UK music fanzine,
Issue 45, February/March 1996)
So we swerved our way out of the Sex Pistols' Press Conference show at the Hundred Club via the people with the silly Lush advertising signs ... into the Virgin megastore to bug those assistants about the Charlie's Angels singles (only to discover the bloody distribution company hadn't managed to get the records into the shops on day of release after everyone's hard work!). And having done that, we jumped onto the Brixton express to Butterfly ... Butterfly is Killing Joke's current record label and we were off to meet with the said band - here's what went down - shit, there's nothing on this tape! And the counter's on 667 ... arggggh, it's the end of the world! No, found it ... another false alarm ... We're in Youth's recording studio (surrounded by tasty looking keyboards - they looked pregnant with squelchy sounds) and we're talking to bass player and producer Youth, talking about the new Killing Joke album - Democracy - and other such things - read on:
Everything we've read about "Democracy" so far has been ruminating on the negativity of the imagery and the content ...
Really? I thin it's a really positive album.
For me it sounded like what you were saying is that 'everything is fucked but we're coming out on some sort of positive side'.
Yeah, I think you could say that. I think that if you look at it on a surface level, a superficial level - look at things like song titles, it can seem a bit sort of negative - but then what is negative anyway? Killing Joke have a history of addressing things that don't normally get addressed in pop music, things that can be considered as being negative in some areas.
Personally, I think Jaz has got a lot of balls to talk about some of the personal things like his experiences with Prozac and stuff like that - I think he's very brave to sing about some of the things he's gone through, and his state of mind, in such an honest way - and yeah, I think that's very positive. I think people could perceive it as being negative, but then I don't think people really appreciate that within Killing Joke we do talk about ourselves in that way.
Killing Joke have always been seen as great commentators - watching and almost judging a lot that's going on around us.
That's really us going on about what being alive today at the latter end of the twentieth century is about, isn't it?
You mean the struggle of being alive today?
I think there's a lot in the album that's about the struggle, yes.
The spirit of the road protest movement in Britain is touched on - people fighting back, trying to protect what you have?
Yeah, very much, we're reflecting on some of that, it's important that people are beginning to care...
Some critics could almost say Killing Joke have turned into a bunch of old hippies.
Well, I think people have always liked to try and categorise us or, for that matter, categorise everything; they find Killing Joke very hard to categorise, always have done. Partly because we're very determined individuals, even collectively we're difficult to pin down, but individually it's almost impossible because we're all coming up from so many different areas now, and none of us really fits into any stereotype ... not that any one person really does ... if you look at what Jaz does outside of his music and what he does outside of the band, his music outside of Killing Joke is totally different - the work I do outside of Killing Joke. You know, it took me ages to shake off that 'Youth, ex-Killing Joke' thing when I was making underground dance music in the Eighties and then once I became known for my dance music, it would be 'Oh, that dance producer Youth is working on a rock record?' - People really like to put you in a certain safe position that's convenient for them. If you look at our lyrical content as well, it's never really been defined as just one thing - initially we used to write the lyrics together, we still participate a bit, but now it's mainly Jaz - and Jaz is a good spokesman I think - we address things that really people don't like to be addressed in pop music - politics, ethics ...
But that's going on everywhere with bands.
Yeah, I think in the last ten, fifteen years, there's been a lot more, and I think Killing Joke have played a big part in encouraging bands to do that - I know we have, especially in encouraging people who don't have the great dulcet tones of Jon Bon Jovi to get up and sing and scream and express themselves. I think Jaz has been very influential in that respect. Also, the lyrics are about just being yourself, expressing how you feel, what you're going through. When we first started in 1978 and our first EP came out - Turn To Red - even in those days people would say it had slightly 'hippyish' connotations in the lyrics because it was all about Are You Receiving, it was all about mind control, so ... I mean, it was very naive in itself at the time and I guess people could still accuse us of being naive in what we profess now, but I don't really think we're a hippy band or a punk band. We never aligned ourselves to any of those categorisations of punk - although we rose at the same time as a lot of the punk bands and were playing the same places at the same time and attracting the same audience, we never called ourselves a punk band, and we certainly never called ourselves hippies either; we wouldn't call ourselves anything other than what we really are.
