The Gig Cartel - Artist profiles: Killing Joke

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Killing Joke

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IF MANKIND truly is hell-bent on destruction, then what noises will reverberate around the void after we take our final breaths and abandon the planet to its own, pure heartbeat?

Like the armoured cockroaches crawling from bomb-blast wreckage, Killing Joke have spent the last 30 years providing the world with a suitably deep, dark, dogmatic soundtrack to its own calamitous descent into chaos, and as the momentum of the modern age gains ever more urgency, the band are once again poised to hit the philosophical nail squarely on the head…

FORMED IN London, England, in October 1978, Killing Joke was the brainchild of classically-trained musician & vocalist Jeremy ‘Jaz’ Coleman and drummer ‘Big’ Paul Ferguson, who eagerly recruited two like-minded comrades in the form of guitarist Kevin ‘Geordie’ Walker and bassist Martin ‘Youth’ Glover and set about establishing a brand new and highly idiosyncratic manifesto for reinventing the rock ‘n’ roll wheel.

Coming to life during what would become known as the ‘post-punk’era, Killing Joke were never willing to conform to the artistic restrictions of any particular scene or genre. Instead, they took a vast and bewildering array of influences and experience, and combined them to create something entirely unique and utterly timely. Pitched somewhere between the bullish aggression and bleak primitivism of British punk and the epic grandeur and icy detachment of German electronic rock bands like Tangerine Dream and Can, the band’s sound emerged fully-formed and laudably intense; a vibrant and punishing antidote to virtually everything else that was happening in music at the time.
Instantly endorsed by legendary Radio One DJ John Peel, who gave the band plenty of airplay before they had even recorded an album, Killing Joke were embarking on an intense evolutionary journey that would result in some of the most startling and original rock albums of the 1980s. Both their self-titled debut and its 1981 follow-up ‘What’s THIS For..!’ cemented the band’s reputation as a maverick creative force, and due to a penchant for using controversial imagery, the quartet rapidly became the most notorious band in the UK.

Fervently against conventional notions of politics or propaganda, Coleman and his band mates were merely urging people to question old orthodoxies and their surroundings in general, conjuring up images of an impending apocalypse with music hewn from equal parts of heaven and hell; but this was never a group destined to be embraced by the masses. Instead, Killing Joke steadily developed an extremely intense and passionate relationship with a very loyal and devoted fan base, a relationship that was to remain intact throughout the decades that followed.

As they made more records, including 1982’s ‘Revelations’ – overseen by renowned German producer Conny Plank – and its 1983 follow-up, ‘Fire Dances’, the band’s personal fire was growing and their momentum building…
“Killing Joke has always been an heroic endeavour, philosophically,” reflects Youth, who left the band after ‘Revelations’, being replaced by Paul Raven. “It’s been misconceived in the past as some doom-laden, apocalyptic thing, but I’ve never really been down with that. We’re actually a folk group, singing about relevant issues that apply to us, our environment and our emotions.

“There’s no purpose in pointing a finger unless you’re going to provide a solution. Killing Joke is an empowering experience for the listener where they can regain their sovereignty and regain their humanity through going to a gig or relating to and identifying with the lyrics. That’s my ambition. That’s what I think all great art or music does. It’s a noble cavalry charge!”

THAT CHARGE continued apace with 1985’s commercially successful ‘Night Time’, an album that saw the band’s sound become more polished and radio-friendly without losing any of their imposing character or aggression. A single, the mighty ‘Love Like Blood’, took Killing Joke onto British pop TV institution Top Of The Pops and helped to broaden their audience, albeit briefly, to include mainstream rock and pop fans.

Unfortunately, this burst of success led to one of the band’s less impressive creative periods, and neither 1986’s ‘Brighter Than A Thousand Suns’ or 1988’s ‘Outside The Gate’ seemed to resonate particularly with anyone beyond their most die-hard supporters. Nonetheless, Killing Joke’s influence was continuing to grow and a steady stream of bands – ranging from Brit industrial metallers Godflesh through to Seattle-based grunge behemoths Soundgarden – were enthusiastically citing the Londoners as an inspiration.

Meanwhile, Coleman, Walker and Raven were ploughing a new and more wilfully hostile furrow on their ninth studio album, the brutal ‘Extremities, Dirt & Various Repressed Emotions’ – a sprawling, rageful onslaught of jagged post-punk riffing and scabrous atmospheres that delighted the faithful and strengthened Killing Joke’s links with an alternative rock & metal scene that had long held the band in high regard.

