Saturday, April 13, 2019



The ObserverApril 7th 1991

by Simon Reynolds 

"We lurch a lot," says Bill Drummond of The KLF. "I've never followed a set path. There has only been this feeling of getting closer to something. A beckoning peak!"
Over the past four years, Drummond and his partner Jimmy Cauty have veered chaotically from mammoth success to dismal catastrophe, leaving a trail of half-completed projects and unrealised pipe dreams. Operating under a variety of cryptic names, they've been guided only by a loose philosophy that Drummond calls "zenarchy", based on improvisation, getting bored quickly, and moving on.
Drummond's active involvement in pop began in the late Seventies as guitarist in the Liverpudlian art-punk group Big In Japan, and a subsequent role as manager of Echo and The Bunnymen. Several years later, working as an A&R consultant for WEA Records, Drummond met a like mind in Cauty, and in 1987 the pair formed The Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu, taking the name from a mythical anarchist secret society.
Their first single 'All You Need Is Love' quickly became notorious for its barefaced samples of the Beatles and Sam Fox, and a subsequent LP was withdrawn following an injunction instigated by Abba, in reprisal for samples from their 'Dancing Queen'.
In the summer of 1988, the duo reached Number One as The Timelords with their novelty hit 'Doctor In The Tardis', an annoying hybrid of Gary Glitter and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, and documented the escapade in the book The Manual; How To Have A Number One The Easy Way.
Such stunts earned Drummond and Cauty the reputation of pranksters. For some they were heroic mischief-makers in the mould of Malcolm McLaren, for others merely an irritant in the gimmicky, self-publicising tradition of Jonathan King.
Drummond, now 37, sees it differently. "McLaren has a hunger for a public profile, whereas I think Jimmy and I shy away from that. We don't have a master plan, just impulses that we act upon. We've never set out to irritate but I know that we annoy people because we seem to be very knowing — simply because of all our experience in the business, we do know a lot more than a bunch of 19-year-olds who are completely instinctive and naive."
None the less, the duo rapidly grew sick of their reputation. "There was a point when we really only existed on the pages of the music papers. And we wanted out of it. We liked the idea of achieving something that had no irony and no reference points."
They drew inspiration from acid house and rave culture, which they found refreshing precisely because it was unmediated and unselfconscious. "The rave scene was a complete rejection of Eighties 'Style culture' mentality, which I always loathed because it was elitist and joyless. Acid house was all-embracing and inclusive, but like anything new, it quickly built up its own class structure and code. But then in 1989, when the big raves started along the orbital motorways, the scene opened up again."
Early in 1990, as The KLF, the duo released Chill Out, an album of beat-free "ambient house", designed as a soothing soundtrack to the crack-of-dawn come-down after all-night raves. Despite a record cover that spoofed Pink Floyd's Atom Heart Mother and samples that ranged from Fleetwood Mac's 'Albatross' to Acker Bilk, for many people Chill Out was the first time the duo had made music without having their tongue wedged in their collective cheek.
Towards the end of last year, The KLF had a huge hit with the manic techno-mantra 'What Time Is Love'. But any doubts that Drummond and Cauty were finally succeeding on their own musical merits were scotched in February when their '3AM Eternal' got to Number One, and their new album, The White Room, entered the Top Ten.
Despite their two Number One hits, The KLF are "perpetually broke", partly because they run their own record label and partly because of 'the never-ending saga' of their full-length movie The White Room. "We've spent £200,000 on it already, but we need £1.5 million to finish it," says Drummond ruefully. So they've released the soundtrack album first, and are waiting to "knock on doors to ask for money". In the meantime The KLF are determined to avoid a planned career. Says Drummond, "We prefer just to roam."

