The KLF

TrackSingle / Album
Whitney Joins The JAMsJAMS 24
Kylie Said To JasonKLF 010
Madrugada EternaChill Out
What Time Is Love?KLF 004
3 A.M. EternalKLF 005
No More TearsThe White Room
Build A FireThe White Room
Last Train To TrancentralKLF 008
Justified And AncientKLF 99
America No MoreKLF USA 4

 

The KLF photo

The KLF – Jimmy Cauty & Bill Drummond

 

 

Contributor: Stuart Huggett

The 2017 return of Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty as The Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu marks the end of a 23 year period of silence over their infamous decision to burn one million pounds – reckoned at the time to be the remainder of their KLF royalties – in a boathouse on the Scottish island of Jura.

The JAMs’ unique path through music, art and film has twinned self-mythology and controversy from the very beginning, 30 years ago. This summer’s forthcoming three-day Liverpool event ‘Welcome To The Dark Ages’ coincides with the publication of their Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu “utopian costume drama” 2023: A Trilogy (Faber & Faber) and, from the few advance details available, looks set to add more layers to the mystery rather than explain it.

Before we get there, let’s pause and reflect on the music that brought Drummond and Cauty the money and notoriety that enabled the myth to grow. While their earlier releases as The Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu, The Timelords and Disco 2000 planted the seeds, it’s their global success as The KLF that brought the pair into the public eye. Sidelining the often told stories of the Illuminati, the money burning, the art world stunts and conspiracies that surround their work, it’s the music of those KLF records I’m focussing on here.

The Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu’s first single All You Need Is Love and subsequent album 1987: What The Fuck’s Going On? brought the duo instant notoriety in the music press, with their blatant samples of The Beatles, ABBA and others kicking off a storm of legal hassle. Among the confusion of that year, the fact that second single Whitney Joins The JAMs was their first release as The KLF has now been almost forgotten (virtually all online sources ascribe the minimally packaged 12″, understandably, to The JAMs).

While the sampling of Whitney’s I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me), Isaac Hayes’ Theme From Shaft and Lalo Schifrin’s Theme From Mission Impossible is upfront, Drummond’s broad vocals play second fiddle to tumbling house piano and the craftsmanship of the mix. They’d carry on messing around with Scottish rap and daredevil cut-and-paste for a while yet but their true path to the dancefloor was set here.

Their adventures throughout 1987 had made Drummond and Cauty cult figures, building up enough media interest and mash-up skills to break through onto Top Of The Pops the following spring with The Timelords’ Doctorin’ The Tardis, their first number one single. It’s a safe bet that this is where you, me and almost every later fan of The KLF first encountered them, with a track I first loved as a schoolkid, then loathed, then cautiously grew to love again. 1988 also brought two singles as The KLF: Burn The Bastards (also the final track from The Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu’s swansong album Who Killed The JAMs?) and, more importantly, that autumn’s release of What Time Is Love?.

In its original, instrumental rave anthem form, it was the first in a projected but soon abandoned Pure Trance series of 12″s. The second Pure Trance entry added vocals from Drummond and new singer Maxine Harvey for the beautiful after-hours song 3 A.M. Eternal. Neither track would be a hit just yet in these forms but The KLF took the 3 A.M. pop blueprint a stage further in 1989 with the heroic flop single Kylie Said To Jason.

With its soaring chorus, of-the-moment Pet Shop Boys aping production, lavish sleeve (“Free Colour Poster! Included”) and expensive video – revealed to be work-in-progress footage from their planned The White Room road movie – Kylie Said To Jason should have been a hit. Drummond and Cauty were back on TV and both sleeve and video prominently featured The Timelords’ American cop car Ford Timelord, for any pop fans failing to make the connection. Instead, that title and its tongue-in-cheek pop culture lyrics brought about the single’s failure, with radio stations steering clear of giving it airplay for fear of confusing their Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan loving listenership.

