Let's all go to the Fire Dances
October 5, 2007 3:46 AM   Subscribe

Killing Joke: Not related to the 1988 Batman comic of the same name, Killing Joke is an influential English post-punk rock band formed in 1979. Founding members Jeremy "Jaz" Coleman (vocal, keyboards and arrangements) and Geordie Walker (guitars) have been its only constant members. They are regarded as one of the most significant bands to have emerged from the post-punk/New Wave era of the late-1970s/early-1980s, Killing Joke strongly influenced bands such as Nirvana, Ministry, Nine Inch Nails, Big Black, Prong, Metallica, Jane's Addiction, Soundgarden, Foo Fighters, Econoline Crush, Faith No More and Korn, all of whom have acknowledged KJ as a significant influence.

Original drummer "Big Paul" Ferguson once described their music as "the sound of the earth vomiting". Killing Joke's music typically consists of hypnotic, metallic guitars and heavy, tribal, and danceable rhythms. Coleman's vocals are sometimes in a talk-sing style, sometimes a malevolent-sounding growl and sometimes emotional and melodic. Dark, ominous synthesizer loops and even sweeping, gothic keyboards appear to varying degrees, and indeed were a song-driving element on their mid 80s albums. Geordie never plays solos but his unique style has earned him praise from the likes of Edward Van Halen and Jimmy Page.

Their albums have evolved stylistically from one release to the next, whilst always retaining the band's distinctive flavour.

In late 1979, they began the Malicious Damage record label with graphic artist Mike Coles as a way to press and sell their music; Island Records distributed the records, until Malicious Damage switched to E.G. Records in 1980. Their 'Nervous System/Turn To Red' EP came to the attention of legendary DJ John Peel, who was keen to champion the band's urgent new sound and gave them extensive airplay. They quickly progressed this sound into something denser, more aggressive, and more akin to heavy metal, as heard on their first two albums, Killing Joke (1980) and the more abrasive What's THIS For...! (1981). They toured extensively throughout the UK during this time, and both fans of post punk and heavy metal took interest in Killing Joke through singles such as "Follow the Leaders" (1981).

Killing Joke became notorious largely due to the controversies that arose from their imagery. The images that appeared on their records and on-stage while performing live were, typically, bizarre and potentially shocking and inflammatory. One promotion poster featured an undoctored photo from the Spanish Civil war, of Pope Pius being shown off to rows of saluting Nazis. Shortly afterwards, the band was banned from performing a concert in Glasgow, Scotland. Strangely enough, at that time some NME's leftist journalists were suspicious about Killing Joke's image and wrote that "Killing Joke's music includes certain fascist tendencies...". This was a common misconception because, if anything, Killing Joke were a politically apolitical or being exact - "meta-political" - with much of their disturbing imagery acting as ironic or cynical symbols for a world which they perceived was becoming ever more materialist, unjust and conservative.

In 1982, Coleman (obsessed with the occult) decided that the apocalypse was near, so he left the group and ran away to Iceland. While there, he worked with a number of Icelandic bands, most notably Theyr, which would later evolve into (with Björk). With no sign of end of the world, Killing Joke reformed in 1984.

Towards the end of 1988, Coleman and Geordie decided to get Killing Joke up and running again as a live band, and they began looking for full-time bass players and drummers. First on board was drummer Martin Atkins, who had gained notability in Public Image Ltd. and later Ministry and Pigface.

The reactivated Killing Joke released two strong and well-received albums on Youth's Butterfly Recordings label, Pandemonium and Democracy, which saw the band shift back to the simpler arrangements of their early albums. Pandemonium (1994) wove a metallesque ritualistic sound with mosh beats and loops and provided Killing Joke with a memorable Top of the Pops performance for the single 'Millennium' (check out the young Jon Stewart introducing them), which was a UK Top 30 hit. Democracy (1996) successfully introduced acoustic guitar into the mix, as well as adopting more of a "live band" sound again.

Killing Joke also sued Nirvana during this phase, alleging that the riff for the latter's song "Come as You Are" was copied from the riff for their song "Eighties". The lawsuit was dropped after the sudden death of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain.

