(From RIP, US rock magazine, December 1994)
|Killing Joke by Steffan Chirazi||
Revolutionary. The word suits the band all too well. Back when industrial music was limited to the primal likes of Einstürzende Neubatuen, when Metallica and Venom hadn't yet popped up to invent "thrash metal," Killing Joke were doing both on their extraordinary 1980 eponymous debut album. Rhythmic, aggressive and seductive, it was music to f?!k people up to, or simply just to f?!k to. Killing Joke were always about "f?!k," "fight" or both.
It started back in the late '70s with the union of three fiercely individualistic artists: Jaz Coleman, vocals and keyboards, Geordie Walker on guitar and Youth on bass [with fourth member Paul Ferguson]. Coleman, and later, Walker's decisions to head for Iceland in 1982, saw this initial line-up separate. Until now. Some ten years on from the ice-fields and subsequent global travel, Jaz bumped into Youth in a London street, the two had a drink, and decided there was work to be done.
Pandemonium is the result. A steel-clad, hardcore, dance-heavy, mega-mix-mungous collection of songs, sounds and feelings, all of which make up one of 1994's strongest releases. You'll hear a bit of Al Jourgensen, a bit of Hetfield, and a touch of Trent Reznor, because Killing Joke are one of the main sources from which these people drank. Get it? Killing Joke are too fucking important to you to ignore any longer. And the composed tension of Pandemonium will send your head ricocheting around the room.
"We've never analyzed anything much when we work," explains Coleman, "I think as individuals, we are a lot more focused now. When you meet each other again later in life you find that you share the same dreams and ideals, though Geordie and I never really busted up at all in the last 15 years. But having Youth back in, well, it's all going off again! What happens when we work together is we challenge each other, we invoke this 'spirit', if you like. Basically, everything you think you believe you are challenged with - philosophically, spiritually, in terms of your own personal morality. These situations always seem to come about when Killing Joke are recording, or get together. It's historically been the case."
As you might imagine having heard Coleman, Killing Joke do nothing in any sort of conventional fashion, writing included.
"The writing process is different to other bands. We get a load of ideas together, get in the studio and throw them out. Our anger produces something quite mutant, we sit on it and we wait for it to explode, allow things to get really frenzied."
Youth's return has been vital to the KJ intensity.
"There have been some great records when he wasn't in the band, 'Eighties,' for example (the song thought by some to have influenced Kurt Cobain when he wrote 'Come As You Are' from the Nevermind LP), but yes, I agree that he has added so much again to the band."
For many years after Youth's initial departure, Raven stood firm on the Joke bass, a tower of strength now helping forge the dynamic aggravation that is Prong.
"Youth is a very different bassist than Paul Raven. Youth's always been into heavy dub and reggae and had more to do with the innovative rhythms that Killing Joke became known for."
No one in Killing Joke is afraid to step up to the line and have an argument. The Pandemonium working process sounded, at times, horrific.
"It's from hell to ecstasy," chuckles Coleman with more than a hint of truth in his voice, "from going to Egypt and the King's Chamber inside the great pyramids to record, doing some stuff in my studio in New Zealand (Coleman's home for many years) to finishing it of in Youth's studio in London. Then there's the balancing of our material, what we like, what we don't like and yes, it's always a terribly traumatic experience, but we just keep doing it until things feel right. But out of it with this album has come great friendship."
The typical image of Killing Joke is that Geordie and Youth are quieter, passive, easygoing people, whilst Jaz Coleman is an aggressive lunatic. True or false?
"Completely incorrect," he sniggers, "they're both very difficult people to gauge unless you know them and Geordie doesn't open up to anyone at all really unless he really knows them first. But to call him passive shows you have a misunderstanding of the personalities in the band. Nobody is passive. We're a bunch of f?!king c?!ts, hahahaha! When Geordie has something bad to say about you, it cuts. I've seen him destroy people's lives with his character assassinations. But more to the point, he's a very good person with a big, big heart."
