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Killing Joke, Jaz Coleman and… Composer to the European Union? Surely not. October 21, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Music.
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Went to see Control. And yes, I like it very much. But I’m not entirely sure that it is what it purports to be. As a study of a young man coming to terms, or not, with his life, marriage and burgeoning fame it is a remarkable piece of cinema. There are images that will stay with me a long long time. The articulacy of Curtis shines through as does his weakness and his inability to choose between the divergent paths presented before him. Still, there is a deterministic quality to the film which I’m dubious about. The inevitability of his fate seems, on reflection, less clear cut than is presented here. And yet, for all that it is a film I would recommend anyone go to see (and for a real review look here).

However, I’m not entirely certain that this is a film about Joy Division. Somehow, oddly, I think 24 Hour Party People served us better with that as did the recent “Factory Story” documentary. And I left the cinema thinking, great as it is, I want more. Thankfully that wish will be fulfilled in the near future with a companion piece on the band to be released soon. This I like because for me Joy Division was never just about Curtis. If anything it was the bass lines that pulled me in, the staccato drumming and the almost equally staccato guitars. That Curtis had a deep and resonant voice which made him sound decades older than his years was an equal – but not greater – component. And I can’t help thinking that Sumner, Hook, Gilber and Morris must have had an equally interesting story, having lived through Joy Division and then gone on to New Order. The tensions still extant in the latter were very much on evidence on Jool Holland a couple of years ago where seemingly off the cuff jokes between Hook and Sumner seemed to have a particular edge.

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Which makes me think of Killing Joke for some reason.

Killing Joke are a curious band. Contemporaneous with Joy Division they shared some elements of a sound. Doomy basslines, a slightly cleaner sound than punk, tribal drumbeats and the remarkable and aggressive vocals of Jaz Coleman. Coleman (described by some as a ‘megalomaniac’) brought a level of theatricality to them which was entirely missing from their Manchester counterparts. And also the sense that however over the top their image there was something profoundly odd about the whole enterprise… Actually that theatricality pretty much made me lose interest in them around the late 1980s and it wasn’t until the mid-1990s that I started listening to their later material.

Their first eponymously named album had a typically stark, late 1970s, early 1980s monochrome cover image. And the selection of tracks included such as The Wait, here on YouTube…

Musically there was something of a shared approach with Joy Division – an approach that Coleman has in interview likened to a sort of music which is only slightly influenced by blues but draws its main inspiration fro the industrial and the European (unfortunately room there for massive misinterpretation, or mischief). Initially that punk inspired harshness that mellowed. 1985 and Night Time saw them adopt keyboards while Coleman moderated his vocals to something approaching a croon. The difference being that unlike New Order they went back to the harshness, perhaps even amplified it as they subsumed the influence of bands which were influenced by their original configuration.

There was always a political subtext to Killing Joke. And that subtext was not a million miles away from Joy Division, although arguably considerably more overt. Alienation, cynicism and…well, elitism as well. Not a political elitism, but a cultural one. In this they definitely veered back towards at least some of the Joy Division aesthetic.

Take ‘Multitudes’ from Night Time:

Far from the multitudes a few will always stand
They don’t fit in they don’t belong – move on, move on this way

Indeed.

Needless to say their credibility was only enhanced when Nirvana (who as time passes I’m beginning to suspect were largely chancers, however nice Dave Grohl may be as a person) ahem…borrowed… the bass line from Eighties for their track Come as You Are…

And Eighties too was overtly political as evidenced by the video…

This sharpened as time went on. By 1990’s ‘Extremities, Dirt and Various Repressed Emotions’ they had begun to shift away from their cleaner mid 1980s sound towards the denser approach of their early albums. And this had overtly political tracks such as ‘Money is not our God’.

I saw them about four years ago playing the Music Centre. Coleman came on looking like nothing so much as a hermit. Torn and shapeless robe, lank locks, sub Alice Cooper makeup. A throaty roar and he was off. The band was fairly loud and he’d clearly reverted to the earliest incarnation, with a sound pitched someway towards death metal. It was, if I recall correctly the day Saddam was captured by US forces in Iraq, and somehow the apocalyptic sound of the band suited the times.

It’s one of those things really. You either love it or… you don’t. The opportunity to see them live outweighed a certain loss of subtlety of delivery. And there was a loss. Coleman has a fine voice capable of both barked like vocals or softer more melodic songs.

