Bar Bodega hosts some of my most revered memories.
Florida punks Against Me! played there back in 2011, back when their front man was still a man. Sweat dripped from the ceilings as the crammed-in crowd tussled, swayed and shouted along to the songs. There were stage dives aplenty, but not many came off the stage. My friend Steve and I took turns boosting each other up. We cupped our hands near our knees for the other person to step onto and launch off.
I remember my first time witnessing a Guitar Wolf show. I’d seen Foo Fighters play in Auckland the night beforehand, and struggle to decide which band put on the better performance. Guitar Wolf were almost cartoonish – Japanese rockers fully buying into the stereotypes. They preferred to suffer under intense heat rather than ditch their leather jackets and sunglasses. There was thumb wrestling, human pyramids, and a LOT of noise. The music wasn’t that good, but never mind that, it was about the overall experience.
Cody ChessnuTT blessed us with his smooth, soulful R&B beats on the night of his 40th birthday. I had been awake for roughly 36 hours trying to juggle university assignments around work, but as exhausted as I was, it was worth staying awake late into that Monday night.
I’ve marvelled at my favourite singer Frank Turner as he spread the folk punk gospel from his pulpit, and was inducted into some other-worldly ritual when Killing Joke tried to set off the apocalypse from the stage.
Locals and internationals; punks, rockers, soul-singers, blues-players, beat-layers, rappers, wailers and crooners have all graced the stage, amongst many others. Look around the bar and you will see many records, photos, posters and backstage passes that lay testament to the many musical memories that still linger within the venue. Furthermore are the memories of first bar, from its original site on Willis Street 25 years ago.
Bodega has now followed the likes of Mighty Mighty, James Cabaret, and Puppies by closing up shop. May the memories remain long after the doors have shut.
It was inevitable that I would become a Killing Joke fan. Funnily enough, one of my teachers at high school introduced me to them.
This teacher probably made one of the best impressions on me in my last year of school. He made of point of looking out for me and we often discussed our mutual love of music. He was from Birmingham – or “the town that GBH were from”, as he’d say. He loved telling me about the festivals and concerts he’d attended. Glastonbury was a perennial favourite. He’d attended Foo Fighters Wembley show that I had a DVD copy of. And most of his stories were about the early days of punk. I loaned him a few punk CD’s of bands I’d recently discovered – stuff like Rise Against and Anti-Flag – and he loaned me a few Killing Joke records in return.
I remember him showing them to me in class one morning. There was the original eponymous album, along with the 2003 album of the same name, with the bright colours and the creepy clown on the cover. He also had the second album, What’s This For?, and possibly Night Time. He gave me a cheeky grin and explained that this was the music he liked to play loudly when his wife wasn’t home.
I was transfixed when I gave the CD’s a listen. Listening to the music was like taking part in some kind of cult ritual. It was raw, heavy and unique. The way that frontman Jaz Coleman hissed, shrieked spat and shouted his lyrics was so unconventional. The primitive tribal rhythms of the drumming was so powerful. The guitars were heavy and dynamic.
I quickly sought out my own copies of albums that featured two of my favourite drummers – Pandemonium, featuring Tom Larkin from Shihad, and Killing Joke  featuring Dave Grohl. I read more about the band. It turned out Jaz Coleman was New Zealand citizen. He owned York St studios, and his influence as producer was obvious in the first Shihad album, Churn (and more recently, FVEY). I bought each successive Killing Joke album that the band released, and attended the Wellington gig of their first ever NZ tour in 2013.
Pylon is studio album number 16, and third in a triptych along with Absolute Dissent (2010) and MMXII (2012). It follows the same formula that we’ve come to expect – crushingly heavy and abrasive post-punk with lighter new wave moments. There are the typical doom and gloom dystopian themes of paranoia, mistrust of the powers that be and protesting against surveillance. What are the odds that all four band members have prepped for the apocalypse, each owning bunkers filled with protective tinfoil suits and enough emergency supplies to last them a few decades? But in all seriousness, at least the lyrics contain some substance. Give me protest music full of conspiracy theories over mindless pop music any day.
