Cured in the Underworld – Killing Joke in Perspective

“The initial symptoms have escalated into a monstrous plague. It does not require much imagination to locate the underworld within a scarred, butchered landscape. Industrial wasteland, inhumane concrete hovels, resembling rabbit hutches stacked up on top of one another. “

- Jaz Coleman, The Courtauld Talks

“For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’  Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

- Luke 23:29-31

One of the first cd’s that I bought was Killing Joke’s Pandemonium. This, along with Psychic TV’s Force Thee Hand of Chance, a recording of French Motets and The Orb’s Orblivion, formed the core repeating repertoire of albums guiding my young mind on a Euro-mystic journey into the cultural abyss. While my friends where dosing themselves on Marylin Manson, Metallica and NIN, I was dreaming Druidry and the synchronistic sublime.

Now 15 years later I’m encountering those formative experiences in a different light. Killing Joke’s latest album Absolute Dissent, the first since 1982 to include the original line up, is a violent purgative for the paranoia that’s been eating its way into the collective consciousness. Applying the Paracelsean maxim, “the dose makes the poison”, their incendiary musical exorcism of mediocrity, repression and the  irresponsible whims of Western culture returns to take on the infection of the Infowars contingent, reminding us we really do have a choice in changing the path we’re heading down.

Their positivity is lost on a media quick to declare them dark and sinister ministers of doom.  This stilted categorization couldn’t be farther from the true goals of the band. Why is the music often so brutal? “It is a homeopathic principle. The cure for a sickness is accomplished by dosing the patient with minute quantities of substances which in larger doses would actually create the very symptoms of the sickness. Such a cure for a sickness involves experiencing a little of the essence of sickness” Coleman explains in the lecture he presented at the Courtauld Institute of Fine Art in 1987. Despite the seeming illiteracy of the Western media, the truth is clearly written out in 32 years worth of interviews, essays and public lectures.

As I read through the reviews in the U.S. press I was struck by just how far we are from a rational cultural narrative.  Is it really necessary to keep flipping the fundamentalist or science coin, watching for which limited viewpoint lands to call the next shot? Does this idiocy have to filter in to the arts as well?

If we take the media’s view of Killing Joke’s philosophy we’re presented with fallow choices, they’re a bunch of cunning satanists, violent musicians or they’re conspiracy kooks. The cognitive dissonance in this presentation is lost on writers bent on exposing imaginary satanists, marketing a niche or grappling with the low hanging fruit of criticizing contrived conspiracy theories.

If you dig deeper the real story starts to unveil itself.

I was fortunate to speak with Coleman on the phone prior to their U.S. tour, and to be able to continue the conversation in person with Coleman and Martin ‘Youth’ Glover prior to their second show in Chicago. It’s hard to understand the full impact of Killing Joke without an understanding of the Western Mystery Tradition. It’s all about fire, fire and cleansing, kao et order, solve et coagula,  Coleman describes it in Aristotilean terms, Killing Joke is about “catharsis”. Influenced as they are by Kabbalah (not the stuff that Madonna bandies about), Masonry, Gnosticism, and Western Esoteric Disciplines, it’s easy to see why some would come away confused from the potent amalgam that underlies the band, but anyone in confusion would be better  off exploring these valuable areas of study than dismissing them or creating contrived conspiracies.

We live in trying times, facing climate change, a fractured economy, nuclear proliferation, mass starvation, wars and disease; “we’re hurtling towards disaster, the scientific community is saying that if we don’t change what we’re doing immediately we’re going to need a new planet by 2030,” unfortunately, as Coleman puts it,  “human beings don’t change unless they get a big jolt.” Killing Joke is that jolt, a controlled dose of the violence that surrounds us, acting to inoculate those capable of being tried by fire.  The bands violent presence intends towards a homeopathic cure for the decline of Western society, a safe dose of the hatred, vitriol and pollution that corrodes our culture.

