Killing Joke is an English post-punk band formed in October 1978 in Notting Hill, London, England; other sources report the band formed in early 1979. Founding members Jaz Coleman (vocals, keyboards) and Geordie Walker (guitars) have been the only constant members.
A key influence on industrial rock, their early music was described by critics Stephen Thomas Erlewine and John Dougan as "quasi-metal ... dancing to a tune of doom and gloom", which gradually evolved over the years, incorporating elements of electronic music, synthpop, gothic rock, and alternative rock, though always emphasising Coleman's "savagely strident vocals".
Finding modest commercial success, Killing Joke have influenced many later bands and artists, such as Nirvana, Ministry, Nine Inch Nails, and Soundgarden.
Formation and first three albums (1978–1982)
"Big" Paul Ferguson was drummer in the band of Mataya Clifford (a.k.a. Mat Stagger) when he met Jeremy "Jaz" Coleman (from Cheltenham, Gloucestershire) in Notting Hill, London. In October 1978 (or early 1979), after Coleman was briefly keyboard player in that band, he and Ferguson left to form Killing Joke. They placed an advertisement in the music press which attracted guitarist Kevin "Geordie" Walker and bassist Martin "Youth" Glover. According to Coleman, their manifesto was to "define the exquisite beauty of the atomic age in terms of style, sound and form".
By September 1979, shortly before the release of their debut EP, Turn to Red, 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 (then aligned with Virgin Records) in 1980. The songs on Killing Joke's early singles were primitive punk rock sometimes mixed with electronic ("Nervous System" and "Turn to Red"). Turn to Red 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. Typically the images that appeared on their records and on-stage while performing live were bizarre and potentially shocking and inflammatory. One promotion poster featured an original photo, erroneously believed to be of Pope Pius XI. The picture was of German abbot Alban Schachleiter walking among rows of Nazi soldiers offering Heil Hitler salutes and appearing to return the salute, and was later used for the cover of the band's compilation album, Laugh? I Nearly Bought One!. Shortly afterwards, the band was banned from performing a concert in Glasgow, Scotland. At the same time, some journalists were suspicious about Killing Joke's image and wrote that "Killing Joke's music includes certain fascist tendencies...". Killing Joke had various 'run-ins' with a number of music journalists at the time.
Killing Joke's third album, Revelations, produced by Conny Plank, was released in 1982, and supported by a pair of performances on BBC Radio's The John Peel Show and by the singles "Chop-Chop", "Empire Song", and an unofficial release of "We Have Joy". The LP reached No. 12 in the UK Top albums.
By 1982, members of Killing Joke, especially Coleman, had become immersed in the occult, particularly the works of occultist Aleister Crowley. In February of that year, Coleman, with Geordie and Youth following shortly after, moved to Iceland to survive the Apocalypse, which Coleman predicted was coming soon. While in Iceland, Coleman and Geordie worked with musicians from the band Þeyr in the project Niceland. After a few months, Youth decided there was no indication of the Apocalypse, and decided to move back to England. Youth then began the band Brilliant with Paul Ferguson, but the latter defected and travelled to Iceland to rejoin Killing Joke with new bassist Paul Raven (previously of Neon Hearts and the rock / glam band Kitsch) in tow. After spending some time in Iceland, Killing Joke returned to England and began touring and recording again.
The new line-up soon produced, again with Conny Plank, the single "Birds of a Feather / Sun Goes Down / Flock the B-Side" and Ha!, a six-track 10" EP of a live performance recorded live at Larry's Hideaway in Toronto in August.
Shift towards a commercial sound (1983–1988)
Killing Joke's fourth album, Fire Dances (1983), contained music that, like that heard on the "Birds of a Feather" single, was artier and relatively calmer than before, which began a new direction. This was continued with the non LP singles "Me or You" (1983, b/w "Wilful Days") and "A New Day" (1984, b/w a dance remix or dub mix of the same), the latter promoted with a music video.
Mixing their sound with a slightly pop style, and with Coleman singing and not growling, Killing Joke had developed a variation of new wave on their fifth album, Night Time (1985). They achieved mainstream success with the single "Love Like Blood" which covered all ground from goth to dance: it peaked at number 16 in the UK and number 8 in the Netherlands. Night Time also included the singles "Eighties" (1984) and "Kings and Queens" (1985), which both reached the UK Top 75. The album itself reached number 11 in the UK.
