(From Melody Maker, UK-based weekly music paper, 16 August 1986)

Atomic Responses

Wickedly articulate, boldly irrational, intentionally irritating, frighteningly irresponsible, Killing Joke are a power the pop business still hasn't harnessed. Mat Smith braved their reputation and tackled them on the bomb, Live Aid and their new, neater approach.

 Exactly one year to the day, Geldof saved millions of starving Africans. I'm sitting in a very posh French Restaurant with Killing Joke. As a steak big enough for two is placed before him, Jaz Coleman tips back his head, sings that familiar refrain at the top of his voice, then cackles at the perverse irony of it all. Jaz, as you probably know, is a bit of a bastard.

He's also one of the most charming and sensitive, intelligent and entertaining people I've ever met. Yet, like some modern-day Nero, his reputation precedes him, making it impossible for outsiders to approach him with anything other than awe, contempt or downright fear.

Despite all this I like him and I like Killing Joke. For seven long years they've kept the world at bay. Seven years of rumour, vice and scandal, yet now they've decided to go public. "Adorations", their new single, released this week, will be a hit - their new record company will see to that. It all seems so strange, so far from the heady days of confrontation, conflict and insanity.

Yet these things remain. Glossed over a little perhaps by the publicity machine, but still there and they flow with a familiar excited pulse when stirred. But more of that later - first, the sales campaign.

"Our foremost objective, right, is to make loads and loads of money. We've usually done well, by hook or by crook, usually by crook, but we're all adults now and we want what we deserve. I can tell you, I will stop at nothing to make this band a massive, massive, international colossal phenomena - nothing less."

Big Paul, the Joke's aptly named powerhouse of a drummer agrees. "We've all made a total commitment to this and we'd rather give it up and continue our other interests than just continue the tedium. It's either make or break this time."

Killing Joke have never exactly been flavour of the month. Yet in recent years their stirring grasp of boot-boy aggression and ritual fervour has begun to pay dividends. Last year's hit single "Love Like Blood", did the trick without even really trying and now "Adorations" and a new LP, "Brighter than a thousand suns" (the title comes from a Sanskrit writing describing what many believe to be the first ever nuclear explosion, about 7,000BC) will ensure that even more people than ever will get the Joke but ironically even less will understand it.

"Our song writing potential is very interesting, nay, frightening." Jaz boasts. "We've linked up this time. The band in its present state is how I always dreamed it would be."

The new style Joke music is very much a stylistic progression from that on the "Night Time" LP - a less spiky but ultimately heavier form of aural intimidation and one with an almost classical structure.

How the fans will take it is another thing entirely. KJ followers have a very short fuse - ask Doctor And the Medics, The Pale Fountains, the unfortunate Aztec Camera and every other band who've retreated under a barrage of empty beer tins from merely treading the same hallowed boards as the Joke.

"It is far more risky now," Paul confides. "We became a name and a style that we weren't really. Obviously now we're gonna alienate a lot of people who think we are this."

"It's been a very instinctive thing in the past", Jaz interrups. "Now I want people to listen to the music. The thing I like about classical music - and Killing Joke is a beautiful orchestra - is that people go simply to listen."

"The thing is," Geordie continues, "It's very easy to make money in the music biz. Music is the only thing that people accept and that is a part of their lives that they can't touch and can't put a price on, apart from what the record costs. It's a legal drug and it's been treated too lightly in the past. You can do a lot of naughty things with music, you can play some really loony-tunes.

On such being "Revelations" - the LP that caused a split and very nearly a suicide. Apparently the original cover idea was to have the Masonic calipers offset by seven degrees. Following various threats, the idea was ditched, the album still hangs like a dark scary cloud over the Joke camp.

"That was really intense," Paul mutter with classic understatement. Too intense? "Fuck off," Geordie replies. "Too intense for who? Ourselves? That's who we do it for mate! You've got to shake the tree every now and then just to get rid of the rotten branches.

"He's talking about Youth, the original Joke bassist who fled the fold when Jaz and Geordie hopped it to Iceland. The rest of the band occasionally bump into the errant bassist though Jaz has only conflicting emotions of pity and sarcasm for his former sparring partner.

"What's strange about it is that I don't really know him any more. After I came back from Iceland he thought he was gonna have a big commercial success with his new band so he stuck the boot in. Well I'm the bastard that remembers these things and when things get going good for me I'll really stick the boot in. He seems a bit of a lost soul to me. I certainly don't think much of what he's doing.

"Did they, I wondered have any respect for any of their other contemporaries.

