(From The Face, UK pop culture magazine, September 1980)
A Regular Bundle Of Fun
To Tell The Killing Joke
We Mean It Man!
The lines above formed the basis of an advertisement placed in Melody Maker just over a year ago by two musicians full of frustrated thoughts and part developed ideas. An advert they say they can't explain, but knew would attract the people they needed to form the Killing Joke.
Jaz, a singer and keyboards player, and Paul, a drummer (no surnames - anonymity - of course), had previously been in The Matt Stagger Band, but that was someone else's show, and they decided that they needed their own stage and their own people. These turned out to be guitarist Geordie, who was escaping from Milton Keynes and 'A' levels and was taken on before they had heard him play, and bassist Youth, sometime member of 4 Be 2, who admitted from the start that he could hardly play.
Youth is tall and gangling, Sid Vicious reincarnate according to some, but he doesn't look mean or mad enough. He wears a similar baggy, stained white jacket though, and his greasy hair sticks up in the same reluctant fashion.
Geordie's hair is more orderly. It stands up, of a fashion. It does what it's told. It's dead, peroxide blond. But underneath, his face is alive with character and quiet humour.
Jaz is dark-haired and olive-skinned, half Indian and fairly nondescript in appearance. Paul is even more so. The two instigators of the Killing Joke look nothing like the people they chose to help put their ideas into practice.
We meet in Youth's untidy Notting Hill flat, which he shares with Jaz. Paul and Geordie live two doors down.
Dirty curtains block out the sunlight, but there's a lamp on that illuminates a painting by Youth across one wall, it shows a deep blue-green sea, a sketchy, deserted shoreline, white sand, white surf, a blur of foliage and an expanse of dark, troubled sky, the sun hovering above the horizon.
It's as if Youth is trying to shut out the world. He might be trying to escape from it, or he might just want to hide from outsiders, from snoopers like me. But he can't. The doorbell rings incessantly and friends troop in and out, innocently dropping scraps of inside information, breaking all the rules.
"I don't want to talk about my background," he will splutter to anyone who inquires, "because it's all past and history. I don't think about it, it's boring, and I wouldn't want to know about someone else's history. I wanna talk about me, now, in the present." But if you ask him who he is, and what he's doing, he won't tell you, directly. You can read it in the stars is all he'll say.
Killing Joke have a fascination with the occult, formed through a friend called Dave. Also known as The Wizard, and a long-haired madman by all accounts, it was he who first chalked the seven-pointed star - representing the time of awakening - on a Killing Joke stage. It's now a permanent part of their show.
Dave also joins the band on-stage sometimes, and breathes fire in a terrifying, ritualistic war dance around them and their audience.
Killing Joke make punk-inspired (at a guess) innovative, disturbing rock and reggae rhythms. There are similarities to PiL and Wire, but Killing Joke have fused their music with funk frill, a compelling dancing undercurrent which surges powerfully through everything they do. It is forceful, violent music. It exposes angry, frustrated feelings. It shouts its message, directly countering the coy, secretive manner of the band members themselves.
"It's all pure, spontaneous thought and action," Youth, who doesn't mind talking about the music, explains. "None of us ever know what we're going to do when we go into a studio or rehearsal, but something just happens, we all put something in. We've all got different ideas, but they're all brought together in a common feel."
The group's first vinyl product, the "Nervous System" EP, appeared on their own Malicious Damage label at the beginning of this year. It was distributed solely by hand and sold out of its first pressing. Island Records then bought the rights to the EP but the liaison ended there.
Killing Joke wanted complete control, Island wanted a share, and there was to be on compromise.
Rough Trade distributed the next single, "Wardance", and it sold 16,000. The band were pleased with the way things were done there, they didn't interfere.
Now, however, Killing Joke think they've found a major to sponsor the Malicious Damage label, and are working on an album probably for September release. They're doing their own production.
Killing Joke are most definitely a four-man, self-contained unit. Even their manager, Brian Taylor, and their art man, Mike Coles, whose flat Youth's sits on, do only as they are instructed - Youth says.
"What most bands do is they find a manager and then rely on him to make them, right? If we did that with our manager we'd never get anywhere. Another reason why we're so different."
One wonders why they bother with a manager at all.
"Because he has to deal with the business side, booking gigs and studio time and all that shit, stuff that we can't be bothered with. He's alright," Youth generously allows, "he's got a brain and he knows how to use it, he knows what we're about and he does what he's told."
Killing Joke gig rarely however, surprising since their records aren't likely to get much airplay. "Gigs are your idea of promotion," Youth sneers, "yours and Warner Brothers' and Virgin's, but they're not ours. It's in our interests not to gig. People get bored and we get bored.
"The gigs we do are like parties. We like to have a party, where there's loads of drugs right, loads of booze, everybody gets completely wasted and gets off on our music.
"Have you ever been to a blues or a shebeena?" he asks, his eyes lighting up. "A shebeena is an illegal reggae thing in someone's house where you pay a quid to get in and it's like completely black (people) and there's so much weed, so much everything, you just get into rhythm and music right, and you meet people. You just get completely wasted and you have a brilliant time, and you remember it for a long time afterwards.
"That's enjoyment, that's pleasure, that's what it's all about. Or that's my idea of enjoyment and that's what I'm into. If other people wanna come along and get off on it that's fine, but if they don't they can fuck off, or go and see The Specials and go 'chukka chukka chukka', or Led Zeppelin and get off on guitar solos. It that's how they like to enjoy themselves then fair enough. I don't, I hate that, I can't take that."
And airplay, that's not important to Killing Joke either?
"How much airplay did Led Zeppelin get?" Youth asks. "How much did Pink Floyd get? How much did the Sex Pistols get? How many gigs did the Sex Pistols play? Airplay is for bands who are hip and fashionable."
The others nod in agreement. "And we will be just as successful as those bands," Youth continues, "because there's never been anything like us, and there never will be. You don't know, yet. I mean when the album's done, right, it's gonna be perfect. I've never heard an album that I've been completely satisfied with, but I will be with ours.
"Our album will definitely sell. It's been proven by the fact that everything we've done so far has been shit compared with what we're gonna do, right? Our singles have sold a helluva lot for nothing. It's just a matter of looking what is there and calculating what's gonna happen - and we've got everything. And we know we're gonna be successful."
Successful without anybody's help or support, it seems. No crawling, no canvassing, no compromise.
"No interference." Youth spits. And looking along the row of intent, determined faces, it is obvious they mean it. Man!