The music on Killing Joke's sixth album, Brighter than a Thousand Suns (1986), was mostly similar in sound and mood to "Love like Blood". While no less aggressive and heavy than their older work, Brighter Than a Thousand Suns diverged musically in ways that led to controversy among listeners. In this case, disagreements between fans and critics alike included opinions on whether the band was conforming with pressures from EG Records to develop a more commercial sound, to whether the songs were relevant for those listeners more comfortable with their proto post-punk beginnings. The record was a commercial failure compared to the previous effort: it didn't go in the top 50 in the UK charts. However, two singles were released from the album - "Adorations" and "Sanity" - and the band continued touring successfully until the end of the year.
In 1987, Coleman began plans for a solo record of unusual music, and he made demos of his songs, on which he performed with Geordie's assistance. The project ran way over budget and so, despite Coleman's objections, the record company decided that the music would be released under the name "Killing Joke" in order to best recoup the costs. Attempts were made to include Killing Joke rhythm section members Raven and Ferguson, but it didn't work out, and tensions ultimately led to both being dismissed from the band. Session player Jimmy Copley was then brought in to provide the drumming on the songs, along with percussion player Jeff Scantlebury.
The resulting album, Outside the Gate (1988), is Killing Joke's most controversial album, due to its synth-led sonics and disagreement over the quality of the material. Sounds said of the album: "It's a stodgy, inconclusive LP that fails in all but the most basic of senses to achieve its end, leaving us feeling soured and unimpressed." NME shared the same point of view and depicted it as "a private breakfast of ideas, depicting poor old Jaz wading through quicksand with his jeans rolled down yet again. Worse ... he seems to be wandering off in exactly the same direction." Outside the gate is not signature-sound Killing Joke, being built around Coleman's orchestral keyboards instead of Geordie's distinctive guitar riffs, which were all but drowned out in the final mix. Two singles, "America" and "My Love of This Land", were released from the album but did little to improve its fortunes, although the b-sides were live versions of old material. The video for the former features Coleman and Geordie with drummer Jimmy Copley and session bassist Jerome Rimson, who never actually recorded with the band.
On 19 September 1987, Coleman had delivered a lecture at London's Courtauld Institute outlining the thinking behind the then-unreleased Outside the Gate album, touching on numerology and the occult. Geordie and percussionist Jeff Scantlebury provided a minimal musical backing at the event. A recording of the lecture was eventually released under the title The Courtauld Talks on Martin Atkins' Invisible Records in 1989.
Revised lineup and Extremities, Dirt & Various Repressed Emotions (1989–1991)
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. A suitable bass player proved more difficult. Former Smiths man Andy Rourke was hired, then dismissed after only three days. Eventually the band settled on Welsh bass player Dave "Taif" Ball, and played their first gigs in almost two years in December 1988. These featured the best of their 1980 to 1985 work, alongside powerful new material which alluded to the band's earlier, harsher sound. Nothing from Brighter Than a Thousand Suns or Outside the Gate was played (and indeed, never has been since). Touring continued across the UK, Europe and the US until August 1989, when the band took a break to record its new material in Germany, and to allow Jaz Coleman time to record Songs from the Victorious City with Anne Dudley of Art of Noise, which was released the following year.
For reasons which remain unclear, the German Killing Joke sessions were shelved and bass player Taif left the band to be replaced by old hand Paul Raven. The revised line-up began recording again, this time in London, and the result was Killing Joke's eighth album, the ferocious Extremities, Dirt & Various Repressed Emotions, released on the German Noise International label in 1990. It included some of the heaviest, noisiest and harshest music ever to appear on a Killing Joke record, although the progressive musical spirit of the previous two albums remained as well. Songs included "Solitude", "Slipstream", "Age of Greed" and the single "Money Is Not Our God". Once again, the band toured Europe and North America, but by the middle of 1991 this promising new line-up had imploded. Coleman emigrated to New Zealand to live on a remote Pacific island.
Geordie Walker, Martin Atkins, Paul Ferguson, Paul Raven and the band's live keyboard player John Bechdel (Ministry, Fear Factory, Prong, Pigface, Abstinence, False Icons, Ascension of the Watchers) added Scottish vocalist Chris Connelly (Finitribe, Revolting Cocks) and continued as the short-lived Murder, Inc., releasing a self-titled album in 1992.
