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The KLF - weirdest story in pop history?

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The KLF - weirdest story in pop history?

Old 09-10-13, 09:47 AM
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The KLF - weirdest story in pop history?

A career of fits and starts, controversial singles, bizarrely constructed albums and disgusting stunts. With an enormously prolific, almost uniformly excellent catalog, they became the biggest selling band in Britain in the late eighties and early ninties. They were either the greatest acid house band of all time or a subversive joke that accidentally made great music. They had an elaborate mythology based on German cults, numerology, anarchism and... sheep. They took nothing seriously, either worked for 96 hours straight or not at all, swung wildly between musical styles their entire career and had amazing live shows that treated the audience with equal amounts of contempt and respect. They generally acted more like satirical modern artists than pop musicians. This band has been fascinating to me for decades.

The KLF was two guys, Bill Drummond and Jim Cauty. Drummond was a major player in 80s British rock as the manager of Echo and the Bunnymen, head of A&R at WEA and founder of Zoo Records. He was also clearly a bit unstable. In 1986, he met Jim Cauty, a young rock musician who knew a bit about electronic production and decided to throw his career away. He quit all of his jobs, made an excellent solo album and then completely lost his mind. Some facts of their career:

1. The first "band" was the insanely-named Justified Ancients of Mu Mu and their first album was "1987 (What The Fuck Is Going On)". Made entirely on an Apple II and an 808, it's a seminal electronic album built on uncleared samples of Beatles, Monkees and ABBA. The album is fantastic if almost impossible to find. Upon release, they were immediately sued by ABBA. Deciding to turn this into a publicity stunt, they filmed themselves traveling to Sweden to try and work things out directly. Inevitably when they were unsuccessful, they ended up burning every copy of the album in a Swedish field.

2. In 1988, they recorded a single as The Timelords called "Doctorin' the Tardis" with Dalek-style vocals based on a sample of "Rock n' Roll Part 2". The single was meant to be a satire. It was meant to be completely awful. A joke. Of course, it immediately went to number one in Britain. They then released a satirical book about how to make a number one hit record.

3. In 1989 and 1990, they became huge. They released a series of singles as The KLF, almost all of which were top ten hits in Europe and Britain. They sold out stadiums. They produced the Pet Shop Boys and Depeche Mode. They tried and failed to make a movie. They threw thousands of dollars of cash into audiences.

4. Also in 1990, Cauty met Alex Patterson and recorded and released arguably the greatest ambient electronic album of all time: "Chill Out" and an amazing solo album called "Space" in a couple of months. Both were released as KLF albums, but both were arguably the first releases of Cauty's next project: The Orb. The Orb would go on to be the definitive ambient house band and release a string of classic albums.

5. By 1991, The KLF was the biggest band in Britain. They were on the cover of NME, were interviewed by The Times and were feted anywehere they went. They released "The White Room" in the US through Arista, their only release in this country. A combination of old singles (the famous "3AM Eternal" and "What Time is Love") leftovers from their failed movie and ambient house projects, the album is somehow a brilliant cohesive classic made totally accidentally to fulfill a contract. It's consistently voted one of the greatest British albums of all time.

5. In 1992, they teamed up with a terrible punk band called Extreme Noise Terror" and played a cartoonishly agressive, over-the-top abrasive crap-metal show at the Brit Awards. This was kind of like having Gwar show up at the Grammys. They sprayed machine gun blanks, swore on live TV, dumped a rotting sheep carcass at the afterparty and then announced that they were leaving the music business.

6. By 1993, the band had deleted their entire back catalog, burned a million pounds in cash in a strange publicity stunt and founded an award for the "worst artist". Drummond had a nervous breakdown and disappeared for years. Cauty continued on with The Orb and became even more famous. The band meant what they said though, they haven't released anything official since 1992 except for a soundtrack single. Their entire catalog (with the exception of the Arista-owned "The White Room") remains OOP.

How could a band this bipolar, this disorganized and this cuasticly satirical be so successful? Sweets-sounding British pop from The Smiths through The Pet Shop Boys through the Beautiful South through Belle and Sebastian has always had an undercurrent of nastyness and self-deprication. The KLF represented this trend in acid house. They were one of the best bands of their time but remain almost unknown in the US. Check them out if you haven't heard much of their stuff.
Old 09-10-13, 04:27 PM
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Re: The KLF - weirdest story in pop history?

Cool read. I love and have owned The White Room since it was first released. What's the best way to find more of their stuff? Never really thought about it until now.
Old 09-11-13, 08:50 AM
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Re: The KLF - weirdest story in pop history?

Originally Posted by Spiderbite View Post
Cool read. I love and have owned The White Room since it was first released. What's the best way to find more of their stuff? Never really thought about it until now.
You'll have to resort to "other means". It's really annoying to find their albums. Definitely check out "Chill Out", it's one of my favorite albums ever.
Old 09-13-13, 11:56 PM
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Re: The KLF - weirdest story in pop history?

You missed on their one shot single in 1997 as 2K called "Fuck the Millennium". Which is just a variation of "What Time Is Love?"

I liked "The White Room", but I prefer "The White Room Soundtrack" (an earlier version of that album) far more. I can't believe the song "The Lovers' Side" was dropped completely.
Old 09-14-13, 12:51 AM
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Re: The KLF - weirdest story in pop history?

A buddy of mine has a first printing of their "How To Make a Hit Record" book. It's one of his prized possessions.

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