Laughing Lines – Jaz Coleman Interview

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Printed in the Groove Guide, May 2013

Despite having been a resident Jaz Coleman’s seminal neu-punk-goth out fit Killing Joke have never before plated in Aotearoa. Now, finally on the back of a worldwide singles-best of tour the original, essential line-up of Coleman, Youth, Geordie and Paul Ferguson finally put their feet down on a local stage or two. It seems extraordinary that it has taken this long for Killing Joke to play here, particularly since the ever-mercurial Coleman, has lived here on and off since the mid-eighties. Youth’s recorded here; Pandemonium was recorded in York St. “Well, no one’s asked us to. Let’s be perfectly honest about this. If there’s no demand … But 25 years on finally there is. I can play in my own country. I’m looking forward to it.”
That said Killing Joke are really world citizens. Coleman in particular, who despite having land on an island in the Hauraki Gulf “sleeps from couch to couch, of no fixed abode. I like to move around. Stay with different people. I don’t want to amass of possessions and all the trappings that go with those. When on tour Youth collects hundreds of albums and ships them all back to the UK. I have three pairs of pants, and my stage clothes. That’s it!”
Most recently he was hangin” with a local broadcaster in the apartment right next to the Groove Guide offices. However, despite the close proximity I have to call half way across the world. On the line from Seattle (‘Home of grunge and Starbucks!’), where he’s not in the best of voices. “My voice went completely at one point but it came back miraculously. We had two shows to do in one day. I just mashed it with medication. You know, I’ve never missed a show in 35 years. I get by on the love and support of the audience!”
Killing joke is only one of Coleman’s many projects, who also composed classical music. The alt-heroes of the eighties have a particular brand of spiky post-punk producing hits ‘Love Like Blood’, ‘Kings and Queens’ and ‘Eighties’ plus a notoriously unnerving and in-yer-face live show. They’ve been the encouraging force behind acts like Nine Inch Nails, Ministry, Faith No More, Marilyn Manson and Rammstein.
Killing Joke were in a hiatus until 2003, when they began producing some of the most vital music of their career reminding everyone what was so special about them in the first place. But it was their most recent album, MMXII that re-landed their ‘typically political and agitating’ sound – it’s a ‘loud, grinding and relentless’ take on industrial metal. “Actually, its incredibly cathartic. Like a primal scream -so different for the orchestral work. Killing Joke concerts are where everyone just meets up, like a forum. In Toronto my voice had just gone but they cheered me on. And that touches me deeply. The love for our band never ceases to amaze me. We’ve been going 35 years. Most bands get nasty (over money and creative power) by then. But we split the money equally (to avoid that). So 35 years later my band are my best friends.”
Their 2013 tour promises to be something of a ‘Singles Hits’ endeavour, but from a band whose last priority is bothering the charts. “I’m always the last person to know this because I don’t use modern forms of communication unless it’s a land line. I don’t use computers… I knew a singles collection was coming out when I came on the tour. For me, Killing Joke was never a singles band. We’re forced into a ‘singles’ market because they started by just taking one song off the album – we’ve never been radio friendly.
Currently, Killing Joke have been terrorizing crowds in the States, I asked him what he thought of the US these days. “It’s different from 30 year’s ago. There’s no rebellion left. Everyone is just a passive zombie. Food supply has something to do with its – dumbed down everyone to obese, lethargic corpses. The economic crisis … 9/11; climate change affecting more hurricanes …that terrorist bombing in Boston and unemployment, heavy debt. People are worn down. The sad thing is there is much less of a community than when we started. Part of that might be modern forms of communication. Walk down the street, everyone’s on their iPhones or in their own virtual world. It’s a fragmented society. People have access now to amazing amounts of information, but their attention spans are getting shorter, their focus is gone. Instant gratification. Instant knowledge orgasm! I think that a lot of the great thinkers couldn’t achieve what they did through a computer.”
And speaking of great thinking, Coleman is about to release a book, available online for a short time. “Letters From Cythera is a private book, it’s my personal thought process, a sort of personalized renaissance study. I’ve been studying vortexes, black holes, star gates and their trans-dimensional possibilities. I’m interested in the Earth’s energies. All of this I call ‘supersynthesis’. I’ve documented a series or perfectly timed coincidences; it’s a 30 year study of magical principals. For instance if you visualise you’re a producer and you assume it from day 1 then you are a producer. It’s a manifestation of dreams into reality. This book will raise money for my next violin concerto. Classical music does really sell very many copies so I have to raise it some how. I should spend it getting water on my Island in NZ but I put music first.”