But there's a whole sort of philosophy that has run through the underground in all it's musical/creative/political forms since the late Seventies that Killing Joke as a band have always appeared to be running with and a lot of the time ahead of ...
Yeah - counter culture
Well, I think we've always lived a kind of alternative lifestyle to the mainstream and that includes strains of that underground movement that you could call hippie-punk, and I think today as well, if you start looking at what they call the travellers or the crusties, or the people who are doing the road protesting - I mean what do you call them?
Yeah, but on your album I almost detect a celebration of the fact that ten years ago if you were out protesting about the road builders destroying the culture and the land, or if you were trying to get Stonehenge to celebrate your chosen religion, you were a social outcast. Now it's almost become acceptable, it entering a mainstream lifestyle, everybody is beginning to question, not a select few stuck in some so-called counter culture, everybody...
I don't know if it is part of the mainstream.
I think it's at least becoming an issue of mainstream politics, and the 'ordinary' people are protesting.
Yeah, but everyone's still getting arrested, beaten up.
But the general public are appreciating that they're actually getting walked over and they're getting out and saying 'hang on'. Once upon a time they wouldn't have put themselves in a position to be arrested.
There's a lot more people standing up than there were ten years ago, and I think there's a lot of hope there. And yeah, you are right, the mass of people are beginning to do something positive, getting in touch with themselves, in touch with the land or whatever, and I think there's an interesting spin off from that, which is a lot of people are finding their own spirituality. They're finding it through protesting against the road builders, and they're getting into rediscovering a Pagan spirituality that up until now has only really been hinted at in those sort of underground movements.
Is music still a part? Is music a focus?
I think music is more the soundtrack to it. I think it unifies a lot of people. I think it's difficult to categorize what people are listening to - I mean I know a lot of those people out there protesting and living up trees personally, and I know a lot of them listen to a lot of the hardcore bands or Killing Joke and that it provides some sort of inspiration to them.
Some people in positions of power would see that inspiration as danger.
Yeah, I think we're aware of that as well, but you can't categorise what people are listening to. I know a lot of people who are out there listening to Killing Joke are also listening to a lot of the stuff I'm involved in with Dragonfly [Youth's rather good dance label]; they're listening to techno and things like that, things with no lyrics - and I think that's good, that's something that I've tried to explore. I mean with the medium of music we can break down barriers a lot more than we can in real life; it's a focus for unity or collectiveness. Lifestyles that would appear to be polar opposites can unite a lot easier via music. We've always tried to use the music as a microcosm for what we're trying to project into the world. If you take something that's apparently on the surface a polar opposite, like hardcore punk-metal or whatever you want to call it, with loads of guitars and all that, and put it together with techno beats and trance or whatever, mix it up, throw in a bit of dub - you're culturally doing what is almost impossible to do in real life, you're making some kind of alchemical solvent - and if it works, it's effective, you create - or at least this is how it happens for me - you create a little chain reaction in your mind.
So within this environment how far can Killing Joke go? It's almost like a new life for the band since you came back with the "Pandemonium" album.
Well, yeah, sort of. I think it's been eighteen years or something like that now. People were asking four years ago, when I first got back with the band, "well, what are you going to do that you haven't already done?" And we went and made Pandemonium - which I feel was a hard guitar kind of an album with electronic trance beats within it - and two years later I'm getting journalists ringing me up and saying there's this big metal/trance phenomenon going on and that Killing Joke are being heralded as a big influence and the forerunners of it - and this was twelve years after we'd started.
But that's something that happens with bands that are really on the edge and doing something different; every couple of years you'll be heralded as the forerunners of this or that ... Hawkwind are a classic example.
Only if your work is challenging and is some sort of inspiration to your contemporaries. Really we're only trying to create challenging music for ourselves, not for anyone else; we're trying to challenge ourselves. You can't consciously say, "All right, today we're going to try and make this new kind of music" - we just push it and see, and our personalities bounce off each other in a way that gets surprises going and that's what we're looking for.