But the dirt in the mix is what made Killing Joke such an interesting, if sometimes ludicrous, proposition. An interest in numerology saw a frazzled band depart for Iceland during the 1980s convinced that the world was coming to an end. One track on ‘Pandemonium’ was recorded live in the Pyramids (no, not at, in). It all sounds a bit, well…Led Zeppelin, doesn’t it? And that’s an interesting comparison to make because like Zeppelin there was a conscious effort on the part of those who were in KJ to push back the boundaries of the music way beyond their original starting point. Youth was a producer of note (including – unfortunately – The Verve’s ‘Urban Hymns’). And Coleman has had something of a classical career working with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and the Prague Symphony Orchestra.

And what do I see when I visit wiki? Why the alarming news that he has been appointed Composer to the European Union. I don’t know. It sounds like a gag to me, although he has confirmed it in interview. I’ve tried to get supporting evidence for this proposition, but there’s none to be found on the EU website. Which is a pity, because it is such a great idea.

Anyhow, I leave you with a fan made video to a recent B side, the rather fine Universe B, which gives an impression of the patch of musical territory they’ve found themselves upon. Murky, muddy, industrial, apocalyptic. Business as usual then…

Comments»

1. Louisefeminista - October 22, 2007

Yeah, WorldbyStorm, I always imagined Ian Curtis to be older than he was esp. hearing his singing. And when I first got into Joy Division I was surprised that Curtis was so young. I also think you are right about 24 Hour Party People and the Factory doc. And agree, that for me what originally pulled me in was hearing the intro to Love Will Tear Us Apart as opposed to the vocals. I think Joy Division became so iconic was ‘cos lead singer was wrestling with inner demons and tortured soul stereotype (rock star depression and inevitable suicide). And the others came kinda insignificant.

Anyway, thanks WBS for the nod to my review. Appreciate it comrade.

Gosh, I haven’t heard Killing Joke for years….

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2. WorldbyStorm - October 22, 2007

Yes, you and many others I’ll wager… Still they pack in a certain crowd.

Re JD, in a way it’s what you say, it’s been both brilliant and awful for all the other Factory bands… perpetually in JDs shadow, but also dragged along in the wake (not a pun on any of three levels) to a prominence they might not otherwise have. Listening to Section 23 they’re great, but hard to believe I’d be listening to them had they not been on Factory, or had Factory not been so big. Stockholm Monsters are a better example again. Now there’s a band that were both similar to JD and yet had their own sound. Didn’t help them much.

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3. Sefronia - November 3, 2007

No disrespect meant, blogger, but alot of things seem to be missing in your evaluation of Killing Joke….like the bassist dying on 10/20/07? They certainly have had a very interesting and checkered career. Coleman started out playing the keyboards (only later did he become the “lead singer” solely). Your reference to Zep is only enhanced if you had done maybe a search and seen that Coleman and Youth did a symphonic Led Zep tribute! And the riff from “Come as You Are”…well, “Eighties” has been compared to a riff from a Damned son..shhh. Geordie is a one of the most underrated guitarists, ever. One of the best rock bands ever too, I don’t want to go further into it cause I don’t have the time and I don’t want you to miss the journey….there are alot of breadcrumbs to be eaten yet, my son. Peace!

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4. Sefronia - November 3, 2007

Always make a typo after posting; supposed to read: “And the riff from “Come as You Are”…well, “Eighties” has been compared to a riff from a Damned song..shhh. Geordie is one of the most underrated guitarists, ever.

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5. WorldbyStorm - November 4, 2007

Not a lot to disagree with Sefronia. Was really just wanting to point people in the direction of KJ, and find out was the EU composer thing legit. Yes, I knew about the Zep tribute, but I’m not sure whether that is creditable or not! No, I wasn’t aware of the bassist dying this month. Which one?

And I would completely agree that KJ are one of the best bands ever – perhaps not quite up there with AC/DC (I’m being entirely serious) – but certainly in my own personal top 20. Also that Geordie is a brilliant and innovative guitarist.

BTW which Damned song? They’re almost in my top 20. Depends on the day, the hour and the quantity of alcohol!

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6. Georg P. Sveinbjornsson - November 12, 2007

Thanks for a interesting read, am still to see Control…and I saw somewhere there is another JD film on the way.

