SAVE THE LAST
LAUGH FOR ME
KILLING JOKE cut the cards and
deal to CHRIS BURKHAM
"Everything we say is edited, but the one thing
they can't edit is KILLING JOKE! I love that, I
love that. They hate it though, and I can
understand why they hate it.
"Listen! How much is going to be edited this time?
NME are our favourites for this type of thing, but
this will be edited won't it?
"I'm sure that what I'm saying now, this minute,
will be edited won't it? Is that not a fact? I bet it
will be, I bet it will be."
Jaz Coleman sits opposite me in a Manchester cafe, his eyes are
wide and bloodshot, his laugh (more of a cackle really) is almost
manically infectious. At the moment he is waxing rather less
than lyrically about the way the music media has treated Killing
Joke in the past.
Basically he loves this form of anti-attention, for although their
press may have been bad, Killing Joke can hardly claim to have
been ignored. They have had reams of, mostly ultra-critical,
articles written about them.
And Jaz wouldn't have it any other way. He sees this violent aversion to Killing Joke as a success on The Joke's part, he sees this
reaction as a cover-up for the fact that Killing Joke scare and worry their pen-wielding adversaries.
It is true that the music and attitudes of Killing Joke do produce an extreme reaction in people, they are either loved or hated.
Revered or reviled.
"I think Killing Joke does scare people," snaps Jaz, "at the level we intend taking it to I think it does. "Listen, we got to number
thirty two with 'Follow The Leaders' but they wouldn't put it into the charts, just because we don't fit I into a nice 'Rebel Boy'
category. We don't fit in! "They wouldn't even let us record Top Of The Pops, and other bands who were at number forty two
were getting on! Now I see that as a compliment to us."
So Killing Joke would like to perform on TOTP?
"No." Geordie replies, slowly munching on a mouthful of chips. "We would record, and let them use a video, but we don't want to
have to degrade ourselves in front of the morphous mass, You know, jig and grin on cue."
Killing Joke, whether they like it or not, are usually associated with many of the dregs of The Post-Punk Malaise (P-PM is like a
wart, it is annoying and difficult to get rid of, but is ultimately just an unsightly irritant and constitutes no real threat).
The Post-Punk Malaise includes bands such as Crass, Dead Or Alive, Anti Pasti, Vice Squad and The Exploited. The
Exploited actually made it into the TOTP studios with their odious 'Dead Cities'. Their performance on that Thursday's edition
showed just how much of a Benny Hill-like pantomime caricature of Punk (capital P) all this 'real' punk (small p) is . Grandparents
laughed at the absurdity of it all, and parents sighed with relief, comforted by the knowledge that this farcical punkarama was no real
"They're just the punk Muppets." Spat Jaz derisively.
Geordie: "Bands like that are allowed to exist as a safe means to keep the rebellious element in the country satisfied. That is because
there's no real threat there, and ultimately there's this feeling that 'The kids will grow out of it' or 'They'll settle down soon'."
Jaz: "You see the difference is that what we do is get totally involved, and go really over the top. From the lyrics to the sound.
Everything is exactly what we think, and it is total involvement for us."
Killing Joke are convinced that what they're doing is right, and that they are setting about their task the only way possible. Killing
Joke's attitudes are as immovable as rock, they believe in themselves so much. Whether you believe Killing Joke to be brainless,
primeval post-Punk of the most depressing nature, a dumb quaalude of a band that numbs instead of activates, or the true apres-
Pistols band, the band who succeed where PiL slide into arty posing, a potent force, the power (and the glory) ... it doesn't matter
really. Any decision made will be based on the most subjective of criteria. Little that is said about their music will radically change
any opinions (read: personal choice), and it is their attitudes that are more interesting than their music anyway.
Killing Joke are a mass of contradictions, they attempt to explain that there is more to The Killing Joke (the idea) than just
Killing Joke (the band). Yet they seldom really back up these spurious statements, instead they mutter mischievously about areas
of personal privacy. Throughout my conversation with Jaz and Geordie they would continually take trains of thought as far as they
wanted them to go, and then stop, creating more grey and nebulous areas that should be marvelled at but never explained. Killing
Joke expect agreement, and see dissent as a sure sign of being 'wrong', of failing to comprehend the all-encompassing Killing
"This game is stupid," muses Jaz during one of his more open discussions about what Killing Joke hope to do, "this game is well
predictable. This particular side of The Killing Joke, what people see of us ..."
What people see of the band, or of The Killing Joke philosophy?
"Mmm ... well ... that's enough of that I think!"
It is this method of opening doors but leaving the chain on that gives Killing Joke's critics the most ammunition. If they have got
more to say then they should say it, what are they going to do, apart from playing rock music, that is going to be so extraordinary?
Only one time did Jaz continue a theme, but even then it seemed as if he was only indulging himself in some playful fantasy.
