The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

A Quietus Interview

Dodge The Bullets: An Interview With Killing Joke
Alex Ogg , October 25th, 2010 09:34

"This whimpering little nation - what’s become of us?" An old school style encounter with Killing Joke’s Jaz Coleman, as Alex Ogg feels the fury of the jester of the apocalypse. Live photo by Alex Ogg

Killing Joke are much beloved of the Quietus parish and there are two excellent interviews already hereabouts tracing the development of their latest album, Absolute Dissent, and the reinstatement of the original Mk1 line-up following the sad demise of bass player Raven a couple of years back. When the band returned for a homecoming show at the Hammersmith Apollo, it was a chance to tease out some of the ideas behind an album that - in its sustained intensity, antagonism, technical precision and sheer ferocity - reaffirms them as a force equal to any previous incarnation of what was always a special band. That was the plan, anyway.

I'm ushered into the band's dressing room where Jaz Coleman shakes my hand and begins to chat in loquacious fashion, while finishing off a plate of sushi and breathing in kettle fumes to keep his throat in good working order. He volunteers his enthusiasm for a new album to be recorded next year to keep up the momentum of Absolute Dissent.

Hammersmith's pretty much an old stomping ground?

Jaz Coleman: Yeah, it is. West London is our old stomping ground. In Ladbroke Grove, there must be six generations of my family in that area.

You talk about Ladbroke Grove very specifically, and how it's changed, the musical character and the spirit that was there.

JC: You have to understand, most people aren't aware of their musical history, but the second wave of punk wasn't inspired by the New York Dolls or anything like that. Because that's when Bob Marley came to Ladbroke Grove, and Don Letts introduced Bob Marley to punk music. That's when 'groove' started. That's when reggae music fused with the rhythms, really fused.

What were the actual dub reggae records you were listening to in '78 and '79?

JC: [Pause] Mm. Garvey's Ghost, the dub version. We really liked Aswad's dub (he hums a few bars of what sounds like 'Dub Fire'). You'll hear it tonight on the intro tape. English reggae had a very different feel to Jamaican reggae. It had some virtues too. Dennis Bovell, Mad Professor. In fact, there's one song that's coming to mind now, 'Heart Of Stone' [Steel Pulse]. But yeah, loads of dub. The thing that was very different about the second wave was the mystical. That's where the mystical began. Which was anathema to the first wave.

Killing Joke seemed to pick up a lot of old Stranglers fans, because of the bottom end and aggression.

JC: No. No. We've got their road manager with us, but that's just about the only connection really. They [the fans] seem to be different breeds. I love The Stranglers. Their first album is great, I loved it. In fact, I'm going to be going to see Hugh and the rest of the band and tell them not to be stupid boys and get back together. I'm writing some letters and I'm going to see them, the stupid fuckers. I've spoken to them about it before, but I won't give up. Get over it! GET OVER IT! Selfish cunts.

You've gone through the healing process yourself.

JC: Ah well, time wounds all heals!

Because you've been through that process, when bands have feuds and come back, there's always the danger that a very good band can soil its legacy.

JC: No, because we are known for always innovating and regularly putting out music and regularly touring. It's not like reformed or anything like this. I think people know that we genuinely love what we do, so long as we're all in one piece, and can all be present and correct, then we'll do it.

You still enjoy it as much? Possibly more?

JC: I love it [laughs].

You even seem to like this element of it, the promotional element, and speaking to people.

JC: I like people. Like Raven, I like people.

You've obviously got a lot that you want to inform people about.

JC: Well, there are many things that concern me as a citizen. As you know, Killing Joke is about catharsis, and it's about confronting fears. And we do this collectively, almost literally. Or at least we aspire to.

Routine purging?

JC: [Laughs] Yes. There you go. I find that it's good for me. It's good for my health, Killing Joke, and it's good for my psychological wellbeing. I mean, it's a social function, and it's stopped us fucking murdering people. You know? Basically. It's a way of... it's the most sublime system of anger management you could find.

