Category Archives: killing joke

The Solar Glitch

In one of those lovely “This could happen to YOU!” stories, my favorite astronomer says 2012 really could have been bad. Like, “global disaster” bad:

In July 2012 the Earth dodged a bullet. Or more accurately, the bullet was misaimed. But had it hit, we’d have been in big trouble.

The bullet in this case was a solar storm, an eruption of a billion tons of plasma exploding outward from the Sun. This kind of event—called a coronal mass ejection, or CME—is actually relatively common. But this particular CME was a monster … in fact, it may have been the most powerful one ever seen.

People sometimes ask me if anything in astronomy actually worries me. Something like this is near the top…

What’s this? A “space weather expert” explains:

Coronal mass ejections are caused when the magnetic field in the sun’s atmosphere gets disrupted and then the plasma, the sun’s hot ionized gas, erupts and send charged particles into space. Think of it like a hurricane — is it headed toward us or not headed toward us? If we’re lucky, it misses us.

[…]

What went wrong in the 1989 storm?

In the U.K., there were two damaged transformers that had to be repaired. But no power cuts. The worst thing is what happened in Quebec. In Quebec, the power system went from normal operation to failure in 90 seconds. It  affected around 6 million people. The impact was reckoned to be $2 billion Canadian in 1989 prices.

We had lots of disruption to communications to spacecraft operations. The North American Aerospace Defense Command has big radars tracking everything in space, and as they describe it, they lost 1,600 space objects. They found them again, but for a few days they didn’t know where they were.

[…]

A serious concern would be whole regions losing electrical power for some significant time. Here in the U.K., the official assessment is that we could lose one or two regions where the power might be out for several months.

Glitch!

And then, the toughest lament of the scientist:

We had a recent flare-up of publicity in March thanks to a solar storm that didn’t really amount to much. Is this sort of coverage a good thing or a bad thing?

It makes such a good scare story, and it’s entertaining. It was a mildly interesting event, certainly, but not at all big-league stuff. It makes people think, “Oh it’s nothing really,” so experts like myself are in danger of being in the crying-wolf situation. That’s something that is a concern to me, personally.

Of course Killing Joke covered this. Of course it was in the album called 2012 (well…MMXII):


Cities on blackout, satellites are knocked out
I-phones, laptops, it’s one big belly flop
Servers, TV, alarms and security
Everything’s gone in seconds

Cars are all crashing, planes are all grounded
Everyone knows it’s over

Borders on lock down, everything’s on shut down
Everyone knows it’s over

The solar storms have come and chaos rules outside
The freezer’s broke, the food is off, the GPS has died

Communications have all gone down, the world is flying blind
Everyone’s at boiling point — and noone’s got the ice

Glitch!

Corporate Elect: Wall Street and NBC Master the Hubris Act

(Note: Yes, I’m alarmed that my two measly posts in almost three months both have to do with banking houses. I’m not on a banking crusade exactly, but … well I do tend to want to bookmark moments in our gilded age.)

Tyrant of me and mine
Dominion over our lives
Condemned to Solomon’s mines
We all got fooled again

–Corporate Elect, Killing Joke

I confess I never would have connected these two in quite this way, but I love it: American Public Media’s Marketplace compares Wall Street’s arrogant destruction of, well, our way of life, with NBC’s arrogant response to those who dare question its (usually tape-delayed) Olympic coverage:

If there’s one thing Wall Street knows how to do, it’s take an issue of minor irritation and turn it into an uncontrollable, national disaster through the alchemy of arrogance, hubris, and too much money.

That’s how your annoying bank fees blossomed into Occupy Wall Street,  how the London Whale grew from a misguided trade at JP Morgan into a $7 billion loss, and how the securitization of a few mortgages turned into a global subprime crisis. When challenged by opposing forces, Wall Street just won’t listen. The Street has favored the Mad Men model of largely swilling martinis and hoping for the good old days to return.

It’s blind, yes. But it’s not unusual. If it only it were just Wall Street that was being so blind.

