Pop Paganism

The killing joke (part 1)

I'm writing this double column under the spiritual influence of the upcoming Killing Joke gig in Barcelona, on 17th April. Besides the enormous importance the event has in my personal calendar, which would be comparable to a comet capable of causing astral tsunamis and revealing new psychic islands, the band's visit to our city this year is doubly important. On the one hand, it's part of their 2012 Tour, set up as a traveling commemoration in preparation for the end of the world, predicted for this year. It will finish with a festival in New Zealand in December, coinciding with said end. (Jaz Coleman has - correctly, in my humble opinion - interpreted the multiple prophecies and announcements of a cataclysm this year as signs of a change of era, of a global collapse of the economic system and our capitalist civilisation. In his own words: “one would do well to remember that prophecies made over several thousand years ago are simply intuitive 'scans' into significant future events affecting the human race).

The other important element is that, according to the band's astral chart, every visit they make to Spain coincides with a new war somewhere in the world. This, according to Coleman, is a good thing, because it contributes to the acceleration of History and its collapse.

If you read the previous paragraph and don't know Killing Joke, you might think - quite understandably - that they're the most pretentious and egocentric band in the history of rock. The only thing I can say is that it's true and not true. Or, better said: it would be, if Killing Joke really were a rock band.

Is Jaz Coleman the new Doctor Dee?

To say that Killing Joke are a rock band is a statement that is both excessive and inadequate. On the one hand, as my friend Tomás Nochteff says, they're the best rock band in the world. On the other hand, to define them as a rock band is like saying Jesus Christ was a masochist Jew, or that Charles Manson was a failed actor from the 60s. As befits a band who, when they started, set the establishment of a new Renaissance as one of their goals, the music is just one element (an important one, but not necessarily central) in the unique synthesis they've been developing for over thirty years. Their work is somewhere between political activism, economic and ecologic investigation, alternative agriculture, mysticism, occult philosophy and ritual neo-tribalism. In fact, one of their most striking characteristics as a band is that they hardly ever talk about music, as if it weren't one of their main interests. In one of the few interviews I've read in which he goes deeper into that topic, Jaz Coleman says about the foundation of his group:“ We rejected ALL blues music as musical communism, because it was a musical form from a foreign land and not our country of origin. We would ask ourselves these questions on what an Anglo-Saxon rhythm is, so Killing Joke came out of fierce debate like this. (…) The drums were always considered the royal instrument. Big Paul drew from Celtic tradition on drums, and we meant to reinvent and establish modern tribal drums of an Anglo-Saxon style – so in many respects we were almost writing our own folk music, because England has no real folk tradition.”

"We can discuss the various stages of magic from Shamanism, to Wicca, to Hermeticism, to Rosicrucianism, to Illuminism, to Chaos Magick – and have strong opinions about all of these things!"

Between forming a band with three friends and building the folk tradition your country has neglected, I think the second objective is much more praiseworthy, and definitely more Jaz Coleman-like. Talking about the moment he and Big Paul Ferguson were looking for two other musicians to complete the original KJ line-up, Coleman specifies that: “Not only do they have to be innovative musicians but also great philosophers. They have to understand the mystery tradition, understand the foundations that we believed in – which was, at the time, a very magical foundation – Rosicrucian-based, to be precise. And the only way to find them was to actually prepare a ceremony, a ritual, to find the other two members of the band – which is what happened. And we found them within 10 days of performing that ritual!” The result, even though the original KJ disbanded in the 80s and only reunited at the end of the past decade as a result of the death of their bassist at the time, is a group of renaissance men that has survived until today. Says Coleman: “I don’t find any other musicians capable of sitting ‘round a table, and going from a in-depth discussion on world politics, geopolitics, moving to poetry, reciting it from memory, moving to earth science, moving to theology, philosophy, or surrealism in art, you name it – all of us can move with great ease in all these areas. We can discuss the various stages of magic from Shamanism, to Wicca, to Hermeticism, to Rosicrucianism, to Illuminism, to Chaos Magick – and have strong opinions about all of these things! My bandmates can discuss any political system on planet Earth, and they’ve had first-hand experience in all of it.”

