(Unknown UK magazine, 1994)
THE LAST LAUGH
KILLING JOKE's unique musical vision has held many diverse artists in awe of their unrelenting power. The band themselves have always hated each other, while ANTHONY NOGUERA has often grazed his knees worshipping at the Joke altar.
"Killing Joke are bastards, the lot of 'em. Including me, I might add." Now, an inflammatory statement like that might be liable to cause tonnes of aggravation if it had come from a critic of the band which has long since been revealed as the progenitor of much of this decade's most experimental music. Seeing as the missive came from the lips of Jaz Coleman, The Joke's eccentric frontman, then I guess it's OK.
He's right though, Killing Joke are bastards, charming bastards, but bastards nonetheless. So where did these bastards come from and what makes them so bastard important? Out of the already putrefying ashes of the late-Seventies' Punk movement rose a band determined to build on the foundations set by the movement's original philosophy. Jaz Coleman, lyricist, vocalist/keyboardist and mad bastard extraodinaire, along with steely-gazed guitarist Geordie, a man too cool for his own trousers and drummer Big Paul Ferguson - so named because of his bigness - set about redefining music as we know it.
They were mad, bad and dangerous to know. Geordie and Jaz had known each other since they were a mere seventeen "...and right from the start we didn't agree about anything except fishing," smiles Jaz. "The music came later," he laughs. It's this basic lack of agreement in the Joke camp that has leant itself to the most fucked-up, aggravated sonics the world has ever known. Well, just about. When the Joke were on form, as with their incredible first record, the 'Turn To Red EP' they were the sound of paranoia made physical. Jaz's eerily passionate vocals and Geordie's barren guitars, underpinned by Big Paul's tribal drumming and Youth's intertwining bass-lines are the trademarks of a legacy that is still as relevant today as it was in 1979.
There's a basic dichotomy about Killing Joke that elicits the worst and the best kind of extremes from them. On one hand, they suck the corporate cock for all it's worth and, on the other, they're the most single-minded high-moraled (in purely musical terms) band in the world. They couldn't give a fuck about anybody else. They hate each other - yet they'd defend what they had as Killing Joke to the ends of the earth.
As Geordie says, "The whole point was to create from hatred. It was an experiment. If we'd got on, we wouldn't have been able to write the music we did. The tension came from the fact that we hated each other."
The initial trio of Coleman, Geordie and Ferguson made the move from London to Cheltenham in the Cotswolds after Coleman inadvertently burned down the band's flat in the capital. They took a room in the house where Coleman's parents lived and it is there that the story of Killing Joke really begins. Now, Coleman and Geordie were never the most perfect members of society. Since he could remember, Coleman used to sell drugs at his school to pay for his extra curricular activities, his self-belief showing itself as early as the day he answered a maths teacher's 'What are you going to do when you grow up if you can't even do basic maths?' demand with the missive, 'Get myself an accountant.'
Individualists and stubborn bastards to a man, they set about forging themselves a reputation as the most formidable and difficult group in the country. The final piece of The Joke jigsaw fell into place when a young hustler by the name of Youth (nee: Martin Glover), a man who'd known Geordie from his London days, tuned up in Cheltenham to audition for the then vacant bass-player role in the fledgling band; a band, it must be remembered, who had a much better idea of what they wanted to sound like than any actual idea of how to go about it. They wanted character, a new sound, aggression, a vision. They wanted to be different. Then again, so did Adam And The Ants and look where that got them. Anyway, I digress. Jaz remembers the first time he met Youth for that fateful audition/trial-by-fire in his mum's attic.
"Geordie had heard him play and told us that he was fucking brilliant and that he was really tribal, which at that time was the real buzz-word with us. Anything tribal was in. Anyway, Youth was this scrawny-looking fucker. We showed him this really easy bass riff and told him to do it. Well... he couldn't. It was like he couldn't play at all, so me and Big Paul just looked at each other and walked out. We went down the pub but Geordie stayed with him. A couple of hours later we walked in and the two of them were stood there facing each other playing this awesome riff. It was just going round and round and round. Totally incredible. I went to my keyboards and just started bashing out this really discordant stuff that started to fit in with the riff and then Paul came in on the drums. It sounds stupid but it really was one of those magical moments. We played the same thing for about ten minutes then all just started laughing! Youth just went "You bastards! I told you I could do it!"
