Killing Joke: For Beginners

Adrien Begrand

Emerging from the same post punk era that yielded such crucial bands as Wire, Bauhaus, and The Cure, Killing Joke' music was vicious, feral almost.

Killing Joke

For Beginners

Label: Caroline
US Release Date: 2004-10-19
UK Release Date: 2004-08-02

There are thousands of people who are Killing Joke fans, but aren't even aware of it. When Metallica recorded their 1987 EP Garage Days Re-Revisited, fans marveled at that creepy little song midway through, called "The Wait", that distinctive, staccato riff sounding so conducive to heavy metal, that anyone who heard Killing Joke's music circa 1987 would not believe that this was the same band. Industrial rock pioneers such as Ministry, Nine Inch Nails, and KMFDM all based their harsh, jarring sounds on Killing Joke's monumental debut album. The likes of Sisters of Mercy and later on, Type O Negative, would adopt a similarly bleak worldview in their gothic tones. Famed producer Steve Albini would employ the distinctive, stripped-down, muscular sound of the early Killing Joke albums on every single record he worked on. And the grunge messiah himself, Kurt Cobain, for all his Pixies adoration, couldn't help but brilliantly swipe the main guitar riff from the great 1985 single "Eighties", and use it as the basis for a highly successful single of his own, "Come as You Are".

Emerging from the same post punk era that yielded such crucial bands as Wire, Bauhaus, and The Cure, Killing Joke didn't possess the razor-sharp wit of Colin Newman, the theatrics of Peter Murphy, or the melancholy of Robert Smith; instead, the quartet's music was vicious, feral almost. Guitarist Geordie tore out shards of distorted chords, bassist Youth delivered jarring, angular basslines, Paul Ferguson provided colossal, minimalist beats on drums, and singer Jaz Coleman alternated from an indignant punk wail, to a gravel-throated holler that dared to rival the rasp of Lemmy Kilminster, Coleman's voice famously described by Ferguson as "the sound of the earth vomiting." Throughout the 1980s, the band's sound would evolve from the raw power of their first two albums, to a more slickly-produced, commercially accessible sound that didn't compromise their integrity, and despite veering perilously close to self-parody in 1988, their sound was one all their own, vicious, brutal, and completely inimitable.

Still, to this day, Killing Joke remain rather underrated, loved dearly by fans and fellow musicians, but still unknown to many casual listeners. Despite heaps of classic singles that had a massive impact on punk, metal, industrial, and alternative rock, and not to mention a rather impressive 2003 comeback album (which featured famous Killing Joke fan Dave Grohl on drums), they're a band who deserve much more attention. The 1992 compilation Laugh? I Nearly Bought One! was a decent enough anthology, but was still one that needed some improving, so twelve years later, Caroline Records (by way of EMI in the UK) have taken it upon themselves to put out a new collection, entitled For Beginners, a collection of standout tracks from 1981 to 1988. Unfortunately, as it turns out, For Beginners is hardly the best place for a novice listener to start.

What instantly hits people more familiar with Killing Joke is what's not on this compilation. Only four tracks from the band's crucial first two 1981 albums, Killing Joke and What's THIS For...! are included, and early classic songs such as "Requiem" and "Wardance", and have been completely ignored, not to mention infamous "Wardance" B-side "Pssyche", and the 1981 single "Follow the Leaders". Not only that, but the band's two most well-known singles from the mid-80s, the great "Love Like Blood" and the aforementioned "Eighties", are nowhere to be found, either.

That's not to say For Beginners is a complete waste of time. After all, there are so many good Killing Joke songs, that it'd be difficult to put together a mix that would warrant the adjective "terrible". And this CD does have its share of classic moments; there's the phenomenal "The Wait", with Ferguson's tribal drumbeats, and the memorable staccato riffs by Geordie, which pre-dates mid-'80s thrash metal and the American punk of Agnostic Front. "Primitive", also from the first album, is Killing Joke at their minimal best, Youth's bobbing bassline adding a strong, contagious dance element to the muscular arrangement. "Butcher" is considerably more adventurous, the band employing sounds made famous by Joy Division (melodic upper-register basslines and atmospheric guitar solos), but they take the song into an entirely different, murky, pitch-black direction.

The stuttering "Chapter III", from the Berlin-recorded Revelations album, echoes the band's earlier, hard-edged output, as does 1983's "Fun & Games", but you start to sense the tinny, 80s style production beginning to take over, especially on the latter track. Meanwhile, "Tabazan" and "Night Time", from the breakthrough 1985 album Night Time, have the band putting that commercial production style to good use, as Coleman starts tinkering with synthesizers, to great effect. The only troubling aspect of this compilation is the inclusion of two tracks from the disastrous 1988 release, Outside the Gate, originally intended to be a Jaz Coleman solo album, but released under the Killing Joke moniker instead. Both "My Love of This Land" and "Obsession" have no business being on this collection.

Of course, labels feel compelled to throw longtime fans a bone or two with compilations like this, and For Beginners has some interesting little nuggets, such as the potent live B-side version of "The Fall of Because" (originally from the "Let's All Go (To the Fire Dances)" single in 1983), and alternate mixes of "We Have Joy" (from Revelations), "Harlequin" (from 1983's Fire Dances), and "Victory" (from 1986's Brighter Than a Thousand Suns). Most interesting is a previously unreleased mix of 1986's "Rubicon", which puts more emphasis on the guitars, marking a great improvement over the original.

Still, despite being a fun listen, the lack of new material makes this an album for Killing Joke completists only, and even worse, there's no reason whatsoever for new listeners to begin here. For Beginners actually serves as a decent companion disc to the Laugh? I Nearly Bought One! collection, but if a Killing Joke newbie is going to buy two CDs to start off with, they might as well get the classic 1981 one-two punch of Killing Joke and What's THIS For...!, and then go from there. Getting to know the albums by this great band, one by one, will ultimately prove more rewarding in the long run.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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