This relationship was further consolidated with the release of 1994’s ‘Pandemonium’ album, which saw the return of Youth to the fold and was a sonically bold affair showcasing a revamped sound that brought the driving rhythms and glacial textures of industrial techno to bear on Geordie’s ever-menacing riffs and Coleman’s increasingly potent vocal proclamations. Two years later, the more diverse but noticeably more angular and intense ‘Democracy’ kept the Joke ball rolling through the era of plodding grunge, brainless pop-punk and lumpen nu-metal, the band’s formidable personality as strong and as mesmerising as ever.

After a lengthy hiatus prompted by a wide variety of extra-curricular activities that kept them all extremely busy, including Jaz Coleman’s ongoing parallel career as respected classical music composer and conductor, Killing Joke stepped up yet another gear with the release of their second self-titled album in 2003. Produced by Youth and Gang Of Four guitarist Andy Gill, the album featured Foo Fighters leader Dave Grohl on drums, not to mention what was arguably the biggest and most destructive sound the band had ever produced in the studio. Their most praised and high profile release to that point, ‘Killing Joke’ was a gloriously muscular and impactful rebirth, and although Grohl was never a permanent member of the band, his involvement shone a well-deserved spotlight onto what was plainly a career highlight.
Three years later, the vicious and raw ‘Hosannas From The Basements Of Hell’ emerged; a fearsome and deliciously awkward response to the idea that Killing Joke were edging towards mainstream acceptance once more. Sadly, the album would be the last to feature the bass playing talents of Paul Raven, who tragically passed away in his sleep in the autumn of 2007, robbing rock music of one of its most dogged performers.

IN KEEPING with their ethos of dedication to the creative urge, Killing Joke would produce a phoenix from the ashes of their fallen friend’s memory. Jaz, Geordie and Paul Ferguson were brought together for the first time in years at Raven’s funeral, and from that acorn of reconciliation a full-blown reunion of the original line-up has since grown. As Coleman explains…
“Raven was well on the way to kissing and making up with us and going on the next potential tour, but of course that didn’t transpire. There was a key line at the funeral, from Nietzsche, something to the effect of, ‘When a great man dies, enemies forgive each other and make common vows’ …and that proved to be the trigger for the call-to-arms, but it would’ve happened anyway. The reunion was coming closer over time and we have Raven to thank for pushing it all back together.”
With a renewed sense of purpose and a chance to revisit the exhilarating chemistry that made them such a great band in the first place, Killing Joke reconvened to Spain in the summer of 2008 to rehearse for a tour that would bring them all together on stage for the first time in decades. In 2009, they appeared at a handful of European festivals, proving they had lost none of their power and sending their devout fans into raptures, before agreeing to hit the studio once again to make a brand new album.
Despite personal relationships that have always tended towards the fractious and turbulent end of the scale, Coleman, Walker, Ferguson and Youth soon revived their creative relationship and the material began to flow…
“It was a very exciting session and we were very prolific,” says Coleman. “We all smashed together gloriously as we always do. We’re all thrilled to bits. I’m really, really excited about it. I don’t think there’s anyone else around that does it like us.”
Not just their strongest album in years, but perhaps the finest and most important thing that Killing Joke have ever done, ‘Absolute Dissent’ is the sound of four strong personalities and creative spirits colliding with maximum force and belief. A raging cauldron of rhythmic  intensity and melodic power, it sounds both utterly timely and yet eerily ageless, as if Killing Joke are channelling past, present and future through the flames of their revitalised artistic chemistry. Crushingly heavy yet at times undeniably beautiful, this is rock music that aims beyond the norm and into territory yet undiscovered.

Most bands of their vintage struggle to maintain relevance amid the deafening thump of time’s forward march, but Killing Joke are currently making the best music of their lives. For all of their collective adherence to dark, apocalyptic visions, this band’s future looks brighter than ever…

“AS WE’VE got older, we’ve become more relevant, because the world’s moved closer to the way we see it than when we were there first time and considered extremists,” states Youth. “Now events have shown that, actually, we weren’t that paranoid or extreme. We were just being honest.

“The great achievement of this album is how we’ve got four totally disparate, diverse, strongly opinionated points of view to completely harmonise as one uncompromised expression. That’s the challenge and that’s always the challenge for great groups. We’re honest to ourselves in what we’re doing. The work should speak for itself and it really does.”
“I feel really, really privileged,” says Coleman. “For me, being in Killing Joke is as big an honour as being decorated by France for my work in classical music. It’s lifelong. While Geordie’s in the world and I’m in the world, we want to increase the pace and keep putting out more music, and we have the resolve to do this. There are these apparent rumours that it’s the last one, and if a London bus runs me down, then possibly, but not yet!

“It’s always traumatic recording with Killing Joke, especially with this line-up. I don’t know why. It’s traumatic for everyone involved… but then you just want to do it again!” |

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