At the World Futurist Society conference in 2010, global thought leaders gathered to discuss how advanced technology is reaching a point of no return. The positive implications, from helpful Artificial Intelligence, life extension, cognitive enhancement, genetic engineering and advanced robotics, are balanced by a darker side in decreased privacy, the potential for division between those who choose enhancements and those who don’t, and global catastrophe from designer diseases and out of control AI. Stuck between the post-human parlour tricks of Gaga, and the banal fear mongering of fundamentalists, our society has very few potential solutions being offered to measure a reasonable reaction.

Neither a fan of post-human rhetoric, nor fearful lamentations, Coleman channels the same fire that pushed Giordano Bruno to expound the virtues of de gli eroici furori, or the heroic furies. Songs like Here Comes the Singularity , which find their inspiration in these debates, are not closed ended messages of doom, but warnings, and calls to action. “I don’t think this biotech/nanotech is going to turn out very well. People living in a post-human world for 400-500 years, their souls will have died years ago.” While others face global catastrophe with a worried blink, Coleman is firm in his conviction, “it’s just a change, we haven’t reached the final stage of evolution yet.

How could a band that uses the figurehead of the Fool take any other course? Step off the edge smiling, there’s no other path to take. “Life is the location of your gift, and the development of it,” according to Coleman, “we  were all really angry when we were younger, feeling outside of everything, Killing Joke’s given us the opportunity to find our path and supported us the whole way.

As a counterpoint to Coleman’s more theoretical approach to the path, Youth pursues Druidry through the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, focusing on reclaiming the traditional place of art to express personal and cultural freedom. As he casually remarked, “At a certain point you want to serve the Mystery with more than just your pocketbook.” Beyond his work as a producer and musician, he is also active as a visual artist, creating drawings, paintings and murals with an sense of immediacy that embodies the natural path.

A group with such a complex interplay of individuals is impossible for the media pigeon hole. The press reacted with disdain when Coleman and Geordie canceled obligations in 1982 to head to Iceland, an event that caused the break up of the original band. This wasn’t a holiday however, Coleman and Geordie were looking for some peace of mind and space to enact the Abramelin Working and contact their Holy Guardian Angel (or what Socrates called the ‘genius’; a connective consciousness to a person’s role in a unified vision of life.)

It’s a powerful ritual, rumored to have proven too difficult for even English Adept Aleister Crowley; for Coleman, however, it provided the full flowering of his gift, the vision and presence of a high priest of the sacred flame. What many have mistaken as demonic possession is better understood as a sacred calling to purify the soul of the West from centuries of slow decline. People often invoke the appellation of shaman for Jim Morrison, in Coleman this vocation is more than just stage pageantry.

Conspiracy bloggers have said that Coleman is a “shape-shifter”, his willingness to explore the outer edges of culture for the sake of the Sacred isn’t something easily swallowed by the status quo. It’s interesting to see what this means on an archetypal and mytho-poetic level. The archetype of the shape-shifter as portrayed in the Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism’s recent publication, The Book of Symbols, shares none of the negative or  paranoid qualities assumed in the mainstream dialogue:

“The world is interconnected and always changing; shape-shifters amplify, reveal or hide this process; that is their magic…with an affinity for “decontruction and reconstruction” (they) share the ability to separate and regroup elements of psychological process, ultimately in the service of renewal”

When looked at in that light, Coleman fits the bill. As he points out in the Courtauld talk, “the fundamentals of such performance are clearly routed in the venerable healing magic of the ancients, I assure you. Central to this very old form of therapy is the idea that if you suffer from the underworld you can only be cured in the underworld.” There’s a problem when the chorus of our culture can’t differentiate a healing balm from a blast of brimstone.