Semi-Permanent Transit Lounge

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Production designer Annie Sperling will be presenting this week at this year’s biggest commercial art gig Semi-Permanent. Sperling has one of the coolest jobs in the world, designing sets for commercials, music videos and feature films. She’s been outrageous fashion photographer David LaChapelle’s primary designer since 2005 creating numerous stunning sets and props for his nuevo- renaissance fantasies. Sperling also produces photography, paintings and murals and has designed and organized over twenty-one mural projects as part of community beautification programs around Los Angeles. Many of these projects have resulted in the art training of ‘at risk’ local youth, some of whom had histories of gang and graffiti involvement.

Jetlagged, and in, err, semi-permanent transit, en-route to a photo shoot for Janelle, in NYC, Sperling finds a few precious seconds to fire off a few emails, including one to Groove Guide.

Groove Guide: What does Design mean to you? When taking on a project ,what is at the front of the cortex for you? Are you in the head of the client, the customer or viewer or your own brain?
Annie Sperling: “To me the word means ‘the look’, literally the first visceral look. I believe in art and your environment. I believe humans respond to beauty and aesthetics. My job is to make something visually appealing. It’s a bit of a ‘juggle’. Sometimes bringing in the client or agency needs without directly telling the director (what I’m thinking in my head) is a strange dance. Ultimately, I try to make something bitchin’- I must stand in front of it for upwards of 12 hours minimally in front of myself, my crew and the other departments.”

Groove Guide: What will you be telling the amassed hordes at Semi Permanent? What’s the message you have for them? “I’m seriously humbled they invited me… I’m planning on speaking about my process and also the path I took to get to my career. I think it may be helpful to would-be artists to know I did not have exactly a plan! But the road became the plan!

“I started, initially, as a scenic painter- which has no relation to current my job. However, this background has proved invaluable for my knowledge of process. It affords me budgeting skills and good communication to get the results I want for the look of my sets. My background is in photography and fine art- mostly painting. I was influenced majorly by music, specifically rock n roll. Movies, too and travel is the pearl in my knowledge pool of styles.

“Meeting inspiring people like David LaChapelle was a major turning point in my career- one that happened quite unexpectedly. It was a strange meeting, in a fantasy remodel in the Hollywood Hills. He was using my remodel as a location. That was our first meeting.”

Groove Guide: Your fashion work is very ultra-surreal, ultra-Glam, glossy, ironic.
Annie Sperling: “I do have lots of cynicism for the world- but it is strangely coupled with a true love for Art. I think when I am doing my job my punk rock upbringing seeps through- I cannot take a commercial that seriously. We’re selling products, no matter how you elevate it. (My editorial work) has more freedom and irony- more realism and surrealism- this is where I can really play and have fun.”

“Irony is one word (to describe my work). There is a love of things that make our world work- the electric cords and vents the mundane make the surreal even more trippy. All these things have a strange resonance to the eye and I think that is what you are seeing.”

Groove Guide: Tell me about your public murals project. I read that you were seeking damages from Heineken, who desecrated one of your murals “Our Lady Of Iguanas” (an iconic image in downtown LA).

Annie Sperling: “My, you’ve done your research! The mural in question is an old one I made with these kids- a couple of whom dropped out of gangs as a result of this (mural making) program. Many, as adults, still live in the neighbourhood. I’m seeking ($250K in) damages because I was p***ed that a big corporation covered the wall- which is 2 stories high with an advert. The law is they must notify the artist – if you destroy or use someone’s art there are consequences. I am trying to get funds to refurbish the wall and rework the mural using some of the original painters. It sounds greedy but it is the principal for me.”