The events of this weekend show that Wall Street doesn’t have the monopoly on the first rule of holes (that is, “when you find yourself in one, stop digging.”)

It’s instructive to look at NBC’s response to criticism of its Olympics coverage to see why not just Wall Street, but much of Corporate America, has a serious problem of corporate culture.

Corporate culture problem? You don’t say. Sadly, as the article states “hubris can kill your reputation fast,” the hit to your reputation doesn’t last long when you’re, ahem, “too big to fail.”

Read more here

Grateful for all the times we shared

If I don’t return
Before your time is up
I promise to set your place
On the table with wine and fill your cup

-Killing Joke, “In Cythera

The old men are back with yet another album, striking just the right tone for me, digging up some old imagery. They tend to do one sort of reverie-nostalgia tracks per album honoring friends and ancestors, and this one is probably my favorite one of those yet.

Simple but atmospheric with familiar strums:

I see you in a dream
On a sunny day when the skies are clear
I’ll see you in Cythera
On an island far away from here.

Hope the rest of the MMXII album delivers.

Dismantled brick by brick

Wonder what the Singularity will make of the stumbling, blurry drunks on Bourbon Street.

World population has reached the critical
Humanity shall function as a single cell
Machines design and clone a different race of man
Who is the architect and who the hidden hand?

Kneel down, our freedom’s gone
Speak out — something’s wrong.

~Killing Joke, “Here Comes the Singularity

I am used to this sort of paranoia from Killing Joke, but not so much from mainstream media.

I can’t say I ever expected to read such spookiness in Time (not that I’ve read much Time in the last decade). Do-doo-doo-doo do-doo-do-doo…:

Continue reading Dismantled brick by brick

Complications

In the last week I’ve learned more about how nuclear power reactors work than I ever imagined. It’s crazy to think of the apocalyptic scene in Japan. It feels so retro to read the details:

Now those temporary pools are proving the power plant’s Achilles’ heel, with the water in the pools either boiling away or leaking out of their containments, and efforts to add more water having gone awry. While spent fuel rods generate significantly less heat than newer ones do, there are strong indications that some fuel rods have begun to melt and release extremely high levels of radiation.

Creepy to hear of confusion among nuclear scientists about how this can be happening. Like, when you’re toying with the atom you’re supposed to know what’s what, right? That’s the trade off for the energy-for-risky science equation?

Japan was supposed to be the leader in doing this stuff right, yet I heard one radio commenter saying not to worry about the risk to plants in the U.S., because “9.0 quakes don’t happen every day.” Well…yeah! I doubt anyone’s fears about nuclear power safety standards were ever stoked by any every day event. It’s the once-in-a-generation events! People have interesting timelines with their risk/benefit analysis; that realization has marked me since I saw people littering at age 5 and wondered where the hell they think that wrapper is going.

I see the Sun turn green / From my penthouse window
It’s different now / Because we’ve got no shelter
Alienation /By experimentation
Enjoy yourself / This is the new age

Ransom the birth / Of a new destruction
It’s different now / It’s what we always wanted
Alienation / By experimentation
Self-destruct / At the count of ten

~Killing Joke, “Complications” (1980)

The odd thing about intimately knowing the catalog of a band that writes about human absurdities and the surreal existence in a fast-changing technological (and nuclear!) age is that no matter what awful or strange events dominate the news, there’s always a song that pops to mind. Their early ’80s stuff was marked by nuclear paranoia — whether weaponry or power or where technology was heading.

2008 financial meltdown? Their 2006 album’s songs fit right in, and immediately began playing in my head as the financial system verged on collapse. (Not that they’re prophets like Jaz probably sees himself, but come on, 2006 was perfect timing for this:

“Accelerated eco-meltdown, no one gives a damn
Keep everyone in debt while the big banks own the land
Orwellian, Miachiavellian, Hegelian dialectic
World management has come and it’s to be expected.”

