Sunday, April 19, 2015

K is for… KLF

In the pages of Frank's APA we are running through the letters of the alphabet.

The lyrics'll flow, yo, hear the words I speak. Rap is cheap so I teach and I preach.

The KLF were two fellows, one called Bill Drummond, the other Jimmy Cauty. Mr Drummond was the one who did interviews, wrote books and was mouthy and opinionated, which always led me to suspect that it was Mr Cauty who did more of the actual making of music. They started life as the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, taking their name from an organisation featured in the pages of the Illuminatus! trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson.

Drummond and Cauty released records as the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu (and had their arses sued off for using unapproved Abba samples). As the Timelords they got to number one with 'Doctorin' the TARDIS', one of the world's great novelty singles. After this they published a book called The Manual, in which they explained how to have a number one hit. Then in 1990 and 1991 they had a run of monster hit singles, beginning with 'What Time Is Love?', an epic piece of pop-rave action.

I have read it suggested that the KLF wanted to pursue a more purist dance music direction, but to get their tracks played on the radio they had to add in vocals, especially the obligatory early 1990s lamer raps that show up on so many records of that era. I think their rappers were gentlemen named Bello B and Ricardo Da Force; I would love to know how they were recruited and what they went on to do afterwards. There might be an element of dance rockism to the idea that their tracks suffered by being popped up. The original versions have their own mesmerising qualities but it was the hit versions that have the ultimate power.

Aside from the fact that these singles were monster floor filling tunes, what was fun about the KLF was the way they created this ludicrous mythology around themselves. They weren't just some spods making faceless dance music, they were the Kopyright Liberation Front! And they were also the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, who had travelled from a lost continent or something to make pop-dance records. Their Top of the Pops appearances were Events, with capes and masks and armies of ransomers on stage, etc.

Along the way the KLF also released Chill Out, possibly inventing ambient house in the process. This odd record supposedly soundracks a night journey across some bit of the United States, with sounds wafting in from the ether like snatches of songs heard on radio stations as they come in and out of range. It is a very relaxing record, unlike the KLF's hit singles.

Eventually Cauty and Drummond grew tired of their success and decided to end it. There was a bizarre episode where they fired a machine gun loaded with blanks at the audience of the Brit Awards before dumping a dead sheep outside the venue. They followed this by withdrawing all their money from the KLF bank account (some one million pounds) and burned it, before deleting their entire back catalogue. I have heard it suggested that the money burning thing was not quite what it seems; nevertheless, in subsequent writings Drummond has alluded convincingly to the grief he received from his children once they grew up enough to register that their dad had burned that much money.

Sometimes I think the art happening stuff obscures the KLF's music a bit too much. Their singles were great floor filling tunes and listening to them again now has me wishing there was dance floor nearby where I could get down to them. At one point they were calling their music Stadium House, suggesting a certain bombastic quality alongside the programmed beats. The whole thing with chanted slogans and fist punched in the air goes with that, giving the whole enterprise a charge that much of the electronic music of their contemporaries lacks.

What to look for?

'Doctorin' the TARDIS' (released by The Timelords) - all the mixes of this are great, particularly the ones with Gary Glitter on vocals

'What Time Is Love' - the most epic of their epic singles. Try and find every single version of it and play them one after another.

'3AM Eternal' - also awesome. Again, you want every version of this ever recorded.

'Last Train to Trancentral' - third of the great trilogy.

Chill Out - spark the hooter and listen to this sonic journey across an imaginary US landscape

'It's Grim Up North' (released by the JAMMs) - a name-check of places in the north (of England), with the only other lyrics being the assertion that it is grim up north. Back in the day this record was cited as evidence by my then flatmate for the proposition that Chester is in the North of England. It is there at the 5.01 mark.

'America: What Time is Love' - more a reworking than a remix of 'What Time Is Love', with ludicrous intro about the JAMMs ancient journey across the ocean to discover America. Features guitars.

'Fuck the Millennium' (released by 2K in 1997) - kind of a greatest hits of the KLF in one song, with added swearing about the coming millennium; notable for guest appearances by the striking Liverpool dockers (on swearing) and the William Fairey Brass Band assisting with brass band versions of their great tunes

There is also 'Justified and Ancient (Stand by the JAMMs)', which is famous for the fact that it features Tammy Wynette on guest vocals, but I do not like it so much.

KLF image source (Fresh on the Net)

Pyramid blaster image source (Wikipedia)

(features some of the appearance of Bill Drummond & Jimmy Cauty on the Late Late Show discussing their burning of a million pounds)


Andrew Farrell said...

Ricardo Da Force turned up on several N-Trance hits, including their storming version of Stayin' Alive - I should also check out D.I.S.C.O. and Paradise City - I might skip Da Ya Think I'm Sexy. He was very very recognisable on SA - sadly he died two years ago at 45.

ian said...

Farewell Ricardo Da Force. I still wonder where you get rappers from. Maybe this is covered in The Manual. Is there an agency that you ring up and say "I need a random rapper for this record, send one over"?