O..Killing Joke, by far my favorite band, ever since I heard them first time 1985 when a friend played Night Time album for me and after that there was no turning back for me with this band. Loved both Brighter Than A Thousund Suns and Outeside The Gate but did not check out the first three albums until to my joy that the Joke was back with the brilliant Extremities, wich is today propable my favorite album of all times with any band with last KJ album Hosannas coming close. My site is almost deticated to Killing Joke…check it out.

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7. WorldbyStorm - November 14, 2007

Georg, I’d agree that Extremities is by far the best album of the last ten or fifteen years by them. But I still love Brighter than a Thousand Suns. I think it’s the piano sound on some of the tracks…

Your site is exhaustively comprehensive 🙂

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8. Sefronia - December 16, 2007

Hi!
No, really I understand why you would rate AC/DC higher than Killing Joke. They set out to be a blues based rock band with kick ass riffs which never deviated from Bonnie Scott’s statement about his poetic vision;) : that he wrote about “women, rock and roll and violence” and for that they are the most perfect rock band of all time. “Back in Black” is still one of the best albums around today, and I am always shocked when I listen to it that I don’t conspiciously Bonnie Scott terribly. One would think his absence could have folded the band, even though Bonnie Scott will always be my fave singer and “Sin City” my favorite song.

The bassist who died (as I am sure you have heard by now) was Raven. Youth didn’t even mention it really on his myspace….and check out the demos of Geordie’s solo album on that site (!)…it makes ya wonder about the impact of Jaz Coleman. Now there is a person worthy of a biography, though of course he’d fight you every step of the way and nothing would ever get done….like Genesis P-Orridge. Jaz’s brother is so……well, “normal” that I am fascinated what the young Jaz must have experienced to make him so well…attention seeking? lol

The riff “Eighties” allegedly borrowed from The Damned’s “Life Goes On”….I had to wade through the horrid comments on youtube to remember it.

Why are there so many more male fans of KJ than women? I honestly was astounded the first time I encountered this…….

Peace and Respect,
Sef

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9. Sefronia - December 16, 2007

proofread it:
it should read:
“dont conspiciously miss” in the first paragraph…….ugggh I always make an error. Being human is such a task! I hope I get better at it ;0

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10. WorldbyStorm - December 16, 2007

Hi Sefronia. In a way at this stage I wouldn’t really rate AC/DC higher or KJ lower. Each speaks to a different part of what I want or like from music. Have to say I also agree with you about Back in Black. It’s odd… Sin City is my favourite as well… Seeing as Steve Kilbey of the Church is getting a biography published next year I can’t see why Jaz Coleman can’t…

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11. Georg P. Sveinbjörnsson - December 18, 2007

Acctually there is a book and a documtary film in the making now, I was asked to help to clear the Iceland part of the Jaz Coleman/Killing joke story and contact some of the people Jaz and Geordie worked with in the Icelandic band Þeyr 1982, wich was easy as I know some of them. I do not know though when this is to be released.

Sefronia, my father, Sveinbjörn Beinteinsson actually performed the marrige ritual(which can be heard on one of their albums) and married Genesis P. Orridge and his wife in the eighties; http://members.tripod.com/~kewelristar/rites/allsgodi.html

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12. Dean - December 23, 2007

For me Killing Joke are the best band to emerge from the late 70’s rubble and still sound essential today.Many bands from that era seem destined to drown in nostalgia but KJ just seems to sound relevant each year.Whilst I appreciate Joy Division and their influence I just don’t have a desire to listen to them very often.

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13. WorldbyStorm - December 23, 2007

Partly that might be that they never really broke up but continued to make music throughout, and that – if anything – they actually developed a ‘harder’ sound as they went through the 1990s. The best? Maybe not, but certainly one of the best. I think of them in the same sort of way as JD.

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14. Dean - December 23, 2007

Maybe,for me,it’s because they seem to have a more all encompassing worldview,not so much songs about chip shops and falling in love or specifically about London,more universal or timless/placeless concerns.Joy Division do still sound relevant as well.
It’s does sometimes seem surprising to see kj featured in hard rock magazines like metal hammer.In the 80’s I always had them in the punk camp with Discharge and Crass and then the more goth inclined Cult,Sisters of Mercy,Siouxsie but now they seem to have crossed over,like Ministry,to a metal audience.From what I remember there was a strong punk/metal/long hair/short hair divide in those days that some of my friends still have but I gladly lost with the advent of bands like Napalm Death and Bolt Thrower.