It’s very fanboy of me and again, for every sober observation they have plenty of wacky theories that are the paranoid conspiracist’s stock and trade. But it’s pretty fun when they nail it, and news happens, and a song starts playing in my head. They’re no guide, but they do make a wonderful cathartic soundtrack to life.

And that’s the point, really. Quite a few people find them too depressing — understandably so — but that’s missing the message that comes with the observations as I perceive them, which emerge in chorus after chorus throughout their catalog: Recognize your world, marvel at it, allow your befuddlement to happen — but then seize the day, enjoy this one life you have.

You can be disappointed with the way of things and still enjoy life. I don’t know how else to go about it.

Heh.

If Facebook were a country it would be the third largest, behind only China and India. It started out as a lark, a diversion, but it has turned into something real, something that has changed the way human beings relate to one another on a species-wide scale. We are now running our social lives through a for-profit network that, on paper at least, has made Zuckerberg a billionaire six times over.

Dude, make that man Person of the Year.

Anyway, the phenomenon has me thinking of Killing Joke songs (of course), which are often filled with global apocalyptic paranoia that’s good for a thought and a laugh. This time I was struck by a funny thought: What if the unseen conspiratorial forces Jaz sings about turned out to be not the shadow government, not the oil barons or the bankers, but…the Facebook!

World population mass has reached the critical
Humanity shall function as a single cell
Machines design and clone a different race of man
Who is the architect, who is the hidden hand?

~Here Comes the Singularity

The Facebook! Facebook’s the hidden hand!

While the shadow governments are busy spending billions on their military industrial complex to carry out 007-style plots, they will be blindsided by an awkward global army of Facebookers playing Farmville, having pillow fights, and destroying human spirit with repeated (and sponsored) pokes! Aaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhh…the true killing joke!

Creative tension and its beautiful result

I’m catching up on Killing Joke news, sinking my teeth into their latest album — the first composed by the original lineup in 28 years (and an album for which I stuck to my pledge not to listen to any tracks until I’d received the album in its entirety, old-fashioned style, and I could not be happier for going that route).

I came across an interview with front man Jaz Coleman that seems to capture the magic formula to every band whose combined musicianship has ever truly awed me. (This excerpt is translated from German by a Gathering member, from an article that was probably a translation itself):

Q: Disaster is pure chaos. Your music on the other hand brings structure to chaos – where does the structure come from?

Jaz: We have two antipodes whenever we work creatively: At least one of us takes the revolutionary point of view, another one the reactionary one. That’s not planned or a conscious decision, these parts aren’t always assigned in the same way. But there are always these two points of view about a piece of of music. When we manage to combine them we get a song. When we don’t –  we get noise, nobody has uses for. The structure comes from these contrasting opinions that we have to find a common ground for.

Now that sort of pretties it up like some pure formula, but I do think there is an inherent truth that explains some of the best artistic works: Tension, misery, disorder — these things lead to fantastic expressions of art across many media. The “tortured artist” can be a miserable companion, but boy can it lead to fantastic forms of expression! (I don’t think artists ever “sell out” as much as they lose the setting that put them so intimately in touch with their best creative muses.)

What I love about a band like this is it captures all those collective muses and hashes out something that cannot be produced individually. The whole “sum is greater than the parts” concept at work.

The process Jaz speaks of reminds me of why solo projects so often disappoint followers of a band: It’s not just that the other members aren’t performing — it’s that they weren’t there at creation to rein in the soloist. So-called musical geniuses don’t look as smart when surrounded by yes-men (or rather, when lacking those used to opposing them).

There are several strong personalities in Killing Joke, and most fans will tell you that in periods where one personality (Jaz) was allowed to dominate too much, their material suffered. I have noticed the same in bands of totally different style (and probably quality).

