I popped home today to spend a bit of my lunchtime with the dog and, as usual, had BBC 6Music on in the kitchen. As I was getting ready to come back to work, 3AM Eternal by the KLF came on, and I spent a happy few minutes raving away in the kitchen and rapping along with Ricardo, much to the bemusement of the dog.
I have played the KLF on my occasional podcast, and even on my radio show, and they always go down a storm, particularly the three records that make up the Stadium House trilogy – What Time is Love?, 3AM Eternal and Last Train to Trancentral – which, along with the Tammy-Wynette-voiced Justified and Ancient, are the tracks by them that most people know.
More dedicated listeners might know the White Room LP, which was supposed to be the sountrack to a road movie they never finished, or Chill Out, which lays a good claim to being the first ambient house album (note the use of the word house in that sentence, ambient music had already been around a good while by then). How about the marvellously tongue in cheek America: What Time is Love? which pushed the production to the extremes used in American mainstream pop music at the time? Or Kylie Said to Jason, the ill-fated attempt to replicate their success as the Timelords from a few years earlier?
If you know your Kentucky Liberation Front folk-lore you’ll know that Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty started life as the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu (furthermore known as the JAMs) and released a couple of albums both of which were immediately deleted due to serious copyright infringements (of Abba and The Beatles to name just two). They also released one of my favourite ever techno records – the mighty It’s Grim Up North – whose 8.53 running time consists of Drummond listing grim northern English towns over hammering beats before collapsing into a windswept rendition of Jerusalem. As The Timelords they managed a number one single with Doctorin’ The Tardis by mashing together a few glam standards with the Doctor Who theme. They even cheekily followed it up with a book called The Manual (How to Have a Number One the Easy Way).
Jimmy Cauty was also a key figure in the early life of the Orb, another obsession of mine. He was a member when they recorded A Huge Evergrowing Brain… but left before the release of Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld. He also recorded a strange LP called Space which is an ambient concept album describing a journey around our solar system which came out on the KLF Communications label.
After their run of hit singles as the KLF, each one usually accompanied by a hilariously over-the-top appearance on Top of the Pops, they pulled off a series of increasingly anarchic stunts. They started in the music world by appearing with Extreme Noise Terror at The Brits to mangle 3AM Eternal (I have a 7″ copy of the recorded version of this that is one of my most prized possessions) before firing a machine gun full of blanks into the crowd and then appearing later the same evening to dump a dead sheep from a van onto the red carpet outside. They then moved on to the art world as the K Foundation, giving out an art award to the “worst artist of the year” and finally, in one of pop’s oddest but most majestic moments, burning a million pounds in cash in a hut on the Isle of Jura. As well as this, there are persistent rumours connecting them to the creation of several crop circles which apeared in the mid 90s.
They have released bits and bobs since then as the K Foundation and also as 2K, but these are a pale shadow of the hits from their glory days. So kick back, put on Chill Out, then get your rave on to the Stadium House trilogy for afters and celebrate the anarchic black sheep of pop. As you may remember from my post about Jack White, I am a firm believer that music isn’t just about music. Performance, image, style, delivery and myth all play an important part in really great music and all of them are sorely lacking in today’s bland pop landscape – come back KLF, we need you now more than ever!
If this little potted history of the KLF is not enough for you, there is a new book about them which I am very excited about but can’t read because it’s currently only available on Kindle. It’s called KLF: Chaos Magic Music Money and is by JMR Higgs. Paperback due 2013! In the meantime, us Kindle-less folks will have to make do with the extensive Wikipedia entry for the KLF and JAMs and the plethora of online rumour, gossip, folk-lore and fable surrounding King Boy D and Rockman Rock’s adventures in sound, art and performance.