Still shouting the loudest, are Killing Joke Britain’s angriest band?
PUBLISHED: 08:56 05 November 2015
Front man Jaz Coleman tells Alex Bellotti about new music, British politics and why he has to punch his band mates in the face.
Most new bands, it has to be said, have very little to say. The modern trend – understandable to a point – is to let the music speak for itself, but too often that music feels divorced from pop’s old grounding in politics, literature or philosophy. It’s why, though a mostly lazy assertion, many make the case that guitar music has had its day, and why, 35 years after they began, there is still a place in the world for a group like Killing Joke.
Lead singer Jaz Coleman puts it more bluntly. “Most new music’s rubbish. It’s mindless and they’ve got no balls. It doesn’t mean anything, it doesn’t have any rebellion about it, there’s no f*** off attitude and it’s not innovative.”
It is a fine irony that for a band whose gothic brand of agit-rock flourished in the peak years of Thatcher’s Britain, their latest record is arguably their angriest yet. Released last month, Pylon follows in the style of Killing Joke’s eponymous debut and later records like Absolute Dissent, delivering searing laments on everything from central banking to Tony Blair. Tomorrow, they are bringing the album to the Roundhouse for a headline show ahead of an extensive US tour.
As ever, Coleman’s lyrics welcome controversy. Take just one line from recent single I Am The Virus – ‘No one believes in 9/11, steel-framed buildings don’t fall in seconds’. Even fans of the band frequently disagree with the views of its 55-year-old front man, but there’s no doubt that in an climate of fresh unrest, he has plenty to write about.
“I think that there are some very disturbing things that are happening in the world and people are too scared to speak out,” says Coleman, before launching into a lengthy tirade about Syria, Iraq and Africa.
“As far as the UK goes, I don’t know what to say about this country. A country that can put a weapon of mass destruction before the health of its own people… well, we should be worried. We’re spending three billion on Trident and we can’t even launch the f***ing thing unless we get the go ahead form the US. I mean what’s that all about? You could revamp the whole NHS with that money. These are the values this country has and that’s why I haven’t lived here for 30 years.”
Originally from Cheltenham, Coleman now splits his time living between Switzerland and New Zealand. He hasn’t owned a property since 2006 and, likening himself to late band mate Paul Raven, says he feels most at home on the tour bus.
The death of Raven, who suffered heart failure in 2007, had a unifying effect on the band. After dipping in and out of various line-ups since the late ‘80s, the original members of Coleman, ‘Big’ Paul Ferguson, Kevin ‘Geordie’ Walker and Martin ‘Youth’ Glover met up again at Raven’s funeral and returned to Killing Joke the following year.
Despite their clashes over the years, Coleman jokes that the band has lasted longer than practically any of its members’ marriages (“although I’m not averse to trying again”) and explains that any remaining conflict is actually the source of their power.
“Oh God, Killing Joke is probably the most turbulent entity you could come anywhere near. It’s turbulent but inspirational, and we get results in our funny old ways.
“Most of the time, to be honest, we’re laughing our heads off. I must say Killing Joke is the only group of individuals I’ve had to start a physical fight with because I’m laughing and in so much pain. I’ve actually had to punch people in the face to stop it.”
Everyone in the group has, as Coleman puts it, various other ‘functions’, with their skills ranging from architecture to art restoration. Yet their collective dedication to Killing Joke seems as strong as it has ever been.
“I absolutely see Killing Joke as a duty,” says Coleman, who alongside Walker has been the group’s only constant member. “It’s not just bringing a sense of awareness to people, it’s giving them a musical sanctuary and a gig-wise a place to meet like-minded individuals who feel the same about the world and the way it’s going.”
What is it though, aside from the turbulence, that has kept the band able to produce new material for so long? “It’s empathy I think. I’ll be honest with you, over this last year my credit card’s been stopped two or three times and I’ve gone hungry. So empathy’s very important and I’m not alone in this world, there are many of us in that state. It goes like that – writing periods are times of enforced austerity.”
It’s a brutally honest assertion, but if there’s one thing Coleman has never been afraid of, it’s speaking his mind. Above all else, you suspect this is the real reason the fans keep coming back.
In an age where political distrust and social unrest is brewing once again, there’s a need for music to hold a mirror up to the ugly side of Britain. How strange it is that nearly four decades in, it is still Killing Joke shouting the loudest.
Killing Joke play the Roundhouse tomorrow (Friday November 6). Visit roundhouse.org.uk