A certain amount for some of them," Paul reflects. "Lydon's done a lot of stuff that we've liked. We all hate The Clash but then we always did. With a lot of our heroes, be it in music or politics, it's their attitude and belief that makes them shine."

I mention Psychic TV and wish I was back in England.

"Ugh!" Jaz contorts his face into the most abominable shape. "Ugh! They're not musicians - they're not even people. They're disgusting. They are the scum of the earth. I don't like what they put out and publicly align themselves with. They disgust me. How can you even mention them?"

I offer vague apologies and he embarks on the first of many extreme but persuasive lectures: "I do everything on a systematic breakdown on the inevitable - especially when I talk about something like nuclear war - which I do all the time. It is something that scares everyone on the planet so I study it so that I can be familiar with the fears of the human race.

When Jaz talks about you and me, he does it using science-book terms, referring to the collective or the masses as if there was some superior intellect at work - his."

I see awful changes that nobody will understand. I'm not going to predict when they will happen - I've got out of that lark - but they will occur in your lifetime. I think civilisation gets to the point where it can't develop anymore and the point that the collective can't accept at that point is the transformation and how extreme it can be."

Man is at his best when he is in alignment with nature but sadly nature is not compassionate. Our morals are in conflict with what is. If I describe an atomic explosion, I see it in terms of how beautiful it is. I believe in Uranium and Plutonium extending nature, that's my school of thought. I call it continuity but you cant talk to people about that because it is so sensitive because of the existing morality."

Jaz's views on nuclear war and what comes after it are legendary. Throughout the course of the weekend and on subsequent meetings, the topic of conversation always returns to the same inevitable point. It's as if the holocaust occupies his every waking hour.

"It does! It does! I wake up screaming some mornings with the thoughts that are racing around in my head. You see I cant live as a human being without the thought of nature regenerating itself. I understand when the drummer gets pissed of about the one subject that motivates me but I couldn't live without it. Every song that I've ever written with Killing Joke has been about it - right back to "The Wait". I like going places where I see untouched nature, places that have nothing to do with the life I lead in London. I like letting these places affect me emotionally. It gets to me, its abnormal, it's awful - but if I didn't know that one day I'd have nothing to do with this life and be living one where my existence is more justified..."

Jaz admits that he's come close to going over the edge several time - Iceland is only one well documented example.

"I'm a little to sensitive for this game sometimes, I think. I tend to explode. I'm not a very big guy in Killing Joke but I'm a nutter, a fanatic. In that way someone can be three times as big as me and I'll fucking kill them. I have a bit of an explosive side. When I get depressed I go out of my head - I don't know what I'm doing but I believe that everybody is a potential king and I know where my kingdom lies. There'll always be thousands of people who take an interest in my work.

It's that measure of will and an overriding belief in himself that's stopped Jaz from becoming just another casualty like Ian Curtis.

"Actually, Joy Division were the last band that I really liked. The last one to have that degree of commitment, fanaticism and insanity that moves me. Music should always move you. I'd hate to end up saying something like 'interesting' after listening to something - that tells you that the relationship between the subject and the artist is somewhat weak.

By now he's been talking for over an hour and talking, despite the frequent interruptions of soundchecks, and liggers, with an intensity of thought, phrase and charisma that demands total concentration. And yet the naughty schoolboy side of his character is never far below the surface and when it rises it strikes with demonic force with no regard for consequence.

"What a marvellous beast!" he exclaims with justified admiration for the zoom lens Hasselblad Raven has just filched from Rider's photographic case. "Is it yours Raven?" he enquires.

"It is now," the bassist replies.

"Throw it on the roof then!" Jaz orders in all seriousness.

Luckily the photographer arrives and a grand-and-a-half's worth of livelihood is spared the aerial route to oblivion

."I hate being misinterpreted by rationalists", Jaz continues, as if to answer the horrified stares of the photographer. "We cant go on talking about me and women in terms of positive and negative plug sockets on a wall. To interpret man in more poetic terms is much more preferable. I am a romanticist. I am also a traditionalist - I like my cup of tea and its corresponding culture. That is why I hate Thatcher. I hate her because allows this country to be Americanised. SHE IS A HYPOCRITE OF THE LOWEST AND FILTHIEST FORM."

By now he's almost shouting. "I am anti-American, fiercely anti-American, I don't mind saying that. And it's gonna be a big problem in my career 'cos the rest of the band want to go back there.

