John Doran on Killing Joke and Goth

Goth originators Joy Division (music journalist Paul Morley coined the term gothic in a very early review of the group) never suffered the same fate as any of their peers due, in part at least, to how normal they looked and behaved. While only a fool would attempt to talk down the importance of the Macclesfield/Salford quartet and the stunning body of work they produced in such a short space of time, it would also be a fallacy to suggest that no other ‘gothic’ band shared their revolutionary potential.

An excellent article by The Quietus‘ John Doran, arguing that more goth bands deserve the kind of credit their post-punk peers get.

I love this passage on Joy Division, and also this on Bauhaus as dub goth pioneers. It’s all very much up this blog’s alley.

Bela Lugosi’s Dead was an instant composition / free-improvised dub reggae epic utilising the studio mixing desk as an instrument and non-standard guitar and vocal techniques, immediately placing them on a par with such self-regarding sonic revolutionaries as the Pop Group, and arguably ahead of conceptually progressive funk rock group, Gang Of Four.

He argues that Killing Joke, in particular, deserve more credit and have generally been misunderstood by the music journalists and historians of our time.

Of course, one of the reasons why Killing Joke remain at the sidelines is a matter of pure un-quantifiability. Reynolds himself was astute enough to note that a hard-to-define “dark, tribal energy swirled round the group” and this was one of the reasons they were accused, variously, of being Nazis, nihilists, devil worshipers and just plain evil. They were none of these things however, they had simply constructed a brand new sound whose tension and intensity, stemmed in part from obsessive practice of occult ritual. This new sound was unpalatable to most outside of their devoted fanbase. It might sound odd to mention the band’s deep interest in Rosicrucianism, the Kabbalah and Thelemic practice in relation to their status as sonic innovators but no more so than the way a working knowledge of critical theory is often used to plump up the avant garde CVs of bands such as Scritti PolittiGang Of Four and the Pop Group.

Critical theory is a relatively obscure blend of Marxist philosophy and psychoanalysis which was devised by a mainly counter-revolutionary group of mid-20th Century German academics to analyse the impact of capitalism on modern life and culture. Thinkers such as Theodor Adorno undoubtedly inspired some of the best music writing of the post punk period from the likes of Ian Penman and then later on Reynolds himself, and when they were talking about the heavily politicised groups that they favoured, this kind of framework made perfect sense. Music writers of this period traditionally gravitated toward songwriters who were stridently left wing and who wrote self-referentially about the business of making music. So when it came to describing Gang Of Four’s (excellent) Entertainment! album and its forensic look at the alienation caused by capitalism (“Down on the disco floor! They make their profit!”), writers had the perfect critical tool in the form of critical theory. But this framework would prove itself less useful when it came to music that dealt in the numinous, the sublime, the spiritually crushing and the existentially nauseating. All of which were elements of the overwhelming Killing Joke experience.

This has obviously reminded me of some of Mark’s writings too, particularly this post on goth fashion.

I’m overcome with that distinct sadness again tonight that I wish he was around so I could ask him about all this.

Leave a Reply