(From Alternative Press, US music magazine, June 1989.)
The Manics Of It: Killing Joke
by Jason Pettigrew
After a lengthy hiatus from these shores (six years worth), the English rock institution known as Killing Joke returns.
And with the re-emergence comes all of the characteristics of their incindiary past, and news of the band's future. K-Joke are celebrating their tenth anniversary with an American tour. They are presently without a record deal, a situation that may be rectified shortly. They currently have enough material ready for a record with the working title, Extremities. If their present live momentum is any indication, extremities may just be the understatement of the year.
The '89 model of Killing Joke features co-founders Jaz Coleman and guitarist Geordie with new recruits Taif (qualifications: brilliant bass player, dangerous- looking according to Coleman), and Martin Atkins, the legendary engine room behind Public Image Ltd. and his own musical mania, Brian Brain.
When Killing Joke unleashed its fury ten years ago, there was really nothing like it. Hellacious, apocalyptic guitars; complex behemoth drumming; dense, threatening electronics, and the primal scream of Coleman's dangerous visions of the future. Songs like "Requiem", "Bloodsport", and the propulsive "Change", really kicked most of Britain's ass while us Yanks who didn't give two shits about ELP or Yes found the antidote in import record stores. EG Records signed the band for exclusive US representation and the series of records were readily accessible to anybody who dared to listen to the metal/dance/thrash/tension alley.
This confrontational stance endured over five studio records and a live EP.
The band's Virgin US debut, Brighter Than A Thousand Suns, was released in 1986.
The tension was gone. The intensity only briefly hinted of previous recordings. I remember reading more than one fanzine that sounded the death knell "from Killing Joke to BAD joke".
The next record, Outside The Gate, didn't fare any better. Drummer Paul Ferguson was tossed along with bassist Paul Raven, leaving only Jaz and Geordie and a session drummer.
The trademark corrosive guitar gone, only to be replaced with stacks of keyboards. The aural equivalent of Mister Mister pumping steroids. Who the fuck needed it? Jaz Coleman did.
"It was a conscious decision," Coleman says in the back of a tour bus whose destination route display reads: EATUREHEARTOUT. "Because in the first five albums there was so much intensity in the music that often people weren't hearing the glorious structures of music in there. So we consciously mixed A Thousand Suns and Outside The Gate to hear the music, not so much the harsh intensity. I think we've done that. Now, we've gone full circle and take to recording live in the studio. I can't deny that the edge is back in the music but at the same time one can hear the music inherent within the intensity. The last two records have been a conscious attempt to move in that direction.
"It was not definitive Killing Joke because to me, Killing Joke is a band; it is four people and that was only two of us and that is why we're not playing any of the songs off that album on this tour.
"We move in a different direction all the time and we're not going to please everybody. To counter your argument, I've had people come up to me on this tour and say to me that Brighter Than A Thousand Suns is their favorite of all the records!
Dave Kendall from MTV's 120 Minutes says that OUTSIDE THE GATE is his ultimate Killing Joke album out of the seven!"
" 'Twenty years ahead of its time' he said," Mr. Atkins chimes in. (Donations for the DAVE KENDALL PSYCHIATRY FUND can be sent in care of AP.)
After witnessing the new live show, I am more than happy to report that Coleman is a man of his word. The band has the tense cutti... er... SLASHING edge back with no small thanks due to Atkins, Taif and the live contributions made by synth operator Dave Kovacevic. New tracks like "Extremities" and "Intravenous" are powerful reclamations, and when Coleman addresses his audience during "Age Of Greed", Atkins shores him up with a complex rhythmic foundation that further rams the song through.
Coleman does not edit his enthusiasm. "With the gut-wrenching, raw explosive intensity in the sound, I wanted to write an LP that is not only great and imaginative in the studio with innovation, but a record that is a pleasure to play live. So we can take it out of the studio and feel totally victorious and go kill around the world."
It's funny that Coleman mentions the word "kill". Quite a few years ago I had a skirmish with a goon way bigger than myself. This guy wanted to rape my girlfriend at the time, an idea I did not find pleasant at all. So armed with a cassette of various tracks from the first three K-Joke records playing in the car at tinnitus-inducing volume, I drove over to his house and beat the hell out of him. Tipper Gore might say that I belong in the same category with violent, drug-ingesting Satanic grocery store bagboys who listen to violent rock music lyrics and then play with their Ouija boards. Fine with me, Tipp. Except for one thing: I was listening to the instrumentals.
Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Martin Atkins: " At the beginning of the set I sometimes throw myself around to make myself dizzy so that the only thing in my universe is the music, the drums, and my body -- not my brain. We are very much involved with our business; managers and lawyers and such, and it's difficult to walk onstage and BAM! forget all that. We have to lose ourselves in the frenzy and the sweat."
Jaz: "I don't think it is something I like to analyze. I see it as a spontaneous force. There is no reason behind it; it is an irrational urge. The best gigs are the ones where you walk onstage and then offstage and you remember almost nothing. It is not intellectual process for analysis -- it's just going. It's the ultimate anti-intellectual music."
Atkins: "Bass frequencies of 15 cycles a second make you lose control of your bowels and shit your pants. There are claims that the Russians are altering the weather with sound waves. It's weird shit that you fuck with.
"Music is a very powerful thing that you should not throw about lightly. "
Now seems as good a time as any to introduce THE KILLING JOKE BOOK OF LISTS:
THE FOUR INTRA-GROUP CASUALTIES
I. Youth (former bass player, now making disco records with Brilliant)
2. Paul Ferguson (former drummer who according w Coleman was referred to as "samurai computer programmer" because of his cynicism towards drums and his obsession with drum machines)
3. Paul Raven (bass player #2, turned up every three weeks drunk. Which is OK unless you're splitting equal royalties with him)
4. Andy Rourke (bass player #3, the former junkie from the Smiths. Tossed because according to Atkins, "he was a miserable bastard." Close sources within the band claim that Killing Joke still have his bass rig because Rourke is too afraid to come get it.)