Sinking like a stone on release, it would be years later, with The KLF’s chart career back under full steam, that I came across it again on Beechwood Music’s Indie Top Video Take III VHS and realised just how great it was, the missing link between the dream logic of Left To My Own Devices and the playfulness of Ed Ball’s peak, cusp of the 90s output with The Times. But Ed Ball never had a hit either.

The incomplete White Room film was abandoned, as was its completed soundtrack album (long-available on cassette-sourced bootleg – initially on those day-glo tape stalls you’d once find at Camden Market, now findable online – it truly is a great lost pop record). But, for the tiny number of fans who might have picked it up on CD single, Kylie Said To Jason held the kernel of The KLF’s next great step, in the form of shimmering ambient piece Madrugada Eterna.

Soaked in pedal steel from The Triffids’ Graham Lee (who’d accompanied Drummond on his 1986 country music LP for Creation, The Man), the languid Madrugada Eterna resurfaced in the breaking months of the new decade as the central track on The KLF’s influential Chill Out. Drawing on elements from early versions of 3 A.M. Eternal and the gorgeous, still unreleased Go To Sleep, as well as long samples from Elvis Presley’s In The Ghetto, Fleetwood Mac’s Albatross and Acker Bilk’s Stranger On The Shore, Chill Out is arguably The KLF’s most conceptually perfect achievement. Along with Cauty’s swiftly released solo LP follow-up Space, it was a stoner classic.

It would be KLF collaborators The Orb who would pursue the ambient dream to greater acclaim as the 90s unfolded, while the melody from a past life that would pull Drummond and Cauty onwards turned out to be those crashing rave chords from What Time Is Love?. The track had been remixed, bootlegged and covered numerous times since its late ’88 appearance (enough to sustain an album of Euro versions, The What Time Is Love Story, compiled by The Orb’s Alex Paterson) and finally reached critical mass with the ‘Live At Trancentral’ single mix.

The first in a two-year run of inescapable KLF hits, What Time Is Love? climbed to number five, throwing Drummond and Cauty – plus guest MC Bello B of Outlaw Posse – back onto Top Of The Pops for the first time since Doctorin’ The Tardis. More so than the pages of the weekly music press or the broadsheet think pieces, even more so than daytime Radio 1 play, Top Of The Pops was The KLF’s natural home, the one place where they would excel every Thursday evening they appeared.

Changing tack slightly to embrace the Sheffield bleep sound, a ‘Live At The S.S.L.’ mix of 3 A.M. Eternal took The KLF back to number one in January ˈ91, rapper Ricardo Da Force replacing MC Bello while Maxine Harvey’s original vocals were cut back and Drummond’s lines excised. Balancing their peaking commercial appeal, key musical collaborator Tony Thorpe of The Moody Boys was given increasingly free reign over the remixes (he’d been on board ever since Kylie Said To Jason), producing heavy, reggae influenced bass tracks that underlined The KLF’s club credentials.

A completely reworked version of The White Room album followed in the spring. Beyond the two recent hits, it is an unexpectedly downtempo affair, certainly compared to its sprightly but shelved first incarnation. Paired with the pummelling Make It Rain on a pre-release promo 12″, No More Tears stretches out for over nine minutes, a dubbed out track with sampled trumpet lines from King Tubby, mournful vocals from Maxine Harvey and scat singing from multi-instrumentalist reggae artist Black Steel.

Build A Fire is another highlight, a revelation – or a disappointment – to those fans who came to The White Room off the back of the singles. Narrated by Drummond and with vocals from Harvey, what had once been a pretty urgent track had now been overtaken by the spirit of concurrent cultural phenomenon Twin Peaks, a beat-less mix foregrounding Graham Lee’s pedal steel over a sparse bassline filched from Julee Cruise’s Falling.

