Who Are These Masked Men And Where Did They Come From?

From the pages of 'The Loudspeaker'....Kiss have always been perfect fodder for the perverse attention of that most intensely skewed compliment the tribute band. As well as having distinctive masks covering their faces they also spent the early nineties, the time when tribute bands became the beton noire in critical and financial turmoil and were still appearing without their make up masks literally not knowing who they were. This left the doors wide open for bands like Dressed To Kill, Strutter, SIKK and perhaps mist terribly; Look It Up to recreate the Kiss heyday with full make up and the fans' favourite material on the massively overstated Kiss convention and fan scene which is almist preturnaturally obsessed with the earlier, make up wearing phase of the self proclaimed "hottest band in the world"'. And typically for Kiss, their relationship with the most sycophantically determined of their addmittedly ferocious fans, those which dress act and sound like their heroes for funa nd profit is strange, deep and complex.

Devotees of Kiss have always known they are different .. the most merchandised band of all time, the highest grossing musicians ever .. they are supernaturally ripe for tribute homage and parody. In addition to literally thousands of independant covers and organised tribute albums there have been numerous tribute bands that try to look and sound exactly like Kiss. Then there are the others. Kiss's highly visual nature and their odd iconic status allowed certain tribute bands to experiment with visual elements whilst holding true to their classic sound to dramatic or comic effect. These include Klown who dress as clowns and Mini Kiss, composed of four little people (formerly known as dwarfs) replete with accuarte minituares of classic Kiss costumes and instruments. These parodical tribute bands receive a mixed reaction from the Kiss' fanbase.

Which brings us to Knights In Satans Service, the ultra modern Kiss inspired noise project which is baflling fans. On the anonymous album electro versions of Kiss classics and notorious Kiss turkeys are sometimes lovingly sometimes angrily fused with a sonic rag bag of Kiss quotations, news coverage, doctored covers by other artists and incidental sounds from various Kiss home videos and the much ridiculed 1976 feature film "Kiss Meets The Phantom". Is it a tribute? Is it a parody? Is it a blatant piss take? In a parrallel of Kiss' disastarous attempt to broaden it's appeal to fans of serious rock with 1981's "(Music from) The Elder" Knights In Satan's Service seem capable of alienating Kiss fans and the rest of the world simultaneously. A Kiss fan is hard pressed to find anything redeeming about an album that features their heroes' words cuts and pasted into self parody whilst anyone who is not a Kiss fan is usually markedly disinterested in anything Kiss related be it derivative or derisory of the original material.

There is the theory that Knights In Satan's Service is best understood not as music but as simply art, that the Elder parallel, the anonymity parallel, the blatant copyright theft and the apparently disrespectful use of the title taken from an alleged acronym of Kiss actually levelled at the real Kiss, particularly bassist Gene Simmons aka "The Demon" during bitter accusations of devil worship by Christian fundamentalists, a charge vehemently denied by the "face painted phantoms", are all part of an elaborate art from art package on a par with Will Self's "Dorian" or the work of Jake and Dinos Chapman.

So who are the men hiding not behind greaspaint and spandex but in total anonymity? The signs point to the shady and unpopular Kettlecup Foundation, owner operators of Jam Factory Records. We tracked them down to their headquarters in Wythenshawe, a modern perfectly respectable miniscule detached house in a street that didn't exist for the first 20 years of Kiss' career. When we arrive we are greeted by scenes of amatuer hairdressing and primitive furniture construction. It is difficult to determine who if anyone present is a Kettlecup operative, a "Knight In Satan's Service" or both. Karl, a softly spoken black man of unknown origin offers to save us money on our fuel bills. Another man is referred to enigmatically as "Black Chap" although noticably white. We are informed that his responsibility "includes but is not limited to stamps" .. there is unexplained laughter. Two men emerge as prime suspects one bald and irritating is cutting the other's hair into a primitive sscruffy bowl cut in the centre of the room. They share DJing resonsibilities throughout our visit, exhibiting a charming enthusiasm for house, R&B, hip-hop, heavy metal and TV theme tunes such as Monkey Magic, it appears that there may be a subtle battle for the house's airwaves going on beneath the surface. They are Lee Cabinet and Gary Money responsible for underground proto punk hit albums such as Firepower and Kettlecup Is Dead as well as teh "synthetic mix album satirical concept album tribute to Eastern Australia" Cultural Wasteland. As we attempt to engage them in converstaion about their latest project they half heartedly maintain a charade of disassociation. "We can't talk about acts on our label" giggles Cabinet nervously and unconvincingly. "What would Simmons do?" Money is heard to repeat several times.

