The KLF

One day in 1987, in amongst the UK spring, a couple of mysteriosos named “King Boy D” and “Rockman Rock” dropped All You Need Is Love on an unsuspecting music scene. A joyously reckless chop-cut of sampling everyone from The Beatles, MC5 and English titty-model-cum-pop-starlet Samantha Fox with King Boy D rhyming a mad web of chaotic ’80s intrigue about AIDS, relentless shagging and the apocalypse; a Scottish version of Ad Rock fast-referencing the Illuminatus! trilogy without pause for breath.

That summer their debut album 1987 (What the Fuck Is Going On?) was released, filled with illegal and remorseless sampling, which excited the music press and inspired sample-fevered UK acts Bomb The Bass and Pop Will Eat Itself amongst many others. One song The Queen and I excited the legal team of ABBA in the wrong way, due to it’s liberal sound-biting of their single Dancing Queen. Now outed as music industry as music industry veterans Bill Drummond (King Boy D) and Jimmy Cauty (Rockman Rock), they found their new release forced off the shelves by legal action. An attempt to negotiate with ABBA in Sweden failed to go anywhere, so Bill and Jimmy burnt the many copies of 1987 they had with them, dumping the rest overboard on the ferry trip back to the British Isles. This was both the beginning and the shape of things to come, every album destined to meet its own kind of Eschaton.

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 That following summer, MDMA was in full swing across the nation and everyone knew what the fuck was going on. Especially Bill and Jimmy. They were now destined to rule the music charts worldwide. Resurging as “Time Boy” and “Lord Rock” a.k.a The Time Lords, they unleashed Doctorin’ the Tardis which utilised the British sci-fi icon Doctor Who as its muse. Drummond admitted the “lowest common denominator” element of the single, which naturally rewarded it with #1 status in the UK and NZ, plus top 10 status in Australia and Norway.

No favour was found in the music press for a deliberate chunk of trash like this, however fun it might have been, but Time Boy and Lord Rock now had the financial fuel to power up to the next level of chart dominance. The following year they published The Manual (How to Have a Number One the Easy Way) which contains the bold proclamation: “WE GUARANTEE THAT WE WILL REFUND THE COMPLETE PRICE OF THIS MANUAL IF YOU ARE UNABLE TO ACHIEVE A NUMBER ONE SINGLE IN THE OFFICIAL (GALLUP) U.K. CHARTS WITHIN THREE MONTHS OF THE PURCHASE OF THIS MANUAL AND ON CONDITION THAT YOU HAVE FULFILLED OUR INSTRUCTIONS TO THE LETTER.”

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With ’88 showering the kids of the day in ecstasy, Cauty and Drummond labelled themselves the KLF and sought to be an experience of that new & momentous dance music ethos. ‘Pure Trance’ prototypes of 3am Eternal and What Time Is Love?, pressed to vinyl, found their ways to Technics decks of DJs throughout the land and offshore with acclaim steadily building. Ever the Situationists, they threw £1 notes to the partygoers at a rave in Oxfordshire with “Children, we love you” written on each one.

At this time Cauty was collaborating with Alex Paterson as The Orb, evolving a new sound of”ambient house” as an alternative aural immersion to the relentless kick of four-to-the-floor club music. Soon attracting full rooms at each monthly Land Of Oz party in London, another branch had grown on the tree of UK electronic music and The Orb released A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules from the Centre of the Ultraworld the following year and the 22 minute astral-coaster for all drugs/occasions found its way to #78 on the UK charts.

By 1990 an album deal was offered to The Orb. Cauty had wanted The Orb to release via KLF Communications, but Paterson feared the ambient wonder child would become a mere adjunct of The KLF. Thus music history was created: Paterson left Cauty taking The Orb name with him and ascending the beam of light of the ambient house sound, whilst Cauty surgeoned out Patersons contributions to a number of live sessions and items recorded at his studio ‘Trancentral’ which then became The KLF’s first album Chill Out.

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During the time leading up to the release of Chill Out, the KLF had been burning through their Timelords riches with an attempt at creating an ambient road movie called The White Room. It found no formal release, but the soundtrack contained the raw elements which subsequently went into Chill Out. A change of tack and adherence to the doctrine in The Manual was demanded. A new sound called “Stadium House” was the answer. The Stadium House Trilogy was the medium. Chart glory was again the result. What Time Is Love? and then 3AM Eternal were mutated into inescapable crowd-pleasers, thus proving the perfection of the formula. The top spots were again theirs. The White Room (the album) was released in 1991 and still hardly anybody really knew, or cared, who Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty really were…..there was only the music. And the money.

Before the year ended they reworked Justified and Ancient from The White Room album and bewilderingly included US country music superstar Tammy Wynette as the lead vocalist. All in amongst this, the persistent music video themes of mysticism, the lost continent of Mu, trans-cultural priestesses and priests and shamans dancing on pyramids were pumping unexpected & unprecedented levels of counter-cultural memes into the cortices of pop consumers worldwide. The release of America: What Time Is Love? showed their blatant willingness to employ the use of repetition in their sounds, as proof that repetition does indeed work, but now also taking interesting risks by involving former Deep Purple vocalist Glenn Hughes. The music video also presents an accurate (to me) telling of how Vikings discovered North America a millennium ago.

In amongst all this the art aspect of the KLF continued, almost deliberately hidden. Limited releases of The White Room ambient road trip movie were deployed to VHS, as was recording of Waiting for the Rights of Mu which contains the three-quarters-of-an-hour soundscape Waiting and the ambienbt spoken word Rites of Mu. The half hour version Rites of Mu is narrated by Martin Sheen channeling a post- Vietnam Captain Willard, now an enlightened solider of the unknown on one final whiskey bender into the lost gates of esoteric mystery.

A video version was also available as a nugget of insight as to what the KLF supposed themselves to be up to, albeit with a different narrator. The video documents a mock pagan ritual, where the KLF invited music journalists to the island of Jura off the coast to Scotland to partake in burning of a wicker man during the summer solstice of 1991.

1992 was to mean the end of the KLF. And it was deliberate. Invited to perform at the BRIT awards in front of the collected luminaries of the UK music industry, KLF invited grindcore act Extreme Noise Terror to perform with them. The result was a complete, unrelenting murder of landmark single 3AM Eternal culminating in Drummond firing an M16 loaded with blanks at the audience at the conclusion of the song. Drummond had introduced the song with “THIS is television freedom!” after all.

KLF left the stage and left the music business. In deleting the KLF back-catalogue from existence, The K Foundation was then born.

In the years following, The K Foundation endeavored to spend their KLF fortunes on art subversion and counter-media campaigns. This ascended into the artwork Nailed To A Wall, where £1,000,000 was hammered into a framed board. No gallery seemed willing to exhibit it. So on 23rd August 1994, the KLF returned to Jura and filmed the destruction by burning of £1,000,000.

After exhibiting the film and answering questions after each screening, the K Foundation was wound up in 1995. According the legend set by Drummond and Cauty themselves, a contract was signed on the bonnet of a rented card by the both of them agreeing a moratorium on K Foundation activities for 23 years. The car was then said to have been pushed off a cliff.

Like Grant Morrison and Alan Moore in 2000AD, these guys help to seed a counter-culture-to-be in the generation now risen. The UK’s “hidden reverse” in plain sight. Roll on 2018.

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