Who: Bill Drummond, Jimmy Cauty.
Why: The giant scars left from the KLF’s assault on the UK’s homogenised musical landscape throughout the late Eighties and early Nineties are still felt today. Bill Drummond played in Liverpudlian punks Big In Japan with Holly Johnson from Frankie Goes To Hollywood, before going to manage Echo & The Bunnymen and The Teardrop Explodes. But rather than be content with indie infamy, he decided his new interests in post-modern anarchy and hip-hop could be used to combat the glut of tepid guitar music that was filling up Britain as the decade waned. With Jimmy Cauty (whose only real notable musical activity beforehand was playing in the abortive Brilliant with Youth from Killing Joke) he set out to change British music forever with a bundle of samples, sequencers and a whole library of esoteric symbolism and reference.
The duo’s first incarnation was as The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, whose debut single ‘All You Need Is Love’ was critically fawned over, despite it being rife with illegal sampling. After some success with this project and somehow calculatedly getting to Number One in the UK with ‘Doctorin’ The Tardis’ – a mash-up of the Doctor Who theme with Gary Glitter – they morphed into their final musical incarnation, The KLF, or Kopyright Liberation Front. Before they did this they wrote a guide on how to replicate their success, (‘The Manual (How to Have a Number One the Easy Way)’) which has proved an inspiration to Klaxons among others. Between 1988 and 1989, the hip-hop orientation of their early work dissipated as acid house Oberheim OB-8’s began to underpin their ecstasy buzzing 12”s. The Nineties brought them stardom, as they began to produce an astounding run of singles combining ‘stadium house’ with samples of crowds, glittering synth riffs and guest vocals and raps from a variety of artists.
1990’s Chill Out remains a seminal dance album, practically inventing ambient house, while a year later The White Room would come to exemplify their creative peak. Simultaneously the apex of acid house at its most populist and a Warholian re-imagining of modern dance music, it remains a stunning conglomeration of soul wailing, hip-hop verses and euphoric, atmospheric effects. This sort of pop/art success was always going to burn out quickly, but the demise of the KLF turned them to myth. The duo had always been almost as famous for their art-pranks as they were for their music; promoting with graffiti, ruining the 1993 Turner Prizegiving, and notoriously burning one million pounds sterling. But their exit from the music industry was legendary, re-imagining their classic ‘3AM Eternal’ at the Brit Awards with crust punks Extreme Noise Terror to a terrified audience of smug arseholes before firing blanks at them from a machine gun. They also dumped a dead sheep at an after-show party. Charming. It’s almost two decades since the KLF first blew our minds, and it’s taken that long for the world to even begin to decipher their tangled web of symbolism and the seismic impact of their music.
Influences: Brian Eno, Pink Floyd, Pet Shop Boys, Public Enemy, Psychic TV.
Influenced: Orbital, Leftfield, Lords of Acid, Klaxons, Blue Man Group.
Sample Lyric: ‘They’re justified and they’re ancient / And they know what time is love’
Which Record: The White Room (KLF Communications, 1991)