(This article appeared in the Toronto Shades magazine #19-20, Oct-Nov 1981, no longer in circulation, following Killing Joke's performance at the summer Police Picnic in 1981 in Toronto. Thanks to Mario Paiva for transcribing and e-mailing it in)
It's All a Killing Joke
by Angie Baldassarre
(band members: Jaz on buzzing keyboards and war-paint, Geordie on chainsaw
guitar, Pig Youth on funky bass and Paul Ferguson on tribal drums)
I don't know why I like Killing Joke, I just know that I do. I haven't a clue about the lyrics but I know what the songs say. Critics say the band members don't know what they are talking about: maybe so, but I really don't care. I like Killing Joke enough to have gone to the awesome Police Picnic to see them. Must I prove my devotion in a more sacrificial manner?
To the Police Picnic, for those of you who joined the
neo-suburban-punks-punkettes, I will not refer (ever again). For those of you
who did not go I will spare the horrific details. As usual, after three
hours delay waiting for our passes, during which the only entertainment was
watching pounds of groupies try and name-drop their way into the VIP section, we
are finally given access. Payola we are told we missed (I say we missed
nothing). But on my way to the stage I hear to my horror, WARDANCE. Is it
possible that Killing Joke are only second on the bill? But of course, the
Copelands cannot risk diverting attention from their proteges the GoGos (sigh)
and the "let's turn Roxanne into an
18 minute jam session" Police. The VIP'ers were not allowed to watch the band perform on stage, it seemed, so the short glimpses I managed to capture of Killing Joke as they enacted their tribal antics seemed quite short of
satisfactory. To add to the professionalism of the event, the plug was pulled on the band during REQUIEM for having extended their 20 minute set to 25 minutes.
Before leaving the stage, singer Jaz salutes the audience with a "now you can
go back to your love songs". That's the Killing Joke.
Backstage, struggling past a toothless Iggy Pop, Terry Hall's new hairdo and
Sting's sniffling cold, Jaz and myself find a quiet spot behind the pool-room
where we sit on the grass and discuss the many misunderstandings about the band.
"We don't have any manifesto", Jaz explains. "People either know or don't
know what we are about. There's no sex music or message; people in Europe know
what we're about, they're intense. They have no control over their destiny, it's
frustration, it's a feeling."
"For example, our name, Killing Joke, it's two words and it stands for so
many other words. It is a level of emotion, Killing Joke. Everyone has got their
own interpretation of Killing Joke. I don't ever want to restrict anyone's
interpretation of our name, it's important."
"Killing Joke: where you have no control over a situation. Then again Killing
Joke works both ways. It can be for the people who think that they have
no control over the situation. You have to use your imagination. Again, I don't
want to spell things out. I can give examples of situations I see that are
relevant, you know what I mean? I don't want to
explain more than that."
"I believe that the people who know will know, and the people who don't know
won't know; it's as simple as that."
"We know about record sales and about getting #1 hits. But I believe as the
days get shorter and people listen to us, people will begin to understand what
Killing Joke is all about. Maybe it will inspire them into other things, that's
what it's all about."
"I'd like to inspire people to react against a situation. I'd like to build
people's emotional intensity up to such a point that they actually physically
and mentally react against a situation using their own intuition, own
"There's this line in one of our songs, it says that every direction leads to
the same place. Every direction will lead to the same place. The right
people will be there; the right people will meet each other."
"In Europe, at our concerts, kids are there for Killing Joke and that pleases
me. Record sales are different. We will never get any good airplay because they
only play pretty music, like we'll never be able to be on television."
A pessimistic view, I observe.
"Wrong", Jaz snaps. "Killing Joke are the most optimistic band in the whole
world. We are optimistic because we are realistic. They say we contradict
ourselves. Look at man, contradiction is part our nature, Killing Joke too. For
example the leader of the country would say that in five years we have to build
25 nuclear power stations, that's because she is only thinking of her life-span,
subconsciously or consciously. It shows the physical, spiritual frame of
mind, everything that she is. She can't think of the generation to come, she's planning everything for the next 15 years."
"I'm not political and yet people can say I'm always contradicting myself
because I point this out. There's always contradiction, that's the fucking
"I don't want to change things, I just want to come to terms with them. For
example, there's this force that comes around every six years that we call war.
If you observe, you'll notice that man needs bloodshed. It's a fact, it affects
the human psyche, bloodshed. There is no more potent sacrifice than the ritual
bloodshed that occurs every six or seven years. Even cracking an egg is a
ritual. Just the idea of a sacrifice....like cracking an egg....can achieve
the same result. It's observing our own nature.
"I think today science and technology has gone as far as it could; and we
have to try to understand it as much as possible."
"I see the only way out is forward. The only way out is destruction.
Destruction of the old sentiments of life, destruction of the old story.
Following the natural instincts of life, this is the way I see things. This is
Killing Joke. The only control we have is with what we create."
Jaz looks at me, asks what I think. Staring at his war-paint melting from the
sweat, I smile. I never did think about Killing Joke.
"You're one of the chosen". My eyebrows rise. "I say that Killing Joke and those that know will know and those that don't I don't give a fuck about. Make way for something else, destroy all. I see destruction as something making way for something else. I believe again that man will live through it, that man will use his mind to create a viable world."
"I'm 25% of Killing Joke. The others have their own interpretation of things.
Our music is a challenge for those who need it. Lyrics are not important. I can
take apart the alphabet and it doesn't matter. It's the way it sounds that's
important, not what it says. Killing Joke is totally instinctive, it's intuition
taken to the extreme."
A very high opinion of his audiences, I observe, but what about the American
He laughs loudly but nervously.
"I think the mass consciousness in the United States is...beyond words. In
all my life I've never met such a mindless group of people. Like I said earlier,
those people that will know will meet the right people. Killing Joke goes
further than music, it is more than just a band."
The people we meet on the way are the people we are interested in working
with maybe in the future. Not music, but other ideas. The idea is to control
one's environment, that's what I'm working towards. I can only suggest to you. I
believe in certain principles."
He's being too evasive. I think he takes my - or his own, or everyone else's
- intelligence too much for granted, but I'm too hesitant to ask him to specify.
I do ask him, though, why he struggles for
such an idealistic society.
"Well, for a start I spent 14 years of my life with the church, intensely. I
studied Christian religion, I became it. Because I was so deeply involved I fell
out of it. I tried to combine that into music and I did it. Words can destroy a
lot, they get misinterpreted, twisted around. It is an instinct to sing."
"Now my project is to create the ideal society. I cannot explain to you in
any detail, but in the future you'll know."
I feel uncomfortable. He suggests we leave the hectic activity of the
festival site and head for Toronto. The city didn't impress him much and his
observations confuse me even further about his beliefs.
Maybe John Lydon was right in defining Killing Joke as evil, even though I
really tried not to hang around long enough to find out.
Jaz was an experience like few others. An experience I really don't care to
repeat because of the forcefulness and anger in his attitude. Interviews like
this have the ability to disillusion what's founded in myth, or awe: reputation.
Of course, maybe that's why we do them.
I was never in awe of Killing Joke, probably because they are one of the most faceless bands in today's music scene. What I do know and feel today is a higher understanding of Killing Joke's music, and I don't like the feel. The music, yes; but the ideas, no.
Maybe the real Killing Joke is just a myth. Or myth take. It won't be for the first (or last) time.....