KLF: Tales From The
John McCready, The Face, 1990
SINISTER. That's the word. The KLF are sinister. With their pervy mail-order black-hooded packamacks, their propaganda and their perfect assimilation of rave culture they are corrupting a Quadrant generation of pop kids brought up on Lucozade and Technotronic.
Questions will soon be asked in the house. The KLF are the kind of group, or should I say organisation, that encourages post-E youth to play their records backwards in the search for hidden meanings. I took a copy of 'What Time Is Love' and slowly wound it backwards. This is what it said: "People think we plan everything. We just get up in the morning and these things happen. People expect us to be arty. We are not pop situationists. We don't have the foresight or the intelligence. The KLF is two people having a laugh. The legend of The KLF is created by journalists who let their imagination run away with them."
Bill Drummond is a reasonable man. He does not want to eat your children though he wouldn't mind if they bought his records so he can continue to eat. The last lines of the paragraph above are some of the things Bill said to me in explanation of the most interesting pop phenomenon of the last decade. The KLF are the bridge that crosses the gap from Techno to Technotronic, from Smash Hits to the most garbled piece of semantic nonsense the pop swots can come up with. I come in with the same preconceptions as most. In order to have achieved this feat, there must surely have been some premeditation. Bill just laughs. Perhaps I've just caught him on the right day. I ask him for the meaning behind calling the KLF studio ‘Transcentral’, expecting a theory. Today isn't the day for theories. "If I was feeling in a pretentious mood, I'd say it was a state of mind. Today I'll just say it's anywhere with a mixing desk that we happen to be working in." Jimmy Cauty, the other half of the Pet Shop Boys From Hell, takes a similar line. I ask him about the gothic kagouls that help create such a striking and meaningful image. "I was just driving past a camping shop one day and I saw them in the window and I thought, they'd look good on Top of the Pops."
Jimmy and Bill (or King Boy D and Rockman Rock if you were reading this in one of those articles where the writer willingly swallows the bait) don't do this kind of thing all the time. They have had enough hit singles to justify what press officers call a selective approach. And as polite as they are; it's clear that, like most sane people, the last thing they need to do on Saturday afternoon is have their motives examined by another one of those pretentious gits with more theories than braincells. The reason is a new LP called The White Room.
The White Room is not all you might presume or expect. Those buying it expecting a rave soundtrack complete with air horns and crowd noises will be partially disappointed. Those with an appetite for strangeness and thinly veiled irony will have the best 45 minutes of their lives. Try the reggae track, the techno and western, or just enjoy the way the whole thing melts together like a story that has no meaning, no middle, no beginning and no end. The White Room was initially put together as the soundtrack to an unfinished movie that has so far cost £250,000. Stephen Spielberg spends that on catering, I know, but bear in mind that this is a humble pop group. The KLF like spending money. With a number one single across the world in The Timelords' 'Doctoring The Tardis' they are still trying to avoid nasty letters from their bank manager. "Whatever we make, we spend," says Jimmy. Still in the red, they are currently planning to buy a submarine.
So just who are these sterling kamikaze pilots who seem at times to do all they can to be as uncommercial as they can and always end up as the most likely pictures on the walls of sussed 15 year old across the land. Perhaps it has more than a little to do with the fact that both Jimmy and Bill are in their mid-thirties and have seen quite a bit of action on the pop battle front. The irony of the fact that they are the rave heroes that have pushed the likes of Adamski to the back of the pack doesn't escape them. Call them Thirtysomething if you like. They just laugh. Chances are they'll probably make a slogan out of it and you won't get paid. Bill has a history as long as your arm. Perhaps surprisingly, he has none of the cynicism you might associate with someone who has managed Echo and the Bunnymen, worked as an A & R man for WEA records and hung around recording studios for longer than he cares to remember. Bill was a carpenter when he saw The Clash at Eric's club in Liverpool. Inspired by the punk ethic he helped form Big In Japan. Big In Japan also gave the world Holly Johnson. He also set up Zoo Records in Liverpool. Zoo was the post punk independent label bringing Echo and The Bunnymen and The Teardrop Explodes to the fore. Now you can see where the rock dynamics in a track like 'What Time is Love?' come in. Jimmy used to play guitar in Brilliant, an ill-fated rock dance experiment that Bill had helped sign to WEA. Now I don't need to tell you how they met. Bill mustn't have liked Jimmy when he first met him. He put him in the studio for two years with Stock, Aitken, Waterman. Jimmy looks on it as a character building experience. "In a way I have a lot of respect for them. They were sampling everything that moved before most people had even thought about it. I learnt a lot from them. They can make any kind of music. They could make really underground records if they wanted to."
‘All You Need Is Love’ was the first thing they attempted together. It was seen as a one off at the time, though working together seemed like a good idea, things having gone so well. Inspired by hip hop and hating everything that had gone before, they threw together The Jamms’ What The Fuck Is Going On LP. "Hip Hop was so inspiring then," says Bill. "At the time I was getting really pissed off with the way the whole history of music, from Marvin Gaye and James Brown to the present day was treated so reverentially. Hip Hop seemed to tear right through that. Looking back now it all seems incredibly crude and so badly recorded. Neither of us were DJs. We didn't know what the hell we were doing so it came out in a very British punk, white, ungroovy kind of way."
With the emergence of House from Chicago and Techno from Detroit, The KLF were unlearning fast, about sounds and drum programming. To the new black music of America they brought rock drama and a visual sense that started people believing they spent more time planning the way things looked than they did making music. "A lot of the time people see us as a couple of scamsters, I'm sure," says Bill. "Sometimes I wish we were. Life might be easier. Then we wouldn't be in the studio every day of the week worrying about edits and the like." The KLF record almost constantly. Currently they are working on a hardcore UK techno LP to be called The Black Room and a complete remake of a track from the LP called 'Last Train to Transcentral'. When they are not recording they spend most of their time dreaming up stupid ideas about buying KLF submarines and helicopters. Just a couple of ordinary loons having the kind of conversation you can overhear in most pubs on any Friday night. "The difference with us," says Jimmy, "is that we can sometimes make these things happen. It's frightening really. The more money we make the more stupid we get. You see, we have no manager and no record company so there's really nothing to stop us." In the video for the next single an 808 State submarine and a KLF submarine will battle it out off the coast of Britain. Next year it could be happening for real. "Well, it's either that or buy a couple of houses," says Bill.
© John McCready, 1990
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