The History of the KLF.
Once upon a time there was a Scotsman called Bill Drummond. He'd managed Echo & The Bunnymen and The Teardrop Explodes, set up the record label Zoo, and been in the classic Liverpudlian group Big In Japan. When we meet him though he's left all this behind to work as an A & R man at Warner Records.
Whilst there he signs a band, Brilliant, who were anything but. Their guitarist was Jimmy Cauty, who after the group split formed The JAMs (The Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu), with our Mr Drummond. [Anyone wondering about The JAMs name should read Robert Anton Wilson's "Illuminus" trilogy, the answer to this and so much more lies within those pages.] Still under contract at Warners, Bill and Jimmy record under the names King Boy Hard (Drummond) and Rockman Rock (Cauty).
The first JAMs single was a sample packed version of The Beatles "All You Need Is Love", released on their own KLF Communications label. Next came the equally sample filled album "1987 (What The F**k's Going On?)". Sadly Abba objected to the fact that their song "Dancing Queen" had been used pretty much in it's entirety, and demanded that the album be recalled and destroyed along with any remaining copies. Realising that this was both costly and impossible Drummond (now called King Boy D) and Cauty, travelled to Sweden to try and persuade Abba to reconsider. They never got to meet them, and ended up burning the majority of the offending albums in a field, the rest (bar five copies) were tipped into the North Sea on the way home. These five were offerd for sale through the following months Face magazine at £1,000 each.
More singles followed including a 12" of "1987..." with gaps where the samples should be and a set of instructions explaining how to recreate the album. They also started to release singles under names such as Disco 2000 and The KLF (Kopyright Liberation Front). As The Timelords they had a number one with "Doctorin' The Tardis" (the title being a nod to Coldcut's earlier hit "Doctorin' The House"). The single was a mixture of Gary Glitter, Sweet and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop's Doctor Who theme all (according to our heroes) created by their car. The song, needless to say, was awful.
Instead of following this up with more of the same, they returned to their earlier KLF moniker and set about releasing five 12"s (the pure trance series), each limited to 2,000 copies . It all started well enough with "What Time Is Love?", however the next three, "Love Trance", "Turn Up The Strobe" and "The Lovers' Side / Go To Sleep (E-Train To Trancentral)" all failed to materialize despite the fact that sleeves had been pressed up. This was not the first time (there's an unreleased flexi called "Deep Shit" by The JAMs), and it wouldn't be the last time that records would disappear from schedules. After a compilation album of early JAMs stuff came "The Manual (How To Have A Number One The Easy Way)", essential reading for anyone who's ever wondered how the fickle world of pop works.
By now they had also started work on the legendary "White Room" film, which was originally going to be toured around the country with The KLF playing the soundtrack live. Like so much else it didn't quite work out that way. It cost £250,000, which after buying a studio (Trancentral), was all the profit from the Timelords single. To make matters worse they needed a further £1,000,000 to complete the film. After the dire "Uptight (Everything's Alright)" single by Disco 2000, came "3 A.M. Eternal" the only other 12" of the pure trance series to see the light of day.
In order to finish the "White Room" film The KLF planned a soundtrack album of the same name, which would consist of the purest pop music, the exact opposite of their recent output. "Kylie Said To Jason" was the lead single off of the album, it would go to number one, as would the album, and the film would be finished, or at least that was the plan. This is one of my favourite singles of all time, but it never even dented the top 100. The plan wasn't quite working out.
Shelving the whole idea of the film and album, The KLF planned but didn't release "Deep Shit Part 3" and a christmas single "No More Tears", then changed direction again. "Chill Out" will one day be recognised for what it is, the perfect comedown album, a beautiful record and by far the best album The KLF ever made, and one they describe as ambient house. Jimmy by now was working with Alex Patterson in The Orb (he's on the first few singles and the first Peel session) and on another project called Space, which eventually came out with only Jimmy's contribution on it as "Space". It's actually pretty good, but not a patch on "Chill Out".
Next up was an ambient mix of the unreleased "Go To Sleep", retitled "Last Train To Trancentral". Now everything was beginning to fall into place, change was just around the corner, as was huge success. The Stadium House Trilogy began with a radical overhaul of "What Time Is Love?", which reached number 5 in the charts. How do you follow this up?
With a 42 minute ambient video called "Waiting" of course. Filmed on an eight day visit to the Isle of Jura, "Waiting" is a mish mash of images of Bill and Jimmy playing music to no one but the sea and all the little animals. It was around this time The KLF dj'd at the DMC convention in Amsterdam, towards the end of their 23 minute version of "What Time Is Love?" a bearded Drummond decided to give away the Technics decks and mixer to the crowd, much to the disgust of the Paradiso Club who owned them.