Coleman, Geordie and Youth reformed Killing Joke in 2002, and recorded their second self-titled album with producer Andy Gill, released to much acclaim in 2003 on the Zuma/Sony label - a powerful addition to Extremities and other visceral 1990s albums, and considered one of their finest recordings. The War on Terror and the invasion of Iraq were cited as major factors in their reforming and this is reflected in the lyrical content of much of the album, based on themes of war, government control and Armageddon. The album was their heaviest to date and spawned two singles, "Loose Cannon" and "Seeing Red". The songs are all credited to Coleman/Walker/Glover/Gill, although Raven's name is also on the list of musicians on the liner notes, marking his return to the band after more than a decade. It remains unclear who actually played bass on which tracks on the album and in some interviews with Geordie he hints that it may have been he who actually played bass on most of the songs, with occasional contributions from Youth. Raven played on the subsequent tour however, with Youth appearing to have retired from the band by this point. Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighters, Probot), a longtime fan of the band, occupied the drum stool for all tracks. The original plan had been to use many different drummers on the album, including Grohl, but he was so enthusiastic about the material that he persuaded the band to let him do the whole thing.

In summer 2005 they provided unlikely support on the British leg of Mötley Crüe's world tour and then began work on their next album in Prague. Coleman had been working there for a few years on classical and traditional music projects and it had come to be Killing Joke's de facto base.

KJ Released Hosannas from the Basement of Hell in 2006, and is planning to reissue the classic 1990 album Extremities, Dirt & Various Repressed Emotions, this month. It is hoped that the long-delayed second batch of EMI reissues will be released at around the same time, completing the Killing Joke reissue series.
posted by psmealey (34 comments total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: I know you put a lot of work into this, psmealey, but when you end up reworking your post as an edit of an existing wikipedia article, you've wandered into kind of weird, not-cool territory. You might want to consider doing this again later on with your original research + a link to wikipedia as your post content, but this is pretty crazy, bad-precedent stuff as is. -- cortex

You are reproducing a wikipedia article here. What's the deal?
posted by Wolfdog at 4:03 AM on October 5, 2007

Ahhhhhhhhh. They were SO fresh back then. What an excellent time for alternative music.
*timewarps back to the early 80's* as we honed our skills in the backyard halfpipes of south eastern MI Killing joke was always on the playlist on a boombox at the ramp, or in the car there and back(although not a typical skateband...What a great scene back then.
Although many bad drug nights with Big Black for background music I recall, I think I recall.
Thanks psmealey.
posted by greenskpr at 4:17 AM on October 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

That's some post there. The only thing I can add that isn't in the wikipedia article is the fact that Geordie has a solo record coming out in the near future.
posted by well_balanced at 4:21 AM on October 5, 2007

Husker Du, Shoegazing and now Killing Joke @psmealey I swear to God you are my brother from another mother! Killing Joke are an immense band. I've had the pleasure to meet with Jaz Coleman a couple of times - a very intense individual to say the least. It's a shame that the rest of his book "An irrational domain" didn't see the light of day - he told me he'd burned it. You can read the first chapter here

BTW: I'm almost certain that that picture doesn't feature Pope Pious but one of his secretaries.
posted by oh pollo! at 4:26 AM on October 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

You are reproducing a wikipedia article here. What's the deal?

Generously excerpting the very long entry, edited it and added some additional info and supplemented it with numerous links, but if this violates the guidelines, I accede to will of the admins. Apologies if so.
posted by psmealey at 4:40 AM on October 5, 2007

Nothing to add except this: Killing Joke rules.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 4:48 AM on October 5, 2007

Seeing Killing Joke at the Metro in Chicago in 2003 was one of the single best shows I have ever seen in my life (and long overdue, as much as I loved them in high school and college, I never got the chance to see them). I will take that to my grave.
posted by psmealey at 5:22 AM on October 5, 2007

Have to agree with oh pollo, psmeasley, you are on a serious roll.

