(from Glasnost magazine, published in Freiburg, Germany, March 1991. Special thanks to Karsten Roekens for providing the article and English translation.)
by Oliver Koeble
Like an enormous bear, the band Killing Joke awakens
a year-long sleep. Apparently all developments and
trends of pop and rock music haven't left a single
mark on Killing Joke. Just see the commercial poppy records
of recent times as a gaffe, as an ugly snore while
asleep, and you can give them a 'welcome back' cheer. They are back again, the cult band of the
Eighties, harder and more extreme than ever! They are a
band that countless post-punk and New Wave bands refer to because
their style was and is unique and influential. It's hard to
believe that Killing Joke have returned to that characteristic sound ten years
after their legendary debut: chainsaw guitars straining to a voodoo
colour the angry vocals. Killing Joke are the Cabaret
Voltaire of guitar rock! "Solitude" can be called the hardest pop song of its time. It's based on a certain sadness of a melancholic Cure song while at the same time expressing an enormous creative power. Killing Joke are the last survivors of a generation - the "Eighties"! The last dinosaurs!
The man who revived Killing Joke
called Martin Atkins. He was a member of Public Image
Ltd. until 1985.After that he did several other projects, among others he released some records under the name Brian Brain. Martin Atkins is a cool calculator. His experiences in the music business have disillusioned him and lead to a self-conscious demeanour. Glasnost talked with Martin Atkins and Killing Joke founder and singer Jaz Coleman.
Glasnost: "On Tuesday night it's gonna be wartime!" With these words you announced the song "Wardance" on stage today, a few days before the war against Iraq will start. What does the
song mean in this situation?
Jaz: The song is quite old; it's from 1979. "Wardance" is a celebration of man's aggressive nature. The intensity of the song has grown over the years. During the tour I realised that the nearer the day comes on which the ultimatum runs out, the more frightening the atmosphere gets the song creates. I feel how nervous and tensed up people are. Is there really gonna be war in a few days? The world is full of violence. Everybody´s full of fear. And because of that, it's important that Killing Joke play right now!
Glasnost: Killing Joke came out of the Punk movement. What's the attitude behind Killing Joke?
Jaz: Music has always been used as a pleasure principle. After work you go home and listen to some nice music. With bands like Killing Joke, this perspective on music has changed. Our music exists to express angst and fear and discomfort. Killing Joke is a medium by which these deep emotions can be expressed.
Glasnost: For a while thing went not so well for Killing Joke. The band drifted off into commercial pop music and lost a lot of their fans. How
did the return to the original sound come about?
Martin: After Brighter Than A Thousand Suns and Outside The Gate,
Killing Joke were at their nadir. In my opinion Outside The Gate is
complete crap. I come from the Chicago scene, ugly,
noisy, industrial music. I only agreed to join Killing Joke if they would return to their original spirit. So I forced them to discover the old idea behind Killing Joke again. hey should become powerful and important again. Over the last two years, Jaz and Geordie slowly realized what Killing Joke is about.
Glasnost: Why had the band distanced themselves from their spirit so much?
Martin: Sometimes you follow bad advice from people you trust. Bad managers, bad contracts - I don't want to blame a certain manager or record company. It was solely Jaz's and Geordie's mistake to work with these people. They alone are responsible for Outside The Gate. Everything just went wrong; somehow they lost track and got entangled in something.
Glasnost: Was there pressure from the record company?
Martin: Originally it should be a solo album by
Jaz. But they used up so much money for the production that the record company said they only could
recover the costs by releasing it under the name of Killing Joke. These situations are the reason why I run my own label. On Invisible I release records, videos, T-shirts; I
don't have to ask anybody or follow anybody. I'm the only me who
makes decisions. I have set up new contracts and new business relationships for
Killing Joke, so that
we are totally free and independent now. Jaz and Geordie know their business now; they can't be
swindled again like in earlier times. This makes Killing Joke a dangerous band. We understand
the rules and regulations of the music business. We can't be fooled. A record company doesn't need to tell me that the production is too expensive. I know very well the costs from my own label. That's why we can now make the music we want. We don't depend on the record company's or
any investor's wishes.
Glasnost: The new album doesn't have any influences of rock music trends of the last ten years on it. How is it that Killing Joke have stayed true to their sound so much?
Martin: Killing Joke and the old PiL were two bands who concentrated on their own music so much that they had no other influences. So they created a very straight sound which influenced countless bands in the Eighties. I'm working with Ministry too. Their music is so much influenced by PiL and Killing Joke, it's amazing. It's strange to play with Ministry. Nevertheless I'm surprised myself that there are no other influences on the new album. But we worked on it very straight for two years. It's an uncompromising piece of work.
Glasnost: What traditional roots does Killing Joke's music have?
Jaz: Our rhythms come from Celtic and Scottish culture. They're white rhythms. We grew up in Anglo-Saxon culture. There is nothing intellectual in our music. Everything's spontaneous. We play as it comes out. We never analyse. We live in extremes, and the music writes itself. The chord structure in our music is unique. Most bands use Rock ´n´ Roll chords. Geordie and me use entirely different chords.