One thing Jaz Coleman had very firm ideas about is the future. He has been portrayed as everything from a Satanist to a prophet to a nutter to a sage. Simply, he is a man unafraid to voice a left-of-center opinion.
"I do not believe in consummation, that is to say that we will be reunited with God in the hereafter because everything's being destroyed. I believe in continuity, in adapting to the environment and the changes that are gonna happen. I've already had this vision, and it's part of the reason I choose to live in New Zealand: it gives me a freedom of lifestyle."
The cunning Coleman's humor is never too far away from his truth.
"For example, if management or one of those c?!ts rings me up and hasn't got me a business-class ticket, I don't get on the f?!king plane. I tell 'em I'm going to the beach, ha ha ha! You try flying for 32 hours economy!"
The song "Pandemonium" deals with some heavy Coleman observations.
"I live in a country where the nuclear family is breaking down. There's 600,000 solo mothers in a country of 2 million, where society has to readjust itself to the village being the 'parent,' and a child might have a number of parents in a communal situation. Interesting social developments."
The beauty of Jaz Coleman is that he's doing his bit to make a difference, essentially why he left Britain for the calmer, more natural environs of New Zealand. (He'd already tried Reykjavik, Iceland.) Anyone who thinks otherwise can basically bugger right off.
"You can't be 15 years with Killing Joke and tour the western cities of the world without seeing the atrocities being done to the ecosystem. You then become one of two things, part of the answer or part of the f?!king problem. And I delight in isolation."
Youth picks up the bat. A totally different proposition to Coleman, Youth seems almost spaced out. Partially because he is, yet he remains in total control. Years of acid abuse have only served to open wider a mind which, since it's last work with Killing Joke, has gone on to become one of the most respected mixing minds in the business. His perspective on the aggravation involved in making Pandemonium is both colorful and amusing.
"HA HA HA, you can't imagine the scene, man, I hadn't been playing gigs or in the band for 12 years, I was mixing, producing and writing where I was captain of the ship. There I was back in a room with people who hadn't seen me since I was 21... 22, when I was pretty much [only] a bass player. I was the least experienced in terms of musical ability and the youngest in the group. So it was harder for them to have to cope with me, 'cause they had to deal with me suddenly being producer and record company and bass player (the Butterfly label is Youth's concern) and they'd only known me for what I'd been before. But it's been a great thing for me, it feels like my musical spirit can fly now ... that like sounds crap, doesn't it?!" he says with a self-conscious laugh.
Killing Joke, despite any pre-formed conception, doesn't have any specific band leader.
"We take our different roles, though, depending on circumstances and situation," explains Youth. "Live, Jaz takes the floor and becomes the musical director with a specific vision. I'm quite happy just being the bass player. But when we're in the studio, I generally take that role, which comes from studio experience; I've flown a lot of pilot hours, if y'like! I couldn't compromise my position in the studio because I felt I'd be letting them down, but then there's two of them [with new drummer Geoff Dugmore] which made it very difficult at times. I wanted to get back to more songs and textures, which I think the record certainly achieves."
How much has Youth's continual ingestion of hallucinogens helped his musical mind?
"Weeell ... that's quite a long conversation in itself. But with drugs in general, you can't say they give you the work. I mean, you can't say that certain type of paint automatically gives you a great picture. They're tools, I suppose, for some, and LSD did help me focus personally on what I was trying to say with my work but in other ways it completely confused me. At one point I totally forgot how to play [bass] ... in hindsight though, it was good for me. But y'know, I wouldn't want to encourage people to indulge in narcotics..."
He sighs heavily before continuing. "But for many people, drugs are a reality, and I can say they have definitely been a reality in my life for the last 20 years. There's definitely denial in society generally."
Society will surely not deny Pandemonium, a great album from true musical pioneers who, despite their inner trips and struggles, manage to exude warmth and togetherness from within the chaotic grooves.
"Well, aside from all the other stuff, we do like big parties too," chuckles Coleman. And this time, Killing Joke have decided to invite you. Check your head and welcome to pandemonium.