(From Kerrang, UK music magazine, 20 August 1994.)

Jokers Wild!

Fire-breathing! Acid tripping! Satanism! Exorcism! Spontaneous puking! Yup, all kinds of weird shit is going down as seminal noise nutters Killing Joke hit Hamburg! Mrat gets caught up in the madness!

 

"What fucking idiot told them about the fire?!"

Killing Joke's notoriously temperamental vocalist Jaz Coleman explodes at the band's tour manager, then explains: "We never tell venues about the fire because then we have to get permission. We always do the fire! Set fire to the fuckers!"

The blaze in question is the work of a large, shaven-headed certifiable maniac called Bingo and his nymph-like partner Lucy, who breathe fire at the audience and generally do their best to raze each venue to the ground during selected songs in Killing Joke's awesome live set. Tonight, mid-song, they perform an act of intense eroticism, blowing flames across the stage into each other's faces like some hellfire kiss or dragon's embrace.

Rumour has it that Bingo is ex-SAS and has no pain receptors; hence his total lack of concern for his own safety!  But the ultimate irony, the killing joke, is that Bingo is a fireman by profession!

Surely it can't be a wise move setting your audience on fire?

"We don't mind being set on fire, why should the audience mind?" says Jaz with a worrying grin. "When I think of fire I think of the sound of Killing Joke. It's our favourite form of lightning!"

"I don't wear shoes onstage and it's just like walking on hot coals," says bassist Youth. "I don't wear a shirt and you've got all this fucking hot metal stinging you in the back, and no protective clothing. You don't notice it at the time, but that's part of the vibe. You transcend that."

Backstage at a Killing Joke gig is a world apart.

Bingo and Lucy wander around painted white and blue, respectively.  And there's Harry, who burns the appropriate incense and turns every studio, hotel room, even the 'Top Of The Pops' dressing room, into a shrine.

Today we are in Hamburg, so Harry fashions drapes into a huge reversed swastika. The fact that you can only see it by lying on the floor and looking up is not important. Youth notices it.

"Nice, man," he smiles from behind a cloud of smoke.

Youth, who spent time in a mental hospital after taking massive doses of LSD, has some unorthodox ideas. He believes that some of the things you see on an acid trip are really there: you just don't see them when you're not tripping.

Preposterous, of course! Then a ray of sunlight splits the dressing room, revealing floating dust particles that were there all the time, unseen!

Youth speaks of the importance of ley lines, how they add power to a building. His Brixton recording studio, Butterfly, was checked for the right lines. More nonsense -- until you consider that Hamburg was all but destroyed during the Second World War except for buildings like churches built on ley lines.

Youth also suggests that I don't tape our conversation, just use the bits I remember.  Now that really is a daft idea!

But if Youth is the amiable hippy of the band, then Jaz is the wild-eyed, black-clad, schizophrenic Satanist who shares his birthday with the original Beast 666, notorious British occultist Aleister Crowley, and whose views don't seem too far removed from that of Church Of Satan high priest Anton LaVey.

You feel Jaz walk into the room before you see him. He will ignore you one minute and be unnervingly friendly the next. It's theatrical, but some Killing Joke fans are genuinely scared of Jaz.

"We've always had our privacy over the last 15 years and that's a good thing," he says, reservedly. "On the streets I get a lot of people clocking me and crossing the road."

A great many of Jaz's views make sense too, when he can be bothered to expound them. Of 'Jana', a song from the band's killer new album 'Pandemonium', he says bluntly: "It is a song that we wrote that is not to be talked about!"

During a stunning live rendition of 'Exorcism', Coleman attempts to literally exorcise the Hamburg audience, insisting that they make their hopes, fears and repressed emotions tangible.

"I feel things off them, lots of repressed things," says Jaz. "I am a catalyst."

"Someone heard one of the remixes of 'Exorcism' at an acid party and just got up and spontaneously threw up!" exclaims Youth. "Apparently she felt much better -- the music just drew it up out of her.  I think those kinds of reactions are great!"  He smiles. "It's natural to do that. It's not natural to sweep those emotions out of the carpet. I think the music affects people differently, but it all comes together, y'know?

"There are no codes for dress or behaviour at a Killing Joke gig. If you can respond to it and get something out of it, if it can stir something inside you, then great.  There's not many things around that give you that space to release yourself."

Have you ever felt anything you didn't like during a gig?

"Sure, someone gobbed at me once and it went in my mouth!" Jaz guffaws before sighing fondly: "I remember doing 'Exorcism' in the pyramid (the song was recorded in the Kings' Chamber in Cairo) and my life began to radically change from that day. I released something in myself."

Jaz allegedly suffered a nervous breakdown at the end of the '80s, but he seems happy now. And he intends to keep it that way. Jaz is perhaps the optimist in Killing Joke. Youth is nothing if not a realist.

"Politicians are so out of touch with the general public," he frowns as we discuss the farcical Criminal Justice Bill. "I think that's why people are becoming more politically aware within themselves.

"There are always times in history where authorities have tried to impose what they thought was good for the people. Those societies have never lasted very long, because people don't like being told what to do. You've gotta question authority all the time."

"You're just making me want to go to the beach, guys!" interrupts Jaz. "Please don't depress me! Life's fine!"

And yes, life is fine in the Killing Joke camp right now. Manic yet relaxed, dangerous yet assured. And everything is done in style!  What's more, it is all self-taught.

"I didn't learn anything in my secondary school," sneers Jaz. "Drone, drone. They just used to write chunks on a blackboard for us to copy. It was bollocks!

"Every day was a fight, basically. But I got a first in deviant behaviour. Tripping in assembly at school -- that was a vibe!"