Reunion with Youth and Butterfly era (1992–1996)
A Killing Joke anthology, Laugh? I Nearly Bought One!, was released in 1992, and during its production, Geordie was re-acquainted with Youth, who suggested that they reform the band with himself back on bass. That same year, two singles (on cassette and CD) appeared featuring the early songs "Change" and "Wardance" in several new versions remixed by Youth, by then a very successful producer.
Coleman had produced the 1993 debut album Churn by the New Zealand Band Shihad and Shihad drummer Tom Larkin played drums on some of the songs on Pandemonium. Relations later soured between Coleman and Shihad due to a dispute over Coleman's production fee for Churn, and the fact that Shihad considered him a "megalomaniac". Shihad's second album, 1995's Killjoy, includes a song about Coleman and the dispute: 'Silvercup'. Coleman has also made a number of disparaging remarks about Shihad in the media. Shihad singer and guitarist Jon Toogood says his band have since put the dispute behind them.
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 suicide of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain.
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 whilst also (on 12 inch remixes) employ young talent, the likes of Waxworth Industries in order to provide an alternative inroad to the bands new and evolving sound. 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', which was a UK Top 40 hit (the album itself made the Top 20). The title track was also released as a single and made the UK Top 30. Democracy (1996) successfully introduced acoustic guitar into the mix, as well as adopting more of a "live band" sound again. The title track was again released as a single and made the UK Top 40. Much of Pandemonium and all of Democracy featured session drummer Geoff Dugmore. He also played live with the band throughout this era. Nick Holywell-Walker joined the band on keyboards and programming for 11 years from 1994–2005, notably on Democracy and XXV Gathering. Youth bowed out of live performance early in the Democracy tour and was replaced by Troy Gregory, ex Prong.
After the Democracy tour, the band went on an extended hiatus. Jaz Coleman and Youth produced a string of well-received orchestral rock albums based on the music of legends such as Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and The Doors. Coleman became Composer-in-Residence for New Zealand and Czech symphony orchestras. He seems to have become something of a celebrity in the Czech Republic and made his acting debut with the main role in the film Rok ďábla (Year of the Devil) by Czech filmmaker Petr Zelenka (who later would direct the video for "Hosannas from the Basements of Hell").
Reformation, next two albums and death of Paul Raven (2002–2007)
Coleman, Geordie and Youth reformed Killing Joke in 2002, and recorded their second self-titled album. Produced by Andy Gill and released to much acclaim in 2003 on the Zuma/Sony label, it was heralded as a powerful addition to Extremities and other visceral 1990s albums, and considered one of their finest recordings. In 2003 the band played at the biggest open-air festival in Europe (400,000 - 500,000 rock fans every year) - Przystanek Woodstock in Poland. 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, which almost reached the UK Top 40, was their heaviest to date and spawned two singles, "Loose Cannon" (a UK Top 25 hit) 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. The album was accompanied by a tour of the United States, Europe and Australia in 2003/2004, with ex-Prong drummer Ted Parsons on board.
In February 2005, now with young Twin Zero and Sack Trick drummer Ben Calvert, Killing Joke played two consecutive shows at London's Shepherds Bush Empire to commemorate their 25th anniversary. DVD and CD recordings from these concerts were released in on Cooking Vinyl in the fall of 2005 as XXV Gathering: The Band That Preys Together Stays Together.
In June 2005, remastered and expanded editions of their two 1990s Butterfly Recordings albums, Pandemonium and Democracy, were released by Cooking Vinyl. These were followed in July by their first four albums (Killing Joke to Ha!) on EMI, who by then owned the E.G. Records catalogue. The second batch of EMI remasters would not appear until January 2008.)
In mid-2005, Frontman from Industrial band, INERTIA, Reza Udhin, joins the band on Keyboards and they supported the British leg of Mötley Crüe's world tour and then began work on their next album in Prague. It was at this time the contribution to the world of rock was recognised when they were awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2005 Kerrang Awards.
Opting for simplicity and raw energy, the band recorded the new album in "Hell", the basement rehearsal space of Studio Faust Records in Prague, going for live takes with the minimum of overdubs. The result was Hosannas from the Basements of Hell, released in April 2006 on Cooking Vinyl, which made the UK Top 75.