Journalists often fixate on Coleman’s stage presence, his painted face and intense persona shaking their awkward and underdeveloped sense of propriety. In an interview for the website Invisible Oranges he describes the purpose of his altered persona on stage:

“We put on the mask and take off the mask. It’s very important. When I go onstage, I’m seeking transmission and I get in a trance-like state. The idea of taking the mask off…if you don’t take the mask off, you take that world into your own life…We are well aware of the energies that surround us in Killing Joke and the peculiarities. The mask isn’t for other people’s benefit. It’s for my own protection.”

From the casual reader’s stand point the conspiranoia rampant in our culture is nothing more than info-porn, what we miss is the pain of being on the other side of someone’s paranoia and the poison this puts in the mental reservoir of our culture. “David Icke said that my friend Laurence Gardner was a reptilian,  that some woman had seen him sacrificing babies, that’s complete crap,” Coleman remembers with sadness, “Laurence was suffering from a prolonged illness and at the end of his life he’s got a bunch of people harassing him with that shit.” Laurence Garder is best known for his explorations of the Gnostic themes that Dan Brown borrowed and made popular in his Da Vinci Code trilogy. Gardner and Coleman’s friendship formed when they collaborated in 2001 on  an opera,The Marriage at Cana, commissioned by the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden London and they met again in 2003 at the Occulture Lectures in Brighton, UK, to publicly exchange works.

Their mutual admiration was based on a shared respect for chivalric virtues that most of society has long left behind, protection of the Earth, upholding of peace, support of the downtrodden, defense of the feminine (taken in the occult sense as the matrix of creation and the Holy Mother Earth), and the pursuit of knowledge. It deeply troubles Coleman that someone who was so focused on freedom would be accused of being involved in a conspiracy against humanity.

Again we find some mytho-poetic truth in Icke’s identification, Gardner was a member of the Ordo Dragonis, The Imperial and Royal Dragon Court and Order, which is described as “(providing) a fraternal rallying standard for those of all creeds and cultures who are dedicated to preserving the rights and values of others.” The question becomes, if all of these ‘sinister forces’ stand against tyranny and control…who do the journalists and conspiracy mongers support?

It’s a cruel irony that shortly after the death of  his close friend, and oft times Killng Joke bassist, Paul Raven, conspiracy blogger Chris Knowles wrote even more disparagements and accusations alleging Coleman’s untoward involvement in an occult conspiracy against Raven. By presenting this information with the breathless malevolence of a masturbatory voyeur these critics expose the fragile basis for their claims. If truth were ever to emerge in their critiques it would be mired by their uncritical experiments in chimerical bullshit.

On Absolute Dissent the bonds of friendship form a central theme. This focus recommends a positive solution to the poison of conspiratorial whispers.  In the song The Raven King, an apotheosis (a raising to divinity) for Raven’s spirit is presented,  in which he becomes the symbol of freedom and brotherhood that is all to often missing in our time.  “Forever in this moment, Rejecting those who would control us, Touched by a common genius, All bound by fate and common purpose ,” Coleman’s lyrics speak to his deep respect for ancestral spirits and for the presence of allies in the present walk. Death is not the end,  something lives on., and Raven has become a guiding force for Killing Joke, spiritual symbol of their  true purpose.

Killing Joke’s legacy, as Coleman likes to see it, is one of self education, the bonds of brotherhood and unflinching motivation. Inspired by the Rosicrucian ideals that arose in Europe during the 17th century, they focus on the dream of an interconnected web of self reliant villages and self educated polymaths, a global republic with “every citizen required to debate.” For Coleman a one world government is necessary to curb the irresponsibility that’s grown from corporate manipulations of the populace, and to some how control the dangers of over population and wars that have marked the 20th century.

Again from the Invisble Oranges interview:

“The only logical answer is to divide the world into four blocks. The Americas, the European Union, The African Union, and the Asia-Pacific Union. Then a world council that will be annexed onto the exiting U.N. That’s the only way to solve all of these problems effectively at once. And now you see! It could still go two ways. It could be the dream of Beethoven and Schiller, the brotherhood of man. Or it could be an authoritarian model. We have a choice there also.”