Do you still surprise yourselves?
Yes, Jaz is constantly surprising me!
Is there a lot more to come?
Oh yeah, sure. I know it sounds corny, but it does feel like we're only just beginning to discover ourselves musically for the first time, well for me anyway. Maybe Jaz would disagree. On this album I feel we've kind of gone away from doing what we did on the Pandemonium album, which was mixing a lot of techno beats and the more atmospheric ideas. This time I've gone to the more traditional ideas of using pop song arrangements and full guitar, drum and bass instrumentation, which you know I haven't really done since the early days.
Is there not a temptation to bring a lot more of the dance culture into Killing Joke?
Yes, there is a temptation and there was a lot of encouragement to do that, especially after the success of what we did with the last album, but you know, that's not a real motivation for us. We hadn't worked with those sorts of strict arrangements or songs for some time. We wrote all the songs this time before we went into the studio, so that almost created a new challenge for us. I don't know what the next album will be like, but that's how we wanted to challenge ourselves this time. I hope the listener can sense the challenge.
Do you listen to it much?
No. Once it's finished I can't really listen to it. I'll let it go out and float around for six months before I can really listen to it.
What are you listening to at the moment then? Are you finding challenging music from other people?
Yeah, I think it's great out there at the moment because a lot of these barriers are coming down fast now. They've been chipped away at for a number of years, and now they're really being ripped down and you're seeing all kinds of interesting developments with different types of music coming together in so many different ways, ways I could never have dreamt would be happening ten years ago. Who'd have thought alternative music would be so mainstream ten years ago - five years ago even? You've got more chance of getting on the TV or radio now if you're doing something alternative than if you're part of the old mainstream, and I never thought that would happen.
Why has it happened?
I suppose that whatever is underground today is overground tomorrow, and that's why I like to root around in the underground so much, because it's slightly ahead of time.
So are you seeing those people who were part of the underground when you started, in a position to give people like you now access to the mainstream?
What, in positions of power?
Um, yeah, there are a few old Killing Joke fans who are up there now producing TV shows and things - there's not many in this country; other places, yes. To be honest, we've had the hardest job of all getting what Killing Joke are doing now over to people in this country rather than anywhere else. England has always been, and rightly so, a sort of birthing tank for new music - a sort of fertile cutting edge place. For me it's the centre of the universe for new music and there's a lot of new music always coming out of England.
It's harder to find.
Yes, but it's there. There's so much of it.
But you've got to get up and go and search for it. It's not going to be piped into your house or presented to you in the rather predictable music press. You can't sit and wait for it.
No, true, by the time you hear it on the radio it's already been and gone. It's been watered down for mass consumption and lost its edge.
Is that why England is so fertile? Because it's so much harder to break through?
It think there's a lot of reasons. I think the weather has a lot to do with it, to be honest. I think we're in a uniquely placed position geographically, and also it's a small country, which does make a difference.
When you say uniquely placed geographically what do you mean?
Well, you know, on a geomantic level it's a special country.
Is it harder to find that spirit now?
The New Jerusalem spirit? Well, Jaz and I have different arguments about this. Because a lot of people prophesise - from Blake and even before Blake - Milton and people like that, that England is the new Jerusalem, and I think that is right to a degree - Jaz would argue that it is New Zealand. First it was Ireland, then Iceland. It may well turn out to be, in the next millennium even, that Jaz was right - but I don't know; I think it's England. England has a very strong energy. People say it's gone; it's not working anymore.
I'd argue that it's gone into smaller pockets of England now.
No, it's still here. It's everywhere, even down in the cities, even just down the road in Brixton - on the oval, underneath the public loos of all places, there's a sacred pre-Roman spring and there's an underground river that goes up through Brixton [the Effra: a royal barge once sailed up it; now it's in a drainpipe]. There's lots of places in London that are very powerful energy sites. There's lots of sites in England - Glastonbury for a start, all over England, you've got about three to four thousand stone circles - that's a lot of energy sites that are still pretty much active. I mean they get more active when people use them, but they're there waiting to be used.
If people are allowed.
