignment, as we prepared to go into the Townhouse cutting room with the next single, I asked Brian why he stayed with the outfit, a band who's been consistently misunderstood, and who don't seem to care?
"I just have to see this through. Malicious Damage, their friends, everyone's inspired by the energy, their dedication.
"The band's commitment to the music and lifestyle is unbelievable. They argue like crazy, but no one has the upper hand. A totally democratic outfit who make life difficult for me' cos they insist on total control of their music and gigs.
"They seek perfection. To paraphrase a Hells Angel motto 'they prefer to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven.' I wanna be around to see what happens."
One fact which has led to criticism of the band, has been the use of album material for several singles, indicating a shortage of material perhaps?
"It's certainly not a lack of material. There're many variations in the mixes we've used. Each track has to be a definitive KJ pressing. I don't think the band wants to move on too fast, until it has the present material down to our satisfaction."
The truth of this attitude to perfection revealed itself in the cutting room as 'Follow The Leaders' and 'Because' were lined up for test cuts. Jaz and Youth take a background part of the proceedings, Youth occasionally injects one of his one-Iiners - invariably cynical and extremely funny.
He looks rustic today in a disgusting mac, and old farmer's cap, but I notice that for possibly the first time since seeing the band - he's shaved! (He's the only guy l know who's had a five o'clock shadow for a year.)
We get stuck into a band concoction of Jamaican rum, mango juice and pineapple soda - not as rough as it sounds. Geordie and Paul seem very much in control of the activities, taking a technical interest in what's happening. It's very clear that 'they know studios' - Geordie says it's just a means to an end - you either learn yourself, or get taken over by some producer. Another Joke track thunders out of the speakers, everyone seems pleased, except Brian who may just have overdone that rum bit.
America, even if it was for only a few days, gave the band a breath of fresh air. The promoter of the newly opened 'Rocklounge' flew band and assistants over to New York at his own expense.
"It held about 1500 but the interior was real high tech - bars made out of the sorta metal they use on manhole covers, genuine animal skin seating. Really basic with aspects of supersmartness. It's a sister club to Zenon which is more upmarket, the new Studio 54. We went there for a visit. I'm sure one guy there was a Kennedy - anyone getting too close was shoved out of the way by his entourage. The 'Kennedy' mob left appropriately enough at the same time KJ did, riding off in a wagon train of Cadillacs. I wondered how the Americans treated the Lennon incident?
"No one talked about it. They all feel personally responsible. It's a nation of apologies, a nation of inadequates who feel it necessary to shower you with gifts to make up for their soullessness." But an extended US Tour is on the cards. Killing Joke went down a storm in that country.
Paul doesn't want to talk about it but the 'occult' plays an essential part in KJ's life. Not the Black Sabbath '13 gold crosses in a guitar neck' variety, or Page's obsession with Crowley - "he's a prick anyway".
No magic circles here, just an instinctive desire to follow nature - and that's not a subject for scorn - using long-forgotten natural currents. The music's designed to energise the savage in your soul. Joke's sound is fun, tribal and exhilarating. Underneath runs jungle warnings - and to that extent they could be considered a doomy band.
Is it going to happen soon do you think, catastrophe on a Global scale?
"I'll give it another 18 months," answers Jaz as he runs to answer the phone. Joke spit in the faces of those who refuse to acknowledge we're all in a decidedly dodgy position.
Glam, Futurism and other 'head in the sand' movements are merely whitewashing the reality for Joke. They're convinced only a 'tribal way', an understanding of past futilities, like wars, will save us. High sounding I know. Clever publicity? I don't think so.
Killing Joke are the Theatre Of Destruction. The Killing Joke is a sketch which makes you curl up laughing, and throw up in disgust.
"The Music business is one of the best -- Killing Joke's ultimate burlesque."