"I can't tell you how I feel about it. It's got to the stage where money doesn't matter to me. I'm not gonna be fucking walked over. I'm not going to be bullied on a commercial level. Killing Joke for me has always been an ideal which I've tried to remain loyal to and I intend it to continue that way. I look at things in terms of a creative environment and America is my antithesis of that. Therefore the promise of 50,000 pounds in my bank account means very little. I'm not afraid of sleeping on floors again. I like to enjoy a high standard of living sometimes and other times I like to be somewhere quite primitive.

"I like the open-mindedness of America but its consciousness is the epitome of mindlessness. I feel very strongly about American foreign policy. Hah! I FUCKING HATE IT. I can tell you, it makes me violent you know. It really makes me wanna smash things up. It brings out something nasty in me."

His eyes begin to bulge and I take the opportunity to back off and sample the delights of French cooking Brest style. I leave Jaz rocking on his chair.

The Brest Rockscene Festival is an infamous fiasco. Held annually it never makes any money because nobody ever goes. If you've been to Brest you'll know why. It is a crap hole. Today a pathetic 5,000 or so huddle in front of the stage, dwarfed by the empty terraces surrounding them. Understandably Jaz throws a wobbler.

"We are not fucking going on!" He screams. "This is pathetic! We could get more at a secret gig in England."

In the guest enclosure, members of Big Country and Status Quo notice the outburst and eye its perpetrator with a mixture of fear and embarrassment - after all they're the headliners and, as such, are supposed to pull in the crowd. Eventually placated, the Joke take the stage and laugh all the way to the bank, Jaz almost dissolving into a fit of giggles by the end of the gig at the absurdity of it all.

"There is a perverse satisfaction in playing a festival in front of just a handful of people. You can't equate that to some grand plan of what you think about the whole of the fucking universe, you can only put it down to your own ego and satisfaction and some sort of puerile enjoyment out of being onstage.

"It's late and a very pissed Big Paul and Geordie are sitting in a hotel bar giving me the other side of the story. "We've always known that our music should be presented in real terms and with grandeur - images that can only be associated with something that is better.

Despite daring to portray perfection, the pair frustratingly clam up and eventually get irritated by the questions that such a superior standpoint inevitably provokes: "It all becomes so serious," Paul complains. "People sit there eternally questioning what we do. Whatever Jaz says, basically it comes down to and mundane things like that. There is an intensely serious side to it but we thrive on not thinking about it - we just do it."

All four members of Killing Joke have never been shy in coming forward. Jaz himself is awaiting the publication of his first book - a fascinating collection of abstract thought and fancy, barbarism and brutality. Paul methodically explains some of the more primitive theories on life and how to live it put forward by the singer:

"We must accept that there is brutality within us not try to fight it with moral codes that don't fit the crimes."

The Romans had it sussed," Geordie slurs from the bottom of a Tequila bottle. "I glance at the papers and I see yobbos slashing up old geezers on the streets. I mean, that inferior base mentality has always existed, like it or not. You don't try to fight it. You get 'em in a ring and make a bit of dosh out of them. There will always be weak people. I just hope when the bomb goes off enough of them will go with it. I mean that whole Ethiopian thing stinks. They're there right for better or worse, but how can they bring a child into that knowing that the situation is gonna be there forever. How can they do it? Just for a fuck! They're filth. Die filth. Straight up."

A week after I am waiting apprehensively in a studio below the Kensington Music Shop with only a piano and a hundred dusty piles of sheet music for company. Just as I'm beginning to wonder whether Jaz's promise of a private rendition of his symphony was all a joke I hear footsteps on the stairs above and that cackle cracks through the silence. He's here.

Jaz strides purposefully into the room, bids me hello and hands me the music to his first symphony which he then proceeds to play with concert pianist skill for the next half-hour, the only words spoken being the occasional "Turn the page bastard" and "Your not following correctly.

"It reminds me of the Music 'O' level I failed. Afterward we retire to a café to talk about religion, Freemasonry and Crowley most of which is frustratingly discussed "off the record" under threat of death should any of it appear in print. I'm not kidding and I'm sure neither was he. Retribution Killing Joke style is legendary and affectionately known within band circles as "the trail of destruction". Big Paul is philosophical about it. "We've alienated so many people who would be useful to us now but they're just inconsequential casualties. We'll survive without them. I don't think we've suffered because of it - in a way we've gained cos we've been very insular in what we wanted to do and what we've put out.

Do you think you're calmer these days Jaz?