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15. WorldbyStorm - December 24, 2007

Dean, that’s very true re the divide. That appears completely gone now. Although Pandemonium and it’s ilk always seemed to me to be pretty metal. Oddly enough speaking of Napalm Death I’m a big fan of Cathedral.

Of course, in fairness to JD, they only got two albums out… And if we want to throw New Order in there is a fair bit of development…

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16. Sefronia - January 7, 2008

Georg, your father was a fascinating man! Are there any other sources on him? I would love to read more. Did he marry Genesis and his 1st wife or Lady Jaye (?) who had been his companion for ten years or more until her untimely death at 38 right around the time Raven died?

And I understand WBS, your reservation about “rating” AC/DC over KJ. However, I was just going by the litmus test: Did both bands set out and achieve their aims? KJ is SO much more complex than a relatively straightforward rock band like AC/DC, so really it is impossible to measure both of them against one another. However, AC/DC will always get Brownie points for their sheer ability to get down to rockin’…..did you know Geordie got mocked endlessly by the rest of KJ for liking AC/DC?

KJ’s music (particularly the early releases) are staples of my life….as are some AC/DC albums….lol. I even gave “Hosannas” a try, despite its self indulgent title. Yeah, I would say that “industrial music” (though that term was coined by Genesis P Orridge, ironically) has of course embraced KJ as the Grandfathers of the cause….so I wonder why they had to come on so strangely “hard” with something like “Hosannas”….I mean, Al Jorgensen said his favorite song was “Requiem” and the man worshipped Paul Raven. Metal people didn’t even recognize them when they toured here a few years ago.

Now Jaz is doing vocals for death metal/industrial bands like “October File”……I really hope that documentary doesn’t get off the ground. Not because I don’t want to see Jaz Coleman, but because I know it will be like a Jaz interview: He says alot but there is little tangible meaning. I mean, I would love to know about his bizarre notes in the “Extremities” re-release, what happened to that young man who was so strange and optimistic that he wrote “An Irrational Domain” and gave “The Courtland Talks” like he was speaking about the weather. Now we have a fifty year old road weary traveller who wants to preserve his interests and therefore I feel little will be shared with the viewer. I hope I am wrong. With Jaz, I usually am not, however. He is a fascinating character though.
A great band.

From Kether to Malkuth,
Sefronia

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17. WorldbyStorm - January 7, 2008

Sefronia, I did not know that about Geordie, although I take your point that comparisons are not entirely useful…

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18. Sefronia - January 21, 2008

Word!

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19. This weekend I’ll mostly be listening to The Fireman… « The Cedar Lounge Revolution - November 29, 2008

[…] The Fireman, you say? Who he? Well, he is they, Youth, formerly and more recently of Killing Joke (who I’ve dealt with here before) and one Paul McCartney. Yeah, that Paul McCartney, the one in that band from Liverpool. Their […]

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20. Queen Ladybug - August 13, 2009

i had a chat with Geordie Youth and Jaz, they were chilling in Blackpool recently. Jaz is not an attention seeker, he is simply a genius worthy of attention, so too are Geordie Youth and Big Paul..love ya guys

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21. Meanwhile… « The Cedar Lounge Revolution - October 9, 2010

[…] Tree and Killing Joke play Dublin in the next week or so. I can’t make either of them due to commitments but the […]

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22. Ro. - October 14, 2010

KJ were dynamite last night in Dublin’s Button Factory. A real treat to see them in a relatively small venue. I worked in a London rehearsal studio they were based in at the end of the 80s and into 1990. Serious guys, sound, and a good laugh at the right time. Jaz was always dragging me in to listen to some new synth armageddon he was working on, and keen to discuss politics and culture rather than muso crap. Their press coverage seemed to tail off somewhat after Jaz overtly supported the first Palestinian Intifada in the late 80s. Last night he excoriated Bono in grand style for his cosying up to Bush and Blair. I wish there were more like him. Another thing, the new material stands up very well alongside the old classics, something that few of their recently reformed contemporaries have managed. Hats off.

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