To catalogue the activities the KJ members have been involved with over the past thirty years would be as extensive a job as it would be sterile. For instance, Big Paul Ferguson's restoration of works of art, Paul ‘Youth’ Glover's mainstream pop productions, and Coleman's symphonic compositions and direction of philharmonic orchestras. During what would be the first in a long series of epiphanic redefinitions of his own identity - Jaz Coleman moved to Iceland in 1982, following certain geomantic (and biblical) indications that the island was one of the safest places to spend the end of the world. There, he found the Snaefellsjokull glacier; where Jules Verne situated the entrance to the centre of the Earth, and one of the sources of the planet's astral field, planetary chakras and points of primary force. In Iceland, Coleman and Geordie Walker did several kinds of magic experiments, trying for example to create artificial sounds that were as powerful as the trumpets that brought down the walls of Jericho. Coleman also started to study international finance there, and he decided to become a classical music composer, two things he financed with the profits from Killing Joke. It started a dynamic in which KJ worked as a “bank” for a series of activities, going from the acquisition of a private army (sic) to the creation of self-controlling farming communities in remote places.

"I want to make Killing Joke into an order. I want to make our value system into something tangible, like the villages and the farms."

Today, the farming communities are the centre of KJ's activism. They're two hamlet projects with sustainable resources, or eco-hamlets, the first of which has already been set up on an island in the Pacific (the second one will be in Chile). Community and sustainability are the two pillars of a project based on Coleman's geoscientific studies, which, among other things, led him to get involved with the question of overpopulation and resources. He became an avid defender of permaculture and the return to farming, the creation of regional governments that control population and the construction of self-controlling communities - more or less according to the model of nineteenth-century anarchism. All that, orientated towards one of the central concepts of his philosophy, which he calls the Resurrection of Nature ( “Yes I Believe We Can Turn It Around!” he yells elatedly in “Millenium”). The idea, says Coleman, is that: “If each village, each community became self-reliant, then the whole planet will take care of itself. I do believe this. I believe in mass re-planting, the re-pollination of the planet, and the restoration of the biosphere, amen! I believe we can clean every river and we should mark every nuclear site and warn our descendants. […] Then you stop using petrol dollars and every village becomes a republic, as Gandhi said.”

The most fabulous thing is how, in KJ's philosophy, permaculture, free energy, and the concepts of geoscience (along with the opposition to the global economic system), go hand in hand with the traditions of the occult and magic. This becomes apparent in many of their lyrics, like on the marvellous “The Raven King”, where political criticism unites with the myths of Pagan Britain, to form a battle anthem that can be read from both viewpoints: “The raven’s flown and left the tower / And Albion feels all abandoned / A desecrated cenotaph – surveillance state and waning choices / Guarded by warriors we knew / Guided by our ancestral voices / Let flags of black and red unfurl / Echoes of distant laughter / Confederation of the dispossessed / Fearing neither God nor master / (…) Spirit of resistance haunt us once again / Your restless call for this defiance / Let sorrow turn to anger in your name / Carpe nocturna, seize the night now.” Cultural studies and investigations driven by the renaissance spirit to unite science and spirituality, mathematics and poetry; but also study and action, transformative practice, a regeneration plan for the world. Megalomania, say those criticising them. A will for totality, in any case. Or, in the words of Coleman: “Killing Joke is a way of living. In fact, I want to take it one stage further. I want to make Killing Joke into an order. I want to make our value system into something tangible, like the villages and the farms.”

Did Jaz Coleman kill Heath Ledger?

In 2006, Killing Joke released “Hosannas From The Basement Of Hell” - a sort of concept album about the possibilities of the ritual in the context of the band - meant as the counterpoint to the furiously political contents of its predecessor, “Killing Joke” (2003). According to Jaz Coleman, “in 1989 I stopped all magical practice and I started a life of prayer and contemplation. Keep in mind, any ritual I did - even during those earliest times - was always devotional.” This statement is very much contrary to KJ's modus operandi on the majority of their recordings and live performances. For their 1994 album “Pandemonium”, as they themselves shouted from the rooftops, they bribed people to record some vocals in the King's Chamber of the Great Pyramid of Giza (supposedly they also took the opportunity to invoke a creature from ancient times). For “Hosannas”, they travelled around the globe to record several tracks in different war zones. Even if we forget about Coleman - who, before “stopping” magical practice, had been a member of several magic and occult orders - guitarist Geordie Walker is a Master Kabbalist, while Martin ‘Youth’ Glover is a high-ranking Druid. Furthermore, regardless of their CVs, I myself have witnessed the band playing “Exorcism” and I know very well what they were doing; and what they were doing was simply a magic ritual of collective exorcism, with Coleman acting as the priest shouting “LET IT RISE / GET IT OUT”.