That afternoon, Killing Joke was born. In '79 they released 'Turn To Red' and the accolades began to pour in. In '80 'Killing Joke' the album saw them dent popular music with a hugely landscaped cutting swathe of a sound. Even now, bands like Metallica pay homage to The Joke by covering classic material from that album like 'The Wait'. As uncompromising as it was destructive, the album was a blueprint for nearly ten years of spiked albums that confounded and beguiled in equal measures. The press alternately loved and loathed them, usually in direct relation to whether or not they'd been done over by the band at some point. Jaz remembers one particular journalist who shall remain nameless who stitched the band up and was rewarded in a particularly questionable fashion.
"He came to one of our gigs so we got him and gaffa taped him to the front-of-house PA system and soundchecked through him," Jaz relates with considerable glee.
Another time he dumped a carrier bag of pig's livers and maggots onto the front desk of one of the weekly papers for "questioning whether or not I was for real. When they printed it, they said I'd chucked up my guts in their office! Ha! I got months of mileage out of that one."
As you may guess, Killing Joke are experienced media whores. They love the thrill of the media chase and will do almost anything for a good story. In spite of anything and everything they do outside of their music, they remain unswervingly true to their vision of what Killing Joke's music should sound like. Despite everything, they have still got that vision.
As The Joke mythos took off around the world, the band released 'What's This For...!' which further confirmed their status as Alternative Rock for the intelligently minded. Unfortunately, as the money poured in, Youth poured more and more drugs down his throat. He was by this time a total acid head. He has only returned to earth in the last few years, but has actually managed to carve out a reputation for himself as a re-mixer supreme. He's made himself tons of money adding lots of bleep bleep noises to other people's records and by writing a hideous ('Sunshine On Rainy Day') single with one-hit-wonder pop starlet Zoe a year ago. He shagged her as well, just for good measure. She didn't bother with a re-mix though and disappeared.
However much they might take the piss out of Youth's mentally-challenged state of mind, they still, by their own admission "love the guy".
After deciding to become a traffic light for a year (for tax reasons), Youth was replaced by Paul Raven, a totally hard bastard with a penchant for not paying his taxes. Hence his reason for living outside of Britain these days. The Joke went from strength to strength, recording better and better albums whilst carrying out increasingly-bizarre psuedo mind-fuck warfare on each other. The band said Jaz was a fascist psychopath and, in his turn, he said they were all untalented slags living off of his talent. They all went mad. The superb 'Night Time' was released in 1985 to world-wide acclaim. The 'Love Like Blood' single was a huge success so the band predictably disowned it as commercial crap. The album also contains 'Eighties', the song that Nirvana ripped off for 'Come As You Are'.
Another world tour. More success. More Fighting. More superb stories. Then Jaz and Big Paul had a major fight in 1986 and, to this day, do not speak. Paul fucked off and the band welcomed Martin Atkins to the fold. luckily Atkins was a bastard too, so they all got on famously. Jaz and Atkins never got along, nothing new for The Joke there, but he didn't respect him either, which is what always counted in the band. They fought. Badly. Jaz refers to him as "a hired gun. Never a member of Killing Joke."
After the 'Extremities' album (which was a brilliant return to form but appallingly produced) and tour, they went their separate ways, never to work with each other again.
Martin Atkins: "Jaz is a c**t!"
Geordie: "Jaz is a c**t!"
Raven: "Jaz is a c**t!".
Jaz: "I'm a c**t but without me they can't call themselves Killing Joke!"
Jaz went to Iceland to escape the impending destruction of the world. Geordie, Atkins and Raven formed Murder Inc. Then, a few months ago, Youth hit the fast-forward button and decided he wanted to reform the original Killing Joke line-up. Because they all love Youth, the crucial Coleman/Geordie partnership get drunk together and go for the idea. Ferguson is undecided and Raven is apoplectic with jealousy. Which brings us up to the present day. Habitually referring to each other as 'slags', they maintain a friendship that transcends mere personalities. They are currently writing and recording in Jaz's New Zealand studio for a spring release. Jaz promises that the new record will be "...the most fucked, anti-commercial, unbelievably tribal album ever!".
I for one can't wait to have them back.