Off the top of my head I think of Radiohead during its turn-of-the-century internal crisis and even — you’ll laugh but it’s true — Guns N’ Roses. From song structure to bass and drums to lead and rhythm guitar, GNR had an impressive mix of musicianship and talent that put them above their ’80s hair/metal peers in quality and creativity. But their lead suffered from some kind of megalomania that affected all areas of their “business,” and when his friend and chief counterweight (rhythm guitarist Izzy) finally had enough — and left to produce a weak solo album, no less — Axl’s dominant personality brought a fantastic collection of talented band members to ruin. The wasted opportunity of that band has become rock legend — and even when several of its more sane members have collaborated for things like Velvet Revolver, you can tell a key component of the whole is missing.

Killing Joke’s new album, “Absolute Dissent,” returns the band’s original personalities to the creative process, and you can feel it. The presence of Youth, their original bass player (and successful producer in his years away) is felt not just with the return of his almost-funk groovy bass (set up in this title track with space at 0:40, kicking into the full groove at 0:50), but also as a decision-maker with original drummer and co-founder Big Paul. (As a bonus, we even get a great dub song thrown on at the end, which is absolutely Youth’s doing and a throwback to their beginnings.)

Guitarist Geordie’s hollow-body tone (allowed to open the first 10 seconds here) and cascading guitar chords sound better than they have in years — and I bet part of that is due to the other long-lost members offering a strong voice to let his best tones survive in the finished product.

There are still the long-held complaints that various fans have about this or that not repeating — or repeating too much — the styles and tones of whichever each fan’s favorite era was. But it’s just nice to hear the original creative voices in tension once again, keeping each other from the extremes that send a song off the rails, and producing once again an album that is getting more addictive with each listen. Better yet, from all reports of their tour thus far, the material takes on a life of its own when played live.

As it always has.

Souls are recycled in…

Mark out the points
Build the pyre
Assemble different drummers
Light up the fire
Put on your masks
And animal skins

Illumination. Illumination.

“Death and Resurrection Show,” Killing Joke

Too much pain and, suffering, crying
Too many, funerals, we know the Earth is dying
Gatherers, celebrants, in a state of merriment
This sickness, cleanse us, with fire and music

This tribal antidote–my choice
Come to the great assembly: revelry, rejoice, rejoice, rejoice!

“Tribal Antidote,” Killing Joke

After the high that was this summer’s Radiohead tour, I found myself in the same boat as someone who said after their 2003 shows: “That was incredible. After this, I’m not sure I can enjoy going to concerts anymore.”

But I better snap out of it, because another favorite band’s very rare, perhaps last tour (because you never know) soon beckons in this, my personal Year of the Show.

The first rule of a Killing Joke tour is, you need to make sure the band is likely to show before you depart home to see them. Rare is the Killing Joke fan who hasn’t had at least one tough-to-reach show collapse on them. In 1996, their European tour just … f a d e d  … away before they even got back to their home soil. So few fans have ever seen that tour/album’s material performed live.

Lucky for me, on my cancellation journey in 2003, I at least got to bound around London with BH for my efforts.

But I was still understandably nervous about the upcoming fall tour, which includes New York and Chicago. They announced it in the spring — with the reformation of their original lineup from 1979-82 — but we haven’t heard much since (An at-the-time pledged “new album” with the original lineup has dropped like a campaign pledge.).

Until now. The returning bass player, Youth, who’s made more in his career as a producer and dance-techno maestro, shared details on MySpace. They’ve been rehearsing, and they’re taking off to Tokyo now for the first stops on the tour. And all of the Gathering, as the die-hards are known, collectively exhaled. And pumped their fists.

Here’s what Youth wrote:

Tomorrow I embark on a world tour with killing joke .Its the first time the original line up has performed for 26 years! I am going to attempt to keep blog up to give a diaryistic view from the inside of the storm!

I havent even had time to unpack from returning from Spain where we have been rehearsing for the past 3 weeks. I hit the ground running and have been locked in a south London studio all weekend completeing a new production .Its probably a good thing as the more i think about the tour the more excited i get!

Rehearsing invoked many emotions from pure joy and exhileration to utter terror and fear!