Killing Joke began a European tour in support of the album in April 2006. Bass player Paul Raven abruptly departed after a few dates to tour with Ministry and was temporarily replaced by Kneill Brown. The tour included an appearance headlining the MySpace stage of the Download Festival on 10 June 2006, which received four K's from Kerrang! magazine. Other highlights of the summer included a memorable set in Japan at the Fuji Rock festival where there were joined on stage by Orb frontman Alex Paterson (once a Killing Joke drum roadie) and headlining the Beautiful Days festival in the UK. The band's momentum suffered another blow, when health problems caused the autumn leg of the tour to be cancelled.
In October 2006, it was announced that Coleman had been chosen as Composer in Residence for the European Union. As Composer in Residence he will be commissioned to write music for special occasions.
Early in 2007, Killing Joke released three archival collections via Candlelight Records. The first, Inside Extremities, is a double CD of material taken from the band's preparations for the Extremities album: rehearsals, rare mixes, a previously unheard track, "The Fanatic", and a full live show from the Extremities tour. This was followed by Bootleg Vinyl Archive Volumes 1 & 2, each of which is a 3-CD box set of live-in-concert bootleg recordings originally released on vinyl in the 1980s, plus the Astoria gig from the Pandemonium tour which was voted one of the greatest gigs of all time by Kerrang.
In October 2007, the 1990 album Extremities, Dirt & Various Repressed Emotions, which had long been out of print, was reissued in remastered form on Candlelight Records.
On 20 October, Paul Raven died of heart failure prior to a recording session in Geneva, Switzerland. In his honour, Coleman composed a lament for a 21st-century Englishman (The Night Raven, the Tower and the Cenotaph).
On 28 January 2008 the albums Fire Dances, Night Time, Brighter than a Thousand Suns, and Outside the Gate were finally re-issued in remastered form with bonus tracks by EMI. Each of these carries the message "Dedicated to our brother Paul Vincent Raven 1961–2007".
Reunion of original lineup (2008–present)
After the death of Paul Raven, the original line up of Jaz, Youth, Geordie and Paul Ferguson announced they were to reunite. Coleman told Terrorizer magazine that:
The original line-up of Killing Joke assembled in Granada, Spain, to prepare a world tour consisting of two nights in various capital cities of the world, playing a programme of four complete albums. The rehearsals will be immortalised on Duende - The Spanish Sessions, released in 2008 on Estworld Recordings. The first nights were dedicated to their first two albums, Killing Joke and What's THIS For...!, while the second night featured large parts of 'Pandemonium' plus some early singles released on Island records. The world tour began on 11 September in Tokyo and concluded in Chicago on 14 October.
Killing Joke released an album of radio session recordings, "The Peel Sessions 1979-1981", on 8 September 2008. This is the second time all 17 tracks were released in their live session form. According to Discogs.com, the tracks on this disc were originally unofficially released as a CD-R by Pontiac Records, titled Unspeakable.
The band continued its reformation by playing the All Tomorrow's Parties festival in May 2009. They performed at the Sonisphere festival in Knebworth, UK on 2 August and headlined the Rebellion Festival in Blackpool. Killing Joke performed in The Big Top Tent at the 2009 Isle Of Wight Festival after being hand picked by Tim Burgess, frontman for The Charlatans.
During October and November 2009, Killing Joke recorded their new CD with the original line-up. All members of Killing Joke have commented that this is the single most important work that Killing Joke have ever done. The new album was released on 27 September 2010 in the United Kingdom and Japan, and on 1 October in Europe on Spinefarm Records under the title Absolute Dissent, marking the 30th Anniversary for Killing Joke. It was preceded by the In Excelsis EP released on 23 June 2010, and followed by a tour in the UK, Europe and North America for promoting the album.
In November, the band was honoured with the trophy for Innovator at the Classic Rock Roll of Honour 2010 marking their unique evolution of sound over the last 30 plus years which has incorporated electronic, synth and alternative rock and influenced a generation of rock acts including Nirvana, Nine Inch Nails, Faith No More and Tool. They were awarded the honour at the Roundhouse in London by longtime fan of the band Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin. On 26 November 2010, Killing Joke released a special edition Record Store Day Black Friday 2-CD set called, Absolute Dissent (Deluxe Edition) for independent record stores.