Groove Guide: Now, you’re not just a commercial artist with a punk aesthetic. Turns out you also ‘collaborate’ with a local club – Lucha Va Voom – Burlesque dancing, Mexican Wrestling and Standup comedy. How did you get to be mixed up in this? Is it true that you’ve wrestled yourself?

Annie Sperling: “I did wrestle with a burlesque star – Kitten de Ville – against the Luchadores LOS CHIVOS DE ORO- the goats of gold! Lucha VaVoom is a fantastic show that plays to a 1000 capacity crowd in an old Deco theatre in downtown LA. Kitten and I danced and wrestled, had we some serious moves! I love Mexican culture and was thrilled to learn some tricks- it’s friggin’ hard! My body was a rock when I wrestled! I’ve been a burlesque dancer for many years and produced a really crazy show with Kitten called Rock n Roll Strip show. I don’t usually talk about both things designing and dancing – although LaChapelle LOVES to tell the agency I am a stripper!

Book Review: Athfield Architects by Julia Gatley – Auckland University Press $75.00

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Anyone who’s grown up in Lower Hutt, especially around the council chambers will be familiar with Plishke’s austere, post-holocaustal modernity. The Bunker style Library, which resembles an ice cream factory or an enormous fridge; the soul-less clock towered council chambers; the stark, mater-of-fact-ness of the town hall and the Agricultural hall; even the horror of the new Dowse which mimics those other buidings or the ghettoised industrial abortion of the local police station. All these buildings scream for the ghosts of personality. Large, white and bland. Theyy shun any sense of individuality of humanity. They tell us to stay away, remain in our silos , be good little worker bees. Do not think, do not dream here in this new world of post war modernity! Listen to your government, do what they say, think what they tell you!

These are buildings that lack almost any features. Where function over form prevail.
The need to reject the shackles of pre war excess at the expense of clean efficient lineage simply dehumanised public and private architectural and raised it’s respect in modern day life to the clinical extreme. And that modernity was not just a product of the 40’s and 50’s – no, it remains with us today, still. I guarantee now that if you look around any home on the market you will see attempts to make clean, manila walls, new renovations are clean, lack frivolity, the lines are straight and perpendicular. In every home journal or house and garden, not a cord to be seen. There is no clutter, every surface is cleansed of human occupation. This is the legacy of all that modernity. Today houses and buildings are assets, to be cared fore but seldom to be enjoyed. Gatley’s first book, in Praise of Modern was a celebration of that tradition, which , alas is with us even in our newest works. Many of the latest buildings as simply reconfigured boxes of austerity. Domestic and corporate prisons, that whilst squeaky clean at first simply become looming and oppressive over time. Don’t believe me? Then observe the tired, bureaucratic European efficiency that is Lambton Quay’s Massey House. This is a building that needs more that a clean. It’s an geometric, algorithmic post Nazi reminder that we are all here to work to our employer’s bidding.

All this is why Ian Athfield was such a breath of fresh air. When his work appeared on the scene he brought the ideas of cohabitation and community from the masters such as Le Courbusier and Van Der Roe to Wellington. But unlike them, his vision was not to stack every body up like sample in a specimen cabinet. He believed in levels, surprises, twists and unpredictability. All which mixed in his work with the core requirements of the client. Athfield brought his hippy, trippy ideas into a country that was not yet able to break from the traditions of function as ‘all’. He introduced us to white buildings, as a way of adding colour to the surroundings (not teother way around). He introduced the communal living concepts of family, and proved the model in his own spiralling metropolis high above the Hutt Road in Khandallah. He Suggested adaptive re-use with first the Clyde Key Tavern and then the Broderick tavern,, which became his offices, for a while on Onslow Road. He reinvented the concept of the Council Flat in Hankey St and showed us that these dwellings didn’t necessarily need to reflect the hell hole nighmares of the English Estates. And now his thinking, in small and large projects focuses on the rebuild of Christchurch. Athfield thinks of the future heritage buildings. He asks ‘what can we build now that people may cherish in the future?