On The White Room, Last Train To Trancentral (a track that had its roots in the unreleased Go To Sleep and had done the rounds previously as an ultra-ambient 12″ in the run up to Chill Out) was a mid-tempo track held together by laid back lines from Ricardo Da Force and Black Steel. As their swiftly released next single ‘Live From The Lost Continent’ it was the grandest KLF statement to date, piling on the guest vocals and Cauty’s signature rave-metal riffs. ‘The Stadium House Trilogy Part III’ claimed the sleeve, indicating the closing of a chapter. Indeed, the next release from Drummond and Cauty was the less-commercial but again inevitable Top 10 single It’s Grim Up North, an unparalleled, relentless Northern rave hymn under the revived Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu name.

The next KLF move was even more audacious, roping in Tammy Wynette for a complete overhaul of album closer Justified And Ancient, with a wah wah guitar hook cunningly replaying the intro to Jimi Hendrix’s Voodoo Chile (previously chopped into breezeblock heavy beats on the ‘Techno Gate’ B-side mix of What Time Is Love?). Beaming in by satellite from the USA for the song’s Top Of The Pops performance, Wynette seemed delightfully bemused while The KLF swayed about in giant vanilla cornet suits fashioned by the Spitting Image team, surrounded by singers and dancers. It would be their last performance on the show but what a way to go.

As 1992 dawned, the British release of America: What Time Is Love? (already several months old in the States) seemed like treading water, despite the presence of Deep Purple’s Glenn Hughes as “The Voice Of Rock” and supercharged metal guitars replacing the familiar synth riff. For what would turn out to be The KLF’s final release, it was the B-side that made it all worthwhile, the devastating anti-war collage America No More.

A year previously, 3 A.M. Eternal had been one of many songs edited by a nervous BBC for sensitive Gulf War content, losing its opening “This is Radio Freedom” gunfire. America No More now served as a lament and an epitaph for casualties on all sides of the conflict, samples of George Bush speeches and anti-war protestors mixed with helicopters, a weeping guitar, explosions, a pipe band playing Amazing Grace-esque and excessively loud missile noises shooting across the stereo picture.

Where The KLF had always had a social conscience (on JAMs singles like All You Need Is Love and Down Town), their sampling had been playful but here it was deadly serious. Following their shocking Extreme Noise Terror aided self-destruction at the 1992 BRIT Awards, Drummond and Cauty would only break musical cover with the release of further anti-war tracks, at least until the ill-advised Fuck The Millennium single as 2K, a comeback Acid Brass version of What Time Is Love? that failed commercially and artistically (although, as someone who attended 2K’s one-off 23 minute gig at the Barbican, it was briefly a lot of fun). I couldn’t manage the £100 ticket and several days’ off work to make Liverpool this month, and might not have been able to handle any disappointment there, but nonetheless I’ll be following events online with my memories of their true Golden Age.

 

 

KLF-Communications – with extensive discography

KLF Online – fansite full of information

The Library of Mu – database of KLF press references

Watch The K Foundation Burn A Million Quid (Part 1)

Books by Bill Drummond

2023: A Trilogy by The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu

The KLF biography (iTunes)

Stuart Huggett cut his teeth writing fanzines and blogs and running tiny indie labels in Hastings, before moving to Brighton and fluking his way into an on-off career contributing to NME, The Quietus and more. His blog is here.

TopperPost #650

2 Comments

  1. David Lewis
    Aug 22, 2017

    The KLF’s burning of a million pounds was the most rock and roll act since Townshend smashed his guitar for the first time. I show the clip to my students, and it, as Bill said in an interview on Irish TV, provokes a range of response. I’ve had students angry at me for showing it, a range of ‘why didn’t they …?’ and a few cheer with delight.
    Justified and Ancient is one of the top 20 songs of all time, and I don’t know what type of demented genius says ‘let’s get Tammy Wynette to sing it’. But they did. And she’s brilliant.

  2. MrBelm
    Aug 22, 2017

    “Last Train to Trancentral” was the closing number in the Blue Man Group show for years, probably the first (and only) time most Americans heard it.

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