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- Killing Joke »
A challenging time in any band’s career: the compulsion to diversify wanes, familiar successes and time-honoured formulae rear their head. Unpredictability loses its appeal, both to fans and band members; we grow old and we stick to what we know. We don’t fear the new, but nor do we view it with the same esteem our former, more naïve though less dismissive selves had once so jubilantly raved about. This seemingly inevitable stage has differing effects on musicians – the ‘sell-outs’ hop skip and jump along, turning down the volume and toning up the appeal (their working days are over); the ‘true artists’ write apologetic or celebratory lyrics about the moribund nature of their poetry and fittingly call it a day (their singing days are over); and then there’s bands like Killing Joke. Death alone can grind their insane escapades in the musical realm to a halt.
It’s hard to imagine vocalist Jaz Coleman wearing anything other than a cape tonight. His old-man-goth appearance, complete with painted spider on the front of his attire, is entirely appropriate, as is his facial make-up and that absurdly petrified-cum-enchanted stare. Is he insane? Is he on drugs? Is he pretending to be disturbed? Is he just an actor? Whatever the answer - the audience expected this and they’re certainly not disappointed.
Killing Joke don’t try to kid us into believing they’re going to win any NME awards tonight. There are no men selling crudely bootlegged hoodies to 14-year-old kids outside the Underworld. The band will likely be interviewed later this evening, but no-one’s calling them the new big thing. Although their most recent album is of some interest to an esoteric niche of the media and public, even those select few are all too aware that Killing Joke’s peak came and went many years ago. All the attention being paid to this band now is nostalgic and respectful; earnest though it may be it certainly is not hopeful. Regardless, the charade continues. 'Requiem' predictably opens the set – the audience responds appropriately.
In this unjust world where Linkin Parks and Feeders rule the airwaves, talent-thirsty members of the audience gratefully gulp down Killing Joke’s unique blend of dance and punk. Thank god for ingenuity. Thank god for a different sound. Trendy boys and girls shake their asses as electronica paves the way for fast paced feel good drumbeats. Sloth rockers sway back and forth, probably relishing being stoned, definitely thankful for people like Jaz giving momentum to their lives. Hardcore fans bang against the walls, throw themselves off the stage and generally just unleash a bit of pent-up anger. There are partiers, slackers and rioters in each of us, and Killing Joke foster all our conflicting tendencies in chorus as few other musicians can.
Of course it’s undeniable that Jaz’s crew have lost their progressive edge somewhat. But then after twenty years of exploring does that really surprise you? Everyone stops running sooner or later. Some people hide the truth, they bathe in farce until the day of their demise; others lie down and die, choosing oblivion before senility. Killing Joke stand tall, gazing back over their achievements, and rejoice in those glorious moments of song-writing history that shaped their own career, not to mention the careers of untold other bands. Above all, having accomplished so much these last two decades, still they soldier on. Churning out not so much more of the same old stuff, as slightly less of the nouveau stuff. Killing Joke’s marching band undertones have never held truer.
And still it seems sad that we so often look to the past for the best of things. How frail and uninspired our society has become when enthusiastic open minded music fans, with both the means and the will to unearth their desired art, find themselves lamenting a lack of quality new music. Those promising few bands that do surface often launch themselves into stardom with such vain recklessness they forget even to make the very thing that they’re supposed to be so good at: music (an ode to the Strokes). Of course I’m being a dramatist - but pick up a copy of almost any music magazine today and you’ll likely find yourself whipped up into a similar diatribe. I for one am disturbed when I find myself enjoying Killing Joke’s new album - a piece of work that, encapsulating though it may be, adds nothing to the evolution of music as an art form - far more than almost everything else I’ve heard this year. A distinction needs to be drawn between good new forward-thinking music, and good old reflective music. Killing Joke have long been confined to the latter, so if they’re still releasing the best that music has to offer, then what does that say for the future?
Tonight’s concert was only as sublime as history permitted it to be. Though musically Killing Joke are timeworn and they no longer inspire – with songs like The Death and Resurrection Show not just echoing the band’s great achievements, but also highlighting just how recycled their sound has become – still their music resonates amongst old school fans with an unrelenting allure. The pretence of Jaz’s theatrics, meanwhile, is self-evident and unabashed. Of course it’s an act but what the hell is wrong with that? Killing Joke spent years perfecting their audiovisual art. Long ago they reached the zenith of their ability, and they have remained on that exact same spot ever since. What once was articulation has now become reiteration.
Don’t let their two-night stand at the Astoria deceive you – Killing Joke died years ago. Instead of having a funeral, Jaz has (consciously or otherwise) opted for a kind of perennial wake – characteristically striving on even beyond the bitter end. The vast majority of fans packing the Underworld tonight came because they wanted to keep alive the memory of Killing Joke. The fervent reception 'Wardance' received made this all too apparent – and as long as time tested devotion like this prevails amongst supporters and creators alike, then perhaps there still is hope for music in the 21st century.
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