(From Trouser Press, a US-based publication now sadly defunct.
This is from the December 1981 issue.)
by Steven Grant
Well, the boys got together and formed a band. Jaz sang and played keyboards, Paul played drums - they started Killing Joke two years ago - and guitarist Geordie and bassist/singer Martin "Youth" Glover (late of Jimmy Lydon's "4 Be 2") joined shortly thereafter.
That's as much history as you're likely to get from Killing Joke. ("We've done quite a lot of things. That's it," Glover volunteers cheerfully.) In addition to a candid disinterest in their own past, they transmit a passion for anonymity, apparently preferring to be known only by their first names. Personal identification of any sort is conspicuously absent from their records, as if to insist that their music, not personalities, is what counts.
That music is a blend of fierce energy and unconventional rhythms. It's not punk, not disco, not new wave, but something that can only be called Killing Joke. It's also been creating some stir in Billboard's dance charts. The band couldn't be more pleased, and neither could their label, Editions EG (home of Brian Eno), which broke with tradition in signing this odd cult band.
"They were the best of a bad bunch," Geordie says of the record company. "We dealt with Chrysalis ... Virgin ... we wanted as much artistic control as we could get. We put out what we want, basically. The other companies wouldn't stand for it." Even so, the band has mixed feelings about its self-titled debut LP. Glover disavows most of it; Geordie takes a more stoical stance.
"That was a year's worth of songs, hence the variety. We wrote a lot of the new album (What's This For ...!) in the studio, so the songs are a lot more cohesive, sort of all one theme. I only liked one track from the first album, 'Bloodsport', and about three on the new one. I get sick of them, they're so intense; I get to hate them sometimes. But ... well, you've got to start somewhere, you've got to make mistakes."
After two days in New York (during their second time in the US, and first national tour), Killing Joke is already pressing against the restrictions imposed on them. Locked in their hotel rooms to all intents and purposes, they seem restless, disconnected, anxious to get out and do something. Paul regrets they can't go out and get the feel of Manhattan - and America - they way they do in London. While a television pumps out cartoons, sitcoms, soaps and game shows, the other band members proclaim the absent Jaz (out seeing a doctor; illness prevented him from singing at one of two area shows) the image of Gomez Addams on The Addams Family.
The local concerts have underwhelmed Killing Joke. They feel there has been little connection thus far with audiences; the circuit of energy is incomplete. What can a band whose frame of reference is rooted in the depressing British situation hope to accomplish in America?
"Just to inflict ourselves on as many people as possible," Geordie responds. "I'm sure they'll like us out there - some of the audiences, anyway. I imagine they're a bit cool in New York."
Glover is philosophical. "I don't expect to accomplish a lot here, but the things we sing about are just as relevant here as in Britain, if not a lot more so. I suppose you could compare America today to ... well ... the Roman Empire, like. It's getting the same way.
"We don't delve into fantasy or escapism; we're totally realistic in everything we sing about. It's ... our emotions, how we feel, how a lot of people feel. I put priority on the sound of the music rather than the meaning of the words. This doesn't mean the words aren't of great importance to us. We treat them as a sound as well, not just a song."
"We do strive toward an ideal response," Paul says, "which is audience involvement in the music and what's being sung. Involvement is understanding the music getting into it and making us feel good playing it. A reaction is what we seek: dancing to it or objecting to it thoroughly, getting upset about it. It's extreme music, and we look for extremes in the audience.
"The music's all around a point of view, but it's not a specific point of view, it's something that's summed up in the killing joke. An understanding of that is what we're trying to get across, because we understand the 'killing joke' - applicable to all sorts of things. The ultimate irony, perhaps; it's something I personally find a great deal of hope in.
"For all the political and environmental worries we've got, I think there's hope in irony. If you're aware that things can go wrong and slap you right back to where you start out, then you've got your mind open for many more possibilities. When things do fuck up after you've gone through a horrible lot of trouble, and it's a horrible killing joke, there's still some room for humor, black or otherwise, in the end. You can still retain some sort of ... spirit ... about you.
"I'm very romantic myself - that is, I'd like to be - and sometimes when I lapse into romanticism there's this horrible bit of cynicism lying right at the bottom of it all. That's what we don't like: the cynicism."
Still, given the state of things and the effect they could have on their audience, isn't Killing Joke fiddling while London burns?
The question bothers Paul: "The things we sing about are to make people think, but I doubt it's possible for music to change anything. It might change people's outlook but not the total structure. I hope it works towards that, but music is ultimately disposable. Yeah, fiddling ... but what can anybody do? As much as you try to get what you feel is right across, people with more authority and completely different points of view will fuck you up. All you can do is try to get yourself into a position where you're comfortable with what's going on; that's the struggle everyone has. There again the killing joke helps."
And is Killing Joke comfortable?
"Anybody that is satisfied needs to pack up," Paul continues. "If you're satisfied, you're lost." A paradox, a killing joke.
Given the Reagan era and the country's apparent retreat into comfort and normality, it may be that Killing Joke has chosen the wrong moment to appear on these shores. On the other hand, once backlash sets in against such conservative trends, Killing Joke, extreme sound and all, may be the pop group of the decade.
"It's aggressive music, it's not polite entertainment," Paul says, "but we've got songs in the dance charts here, and that pleases me. As far as I'm concerned, Killing Joke is dance music. I'm not at all displeased by getting into the disco charts. I think it shows great hope for the world."