What's increasingly occurring in terms of today's political situation is that more and more kids are going to be denied the right to that kind of artistic expression, forced into functional, very dry careers, without that outlet.

JC: That's right. And it makes me despair. I'm very much involved in the arts on all levels. My feeling is this - there are going to be more and more and more people out of work with time on their hands. And the arts is the simple answer to this. Epicurus tells us this. He says all we need to do is tend the garden so we have a food supply, and the rest of the time we should spend thinking about philosophy and the arts. I tend to agree!

My vision for our European Union, if we think about the things that are missing now, would be coffee bars where loud music is played, where you can smoke anything you want, get a reasonably priced meal. Outside of the coffee bar is a farmer's market, where you just use local produce, so there are no petro-dollars used in importing vegetables, etc. 75% of the vegetables we currently eat are imported using petro-dollars. I'd try to get New Zealanders thinking about a New Zealand [where Jaz is domiciled] where there is no import or export, where we become totally self-sufficient. Because if we are going to get away from oil dependency, that's what has to happen. Oil's one part of the problem that needs debate, the other is international bankers, and the whole nasty, insidious cabal that's been running for the best part of 150 or 200 years - Rothschild, more lately the Rockefeller families... that one family can have so much power I find unacceptable. One family own 52% of the Federal Reserve. I find that incredible. Incredible that people are so stupid that they fucking buy it![Laughs]

It's the ultimate in pyramid economics.

JC: My point is, even at the bottom of the pyramid, we go through biometrics - everything is known about us. ID chips, fine. I'd like to see transparency right the way to the top. The thing is, any super elite would feel a little nervous under current conditions, because with the internet as a global brain, everybody knows where everybody is. We should take it one step further. The next thing would be to identify the majority shareholders of the top 100 companies.

Would it take the complete collapse of capitalism...

JC: The collapse has already occurred.

Well, we're somewhere along the line...

JC: It's just a charade, what we're seeing now, of virtual gold that doesn't exist.

In order to formalise these ideas, do you actually have to follow economics quite closely; do you keep a beady eye?

JC: Yeah. I'm very much involved with some of those big banking families I just mentioned. Two of us are. One member of Killing Joke looks after the Rockerfeller art collection, works in the same house as David Rockerfeller! [Laughs uproariously]

What tensions arise from this?

JC: No tensions at all. We're all of one mind. In fact, I'm the most Ghandi-like in my concept of revolution. Other members of my band believe in more strident forms of revolution.

That's interesting, because English people don't generally use the 'R' word.

JC: There's no history of it in this country. Cromwell was a limp dick who put the fucking king back on the throne. You know? There's no history of revolution. That's another reason why I cleared out early. I can remember being a teenager in Killing Joke and thinking, 'I'm going to use this to get the fuck out of this shithole'. That was back then.

Was that there right at the outset?

JC: At the outset. I wanted out. I wanted out before I'd started the band.

Was it that singular?

JC: Oh, for me.

That this country can't change itself?

JC: Yeah, exactly. There are too many vested interests. I personally think that this country should NOT be in the European Union. Absolutely. I consider this [to be] part of the Atlantic empire. Until England decides... it's torn between European ideals and Atlantic interests at the moment. And it can't make its mind up. The other day in Paris there were three million people on the street. We had one million people saying we don't want to go to war here. There's another reason why I don't live here. The English always do things at the last minute when it's too late.

And yet, aren't Killing Joke a quintessentially English band?

JC: Absolutely.

So what is there, for someone bringing up kids in England, aware of these things, ashamed of some of our recent acts...

JC: Became more opinionated, more outspoken, and take a stand on what's right and wrong. If you want NATO and the Americans in this country, then let the people decide it. If you want to be in the European Union... the thing is, while I'm largely pro-European, the British people weren't asked whether they wanted to be part of it all. And I have a problem with that. And I don't think these islands are conducive to a European super state. So while I think it's good for mainland Europe, I don't think it's good for the United Kingdom. These are my personal feelings.