Glasnost: Over ten years ago, Killing Joke created a sound which originated in those times. Is this sound, to which you have returned with the new album, still up-to-date?Jaz: We move forward.We´re pretty raw and hard and make a Killing Joke music for the Nineties now. The new album is musically entirely differently structured than the first one. It's not verse-chorus-verse anymore, but the songs develop and change shape as they go. A song begins with one idea and ends with another.
Glasnost: But you are using the same sound as then.
Jaz: Of course we do. It's our sound; this is Killing Joke. We've become referential. If somebody says Killing Joke he means a certain sound. Many bands cite us.
Glasnost: Which ones?
Jaz: On the one hand you have all these thrash metal bands like Slayer and Metallica, who covered our songs. On the other hand you have musicians like Eddie Van Halen, who appreciates us very much. Then there are the Sisters Of Mercy or The Mission, who were more inspired by Night Time. The Revolting Cocks and Ministry and Pailhead very much adapted our drum sound.
Glasnost: Jaz, you have written orchestral music in recent years. That's quite different from Killing Joke. Can you tell us more about it?
JAZ: I spent some time in Cairo and wrote a piece for the Cairo Symphony Orchestra together with Anne Dudley from The Art Of Noise. I studied there at the university too.
Glasnost: What kind of music have you written there? Classical European music or traditional
Jaz: Classical symphonic orchestral music. My style to play violin is half Indian half Arabic, because I'm of Indian-Persian origin, and of English origin as well of course. With orchestral music I try to create something complete, something perfect, beautiful and romantic. It's like Jekyll and Hyde - two sides of my nature. The one side is Killing Joke, my fears and frustrations. The other side is the orchestra. That's my hopes.
Glasnost: Wouldn't it be important to give a Killing Joke audience hope too?
Jaz: We do it. After a gig there's no fear left, just relief and contentment. We have it all let out.
Glasnost: How do you judge Killing Joke´s position today?
JAZ: It´s unique! Our time has come. This is the "Wartime Tour"! People are nervous and uncertain
about the direction the world will take. Ecological problems, imminent war, people are frightened. This is the time of Killing Joke! This Manchester scene - drug yourself up and dance to brainless
music, this escapism - this is not what people need. They need a sense of reality. They have to face the problems. Killing Joke is a generator of angst and fear!
Glasnost: What reactions do you get with the tour?
Jaz: America is most extreme. There's an unbelievable amount of misery and poverty. The country is in the middle of an enormous economical decline. People begin to understand what we want to say with our music.
Glasnost: What makes America so different?
Jaz: In Europe there is culture. In America there is no culture.
Glasnost: Do you think the young people of today will find the answers in your music?
Jaz: I want the music to inspire people to find the answers through their own creativity. We don't
want dumb sheep. Killing Joke is about individuality.
Martin: Our music is as fresh and dangerous as ten years ago.
Glasnost: Why is it dangerous?
Martin: It's uncompromising, and what's more, we're able to do our business
on our own and stay in control. This album is the transition from the old to the
new Killing Joke. Many things from the
band's past are included therein. The next album will be mighty and destructive.
Glasnost: Do you think that Killing Joke will start a new movement? Many fans have started to make their own music.
Jaz: I hope they sound like themselves and not like us.
Martin: I hope as much bands as possible will learn from our experiences with evil music business
shenanigans to avoid making the same mistakes. If a band is after becoming pop stars the record companies give them a lot of money, much more than they actually need. But they end up in debt to the company which dictates which music they have to make and what image they must adopt to earn the money to pay it back to them. So they make the bands conditional to them and their money. American record companies are sick, insidious manipulators. In America there are punks who just booze and beg for money on the streets for more booze. That's not anarchy! Anarchy is understanding the mechanisms of the music business, infiltrating it with your knowledge and using it for your own purposes. This is hard work. We hardly drink because we have to do serious business every day, deal with promoters, you have to keep a clear head. That's anarchy! We are working class!
Glasnost: Do you see yourself as a political band?
Jaz: Read the lyrics, then you know. The lyrics are clear and say it all. "Age Of Greed", for instance, is about monopolies.
Glasnost: Your independence is a political act in itself.
Martin: Yes, I think so. It's a political statement in itself: take it in your own hand. Don't blame others for your failure. In England people hang around in the pubs wailing in self-pity. That's why I left England and moved to America.
Glasnost: What experience should people take home with them after your gigs?
Paul: It doesn't matter if people like the gig or not. What matters is that they realize there are more
things in life than computers and machines. People should realise they are not on their own but
many of them think the same. This world is a shabby place. Everything's arranged just to distance
people from another, bring them apart to manipulate and control them more easily.
Martin: People in squads are very dangerous. If people team up they gain power. We went to the airline and said: "We're 12
all together; we want a discount." And it works! You realise your power
if you come up as a team. If it grows to 1000 people we are a threat. If 1000 people all over
the big cities of the world listen to our music, we have something very powerful behind us.
Glasnost: What's your aim?
Martin: If we talk about our long-term aims too much here, we will be refused entry visas in the States. That's the American way of censorship. They
select you by your political opinions with the
entry permits. We're very cautious what we say as a result.
Glasnost: But you appreciate it if your fans unite and do something together?
Martin: They can do what they like. If 20 Killing Joke fans unite and demand a discount at the
entrance, then that's a good thing. That would be great!