THE TOP FOUR ENGLISH BANDS WITH BESMIRCHED REPUTATIONS
I. The Damned
2. The Who
3. The Stranglers
4. Killing Joke
The Brit rock press likes to make up stories, invent stories, get drunk and write stories and just become snotty bastards in their work as if they are the self- proclaimed harbingers of street credibility. (Come to think of it, being British has nothing to do with it.) If you are involved with any kind of music, you are a fair target. Since Coleman is not the type to take unwarranted abuse lightly, he has been known to respond violently. I ask him about this after I told him I felt his last two albums were trash. "We have been in some dicey situations in the past and we have responded with vigor. When we have felt that people are consciously taking the piss or have come to interview us and write something antagonistic, we respond. The minute I feel that someone is threatening what we are doing, they are either with us or against us. It's a simple way of understanding force.
"I like for there to be collisions and sometimes there are. We've done some nasty things in the past, sure. I've got no regrets about that."
His voice is getting rather urgent and authoritative now.
"That's why we are here ten years later because PEOPLE DON'T FUCK US OVER. Nothing will stop me from demonstrating what I love doing.
(He starts to glare in my direction and I wonder if I remember any of that akido I learned many years ago.) Even if someone fucks me over with a contract I get them. They know it -- I COME AFTER THEM. Rough Trade tried it and I got a thirty grand settlement out of them. I kicked their boardroom meeting in."
Having said that, he cracks a smile. "I did a press conference in Paris. There's loads of people there-talking about rumors right? This one person says to me, "Excuse me, why do you practice necrophilia in crypts?" I said. 'I beg your pardon? (laughs) Well, not as of recently. (laughter)' "
LIST #3: SOME OBSERVATIONS ON KILLING JOKE
1. Taif has a fond affection for Clare Torry's performance on "Great Gig In The Sky" from Dark Side Of The Moon.
2. Jaz appreciates Metallica's cover of "The Wait", He was impressed by the fact that they did it, "although I still like the original better. Thanks for the publishing, guys!"
3. Martin Atkins still likes plaid.
4. Geordie lost his luggage on this tour which included some fishing lures he wound himself. If some greedy bastard in Detroit is reading this, cough them up, motherfucker.
Martin Atkins is a true Jekyll and Hyde kind of character. Onstage behind a set of drums, he is a total maniac, bashing away with amphetamine precision and psychotic force (I'd like to paste photos of my old girlfriend on his cymbals in hopes of a voodoo effect). Offstage, he is genial, friendly, articulate and willing to speak.
"I joined them (KJ) in October . It took me a couple years after leaving PiL for me to even want to touch my drums again. Our paths crossed over the telephone. They were anxious to work with me, and I was anxious to work with them, so I jumped on a plane to England and we've been cranking ever since."
Not much had been said in the press about his departure from PiL. After This Is What You Want, This Is What You Get, who would want to hang around a punk rock icon whose fans still spit on him as though every year is 1977?
"It was an amicable split at first. It occurred around late '83 early '84. I told John I wanted to leave but I'd tour Japan and Australia with the band. We came up with an agreement that got us through that. At least we could set aside our differences while we toured to reach an agreement.
John's attitude got worse and worse, and when I had returned to L.A., I was in quite a nasty situation, and I'm still in the middle of a lawsuit with him. He's a friend of mine. I wouldn't wish any harm upon him, but as a businessman he's a complete cunt.
"Right after This Is What You Want..., which was a combination of record company pressures, we had received a huge advance from Elektra. I had a house in L.A. with a swimming pool and that whole thing, and it just went down the drain. There were a lot of sycophants around John and it was disgusting. I finally said, 'Fuck off' and walked away from it."
Atkins has a lot of projects of his own. He is going to be com- piling a collection of Brian Brain tracks for an LP release on his label. He designs and prints t- shirts. At the end of this tour he will be going to Chicago to work with Steve Albini ("I don't know work with what it will be like. Probably him going mad and me going mad!").
"What I like about this situation (K-Joke) beside the music is that the ideals and attitude are still there from when things were important to a lot of people in '77-'78. It's the independent attitudes like 'This is our album, fuck off to the record labels.
"Killing Joke a year from now really excites me because of the creative energy of everybody involved. It's this complete explosion of work. It's great."
I finally catch up with a very tired Jaz Coleman in his hotel room. I have a profound respect for the man because he isn't going to dismiss his previous work as rubbish like so many established artists tend to do (and if this sounds like bullshit, ask Flea Balzary from the Red Hot Chili Peppers about Andy Gill).
"There must be tradition in terms of style," he maintains.
"In terms of the old songs, I feel that they have more relevance today then they did then and I feel passionately about them. They're part of my life. I want to keep going with Killing Joke. I've ended a ten year period and I am beginning another."
He is a man with high goals. He has recently completed a symphony, IDAVOLL, which will premiere in East Germany very soon. He has completed a book which will be coming out in Eng- land in a month's time. He wants to have huge parties and banquets when the band plays in an effort to change the whole cliched rock and roll concert idea. He is currently purchasing 200 acres of land in New Zealand to transform it into "a bizarre park. A ten year project as an artistic endeavor designed with the capacity to enhance the entire fertility of an eco-system."
"I want to be known and I want my colleagues to be known not by their pretty little faces or what they say, but by their work. To be known by a strange, individual unique sound in a world of bland- ness. That is truly to succeed."
I left the hotel and got in my car. I turned on the radio and the local college station was playing REM. The allnight hit radio format was running Breathe.
Now more than ever, we need more extremities.