So is it true that Brighter Than a Thousand Suns is generally thought to be one of their worst albums? I've always really enjoyed it and wondered if anyone else agreed. Sure, its a rehash of their "Love like Blood" sound, but what a great sound!
posted by Hutch at 5:23 AM on October 5, 2007

Much of the stuff from the middle era is almost completely unknown. One of my favorites is "Money is Not our God", linked to from the 'malevolent-sounding growl' bit above.

Also, worth mentioning are the bizarre Courtauld Talks, a spoken word recording in which Jaz ruminates on the numerology, the occult and the end of the world. Back when I was an eMusic subscriber, it was the only Killing Joke they had available, so I downloaded it. It is genuinely weird.
posted by psmealey at 5:28 AM on October 5, 2007

Hah! Their live shows were a whole order of magnitude more intense than their records. I saw them in the early 80s, it was one of the best gigs I've ever been to. The audience went completely beserk.
posted by carter at 5:30 AM on October 5, 2007

"I'm livin' in the eighties! I puuuuush!" Possibly the best reason to buy the Weird Science soundtrack. Even Kate Bush likes them, and their music is so different from hers the only thing they have in common is the same language.
posted by adipocere at 5:31 AM on October 5, 2007

Their worst album is without a doubt "Outside the Gate" - basically a Jaz Coleman solo album with horrible production and DX7 style synths all over it - avoid. Revelations has a great Conny Plank production - they could have done with someone like that on Hossanas.
posted by oh pollo! at 5:36 AM on October 5, 2007

My favorite work by Jaz might be a little Zeppelin cover project he worked on.
posted by Ber at 5:40 AM on October 5, 2007

The Rolling Stones: Not related to the magazine of the same name, The Rolling Stones were an influential English rock band formed in the sixties...

Can I post this? What would be the difference? Not to be a turd about it, but I really don't get the point of these intro to my favourite band posts that assume zero knowledge of the band in question.
posted by dydecker at 5:42 AM on October 5, 2007

Hutch: *I* found Brighter than a Thousand Sons to be their weakest album (until the time I stopped listening to KJ after Extremities, Dirt & Various Repressed Emotions). I still consider What's THIS For? and Fire Dances my favorites.

That cover with the Nazis got my college roommate in trouble with the RA.
posted by infowar at 5:42 AM on October 5, 2007

We must make our posts like soldiers in the field
But life is short i'm running faster all the time
Strength and beauty destined to decay
So copy wiki in full bloom

'til the flameouts come and the act is done
A post like crud, a post like crud

Everyday through all frustration and despair
Love and hate fight with burning hearts
'til standards live and blue is good again
(and plagiarism rules the day no more)

We must dream of promised eff pee pees
That never copy in treason
As we move towards that end you learn to die
Blue tears are shed in grey...
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:45 AM on October 5, 2007 [2 favorites]

I thought I used to have a compilation CD called 'below 110', with a track by Killing Joke remixed by Youth, called something like "a river rolling toward the sea", or something. Then my ex-GF lent it to her new man, and I never heard of it again.

Googling tells me that all of the specifics of the previous paragraph are wrong. If anyone knows what I'm talking about, please email me.
posted by pompomtom at 5:47 AM on October 5, 2007

Killing Joke at RPM in Toronto around 1991 was the loudest concert I have ever been to in my life (and I have seen some loud bands). Of course, they weren't helped by the shitty sound system RPM had then, but I moved from the front of the stage, to the back of the room, and eventually had to leave before they were finished, and I STILL had ringing ears for a week...my concert souvenir was hearing damage. But man, I love Killing Joke...what?
posted by biscotti at 5:56 AM on October 5, 2007

I interviewed Jaz and Geordie for community radio in Sydney in 2003. Geordie was lovely, Jaz was intense. They recounted the story of supplementing their income in the late 70's by stealing boxes of LPs from their record company, which they then sold on at 2nd hand music shops for a tidy profit - including, inadvertently, copies of their own albums..
posted by nonemoreblack at 6:02 AM on October 5, 2007

You are reproducing a wikipedia article here. What's the deal?

