From The Village Noize, a NYC-based fanzine, Issue Eight, from some time in 1989.
Donít Forget The Struggle. Donít Forget Killing Joke.
Article by Eric, Photo by Michele, Lecture by Jaz
Itís a Sunday night, itís already past everyoneís Sunday night bedtime and Killing Joke are taking up valuable sleeping time tuning their drums - for the fourth or fifth time - or maybe they never finished the first. And every other minute they take up theyíre probably seeing another drunken-slobbered fan walk out the door with no patience. Theyíre way behind schedule, but they donít seem to give a fuck.
Finally theyíre on stage. The tribal drums, a trademark of these classic clashes, echoes "The Fall Of Because" throughout the room. Thatís an old one. And the set list displays a lot of old ones. That keyboardist isnít keeping his fingers moving too much either.
Meet Killing Joke: the band that has been through one struggle after another. Add all their problems up and it equals the bandís realisation that major record companies ainít digging their tribal echoes calling the people for a change. To another person, this return to their "roots" could also signify that Killing Joke couldnít ride the disco wave they were riding during the last years. Nevertheless, the band is open to admit a source of income was needed. I overheard singer Jaz claim as well that "Eighties" (or one of their hits) was a mere joke.
Thanks to their struggles, we can witness tonight the Killing Joke that old fans once loved.
Though there was some preaching tonight about our earthís atmosphere, there was also an invitation for all to discuss the "struggle" of the band the following afternoon. The following quotes are from that discussion, led by Killing Jokeís vocalist Jaz, to an audience of about 20 people, myself and recorder included ...
Our objective is to achieve the closest possible relationship with our audience in terms of both ideals and proximity. This afternoon we share our struggles, our disillusionment, and perhaps more importantly, helping you understand the values and inspirational spark that keeps us on the degradation of the industry, the intolerable stress and the limits of resources.
Iíve always believed in the philosophy that if you donít achieve your goals in life, then it was not for you in the first place. The question is, how far are you prepared to go for your art and self-expression, and how far are you prepared to go to fulfill your dreams? The last six months of my life have been spent trying to answer these questions, and Iíve had to face some painful truths.
A situation in my life occurred when I was forced to make a decision between two aspects of my life, both of which are dear to me. Something would have to give or suffer. The decision was between my work with Killing Joke and my 10 Ĺ year old daughter. I can tell you now, that looking into the eyes of my daughter, who depends on my love and guidance, and then putting my work with Killing Joke first is a dilemma that still tears me apart. But it was either that or watching ten years of my lifeís work, along with my self-esteem, go up in smoke. I suffered a complete nervous breakdown over the situation. Then I recovered and eventually emerged from the crisis with a new perspective. There is a fine line between making the right decision or becoming a negative personification of anger, desire and greed.
An example of our struggle is one of the filthier aspects of the music industry. In 1985 we signed an across-the-board deal with EG Records. This meant we signed a recording deal, a publishing deal, and a management deal with the same company. Most people we tell this to would accuse us of childish naivete, but there are other aspects to be taken into consideration. The two directors of EG Records had been our mentors and friends for eight years. In September of 87 we parted with EG in search of new passages. Our recording deal expired, but our publishing deal had not. EG Records retained our publishing and abruptly informed us that they would be recouping our recording debts from our publishing. This is a practise that is illegal in almost every country except the UK. Since September of 1988, Geordie and myself have made in excess of £40,000 (roughly $70,000) in publishing, none of which we have seen. Even more disturbing, unless we resolve the situation, every new song we write until 1992 could be handled in the same manner. With the exception of concerts, this has been our only avenue of income. I cannot adequately describe the depths of my emotions when I stop to think how close our families and loved ones have come to going hungry. The situation is aggravated by the fact that the two directors of EG are both multi-millionaires and they are both well aware of our plight.
For a while, I held these two people responsible for taking my beloved music away from me - starving me creatively and physically out of existence. Under the circumstances, it was lunacy for me to pursue a career in music, and as far as I was concerned, I had lost everything I was living for. Hate and resentment began to fester inside of me. I clearly tried all the angles of declivity. I wanted to demonstrate to these directors that peopleís lives are ruined by greed. I wanted to demonstrate that everything has a price, and so I made evil and wicked preparations in a most extreme manner.
But in truth, Iíd become lower-natured than they were. Iíd become an embodiment of the lowest form imaginable. After suffering severe mental illness, I underwent what can only be described as a spiritual transformation. I thank my creator for allowing me to survive. Once I realised what I had become and made efforts to achieve a more balanced and spiritual way of life, I began to find doors that led out of a legal labyrinth. The experience only strengthened me to push the music I love. We survived the stormy weather and will survive others. It was indeed good advice somebody told em at that particular time: "rise above it all, because if you donít, you will fall."
We began to understand the antipathy towards Killing Joke when an A&R man from Elektra Records told Martin Atkins over the phone that there was absolutely no way he would even consider listening to our demo tape. The industry appears to care very little about our actual work. They certainly do not judge a tree by its roots. Nevertheless, just to reassess the climate, we decided upon returning to the East Coast in tour.
By now, I not only say "good", I say "thank you". Originally I thought the potential for disillusionment was dangerous, but a few days ago a change in attitude came over us. Regardless of debt and poverty we will no longer beg these people for a favour.
Then we found we were at the same point ten years ago. All the reasons for setting up our own label, Malicious Damage, back in 1979, had come back. In the heat of all our struggles, we resolved to form our original label as we had rediscovered our original intentions. The struggle is necessary, and necessity is the mother of invention. Without struggle, we could never have arrived at such inspiration and conclusion. The idea of struggle is diminishing everywhere. For example, in the music industry, we see the trend of the use of drum machines and samples as a replacement for human sweat.
The role of the artist has become absolute because the record companies are now writing all the songs and calling all the tunes. If the artist does not comply, they refuse to exist in the eyes of the majors. And so does the distribution. What the major labels do not realise is that they are creating the ideal situations for the decentralizations of their own monopolies. We will not be molded or squeezed by the music industry. I say to all the majors that in the end, you will come to us.
Experience has taught me that having a specific goal is one way of never fulfilling your dreams. On two occasions in the last ten years of Killing Joke, when I had totally given up all notions of success, these were the two times we had success.
Struggle is necessary. It forces us to question our actions. It makes us aware of the fact that we are alive, and how we spend the moments of our precious lives. The beauty of struggle overrides all materialism.
In the final analysis, we should be indifferent to success or favour because these days, this is determined by sales, which is sadly a measure of materialism, as opposed to a measure of labour and love.
Of all the musicians and wealthy people I know, few are truly happy. They achieve a higher standard of living, and then they become slaves to the market and want to maintain their higher standard of living. Their struggle is not real. We can only change the world by changing ourselves - we can only change ourselves by struggle.
Our definition of success must be different. We must invest in the intangible moments that make up our lives.
Whether you believe this is an outrage to a band or a typical sob story is up to you. Personally, I say this can go down in the books with the other bands that refused to play the majorsí game. Itís too bad that people wonít even give them a chance, who knows what their reputation was over the years, but as far as the record deals, itís very "nothingís shocking".
Whatís also questionable is their past (or present?) desire to be on a major label, as well as simply "living off the band". Personally I donít give a crap, itís their wish, but it just doesnít seem to tie in with the punk attitude they seem to present.
Mind you, I still consider this band a favourite. Only thereís a few quibbles that I am not sure of. It probably could have been settled over a real interview, and a heavy alcohol consumption.