Coleman has been working with ILC Productions / Coffee Films on a documentary, The Death and Resurrection Show, to explore the journey that Killing Joke has taken over the past 32 years. It promises to provide a more rounded picture of the band and their unique philosophy of social renewal.  “We call it the mirror effect in Killing Joke, people come to the show and see a bunch of assholes on stage who’ve done all that we’ve done, and realize ‘If they can do it…I can too.

Production on the documentary involved Coleman’s direct involvement, and if the trailer is any indication it will be one of the most interesting documentaries on a band that’s been made. For all his showmanship, in person Coleman couldn’t be farther from the malevolent force he’s so often accused of being. He lives an austere life with few possessions, and enjoys spending time on his land in New Zealand where he dreams of a sustainable future and an enlightened society renewed by a respect for the cycles of nature. “Think of it,” he says, “every village must be self reliant. Cafes with art galleries and live music, outside a farmer’s market with locally grown produce.

Youth has also been busy collaborating with Alex Patterson of Orb, and David Gilmour, formerly of Pink Floyd, on the album Impossible Oddities along with producing his own multi-media presentations under the moniker Kommune.  It is a testament to his mercurial spirit that where many in the music industry are struggling to adapt to the new media environment, Youth’s creativity is seeing a new renaissance through combining his skill at production, visual arts and composition.

So that’s the sinister plot my friends, self reliance, responsibility, and a life lived in the beauty of the natural cycles that surround us. If there is something sinister it’s the fantasies of our culture’s demented chorus who’ve forgotten that the mask means protection, without it they’re blinded by the sun’s illumination, and all we can hear are their feeble mutterings against the red light of dawn.

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6 responses to “Cured in the Underworld – Killing Joke in Perspective

  1. Excellently put. I love seeing an educated and fair portrayal of this group. Far too many are ignorantly biased in their opinion of Jaz and the rest of the group by sensationalist media pieces. Thank you for the in depth and very interesting piece.

    • Thanks for the kind words. I had the opportunity, thanks to Alarm Magazine, to have a conversation with Jaz via telephone, and to sit down with Jaz and Youth prior to their recent Chicago show. Doing research for the article I was writing it was obvious that there was a lot of contradictory information, and when I had the chance to meet them, this became even more evident. Figured the least I could do was get something out that provided a more balanced picture.

      With the present state of the world it does no good to be fostering imaginary enemies.

  2. Well said. I am quite jealous that you were able to speak to them. They seem to be so charismatic and creative that it must be a nice jump start for the mind to have the opportunity to engage them in dialogue. Again, I loved the piece. I look forward to reading more from this blog in the future.

    • It really was a good kick in the head. Their energy and focus is contagious. I felt enlivened, and also a bit displaced thinking about the possibilities of life and how often we take them for granted.

      Although I have to say, their life of freedom is dangerous to established living. I talked to them in December and now, less than a month later, I was just laid off. : )

      Hermes is a tricky friend, but as Jaz said at the end of the concert, we have to “honour the fire in our hearts,” and sometimes that means taking chances.

  3. Liz Le Clercq-de Jong

    Finally! An article about Killing Joke worth reading and bookmarking. I shall share the link with the KJ gathering board. I’ve had a KJ obsession ever since I met them at the age of fourteen. Even my parents gave me a hard time about their so called ‘fascisme”. They had heard about it on the radio. so it must be true. Even my husband mentioned David Koresh…Silly people sometimes..Trust your instinct! Kisses and Joy, Lizzzzzz

    • Thanks Liz, I appreciate the good word. I hope the folks on the KJ Gathering board enjoy the article.

      Jaz and Youth were incredibly nice, in the midst of bad weather, insecure travel plans and a with only few hours until the concert started, they spent more time than was required sitting with my friend and I, and chatting about all sorts of random things.

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