After an hour of admittedly good music and all the tea we can drink their guard begins to slip. Haircuts completed, the men are at work modifying a primitive blue painted desk that they refer to as "The Compu-Station", still running backwards and forwarsd to the futuristic mixer when a change of record is considered appropriate. Money and Cabinet open up about the project. "Knights In Satan's Service is not a fad and it's not this year's trend .. it is a life!" offers Money. "Gene always said the fans were Kiss's bosses" Money plaintively states "We are first and formost massive fans, fans for better or worse! We love The Elder and Dynasty, The Solo Albums and The Phantom, all the stuff traditionally thought to detract from Kiss's career we love just as much as the classics." before digressing about a theory involving Kiss, primary colours and neuro-linguistic programming. Cabinet: "Kiss are completely unlike any other band or any other thing .. there is literally endless scope for art in all forms taking Kiss as it's inspiration." Money : "They make me laugh, particularly Gene." Cabinet: "Ace is funnier then Gene." Money: "Actually that's probably true".

How has the project been received by Kiss? we ask. Money and Cabinet laugh "We are waiting to hear from them". "I have a theory" says Cabinet "that Gene will hate it and attempt to shut us down, I'd say he's the type to pay some goons to teach us about copyright law the hard way, you know; smash the house up .. that sort of thing". "How would you react?" I ask. Black Chap bursts into life "They're thinking of killing him!". There is a general reaction of amusement; "It may be our only option" says Cabinet. Money animatedly, suddenly unexpectedly reverts to blame shifting, identifying Black Chap as Chris Cola, a member of the Knights In Satan's Service, news which appears at least partly news to Black Chap / Cola.

Money again; "You know that Kiss might try to integrate us into their operation like they did Tommy Thayer?" I am bemused. "He played Ace in a tribute band and is now actually playing Ace in the real Kiss!" This complex arrangement is news to me but subsequent checks bear it out. Cabinet; "If Gene thinks he can make money from us or make himself look business-savvy by associating with us he will try something. He would simply have to convince Paul that it didn't go against the spirit of rock and roll!". Money; "Gene can do anything, he relies on the fact that when Paul was in charge nobody liked Kiss and they nearly went bankrupt." Cabinet; "When Paul was in charge he had car reflectors on his guitar straps!" This is too much for Cabinet who doubles over with laughter as he spits and gasps for air briefly before regaining his composure quickly.

The Kettlecup Foundation may or may not be wholly or partly responsible for the Knights In Satan's Service album but more disturbingly it seems that they might also be responsible for its appearance in various public places and much of the media storm in a tecup surrounding the project. Cabinet wants to read us his favourite quote from a review: "Imagine Kiss on acid that has itself dropped acid or Kiss stuck in a lift with a demented techno DJ and a death metal band and a school dinners lady. Or Kiss after being boiled and crushed, dragged through an eyebrow thickening machine and made to boil up Prince's milk for his tea!" I notice that the page he "reads" from is a blank piece of A4. "Are you making this up?" Cabinet looks sheepish; "definitely not."

Their attempts to stop us from leaving are genuinely disturbing, not less than a little sad. "We haven't scratched the surface", "We've hardly talked about Kiss", "If we do have to kill Gene we will film it". We leave without really saying goodbye, we haven't learned much, the whole thing was classic Kettlecup; subterfuge or innocent confusion? It's impossible to say.

Knights In Satan's Service is out now on Jam Factory Records.

© M Knight, July 2003