Shortage of blue.
posted by dhartung at 6:11 AM on October 5, 2007

pompomtom: any help?
posted by dhartung at 6:14 AM on October 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

dhartung: YOU ARE THE MAN. I told you I was wrong!
posted by pompomtom at 6:22 AM on October 5, 2007

Thanks, psmealey - just what I needed today...guess I don't need to be productive on a Friday, anyway. Heh. Great post.
posted by Liosliath at 6:52 AM on October 5, 2007

Wasn't this Brandon Lee's band in The Crow?
posted by Afroblanco at 7:08 AM on October 5, 2007

I've never even heard of Killing Joke. I love it when something as huge as this suddenly comes to my attention. I look forward to the hours and hours of musical discovery to come. Thank you.
posted by Pecinpah at 7:13 AM on October 5, 2007

My favorite work by Jaz might be a little Zeppelin cover project he worked on.

(Not to derail, but the magic words "little Zeppelin cover project" immediately made me think of this, in the face of which all other little Zeppelin cover projects are rendered irrelevant. Carry on.)
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:19 AM on October 5, 2007

It seems an explanation is in order:

I had been collecting Killing Joke YouTube and bio links for some time in preparation for an eventual post about these incredibly interesting, talented, varied and immensely influential artists (much more than just a mere band, in my view). Mostly I had started out wanting to use the Wiki entry as a guide to help me structure the post, but when I got there, I found that it was so stunningly comprehensive, there were only a couple of minor things I could add to the proceedings, so decided to quote it instead. So, yes, it was very sloppy to omit the attribution, despite the best of intentions (thankfully handled quickly by Wolfdog above), and an error in process in that I definitely should have implemented quotes in the FPP and blockquote tag in the more inside bit.

That said, I am hopeful people enjoyed the links which I had gone to some effort to research and post in as contextually as I could.

As for the Batman thing, well, if a little wry humor isn't your thing, well so be it.
posted by psmealey at 7:22 AM on October 5, 2007

Dude, you seriously undermine a great post by just slingin' the exact words of the wikipedia piece into your own material. I mean, really, the same exact wording and citation order for the first two paragraphs? I hate to harp, but the band deserves better from you. And yeah, they are a great and underappreciated band. I look forward to rooting through the linkies.
posted by mwhybark at 7:46 AM on October 5, 2007

Ahhhhhhhhh. They were SO fresh back then. What an excellent time for alternative music.

Couldn't agree more. The first three Killing Joke records, the first Pretenders and Siouxsie and the Banshees records are still some of the most thrilling rock 'n' roll albums of all time.
posted by psmealey at 7:49 AM on October 5, 2007

Oh, and why don't you submit the new portions of your piece here to the Wikipedia entry? It seems kinda like that was more what you were doing here than a MeFi post, maybe without realizing it.
posted by mwhybark at 7:55 AM on October 5, 2007

See, there were these two guys in a lunatic asylum…and one night…one night they decide they don’t like living in an asylum any more. They decide they’re going to escape! So like they get up on to the roof, and there, just across the narrow gap, they see the rooftops of the town, stretching away in moon light…stretching away to freedom.

Now the first guy he jumps right across with no problem. But his friend, his friend daren’t make the leap. Y’see he’s afraid of falling… So then the first guy has an idea. He says “Hey! I have my flash light with me. I will shine it across the gap between the buildings. You can walk across the beam and join me.” B-But the second guy just shakes his head. He suh-says …he says “What do you think I am, crazy? You would turn it off when I was half way across."
posted by seanyboy at 8:32 AM on October 5, 2007

Paging Alex in NYC ...
posted by NolanRyanHatesMatches at 8:54 AM on October 5, 2007

Awesome post.

The first KJ LP and Revelations still get played all the time at my house. Just last week, we were rocking the first LP at a friend's BBQ and remarking about how it has some of the best cover art of all time. The heavy doomsday boogie of that first LP has never been equaled.
posted by porn in the woods at 8:57 AM on October 5, 2007

I remember seeing them in 1989, and I remember them setting the PA on fire. Or anyway, it exploded, but I've always put it down to them. It was a great show. I never liked the records much.
posted by OmieWise at 9:01 AM on October 5, 2007

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