Killing Joke are a band that, to many peoples surprise, I have never managed to see previously. So when the chance to go to this came up, there was no way I was going to miss it (even if it meant missing out on Paradise Lost playing all of Draconian Times across ‘town at The Forum).
Two things became immediately obvious as the ominous tones of the Blade Runner soundtrack heralded the arrival of the band onstage – one, that I was very much at the lower end of the age spectrum of the crowd there, and two, that the Killing Joke fanbase is one hell of a devoted one. There wasn’t a single song that most of the crowd didn’t bellow back most of the words, and even in a cavernous, seated venue like the Royal Festival Hall, there was still room for an old-school moshpit down the front and it got seriously sweaty and warm. So just like an old-school gig, then.
The old-school theme was continued by there being a big emphasis on the “old stuff” played, not that I was complaining. This was, if you will, a post-punk masterclass, and a very loud one at that. My problem with the recorded versions of much of KJ’s early material is how thin they sound – there is often little bass, and some of the songs sound rather thin. So it was a revelation to hear how powerful they sounded here – a reminder of how fucking awesome the rhythm section here was and is. So of the “big” songs, they all sounded utterly monstrous – but in particular Love Like Blood, tossed away early, stormed out of the speakers like a juggernaut, and Wardance was so fucking heavy it felt like we were going to drill through the floor.
Anyway, of the other older stuff played, we got six of the nine songs from the debut album, including Wardance – and while all of them sounded rather fresher than thirty-one years old (!), it was Bloodsport took the breath away. It locked into a fearsome groove that probably kicked off the first moshpit of the night, and as that bass-drop kicked in for the bridge…ah, that was awesome.
Killing Joke setlist
Love Like Blood
European Super State
This World Hell
The Fall of Because
Ghosts of Ladbroke Grove
The Great Cull
It wasn’t all old, though – a handful of tracks from the latest album Absolute Dissent were aired, too, and dovetailed in quite well. The Great Cull sounds like an early offcut, rather than something thirty years younger, and this is no bad thing – jagged guitars, thunderous rhythms abound. Depthcharge and European Super State‘s dancey stylings fitted into the more synth-heavy mid-period material, while the dub-heavy grooves of Ghosts of Ladbroke Grove provided a useful breather for everyone amidst the unrelenting heaviness elsewhere. Of the other recent albums of the past decade, they were almost totally ignored – with the exception of by far the best track from the self-titled comeback, a hyperspeed run through Asteroid that for me was most welcome (it was the track that opened my old, long-running night tcf way back in March 2004, and closed it in June 2009, too).
And that’s the thing about Killing Joke. While slotted in as post-punk most of the time, live at least it’s abundantly clear why so many industrial, metal and industrial-metal bands cite them as a heavy influence – they were creating industrial dance rhythms, without much in the way of electronics, years ahead of many other bands and were certainly paving the way for the industrial dancefloor takeover of the early to mid-90s. And this whole gig was a perfect example of why. As Wardance notes: this is “music to dance to…music to move“. With a set as phenomenal as this, it was hard not to. As the closing encore of a rousing Eighties and a chaotic, dense Pandemonium petered out, it was hard not to feel disappointment that we couldn’t have another half an hour or more.