Well, people can, there's nothing stopping people ... all right, it's harder to set something up like a Stonehenge free festival where a lot of people get into those sorts of ideas in the first place. Yeah, it's a shame that doesn't happen anymore. In a way I can understand why. I don't really know if it's appropriate to have free festivals at Stonehenge anymore.
I guess the Stonehenge festival and the symbol of the stones have become a whole different argument now.
There's no reason why festivals shouldn't be going on in other places. We've managed to have big parties with Dragonfly all over the country, a lot of the time at significant energy sites. It is a two-sided coin though. I mean, you're going to turn people in and activate the site but then the downside is there are some people who won't treat the site with the respect, they'll abuse it - which was one of the problems with Stonehenge getting to be so big.
There was a lot of negativity around that festival in the end.
Yeah, but then whenever you have a repressive situation, there's always reaction against it and that reaction creates a much greater awareness. There's a much greater awareness of the old spiritualist traditions of the Western ... the Western Mystery Schools if you like. I mean, ten years ago, and still today to some extent, more people were, or are, aware of the Eastern culture spiritually speaking. They knew more about Shiva and Krishna, more about yoga, than they did about our own culture and our own Mystery Schools - which are just as powerful. But today there's a great resurgence in Western Pagan beliefs and there's a massive spiritual revolution going on - people in the trees, Wicca, druidery - traditions that have been pretty much underground - things that have opened up now. Things are being talked about that not so long ago would have been considered unspeakable outside of select circles, doors are opening ... it's become much more mainstream. It's still underground but it's becoming more of a mainstream thing as well. There's been an awakening to all kinds of esoteric things in the last ten years. The downside is that some people see it as kind of a superficial nineties lifestyle, a fashion accessory, and we are becoming very cynical towards things. We are in a very cynical time and cynicism at the end of it all doesn't really help anyone. All it does is make you give up.
And that, to come around in a full circle, is what I'm hearing in the new Killing Joke album. There's more to life than cynicism and it's all right to explore some of those things.
Well, that's ironic because most people have always considered Killing Joke to be arch-Nietzchian cynicists of the worst degree and call us incredibly pessimistic, narcissistic - I mean somewhere around the twelfth century in the West a lot of things became diabolised, things basically dealing with the feminine. The third aspect of the feminine, the hag aspect - we're entering the age of the hag now. There's the virgin, the goddess and the hag, and a lot of the practises that dealt with that, addressing the energy if you like, just a symbolistic approach of energy. The church basically decided that if they diabolised that, it would stop people from working with that energy and the church tried to make God into the all-benevolent being. And I think that's what attracted a lot of people to those Indian traditions instead, because it is more goddess-orientated, it is more feminine, not right across India, but in a lot of areas. People revere those aspects of the hag and they address it and respect it. What we're doing with Killing Joke is the same thing, I think. We're addressing, or respecting, a lot of what people would call negative aspects and I think you could quite easily substitute the word feminine in a lot of instances. A lot of that symbolism deals with imbalance, drugs, death - not that we're totally obsessed with those things but they definitely come up in the lyrics and that's definitely part of what we're trying to express. It's simple, really. We're just trying to be sincere about all this, especially Jaz. Really you should go and talk to Jaz about all this, but the basic motive behind the music is to be sincere about what we're feeling emotionally and what we're going through now. I think that in itself is really positive, and that in turn is a feminine thing. It's not really a masculine thing, and that's a big part of what Killing Joke are about.
And that's where time ran out. Probably a good thing, we were just beginning to get somewhere; we could have been there for days. Seeing as we'd spent the morning with the Sex Pistols, I did take the opportunity to ask someone who was around at the time what they thought.
Youth: I think it could work. I'm pleased to see them reforming. I doubt if a lot of people are - the cynics! - but I see it as a positive thing. They were always something special, and they only ever did to about forty gigs and never really took it to any sort of real conclusion. Their gigs were special events, not like The Clash and the rest. You could see The Clash anytime. The Clash were always in the pub down the road - oh no, not them again - Sex Pistols gigs were rare events. If they manage to handle it right, then it's great.