Athfield Architects is a fabulous document of one of New Zealand’s most inventive architects. My only gripe
is that his influence has not been greater, and that too many bad buildings were constructed even after he started to get successful, perhaps those abominations will be destroyed in honour of work such as his. Gatley’s book is almost a personal admiration. As a student she was clearly involved with his projects and remains connected, as all architects do to his work. But more so, she is in a position to speak for him and articulate his thinking. In this way we can enjoy, and perhaps envy some of his achievements, as we sit in those lesser buildings, in our suburban compromise or our leaky homes, cursing our own faithlessness in a good quality design.

Julia Gatley’s a senior lecturer at the University of Auckland School of Architecture, a passionate boffin who’s penned tomes on modernism and the Group Architects in New Zealand. She also actually worked in 1987 on Athfield’s bach at Awaroa Bay in the Abel Tasman National Park, so she can write from ‘proper experience’. As she says, ‘this was the most memorable’ time at architecture school, which may be why, occasionally, her tone appears still a bit gob-smacked at the ‘starchitecture’ of this humble quirky man. Mostly, the book is meticulous, scholarly but not university bookish. Real people need real architecture. And real people want to read real books about it. Don’t they? Thre is here in this investment a fantastically, preserved record of 200 Athfield Architects projects since the 60s.

She also does her best to write up his life, influences, and extraordinary times in over 300-odd footnoted pages, with a stack of high res photos and drawings. But Athfield isn’t easy. The early work can be seen as counter-culture, picturesque and romantic, neo-colonial, “a mini-Islamic village of plastered pyramids and arched windows” she reminds us. In the 2000’s where does all this now site? Well if it’s lines up against some of the new work, perhaps it can be seen as a prototype, or a model for progress. As my mother would say ‘very nice, but does it leak, is it drafty, and where does the couch and telly go?” I laughed at the suggestion that the repeated use of twin chimneys could be interpreted as the “two-finger gesture to the establishment of the time”. Really, I hope so. Architecture should reflect the mood of the people – not be the preserve of the filthy rich! Interestingly, and not without reason, Athfield moved from the necessary rebel to become the new establishment (in his elevation to president of the New Zealand Institute of Architects and other public roles). But as a good punk at heart we hope he still fights banality and commerce over people!

A little about the Man ….

In brief, Ian Athfield started work on his first major project, Athfield House, for his family and a studio in 1965. His early projects were constructed with a broad palette of materials including corrugated iron, plaster, stainless steel and fibre glass. As a reaction to much of the bland “Modern” architecture of the period, Athfield built in a deliberately vernacular style using features harking back to colonial buildings. His designs incorporated finials, steeply pitched roofs, timber weatherboards, verandahs and double hung windows. He was also inspired by the architecture of the Greek Islands with their exterior envelopes of continuous plaster and small windows. Conversely, he also much admired the work of Mies van der Rohe with their precise and refined detailing of industrial materials.

Yet another area of influence was the geometric massing of the Japanese Metabolists. Athfield combined all these disparate elements into a highly eclectic and personal style. During the 1970s Athfield built and renovated numerous domestic houses and buildings, developing a distinctive and highly personal design approach based on the repetition of small scale elements and complex massing. Critical opposition to these ‘cartoon houses’ did not bother him (Manson). Another criticism of Athfield’s houses were that they were built for charm and not practicality. Athfield believed, however, that “in a house, you should get a surprise every time you turn a corner and look up” (Manson).

Athfield’s practice expanded during the 1980s from mainly residential work to a wider variety of community and commercial buildings. As well as continuing to work on small-scale projects, his portfolio has included churches, pubs, council flats, stadiums and commercial high-rise buildings. Athfield’s best known works include Telecom Towers, Civic Square and Wellington Library, Jade Stadium in Christchurch and work on the design of the Bangkok rapid transport system.

He is a past President of the New Zealand Institute of Architects, judges many design competitions and is a keynote speaker at many overseas conferences. His firm’s current projects include Chews Lane Precinct, the Wellington Overseas Passenger Terminal redevelopment and the Wellington Marine Education Centre.

A documentary on Athfield, Architect of Dreams, has been produced for the NZ Documentary Festival.

Following the Canterbury earthquakes of 2010 and 2011, Athfield was appointed as an Architectural Ambassador to Christchurch.

For more information – go here: