(From Top, published by Tower Records, April 1996)
Jaz Coleman is back from his honeymoon at the end of the earth. And he knows his place. . .
by Ian Gittins
Jaz Coleman proclaims, grandiosely but undeniably accurately: "I'm not your average rock musician. I'm the Composer-In-Residence of the New Zealand National Orchestra. I've written nine classical symphonies in the last three years. I affect the school in the curriculum in the country I live in. I've been described as the modern Mahler. . . ."
All of which translates, basically, as: Killing Joke are back. The band who can be said to have presaged and influenced the '80s, from goth through industrial and hardcore right through to grunge, have returned with an imposingly heavy duty album titled Democracy. Or maybe we're overstating their importance, eh Jaz?
"No way! We've been massively influential! Loads of people like Nirvana and Al Jourgenson have cited us as important in interviews. Metallica even covered one of our songs. And the whole Seattle scene owed us a large debt."
Let's translate that: Jaz Coleman is back. He's bursting with vigor and a thousand conspiracy theories from one of his customary sojourns to the back of beyond. He recently married and has just returned from a honeymoon "on a remote island in the Pacific. I don't want to say anymore than that," he adds, as though imagining me armed with an army of private detectives to infiltrate his new-found private idyll.
"I love solitude, nature, isolation," he says. "I've been searching for an island at the end of the earth ever since I ran away to Iceland in 1981, and it's as near as I've ever come to finding it. Maybe I've just always over-reacted to being brought up in a violent, urban environment where I spent every day being called 'Paki' and 'wog'."
Democracy is a powerful and, inevitably for Killing Joke, deeply driven body of work. Coleman's trademark apocalyptic vision of the planet and mankind seen through a glass, darkly, never fails to impress.
"I thought this album was quite optimistic, actually," he protests, somewhat disengenuously, for the evidence is stacked against him. What, for example, of the turbulent and troubled title track?
"Well, I'm not saying democracy doesn't work," he begins, warming to a much-worn theme. "I'm just saying there are a lot of different kinds of so-called democracy. . . In Britain the working class is traditionally right wing, so the left has to move further and further right to get elected. It's virtually a one-party system. In New Zealand we have proportional representation. If I can get 4,000 votes I get a constituency. That's tribalism, and tribalism is Killing Joke."
While Jaz has been investigating systems of government and Antipodean paradises, his bass-playing cohort, Youth, has spent the best part of the last decade at the forefront of the dance scene with a host of much-lauded remixes. So how does Youth feel about coming back to rock, to the Joke? "Well, I enjoy it," he confides. "Killing Joke is about dance music. But I'm not sure I can face this world tour Jaz keeps on about. I might just play a few dates and slip away quietly. . ."
Seventeen years into a mocked and maverick career, Killing Joke's dynamic of integrity remains intact. So does it get harder to write songs, Jaz? "Ha!" he replies, and delivers the Killing Joke punchline. "No idea. I just go out and live my life and the songs write themselves."