He was envisaging a Killing Joke nursery school, a school where children would never be taught about death. They just wouldn't
know it existed. Through this school the children would grow up with amazing abilities, they would have the capability to do
anything, because they wouldn't fear anything. It was a nice dream, but has as much chance of occurring as Willie Hamilton has of
receiving a knighthood. A nice idea, nothing more.
If this is indicative of the other projects that Killing Joke have hidden under their clouds of mystery then it is easy to see why they
won't discuss them. Quite simply they would become A Joke instead of The Killing Joke.
Then again: just how much of The Killing Joke is A Joke? Jaz and Geordie continually gave the impression that they were playing
an elaborate game, a game that involved plenty of winding up and a healthy dash of nonsensical philosophising. Maybe the game
had no boundaries, maybe this interview had just become another part of The Game. Killing Joke like to play games, Jaz and
Geordie, crouched expectantly across the table from me, drop hints and make suggestions. It could be a game of poker - and I
keep on believing their bluff.
Geordie: "We're working within and making the best of a traditional framework that we're about
to dispense with."
To totally do away with the framework would be nigh on impossible, for it has survived for ...
Jaz: "It has lasted, and will last, as long as everything else ... about twenty months ..."
So you see The Apocalypse ...
Jaz: "What did I say? I didn't say anything!"
Time to call for a new deck of cards I think.
Killing Joke (we're talking about the band here, not the way of life) have recently returned from two brief sessions in Germany
with Conny Planck. Whilst over there they recorded their third LP, 'Revelations', which is perhaps the best long playing record that
the band have made. Using Conny Planck more in the role of engineer than producer they worked together to produce an LP that is
livelier and more sprightly than the dull drone of 'What's This For?'. Successfully bypassing the sludge and drudgery of that second
LP Killing Joke have emerged as a band with more edge than I had previously given them credit for. Killing Joke play it taut and
tense on 'Revelations', using their aural terrorism to the maximum effect - it is not a great LP, but it shows them stepping in a
direction that will finally create a Killing Joke that can do justice to their claims.
The way that Herr Planck stepped aside and let the band play in short, sharp bursts of contained energy has given the LP a more
electric, live feel. Their (over) indulgence in their metallic pre-Apocalypse vision is still the predominating theme, it takes various
forms but still manages to cover all that they do in a blanket of fearfulness and anticipation.
The anticipation is probably the strongest emotion on this subject, as Jaz says "I can't wait, I'm thrilled to bits about the future!".
Like a child waiting for his favourite television programme Jaz waits for impending global destruction with unabashed glee. And this
shows in the music.
"When I listen to the new album, when I listen to 'The Hum' (a track on the album), it terrifies me. It terrifies me to think that music
can be taken to that extreme. "But that isn't really the point, the point is that the whole album gives fair indication of how close we all
are - with the principles we use, we soak up our environment and put it down into noise. "We just act as receptacles for our
environment - to this great event! We really are happy, we are genuinely happy!"
The problem is though, that the music of Killing Joke is not as extreme as Jaz would like to believe. It is a heavy, rush of a sound
that relies on dischords and descents, Killing Joke rely on rhythms rather than sounds. It is not an extremist form of music,
extremism is better typified by the likes of Throbbing Gristle.
"When I first met Paul, what really inspired me was that he said: 'We'll make a sound like nature throwing up'. I really like that idea,
not just the sound of it but to actually become it!"
So how do you want people to react to the sound of nature's vomit?
"It should be people taking their individuality to absolute extremes. The one thing that really makes me puke is any person who is
into the Killing Joke trying to see something in me, or Geordie, that they lack in themselves. "And what makes me even more sick
is seeing groups that try and sustain this! This 'I'll be your leader' pose, they'll cover up for all the inadequacies in your own
personality - it makes me puke." 'One thing you can be sure of, and I'm certain of this, that one of the of the good things about the
apocalypse is the end of The Teardrop Explodes, Toyah, Theatre Of Hate - all the people like that!"
Jaz, as the singer/songwriter for the band, seems to maintain his momentum through hating the majority of what he sees around him.
Seldom will he change his viewpoint, such as when I put forward the point that Pop does have its use, and its place.
"To the media, sure!"
No, as an entertainment form - there is a need for it.
"Yeah, I see, but whether I agree with that is another thing."
Don't you need entertainment in your life?
"Listen, we are completely cut off from all other music. We
just don't listen to it. What I would prefer to do is have my
mates round, get out a load of drums and just play. I love
the idea of participation. "This is why I feel that doing a gig
... well, the whole idea of three and a half thousand people
going into a hall and trying to adjust to the level of four
people is wrong. "To a point I hate what I'm doing, yet I
also love what I'm doing!"
So is your fight basically a futile one?
Jaz: "Not for us at all. We are doing a lot of things on the
quiet - for ourselves."
Geordie: "We've got a lot of other alternatives, but people
don't see that."