The band embarked on a European and UK tour culminating in a performance at the Hammersmith Apollo London. This was followed by a performance at London's Royal Festival Hall in the New Year, and this was recorded for an upcoming live album and a headline slot at the UK's largest urban festival, the Camden Crawl. The band were also honoured at The Metal Hammer annual awards, receiving The Album of the Year award. Summer festivals followed including a performance at Sonisphere Knebworth with the band retiring to Spain to record a new album for 2012.
On 2 April 2012, Killing Joke released a new album titled MMXII on Spinefarm Records / Universal. It reached No. 44 upon its first week of release, the band's highest UK chart-placing since their eponymous album of 2003 as well as charting across Europe. The band embarked on their largest UK and European tour in 20 years and a full European tour and the record met with critical acclaim across the board.
- In 1982, GC Green & Paul Neville first came together as Fall of Because, named after the first track on What's THIS For...! and were later joined by Justin Broadrick, setting the foundations of Godflesh, who covered "Requiem" live, with Raven on bass.
- In 1987, Metallica covered Killing Joke's "The Wait" for their E.P. Garage Days Re-Revisited. James Hetfield picked Jaz as one of his top 20 favourite singers for a poll in Rolling Stone.
- In 1993, Helmet covered Killing Joke's "Primitive" on their Singles & B-sides compilation Born Annoying released by Amphetamine Reptile Records.
- In some early interviews, the members of Soundgarden cited Killing Joke as one of the bands they listen to most.
- The main riff of Nirvana's song "Come as You Are" bears a striking resemblance to the riff of Killing Joke's single, "Eighties". The band did not file a copyright infringement lawsuit, which, according to Rolling Stone, was "due to personal and financial reasons."
- In 1995, Icehouse covered "Love Like Blood" on their album The Berlin Tapes.
Killing Joke are the subject of a feature-length documentary film The Death and Resurrection Show scheduled for release in 2013. Two preview trailers have been released combining archive footage of Killing Joke over the last 31 years with new and unseen footage of recent live tours, recording sessions including the Great Pyramid and interview subjects including Jaz Coleman, Geordie, Youth, Jimmy Page, Peter Hook, Chris Kimsey, Mike Coles, Dave Grohl, Alex Paterson and Laurence Gardner discussing Killing Joke, UFOs, mysticism, religion and the end of the world. The film is produced by New Zealand's ILC Productions, UK indie Coffee Films and Jaz Coleman, with filmmaker, photographer and lifelong Gatherer Shaun Pettigrew directing.
- Murder, Inc.
- The Damage Manual
- The Fireman
- Current members
- Jaz Coleman – lead vocals, keyboards (1978–1996, 2002–present)
- Kevin "Geordie" Walker – guitars (1978–1996, 2002–present)
- Martin "Youth" Glover – bass guitar (1978–1982, 1994–1996, 2002–2003, 2008–present)
- Paul Ferguson – drums (1978–1987, 2008–present)
- Reza Uhdin – keyboards (2005–present)
- Former members
- Paul Raven – bass guitar (1982–1987, 1990–1991, 2003–2007; died 2007)
- Martin Atkins – drums (1988–1991)
- Dave 'Taif' Ball – bass guitar (1988–1990)
- Ben Calvert – drums (2005–2008)
- Additional musicians
- Dave Kovacevic – keyboards (1984–1990)
- Jimmy Copley – drums (1987-88)
- John Bechdel – keyboards, programming (1990–1991)
- Nick Holywell-Walker – keyboards, programming (1994–1996, 2002–2005)
- Geoff Dugmore – drums (1994–1996)
- Troy Gregory – bass guitar (1996)
- Dave Grohl – drums (2002–2003)
- Ted Parsons – drums (2003–2004)
- Studio albums
- Killing Joke (1980)
- What's THIS For...! (1981)
- Revelations (1982)
- Fire Dances (1983)
- Night Time (1985)
- Brighter than a Thousand Suns (1986)
- Outside the Gate (1988)
- The Courtauld Talks (1989)
- Extremities, Dirt & Various Repressed Emotions (1990)
- Pandemonium (1994)
- Democracy (1996)
- Killing Joke (2003)
- Hosannas from the Basements of Hell (2006)
- Absolute Dissent (2010)
- MMXII (2012)
Killing Joke at Wikipedia books
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Image from Discogs