Drummond and Cauty scored their second number one with a new version of "3 A.M. Eternal". Things were looking up. Next to that most ambient of buildings Battersea power station, stood a huge Sunday Times billboard proclaiming "THE GULF. The coverage, the analysis, the facts". It was too good an opportunity to miss, and so like two naughty middle aged schoolboys they painted over the GU of GULF with a K, so it read "THE KLF. The coverage...". Genius.
After this came a re-recorded version of the "White Room" album, containing the previous two singles and a new version of "Last Train To Trancentral", which was to be the last single from the album. The Stadium House Trilogy was released on video, and very good it was too. After another jaunt to the Isle of Jura (this time with a handful of invited media types), during the summer solstice to burn a 60 foot tall wicker man, came the resurrection of The JAMs. "It's Grim Up North" was to become the last and biggest JAMs single.
For their shot at the holy grail of chart placings (the Christmas number one for those who don't know), The KLF were joined by the first lady of country, Miss Tammy Wynette. Only the death of Freddie Mercury prevented them from reaching their goal. The re-released "Bohemian Rhapsody" kept "Justified And Ancient (Stand By The Jams)" at number two. Things would never be this good again.
The KLF were asked to appear on the christmas edition of Top Of The Pops. They said they would only perform a version of "3 A.M. Eternal" with the thrash metal band Extreme Noise Terror. For some reason Top Of The Pops didn't think this was such a good idea, and said no thanks. So The KLF pressed up 1,000 copies of the song which were then sold for £2 each via mail order.
The 1992 Brit Awards organisers also asked The KLF to appear, and were told the same thing. This time though the organisers said yes. Taking the stage propped up by a crutch and dressed in a kilt, Bill announced "The Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu versus Extreme Noise Terror, this is television freedom". The band launched into an awful thrash version of "3 A.M. Eternal" with Bill rapping and laughing and Jimmy face covered by hair and a hood banging away at his guitar. Just before the song ends Bill exited the stage to return with a machine gun with which he fired into the crowd (sadly they were only blanks). As they all stumble backstage a voice booms "The KLF have now left the music industry". Later that evening a dead sheep was left on the steps of the building where the after show party was being held. Attached to it was a note which read: "I died for ewe".
The duo's seventh and last top ten single was "America: What Time Is Love?"; yup you've guessed it, yet another version of that song, only this time with darker heavy guitar riffing all over it. The "Black Room" album was due out in four months. Everything seemed fine, then something really strange happened.
On the back cover of N.M.E. dated 16th May 1992 was an advert announcing the retirement of "The Timelords, The JAMs, The KLF & any other past, present & future name". Everything was deleted and Drummond and Cauty quit while still on top. The perfect pop moment.
Or at least it would have been if they could have just stayed away from the music business.
Sunday night at The Reading Festival 1993, the last band has left the stage. From the speakers the song "K. Cera Cera (War Is Over If You Want It)" as sung by The Red Army Choir is played. It's crap and it will only be released after world peace has been achieved. Three months later the single is given a limited release in Israel. This is the first of many such schemes from the K Foundation Bill and Jimmy's latest project. Other stunts included burning £1,000,000 (it's true - they even made a film about it), nailing money to boards in the middle of woods, and running an alternative to the Turner prize in which they gave £40,000 (double the Turner prize amount), to the worst artist of the year. Rachel Whiteread won both awards and went home £60,000 richer.
All of this was good enough but we need music, and on the 1995 charity album "Help" that's exactly what we got. Under the name The One World Orchestra (Featuring The Massed Pipes And Drums Of The Children's Free Revolutionary Volunteer Guards), Bill and Jimmy released "The Magnificent". 133 seconds long, and each one of them proving that they could still pull it off.
Their last collaboration was yet another version of "What Time Is Love?" this time called "F**k The Millennium" and credited to 2K. There was a one-off live performance at London's Barbican Centre, which was amusing enough. Plans as K2 Plant Hire to build a 150 feet tall pyramid out of 87 million bricks, seem to have come to nothing.
Drummond and Cauty, they had the best tunes, the best outfits, the best videos and the best ideas of any pop band during the nineties. And now, well I hope they are still releasing perfect songs under different names and having huge hits, and that KLF fans know nothing about it.
That would be the perfect ending.
(c) G.Fowles, 2000. (http://www.isthismusic.com/klf.html).
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