From Impact, published in Toronto, Canada Volume 2, No. 1 September 1994
Killing Joke: Soundtrack Of The Apocalypse
by Kerry Doole
|The career path of Killing Joke bassist Youth makes for one of the most
intriguing stories in modern rock. He's progressed from being a wild member of
one of the most controversial British post-punk bands of the early 80s to
becoming a highly sought-after producer who has recently worked with such
mainstream artists as Crowded House and Paul McCartney.
And now he's back with Killing Joke, kick-starting the veteran noise merchants by producing as well as playing bass on Pandemonium, arguably the best Killing Joke album in a decade. The band actually scored their biggest commercial success after Youth left back in 1982 (1985's "Love Like Blood" was a surprising British hit single), but had begun to lose focus just when alternative rock and industrial bands who had copied many of their musical trademarks had begun reaping serious coin.
Youth's mellow drawl and infectious laugh are definitely at odds with the long-standing, and well-deserved, reputation of Killing Joke as doom-laden sonic harbingers of the apocalypse. There's nothing mellow about the new album - vocalist/lyricist Jaz Coleman is as brutally abrasive as ever, and Youth and guitarist Geordie continue to lay down thunderous, floor-shaking grooves and riffs. Such song titles as "Mathematics of Chaos," "Exorcism" and "Black Moon" confirm the heavy vibes they revel in.
Speaking of vibes (a favourite Youth word), some of Pandemonium was recorded inside the King's Chamber of the Great Pyramids of Egypt. "It was my idea, and for two reasons," Youth says. "I wanted to use Eastern musicians, and Cairo is a music centre now. Jaz has studied Eastern violin [used to great effect on the record] there for six years, so it's not like a flirtation with us. I've been in India over the past five years looking at the music there, so it's become part of my culture as well. And I thought Cairo would be a good atmosphere in which to do the vocals, especially Jaz doing his in the King's Chamber. It's a very small room: granite-lined and rectangular to the Pythagorean proportions of pi. If you snap your fingers, the reverb is longer than in the Taj Mahal or St. Paul's Cathedral, places 50 times bigger. The energy levels are very strange too. All the DAT machines and VCDR batteries meant to last two hours ran out in 10 minutes!"
You'd imagine permission to enter such a hallowed room would only be given to new-age or folkie acts, not black-clad rockers, but Youth reports that "the place is controlled by women doing magical work. We did have to use money for bribes, but we also had a whole interview process. It was so funny; they asked if we were Satanists! Jaz replied, 'I don't believe in Satan. Do you?' "
Early reaction to Pandemonium has been positive. "We kicked off with a limited edition of 'Exorcism' - 42 minutes of music with remixes, and it went down really well. I felt a little nervous about stepping back on the boards with the band after 12 years, but I got a big thrill out of it. I felt very alive."
"The only way I could get involved again was to put back some of the things I thought they'd missed. I wanted to put more melody in, more songs. If you listen to our first albums, they were very song-oriented. At the time, they were thought of as very heavy, but they were very poppy in a way. The beauty of pop music is to incorporate all those territories at once."
Given that Killing Joke have been an acknowledged influence on the likes of Ministry, Soundgarden, Nine Inch Nails and Metallica, Youth's claims of a pop sensibility may seem dubious, but in fact "Love Like Blood" did possess a strong melody. "I'm a bit sick I didn't play on that one," he admits.
And has the explosive chemistry within the lineup remained? "Actually, I've mellowed out, but they're just the same," laughs Youth. "Worse, in fact! But we're all a lot more focused in what we do, and that gives us more confidence to chill out a bit. Before, we were running around like headless chickens - so much energy and not being able to direct it. Now the music becomes more apparent. And I feel encouraged that Jaz is happy. It's important - otherwise he'll beat me up."
Speaking of undirected energy, Youth gleefully recalls an infamous backstage incident at the 1981 Police Picnic Festival in Toronto. "I got into loads of trouble that day," he says. "I wore these bright pink pantaloons, like Bowie's trousers. I stole the head of security's golf cart and was hiding behind this bush. He was on his walkie-talkie yelling, 'Go find that guy in the pink trousers and let me at him first!' I circled him, covered him in dust, and drove off. Great!"
"We always loved doing big festivals. We did one in London for nuclear disarmament. When we came on, our fans started dancing in the fountains at sunset, so there were all these silhouettes of mohican punks dancing in the fountains under a blood sky. Killing Joke live can be very effective in getting people out of that audience and performer dichotomy/dilemma. Boundaries dissolve, and it's one massive release of energy for everybody."
"I'm very involved in underground music and its subculture," he adds. "To me, it's all folk music - real people in real places and what they listen to. I live in Brixton, where there's a feeling of community you don't get in other parts of London. One aspect of street music there I'm not interested in is called jungle music. It's a fusion of reggae and really hardcore techno. All these very fast beats, and it's basically a soundtrack for fucked up people on crack! For me, it's good to be able to give them more choices, more sounds."
And what would Youth have said if someone had told him back in 1980 that he'd eventually work with Kate Bush and Paul McCartney? "I'd have been totally hysterical!" he says. "But I reckon I'd have been into it. It's great to be able to touch so many people through the single vehicle of music, yet be so diverse within that one vibe. It freaks me out!"