Such as ...?
Geordie: "Mind your own fuckin business mate, we're alright!"
The door slams shut again and it's time for the cards to be shuffled. My conversation with the two Jokers continually circled itself
and always ended up in the corner marked private. If this was a game then Killing Joke were winning hands down, they always
succeeded in evading the final issue. The question of what are Killing Joke apart from a band? If anything at all.
"There is a science that I acknowledge ... but I can't really say further than that, because it's not the sort of thing that you want to
talk about with the press."
"Because! Because a) we don't even talk about it amongst ourselves, we just accept it. b) There is a factor, infinite and unknown,
that we won't talk about. It's like a funny recognition between ourselves. And c) you get misinterpreted, vastly misinterpreted. "As
soon as you put it into words it can be changed ... from dog to god ... whatever! All you really need to know is that we're living -
"We get on with ourselves. literally. That is our philosophy. Do what one wills. Like if I just get on with what I'm doing and don't
cross your path, and you just get on with your business. "We have no manifesto, bar The Killing Joke, and I'm forever being
inspired by how other people interpret The Killing Joke. And I never want there to be any restriction on it."
The worrying thing is that although Jaz talks of having no restrictions, the very way in which he maps out his future is bordered with
restrictive elements. He sees the world as a place that is polluted with too much technology, and the environment has dulled man's
creativity and sensitivity. Now the next step has to be understanding human nature, Jaz tells me. But surely human nature is such a
"It's funny, because when you said that all I saw were 'ifs' and 'buts', and I think that is one of the problems."
If and but are just part of the questioning process, which is important, you have to question to understand - to understand human
nature you will have to question certain aspects of it.
"I think that if Power asks why, then it ceases to become the Power. There are certain things that I acknowledge, I don't question
them, I don't bring them down to that level.
"Because when we get down to that level I call it one thing and you call it another, therefore we disagree. So we don't put it into
words, they're too one dimensional. 'He may say Allah, you may say God. But they're just words. It's more important that you just
get on with it. "But this is a personal thing, we apply this to ourselves. This is nothing to do with the music thing that we're in, nothing
at all. We want to alienate ourselves even more. Completely. The environment, the music scene, everything. This is not an ambition,
this is certainty for us. We've used it all, it is all just a means to an end this Joke business."
Until you ...?
"I'm not saving anything! It's a means to an end ... it's funny,
"... I can't wait ... I'm thrilled to bits about the future!"
If The Killing Joke is more the continuity of an idea, as is
hinted, then the idea should be fully explained and explored.
At the moment Jaz is expounding his theories and attempting
to create an abyss between himself and the rest of the human
race. What he sees as self-control of his destiny I see as anti-
"Ultimately I want to be: a) not part of the whole system that
I live in, and b) to control my environment. All the motives
of Killing Joke are different to everyone else's. "Y'know
there are so many bands that are singing about 'How awful it
is ...', and look at the way they're changing it. "Off they go,
Top Of The Pops, hit single, shrug their shoulders ... they're
the leaders? "The whole point is to inspire people to do things
for themselves. And I hate any other unit that says otherwise,
that says 'We're superior', I hate that. And 1 especially hate
what they claim allegiance to."
How far are The Killing Joke going to go?
"Killing Joke won't stop. If people see The Killing Joke as
just a band, we can see what type of people they are. We
were born into The Killing Joke, we acknowledge our
frame of mind as totally healthy. Killing Joke just keeps us thinking, whatever happens."
Perhaps my problem is that I do see Killing Joke as 'just a band', I cannot align myself with Jaz's policies and politics, they smack
of sixties idealism and eighties depression - a dangerous cocktail. Killing Joke are a rock band who are slowly managing to
subvert certain of the traditions of the format that they work within. (The) Killing Joke are not a solution, or a new way of life for
the turbulent twentieth century. The sooner Jaz separates his dream-home vision of the Apocalypse from creating music for Killing
Joke, the better. He has to recognise that Killing Joke are a band. Maybe he has spent too long building the band in the punk
underground to understand the concept of reality any more. The Killing Joke? Do you remember this one: There were two
missionaries who had been caught by a tribe of cannibals, and they were slowly boiling in a large cooking pot when one asks the
other: "Does it hurt?" To which the other replies, "Only when I laugh."
The Killing Joke? Someone asked me whether Jaz made any sense, to which I replied: "Only if I laugh."
"We are sustaining a business. We're selling passion on vinyl. We are an act. People will come and see us, have a yipee time, and
then the next morning they have to go back to work again. "It's then that the whole thing loses meaning. That is The Killing Joke."
(Don't Care Archives - Sounds, 6th March 1982)
29 YEARS LATER AND THE KILLING JOKE CONTINUES WITH SOME OF THEIR STRONGEST AND
HEAVIEST MATERIAL TO DATE BEING RELEASED...
FOR MORE ON KILLING JOKE