Look, France and Germany were the only countries that took a stance on the bullying of America on the weapons of mass destruction and the false invasion and a clearly illegal war. They said no; they were the only ones with the courage to do it. This whimpering little nation, what's become of us? I want to see Blair in the dock. If we can't try him, history must judge him.

History has.

JC: Much harsher. He's a traitor, he's a traitor!

He's still flogging his book.

JC: He's making a fortune. He's a greedy, greedy traitor. He must be held to account. There's my problem - there's no justice. Then this [Gary] McKinnon case. That a British national can be extradited to a foreign power - that we should even allow this, you know?

What does your heart and your head say when you touch down at Heathrow?

JC: Oh, you've hit the nail on the head... I can't wait till I get out of here.

That's fair enough. Some people will take that badly.

JC: I'm sorry, I'm telling the truth. I don't like the weather, I don't like the food. I like the tea. I love - I adore the people. I adore the British people more than possibly any other race on the planet.

Why is that?

JC: The humour. I love English people, I really think they deserve so much more. But in the end, it's down to - look, none of had a particularly... we all left school when we were about 15. We're self-educated. So you can crawl out of the pit on your own. DH Lawrence managed to do it in Victorian times. It's doable. Look at us! We crept out of the slime!

But what I'd always say about that is the top 5% of people who have innate intelligence and ability will always find a way through. What's cruel and unfair is that the 20% below that, who are bright and capable, unless they come from a certain background, won't be allowed to achieve in equal terms to those that do have that privilege.

JC: Yeah. And I believe in the best education for every strata of society, I really, really do. Education is the way out of all our problems. But I've seen papers that explain the current thinking on... areas where the overall economic worth is zero. And the kind of syllabus and curriculum that are applied in these areas in order to control population, rather than enlighten them. I've seen these papers. If you look at the standard of education since 1960, it's gone down and down and down. That's no accident. That's planning. That's probably part of the East Sussex University Tavistock Institute planning, I guess. [Laughs]

That's the whole Pavlovian experiment effectively, where people are kept in the moment of stress...

JC: Oh, shock is very important. That was a Tavistock invention. If you provide perpetual shocks, people become docile. 9/11 was a very good example. Pearl Harbour was another example.

From here the discussion becomes rather more heated, as Jaz delivers a sermon on your correspondent's infantility in querying some of his statements - specifically, I make the mistake of using the 'C' word - conspiracy. He is not best pleased and during a torrid ten minutes or so he decides that I "personify the cowardice in this nation, by just saying that in my room".

JC: Like I say, now that I'm so involved with the European Union, the sooner I get a European passport, the better. Because it's a shame on this nation that the Germans and the French had more balls than the British.

Some of us marched against the war.

JC: One million! We had three million striking in Paris over - I don't fucking know.

Some did what they could, all that was in their power.

JC: Anyway, it's easy for me. Cos I'm just a fucking Paki-Wog-Indian outsider in this country.

Do you still feel that?

JC: No.

Why would you?

JC: What I'm trying to say is that, I was never, ever allowed to be English anyway, from the outset. So that remained.

Yet you feel a camaraderie...

JC: Of course, my culture is not Indian, at all. My culture is British - English, to be precise. Absolutely. Tea. A sense of humour, aggressive outlook... You know, I have a fury in me. And it's when I see injustice and people being duped. And nobody speaking about it. I just find there's a streak of cowardice, especially in this country, not to really confront these issues and problems head on. Like I say, there's no history of revolution, so there we are. That's why I opted out.

But in terms of people opposing this - you see this as spinelessness?

JC: Yes, I do. I only have compassion for my countrymen that have to live here. But the other part of me has contempt at the spinelessness at people not speaking. I'm nobody, really, in the scheme of things. But I want to talk about these things. When you lose debate you lose democracy. Socrates said that. He said that it's the duty of every citizen to engage in the debate and issues of the day. And that's not happening any more. It's just not happening. So again, when you only have 1% that can barely understand the complex issues of the day or debate them, then you inevitably create an elite. Then you deserve it. See?