Album opener “Autonomous Zone” signals a return to the familiar KJ sound. The bridge is especially good, with a drum solo leading into a driving middle eight. Listen out for the stunning bass guitar fills as well. “Dawn Of The Hive” is relentless, with a synths in the chorus sounding glossy yet dangerous. We have the same barrage of sound found in Absolute Dissent married with some of the poppy catchiness of Night Time.
What I like about Pylon is that despite the subject matters and heavy riffing, it isn’t too oppressing. There are more electronic sounds than I would have expected in light of their recent albums. “Euphoria” sounds, well, euphoric, along the lines of “In Cytheria” and “You’ll Never get To Me”. “New Cold War” features a Nine Inch Nails styled offbeat dance beat. “New Jerusalem” borders on jangly. The brighter new wave style brings balance to the music, and prevents it from becoming a boring sludgefest. This is not to say that the band has gone soft on us, but too much chugged riffing can start to grate.
In this current technological era Killing Joke could be seen as irrelevant cynics – old men angrily yelling at clouds. But then you consider their legacy, influencing and inspiring bands like Metallica, Ministry, Nine Inch Nails, Nirvana, Shihad and Tool and it becomes clear that their importance doesn’t correlate with mainstream recognition. And if anything, Killing Joke should be celebrated for being underground and different. They’re not quite punk, metal or industrial. They’re not conventional. And their insistence on forging their own sound is what makes them so special.
After 16 albums, you could have forgiven Killing Joke if they had started to sound a bit stale. But they don’t. MMXII wasn’t my favourite, but Pylon is able to stand up on its own merit. It’s dense, murky and aggressive, without being overly depressing. It’s a visceral roar that pummels your ear canals. It’s paranoid and dark, subversive and political. It’s the sort of music to blast when the wife is out.It’s exactly what you want to hear from Killing Joke.
Last time I saw Shihad play was on Boxing Day a few years back in Lower Hutt – the eternal dwelling place of the bogan. The band played a few songs from each of their releases in chronological sequence, starting with their début EP Devolve, and concluding with their most recent album, Ignite. It was a good cross-section of their history, showcasing their sound as it evolved from the speed metal of their formative days through to the more radio-friendly songs of recent years. The downside to this was that as the show progressed it became clear that Shihad’s later releases pale in comparison to their more aggressive early works. In my opinion Shihad had peaked with The General Electric.
This is why FVEY (pronounced Five Eyes) makes me so happy. It’s a nod to Churn and Killjoy, but with the use of production and mastering technologies 20 years more advanced. Listening to the album teaser was enough to make my hairs stand on end. Being able to the blast the finished product on 180 gram vinyl is a glorious experience.
No doubt Jaz Coleman played a part in this. His influence was unmistakable in the brutal industrial metal that was Churn, and lingering traces could still be felt in the raw anger of Killjoy. And once again the Killing Joke singer has returned to the producer’s chair to impart his wisdom. This record was one of the last to be recorded at Coleman’s York Street studios, allowing the band good use of one of New Zealand’s premium recording studios.
Coleman can still be heard in this record, both musically and thematically. Title tack ‘FVEY’ sounds like it could comfortably be part of Killing Joke’s 2010 release Absolute Dissent, and some of Jon Toogood’s lyrics resemble those of the songs on Killing Joke’s MMXII. Anger, distrust of the authorities and conspiracy theories seem to be common themes throughout.
It’s raw but at the same time clean. They’ve captured the heaviness without muddy distortion. Not an easy feat, seeing as how the guitars are drop-tuned so ridiculously low. Frontman Jon Toogood has described the record as “intense” and “blistering”. He’s not wrong.
Where did the band re-discover this energy and determination? The album title FVEY points towards paranoia over our international spy network. Maybe something to do with a fat German millionaire buying off our politicians? No doubt Shihad are riled up about various social injustices, and FVEY is the creative by-product of these feelings.
I’ve always loved Shihad. I own every album and watch them live every time they come to town. It was always a given that I’d be buying FVEY. But this time round I feel safe recommending this album to my friends, not something I could have said about the band’s recent outputs like Ignite or Beautiful Machine.
Killjoy-era Shihad is back in form. And with an accompanying tour promised; I find this very exciting.