With a reputation forged in fire, brimstone and magic, plus a fierce collective intellect, Killing Joke have long been one of rock’s most iconic, influential and contrary outfits, with a string of revered recordings to their name.
Their story dates back to 1978 and the post-punk scene of West London where classically-trained musician / vocalist Jeremy ‘Jaz’ Coleman, drummer ‘Big’ Paul Ferguson, guitarist Kevin ‘Geordie’ Walker and bassist Martin ‘Youth’ Glover set about establishing a new, idiosyncratic manifesto for reinventing the rock ‘n’ roll wheel.
Right from the start, Killing Joke were unwilling to conform to the artistic restrictions of a particular scene; rather, they took a broader view, fusing together a host of musical elements to create something both different and timely. Pitched somewhere between the snub-nosed aggression and bleak primitivism of UK punk and the epic grandeur and cool detachment of German electronic rock bands like Tangerine Dream and Can, the band’s sound emerged fully-formed and ready to go – a vibrant, punishing antidote to virtually everything else happening in music at that time.
Both their self-titled debut album and its 1981 follow-up, ‘What’s THIS For..!’, cemented their reputation as a maverick and creative force, and due to a penchant for controversial imagery plus a refusal to pull punches in terms of the truth (as they saw it), the quartet rapidly became the most notorious band in the UK. For Coleman and his fellow musicians, conventional notions of politics or propaganda were not to be accepted blindly; they urged people to think for themselves, to question old orthodoxies and their surroundings in general, conjuring up images of an impending apocalypse with music that was never meant to be pretty yet often attained a ragged and glorious beauty, a tattered flag in the wind.
As a result, an intense and passionate relationship started to grow with an ultra-loyal international fan base, a relationship that remains intact to this day, with the group’s philosophical stance and soundtrack to the modern age – a deep, dogmatic howl documenting our calamitous descent into chaos – seeming more and more plugged-in as the years progress.
And those years have witnessed a run of truly remarkable recordings underpinned by some of the most unpredictable behaviour in the ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Book Of Strange Practices’, with Coleman – a man most at ease in remote places devoid of technology – occasionally going AWOL for extended periods, and choosing to record in locations dramatically outside of the norm, i.e. the King’s Chamber of the Great Pyramid at Giza.
The results of that momentous session appeared on the ‘Pandemonium’ album (1994), one of the most celebrated and successful of the band’s career; and whilst it’s difficult to spotlight individual releases, there’s no question that ‘Pandemonium’ stands shoulder to shoulder with 1985’s ‘Night Time’ (featuring the top 20 single, ‘Love Like Blood’), 2003’s second self-titled album (produced by Youth with Gang Of Four guitarist Andy Gill and featuring Dave Grohl on drums) and 2010’s ‘Absolute Dissent’ (which saw the original line-up reuniting for the first time in almost 30 years) as key moments in the band’s (ongoing) body of work.
In addition to building up their formidable catalogue, the KJ members have chosen to develop their talents in a variety of different ways; triple Grammy winner Coleman, for instance, has carved out an international reputation working with some of the world’s greatest symphony orchestras, becoming a ‘Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres’ in 2010 for his achievements with the arts; Youth, meanwhile, has established himself as one of the UK’s most celebrated producers, supervising albums from The Verve and Primal Scream amongst others, as well as gaining major success as one half of highly-regarded duo, The Orb.
Now based in the US, Ferguson – who once famously described the band as “the sound of the earth vomiting” – devotes his time to restoring ancient artefacts when not positioned behind his kit, leaving Geordie to define the black beating heart of the KJ sound with an acclaimed and eclectic guitar style delivered at arresting volume through a resonating hollow-bodied Gibson ES 295.
It’s as a unit, however, that the four musicians are best able to truly channel the elements, creating four decades worth of recordings that have been covered by some of rock’s foremost players, including Metallica (‘The Wait’), Foo Fighters (‘Requiem’), Helmet (‘Primitive’) and Fear Factory (‘Millennium’). Artists of the stature of Jimmy Page and Billy Corgan have long shown their support and respect, whilst the band’s considerable musical legacy can be heard through acts such as Nirvana, Ministry and Nine Inch Nails – celebrated names whose rise to fame never saw them cutting ties with the underground / alternative scene.
In 2015 the band released their 16th studio album ‘Pylon’ to critical acclaim. Released worldwide through Spinefarm Records, ‘Pylon’ followed on from ‘Absolute Dissent’ (2010) and ‘MMXII’ (2012) – providing the platform for further international touring, including two European dates with Guns N Roses.
Difficult, perverse and wilfully unpredictable, Killing Joke continue to be a group that actually stands for something. In the words of Youth “The band continue to inspire and bludgeon down the bullshit in the world into a white hot, blast furnace Dub of unrelenting passion, a rollercoaster, white knuckle punch in the face of beautiful agony/reality and timeless cosmic joy and soul. The other will doubtless have different ideas but one thing’s for certain: what once seemed paranoid now seems downright prophetic, and for all of their adherence to darker hues, the future for Killing Joke looks brighter than ever…