The origins of the ritual during the KJ gig lie in the band's very beginnings. Ritual forms, for example, the central theme on the better part of their 1983 album “Fire Dances” - where ritual is defined in the anthropologically most traditional way, as the cancellation of the distance between the past and the present. On that album, according to Coleman recorded at a time when the band were very much involved with the worshipping of ancestors, we find lyrics such as (on “Song And Dance”): “Ways we’ve lost come flooding back now / Then my ancestors awake (then I forgot myself) / And in our joy they take their joy / And in their skills we take our skills / Then all the lines between are gone”. And, of course (on “Let’s All Go To The Fire Dances”): “I’ve got a feeling something’s changing / I’m gonna find this feeling somewhere / Let’s all go to the fire dances / Take the future in your hands now / Let’s do this dance forever / Teacher teach me something new please / Sow the seed God speed the plough / Basic ways to simplify me / Sun is shining in your favour / Push push me till I get there / I'm gonna find the human somewhere / Turn the pages, time goes backwards”.

“Hosannas From The Basement Of Hell” - which in a sense is a sort of sequel to “Fire Dances”, twenty years later - explores the purifying possibilities of the ritual of live music. The parishioner is identified as the “gatherer”, which is what, decades ago, KJ's most avid fans and followers were called. “Gatherers” were in touch with them on a regular basis and, to a certain extent, participated in their projects (the name comes from the idea of “gathering information”, for the sake of the emancipation of the system). The ritual of the concert - where Coleman always takes on the role of the priest, both in his pastoral discourses between songs and in the formidable lyrics - is conceived, again, as an exorcism. Specifically of the powers of hate and violence in the capitalist world, as an antidote, as explained in the lyrics of “This Tribal Antidote”: “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 (…) Not a concert, show or entertainment / A temple, a ritual, a festival of dissent / Kindred spirits exchange and listen / We share in common a different value system”.

To see Coleman in some of his best performances as priest, watch the videos of “Millenium” or “Hosannas From The Basement Of Hell”.

Also priceless, is the scene from the 2002 Czech film “Year Of The Devil” (where Coleman plays himself playing the Devil), in which he lectures a group of poor Czech folk musicians ( “I’m gonna tell you straight as musicians: we will put on masks of hellish astral entities, so that we may traverse the portals of Death”) about how to perform a truly ritualistic concert.

The mask theme is also crucial in the band's ritualism. However, it has often been taken as a joke - partly because of Coleman's histrionics both on and off-stage, and partly because of the vaguely worrying similarity between his facial paint in some KJ episodes and that of Alice Cooper. Obviously, the mask has a very long-standing tradition in rock, especially in metal, and it's understandable to link Coleman's stage presence to it (though you could also argue that the painted masks in black metal, for instance, have an important resonance with the traditions of magic). Putting on and taking off the mask, according to Coleman, is: “Very important, very elementary, from a magical perspective. To be quite precise, we in Killing Joke refer to this energy of the harlequin, madman or fool as “the Eleventh Path of Divine Madness”. It’s an energy that constantly surrounds Killing Joke and what we’ve noticed about this energy is that it has its own consciousness, and its own agenda. And that can be a very dangerous energy to work with, unless you take serious precaution. […] One of the things that we noted about this energy is that it doesn’t like money; not at all. It’s Mercurius’ path that the alchemists aspired to; Mercurius is the one that would metaphorically change their lead into gold – and he’s associated with the trickster spirit [of the harlequin]. It’s an incredible path but you have to take precautions with it. And I don’t advise anybody to traverse that path without some heavy studying and knowing just what the hell you’re dealing with. […] The fool / joker / harlequin / madman is interchangeable with the path of the magician – if you look at the top of the Kabbalah. And to turn against this archetype is dangerous.”

The perfect example of that danger, says Coleman, is the tragic end of actor Heath Ledger; whom John Hinkelton provided with a lot of material about Killing Joke and Jaz Coleman, as a source of inspiration for his role as the Joker in Christopher Nolan's “The Dark Knight”. According to Coleman, Ledger didn't take into account that The Joker's face paint was a mask to be taken off quickly after finishing work; that going too deep into it will lead to insanity and destruction, especially when you try to go against its express will. Maybe that's why Ledger is on the credits and thank you list of “Absolute Dissent”, which the band were recording at the time of the actor's death.

(To be continued)

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