What would you like to see happen? What would rekindle your pride in the English?

JC: Standing up to America. This country has dropped bombs on 56 nations since the last world war. That's used nuclear weapons on human beings. That tortures people. Extraordinary rendition and waterboarding... this was OK'd in the Whitehouse. That we have anything to do with this, this... I can't think of anything good that's ever come out of America from my opinion. Nothing.

What about music, art, culture?

JC: What, America? Get some.

Ha ha. I can't fully endorse that.

JC: I can't stand the place. I love individuals and the people I meet, but the place...

Some of the finest minds...

JC: No, it's just the idea that the rest of the world has to support their disgusting rate of consumption. Like I say, we need a new planet in 2030. Let's get it in perspective. America is 2% of the world's population guzzling close to 46% of the world's natural resources. India is 19% of the world's population and uses 2% of the world's natural resources. There you go straight away. This country that brought us 100 corporations that think they own the world now. I've got a problem with it. I've got a huge problem with it. And I'll speak out in New Zealand or anywhere I am until my dying day.

One of the themes on the album is mortality.

JC: There's a lot of death around these days. We had two fatalities on the recording, Youth's father, and Johnny [Hinklenton] who was there on the recording, the guy from 2000AD who basically got all our stuff to Heath Ledger. He was dying from MS. We kept commissioning him so we could put back the date - actually, I suppose it would be a problem for a lot of people to realise that suicide, on any level, doesn't sit well with any of us in Killing Joke. Not even Dignitas. I had my friend who was committing suicide at Dignitas. He said to me, 'There's a woman siting in this room. She said I've got to be dead by two o'clock'. [Laughs]

When Killing Joke started there were the knife games and the element of danger and recklessness.

JC: Was there? I was all warm and fuzzy myself... Mmm.

None of the band are the same people they were 30 years ago.

JC: Yes they are. [Laughs]

Are we into the perverse final moments of the interview?

JC: Ha. Yes they are. And of course time changes a few things. It changes perspective. But no, people don't change that much. They acquire wisdom.

Can you draw on that as a band?

JC: Sure. For sure. The greatest pleasure in my life is making music with people I've developed a musical relationship with over a long period of time - that's in classical music as well, but especially with this band. I've had amazing relationships with each member for so many different things.

Band of brothers?

JC: They are my brothers. No-one on the planet knows us like we do. It's a long time - we're only about eight years behind Led Zeppelin, and much more music.

Better music, too.

JC: That's in the eye of the beholder! Killing Joke has never been everyone's cup of tea, it usually polarises musical opinions. I can't believe it's as popular as it is, frankly.

The interview tails off as Youth and the rest of the band congregate prior to sound-check.

I click the tape off and step up to leave. I wish Jaz good luck with the show. "Don't say that," he responds. "OK, well, break a leg then." "No, we don't like that either. You have to take it back. We don't need your luck. We don't want it." I laugh a little. OK. "No, take it back." Youth arches a brow as if he's well accustomed to the ritual of Jaz throwing a fresh, lightly seasoned journalist on the spit. "You have to take it back," says Jaz, firmly. He places a hand on my chest and sits my arse back down on the couch. "Take it back."

I'm pretty sure he's being playful now, but he's watching my reaction. "But if I take it back," I protest, "then I'm just being the suppine, spineless Englishman you accused me of being earlier by doing what I'm told." He smiles. "OK. Take it back, please." I'm a sucker for good manners. I exit.

It's quite the experience interviewing Killing Joke. Seeing them play later falls into that category too. They are immense. All the clichés about ritual, congregation and catharsis make perfect sense. Which is more than Jaz himself sometimes does. For all his occasional condescension and vituperative correction, however, he has an exceptional mind, a good deal of compassion (except, perhaps, for journalists) and much of what he says has value. You just wish sometimes he'd temper that with an understanding that swallowing wholesale every position he takes, without further query, makes you just another obedient, spineless Englishman. Absolute dissent? Partial.