The KLF + Massive Attack

The New York Times, August 18th 1991

by Simon Reynolds

So volatile is the club scene that few artists have been able to make a career out of dance music, which is released mostly as singles. When dance groups do make an album, it usually consists of a few singles and a heap of filler.
But in the aftermath of Britain's "acid house" revolution — the psychedelic trance-dance music played on samplers, synthesizers and drum machines — a new breed of dance group has emerged, one that looks to the album format as an opportunity to explore its ideas. The last year has seen probing albums like 808 State's Ex:el, Bassomatic's Set the Controls for the Heart of the Bass and the Shamen's En-Tact.
Now Massive Attack's Blue Lines and the KLF's White Room suggest a breakthrough for dance music intended to be heard at home. They may even herald the return of the concept album, not seen in disco since the days of Earth, Wind and Fire. And after building a reputation in England — the KLF has had three hit singles, Massive Attack glowing reviews — the two groups are poised to conquer the United States.
Massive Attack's origins lie in an early 80's rap collective called the Wild Bunch, from Bristol, in England's West Country. The band's 1986 cover version of 'The Look of Love' is credited with influencing Soul II Soul's hybrid of funk, reggae and hip-hop. But because Massive Attack was slow to record its debut album, the group is regarded as a follower in Soul II Soul's shift toward a laid-back, contemplative dance sound. Blue Lines (Circa/Virgin America 2-91685; CD and cassette) takes this to the next phase.
Although Massive Attack uses house and hip-hop techniques like sampling, rapping and turntable-scratching, most of its songs are much slower than the club norm of 120 beats per minute; they range from about 90 beats per minute to a torpid 67. Dance records usually simulate the uproar of communal celebration, but Massive Attack's vibe is meditational rather than gregarious. The group has talked of its admiration for Pink Floyd, its desire to be considered primarily an album band and its reluctance to have its records categorized as dance music.
On the liner notes, Massive Attack pays tribute to the inspiration of such unlikely ancestors as the post-punk experimental group Public Image Limited, the jazz-rock cosmonauts the Mahavishnu Orchestra and fusioneers like Herbie Hancock. More predictably, Massive Attack cites Isaac Hayes, the pioneer of symphonic soul, and the legendary reggae production team Studio One.
Mr. Hayes's influence comes through on the epic 'Safe From Harm' and the mournfully sweeping, string-laden 'Unfinished Sympathy', both of which were hit singles in Britain. But Massive Attack's real originality lies in more tranquil tracks like 'One Love', with its mesmerizing clockwork rhythm and jazzy, electric-piano pulsations. The title track, 'Blue Lines', combines purring keyboards, a sleepwalking beat and a soft-spoken rap soliloquy that's far from the self-assertive bluster associated with hip-hop. As the rapper 3D declares, "No tension in my life/'Cause the way I deal is hazy."
On 'Daydreaming', 3D lets his mind drift on a stream of consciousness in which he refers to Robert De Niro and quotes from 'Fiddler on the Roof' and the Beatles, in between expounding an almost Zen Buddhist philosophy of sublime inertia. He talks of "living in my headphones," of floating like helium above the hyperactive "trouble and strife" of everyday life.
On the similarly mystical 'Hymn of the Big Wheel', Horace Andy's vocal is swathed in eddies of ethereal sound more appropriate to Brian Eno's production style than a dance record. Like the music of the cosmic rock groups that Massive Attack admires, its sound evokes interstellar imagery. But Blue Lines is really about being lost in inner space. This record is the dance-music equivalent of Miles Davis's Kind of Blue, a shift toward a more interior kind of music.
The KLF flirts with the cosmic and the conceptual, but in a less lofty, more tongue-in-cheek fashion than Massive Attack. In the video for the single '3 A.M. Eternal' (which recently appeared in the Billboard Top 10), the KLF. is garbed in ceremonial robes and moves in formation as though enacting a religious rite. On the album The White Room (Arista AR8657; CD and cassette), the group mythologizes itself as a nomadic cult of outsiders on a vague quest. The obsession with secret societies dates back to the band's earlier incarnations.
The KLF's core members, Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty, met in 1987 and formed a rap group called the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu (the Jamms), taking the name from a fictional anarchist organization said to have been fighting authority since the dawn of history. Later, they called themselves the Timelords, after another mysterious sect of warriors against evil, this time taken from the BBC's cult science fiction series Doctor Who.
As the Jamms and the Timelords, Mr. Drummond and Mr. Cauty were known principally as pranksters. Mr. Drummond described their philosophy as "zenarchy." Promoting their first single, 'All You Need Is Love', they daubed their logo on billboards throughout Central London. The Jamms' 1987 album had to be withdrawn after Abba, one of many groups sampled on the record, threatened legal action. As the Timelords, the duo scored a No. 1 hit in England with a novelty single called 'Doctorin' the Tardis'.
But Mr. Drummond and Mr. Cauty grew tired of their reputation as mischievous pop strategists. They decided that, in Mr. Drummond's words, "irony and reference points are the dark destroyers of great music." The duo longed to shed the British post-punk trait of having a master plan to, say, shock every grandmother in England. Inspired by the acid-house scene's lack of self-consciousness, they dedicated themselves to making serious trance-dance music. Renaming themselves the KLF. (it stands for the Kopyright Liberation Front, an allusion to their sampling problems), they recorded the febrile electro anthem 'What Time Is Love?'
Still, the group has never completely shed its playful side. Last year, it released Chill Out (Wax Trax 7155; all three formats), an album of "ambient house" — house music with the beat removed to leave a tranquilizing sound-bath for tired dancers. Aware of the album's affinity for the cosmic rock of the early 70's, they put a photograph of sheep grazing on the album cover — a reference to Pink Floyd's Atom Heart Mother. The joke is continued by another ambient group, the Orb, on its soon-to-be-released album Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld (Big Life/ Mercury 511034; CD and cassette), the cover of which spoofs Pink Floyd's Animals.
This year the KLF released The White Room, the soundtrack to its unfinished movie of the same title. On songs like 'Church of the KLF', the duo brings the mystical side of Britain's youth culture to consciousness. The song '3 A.M. Eternal' celebrates the feeling of having transcended time through spending a night in nonstop trance-dancing. Earlier this summer, the KLF. held a summer solstice party on the remote Scottish island of Jura, where the group and its guests dressed in yellow robes and burned a giant wicker man in imitation of a Celtic pagan ritual.
The KLF is simultaneously celebrating and mocking acid house's revival of the transcendental imagery of the hippie era. When the acid craze swept Britain in 1988, participants called it the "second summer of love." Album-oriented groups like Massive Attack and the KLF. suggest that the psychedelic dance revolution has now entered its progressive rock phase. So long as bands can avoid resurrecting the sterile monumentality and self-indulgence of groups like Yes and Emerson, Lake and Palmer, this is a promising development.

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