"Hah Hah Hah!" The cackle erupts again. "You ask my management and the people that have to deal with me. When I believe in something I don't take it lightly. I don't like people fucking up what I'm doing. I'm more of a fanatic than I ever was, it's just that now I apply a little more restraint. I like to live my life the way I want to and I will kill anyone who gets in the way. You can print that!

"The topic of conversation again turns to Live Aid - Jaz has devoted an entire chapter to it in his forthcoming book: "The way I look at it is: Should we act out of guilt of our birthright, having a healthy mind and body, should we feel guilty when the unfortunate don't have it or should we use our birthright to its fullest capacity - that's the point I'm making. To tell you the truth, Live Aid made me feel sick. I don't know what it was about it, I honestly don't, I just didn't like it. It was a horrible vibe. I found the atmosphere highly repellent. I'll be very unpopular for saying it but I don't care. I can't relate to that Christian ethic.

"I think that kind of morality will disappear in time simply because it will not be relevant anymore. I think people will witness atrocities and grow used to them. Like if you read psychological reports on people who survived the Jewish holocaust they saw hangings and tortures yet they became emotionless about them. I believe this is inevitable.

"If it's so inevitable, I argue, surely all it will do is speed up the extinction of the human race.

"No," he replies. "I believe we will get perspective on our barbarism. I mean, the fact that we have not evolved at all and that we are no pointing technologically advanced weapons at each other as spears ... ridiculous. I believe in the concept of the warrior. I can see a future where people can die quite willingly and openly without any of the Christian apprehension towards death. Once they've finished with what they have to do, they die 'cos there's nothing more to do.

"I'm a very religious person. I remember when I was you I used to go on a pilgrimage every year. My parents were as pagan as the com, but I chose my own free will and got into church music and sang in the cathedral choir. These Franciscan friars used to take us to a burial mound then on to Wynchcombe Abbey. I did this for about five years without thinking. Then I started taking an interest in pre-Christian religions. I suppose if you want to categorise me I'm a bit of a pagan. I'm looking after number one - just like Bob Geldof.

"I've always been like this, right from an early age. I remember when I was young I was always a loner. I was very quiet, you probably won't believe that, and people's mums used to say don't play with that Coleman boy cos he's wild. I was always attracted to ritual. I used to light fires and sit with the stones in the fields. I was a real opportunist - even then, especially where music's concerned. I was a brilliant violinist and I got a few scholarships here and there and I also picked up the St Nicholas award. See, I believe in traditional values like practice makes perfect. That's why I hat the pop ethic.

"I was reading an article in the Daily Mail by Anthony Burgess and basically it was a character assassination on Boy George and heroin and the music scene. He was saying how the music industry was populated by these young people who aren't very articulate and they're a bit thick and they fall for all the temporary stardom. I thoroughly agreed with the guy.

Pop musicians are very weak people. They portray the superficial for commercial reasons. They really are quite low beasts. I mean, The Smiths! If that is the role model for young people. Ugh! I believe it's very important not to get too wrapped up in a music lifestyle. In Killing Joke we do a lot of things that aren't related to music. We like being in paradise places for as long as possible. I have a fascination with islands.


"I can't tell you. I really don't want to talk about my dreams anymore. The important thing s now the music and the fact that we are a truly phenomenal band. We are also very warm, genuine, dare I say it compassionate - our sensitivity is overlooked. But the devil takes care of his own. We've been consistent for seven years now - don't expect anything different. I still believe everything I've ever said in the past.

It's that degree of honesty that make me admire Killing Joke. They don't shake your hand and smile at you but they do invite you to rehearsals, recording sessions and numerous other places no other band would. Despite their non-communicative image they desperately want to be viewed in their natural environment - desperately want to be understood for what they are yet realize they probably never will be.

They are irrationalists and are all the more intriguing for it. They confuse your emotions. Rider admits to liking them but, at the same time, never wants to see them again. I would have liked to ask Jaz whether his obsession with nuclear war stems from his relationship with his brother - a Nobel Prize winning nuclear physicist who's in Chernobyl right now (and that's not a wind up) but I never felt safe enough to do so. He likes to keep his private life private - a key, he says, to his continued survival.

Killing Joke dress up their ideas in the most bizarre manner yet underneath it all I suspect the music is their main motivation.

Lest you were thinking they'd mellowed I'll leave the last word to Jaz:

"The boys in the band are the nicest people you could ever meet. Anyone who cant see that is a fool." You can approach any of them. Even Big Paul. Hah Hah Hah! He does flip out occasionally though ... he's usually the first to go, mind you Geordie's never far behind. Hah Hah Hah!"