I feel very privilaged to have the opportunity to work with these incredably commited and talented artists. thts not to say the challange has been immense. Learning over 50 songs and rehearsing them untill they are white hot tight is no easy gig! However having Jaz Coleman’s perfectionist zeal bearing down upon us upped the bar and enabled us to steel our metal as musicians vastly.Having Big Paul’s presence within the circle again has given us a renewed primal force and a tribal/disco stomp last heard together in 1982! its hard to describe how im feeling but it feels exactly as it should ….strangly calm and super intense!

Rejoice! I’ve no idea what those 50 songs will entail. Even the 20-30 songs in their “standard” tour rotation make up a varied mix that hits everyone differently. This should be intense. I just hope they’re still in one piece by the time they arrive in North America.

R.I.P. Raven

I guess it’s another marking of time when your closest music heroes start to die.

ravenStill, Paul Raven, 46, was taken awfully soon. He apparently died of a heart attack in his sleep in Switzerland, where he was doing what he loved — in this case recording with former Prong and Killing Joke bandmate, drummer Ted Parsons.

Fans are in shock. The tributes are flying in online. He was always the most accessible member of Killing Joke — the most “average Joe” of the members, who was always willing to talk to fans, was always excited and ambitious about music projects — wherever in the world they took him — and never seemed pretentious. Maybe he was that way because he was a fan (and fellow musician) before he was part of the band.

I met him before a show once, and he immediately started shooting the breeze about music and the show like I was an old friend; there’s a thousand fan stories like that only much better. One thing everyone assumes is that he got everything he could out of his rather brief life.

He put up with Killing Joke lead singer Jaz Coleman’s maniacal crap and bipolar unpredictability, seemingly for the intensity and rarity of the Killing Joke musical experience. As he said of the recording of the last album, “Hosannas…”:

The recording was supposed to take three months and wound up taking seven. “It was absolute torture making the record. We nearly destroyed ourselves, each other and Killing Joke in the process,” he says. “But I still think Jaz Coleman is a genius. It is difficult to describe what goes on with those guys. I am there and I can’t describe it. Damage, broken bones, stitches all from that record.”

Killing Joke hasn’t recorded anything new since then, but in the meantime Raven has been on at least three or four major projects, including two Ministry albums.

“Full of life” … “a guy who truly LIVED” … “endless amounts of stories, endless amounts of ambition” … “Told me Uncle Raven would make sure my boy grew up an Arsenal fan” … “a musician to the core” … “brightest flame burns half as long” represent the sentiments.

I loved his bass in Killing Joke because it was straight-forward and simply thumping. Like great bass in what is essentially a groove band, his was not there to steal some of the spotlight from Geordie’s cascading chords, but rather to establish and amplify a deep, driving groove that you felt in your body long before you mentally recognized that it was there. “Like a shark lurking” is how a Gatherer once described his style with the Joke. Another “lurking” groovy bass track of his is “Night Time.”

Here is Raven playing the seminal Killing Joke track, “Pssyche,” and singing the first verse. That’s taken from the band’s “XXV Gathering” 25th anniversary show a couple years ago. The song was first recorded with KJ’s original bassist, Youth, but Raven’s bass was shining so crystal clear on that XXV Gathering recording (not as much so in the compressed online clips), I’m glad to have the DVD as my lasting memory of him.

So R.I.P., Raven. The fire burns on for you.

More of the Party, and the Joke

More great clips from “The Party” referenced on The Gathering, reminding me once again how great Peter Sellers was. Damn, gotta check out the full film.

But while we’re YouTubing, this is what I mean when I tell my good-natured-but-ribbing friends that Killing Joke has an era — and album — for nearlyeverystyle of rock music that I like.

And of course that longevity is made all the more rich when you see the embarrassingly dated (and sometimes not dated — just embarrassing) footage from their videos and live concerts. Footage that is hilarious whether or not you can stand the music: Afros shaking in the lights, tight-yet-baggy ’80s rock clothing, bare-chested, standing drummers and guitarists in blue body paint, and more. All mixed in with pretty heavy imagery from the wild, messed up world around us.