The KLF

The KLF's album The White Room came out 25 years ago this week, and it is fucking awful. Really, it's just a deplorable house/disco mess and I hate every track.

The KLF themselves, however, are absolute geniuses and I truly admire their commitment. First they published a book in 1988, The Manual (How to Have a Number One the Easy Way):

WE GUARANTEE THAT WE WILL REFUND THE COMPLETE PRICE OF THIS MANUAL IF YOU ARE UNABLE TO ACHIEVE A NUMBER ONE SINGLE IN THE OFFICIAL (GALLUP) U.K. CHARTS WITHIN THREE MONTHS OF THE PURCHASE OF THIS MANUAL AND ON CONDITION THAT YOU HAVE FULFILLED OUR INSTRUCTIONS TO THE LETTER. TO RECEIVE THIS GUARANTEE PLEASE WRITE TO KLF PUBLICATIONS, BOX 283, HP21 7HG, U.K. WITH YOUR NAME, ADDRESS AND A PHOTOCOPY OF YOUR PURCHASE RECEIPT AND AN S.A.E. YOU WlLL RECEIVE YOUR GUARANTEE WITHIN 28 DAYS. [...]

Firstly, you must be skint and on the dole. Anybody with a proper job or tied up with full time education will not have the time to devote to see it through. Also, being on the dole gives you a clearer perspective on how much of society is run. If you are already a musician stop playing your instrument. Even better, sell the junk. It will become clearer later on but just take our word for it for the time being. Sitting around tinkering with the Portastudio or musical gear (either ancient or modern) just complicates and distracts you from the main objective. Even worse than being a musician is being a musician in a band. Real bands never get to Number One -- unless they are puppets.

It's really pretty amazing. But then they followed their own instructions, and got a number one single later that year. And then they did it again in 1990. And all of this was wrapped up inside a whole lot of Robert Anton Wilson Illuminatus mythological nonsense.

(If you're like me, you might assume that the unrelenting awfulness of their music was, in fact, part of the joke.)

Then they retired in 1992 with a wonderful table-flip mic-drop:

The KLF and crust punk group Extreme Noise Terror performed a live version of "3 a.m. Eternal" at the BRIT Awards, the British Phonographic Industry's annual awards show; a "violently antagonistic performance" in front of "a stunned music-business audience". Drummond and Cauty had planned to throw buckets of sheep's blood over the audience, but were prevented from doing so due to opposition from BBC lawyers and "hardcore vegans" Extreme Noise Terror. The performance was instead garnished by a limping, kilted, cigar-chomping Drummond firing blanks from an automatic weapon over the heads of the crowd. As the band left the stage, The KLF's promoter and narrator Scott Piering announced over the PA system that "The KLF have now left the music business". Later in the evening the band dumped a dead sheep with the message "I died for you -- bon appetit" tied around its waist at the entrance to one of the post-ceremony parties.

Reactions were mixed.

And then in 1994 they withdrew the remaining £1M they had in the bank, and they set it on fire:

"If we had gone and spent the money on Rolls Royces and swimming pools, I don't think people would be upset. It's because we burnt it. [...] Seeing as you're talking about the charity angle: our burning that money doesn't mean there's any less loaves of bread in the world. Any less apples. Any less anything. The only thing there's less of, is a pile of paper."

"But there could have been a little more. More bread, more apples."

"No. We didn't burn any loaves of bread. We didn't burn any apples. Those loaves of bread still exist. There's nothing less in the world."

People rarely commit like these fellows did. Slow clap.


Previously, previously.

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23 Responses:

  1. Owen Jacobson says:

    What proportion envy and what proportion ambition? You run your clubs for an artistically uncapitalist purpose. For the furtherance of the arts. When they have served it, what then? What exit?

  2. Tim says:

    My favourite part of the burning story was where they counted it in front of the journalists who were witnessing the burning, made the journalists carry the money to the burning site, then counted it again before nailing it to a board and actually burning it.

    Naturally, it was by then a few thousand quid short...

    • Tim says:

      Sorry: I seem to have conflated the money burning with the K foundation art prize, which did allegedly end up 9000 quid short, according to one witness.

  3. Lloyd says:

    The White Room is beautiful, especially in how it can be looped endlessly and seamlessly. It's reflective to anthemic to chillout and back.

    The Trilogy is a pinnacle of pop video excellence and enthusiastic old school model effects. The submarine, the train, the flying car, the dancers, the flautist..

    Their collaborations were genius. Except, possibly, Gary Glitter.

    My regret is that kids these days have simply not heard of the KLF, who deleted their back catalogue. It's like not knowing of the Beatles, who are handily available on iTunes, while the original KLF are not. That's the wrong way around.

    The KLF's influence in shaping music is profound. Sampling, stadium house, media-manipulation sorcery and stunts.

    Fnord.

    • robert_ says:

      .. and there is, of course, their own ambient album called Chillout which you can listen to here. They were thought to have kicked off the ambient movement in the UK with this though [citation needed].

    • Jonathan says:

      > It's like not knowing of the Beatles, who are handily available on iTunes

      Well, they are now. But they weren't from the founding of iTunes in 2001 until 2010, and I don't think that's made a significant impact on how well known by kids. There seems to be no shortage of KLF stuff on Youtube.

  4. you might assume that the unrelenting awfulness of their music was, in fact, part of the joke.

    Now, I actually like "The White Room", but I'll definitely cop that the existence of Doctorin' the TARDIS is strong evidence in favor of your position.

  5. Blowbackdoll says:

    Good day jamie zawinski.

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    • Rakshasa says:

      Are you seriously this incompetent, or is your post buried under so many layers of nested irony that there's no way anyone's figuring you out?

  6. Patrick Berry says:

    November 2018 will mark the end of the 23 year moratorium of the K Foundation. Neat.

  7. s001iby@wright.edu says:

    "1994" me is aghast--[i]aghast[/i]--that "the dude with the flop hairdo from the lemacs about screen doesn't like [i]The White Room[/i].

    But then, "2016" me is aghast that "the dude from Xscreensaver likes [i]Grimes[/i]."

    I refuse to be the villain, here. I'm going to go listen to Tuvan throat singing and feel like an [i]aesthete[/i].

  8. jonesmatthewtyler says:

    Chumbawumba, an equally awful band, used The Manual to write "Tubthumping". Someone is reading a copy in the liner notes.

    • CdrJameson says:

      Equally awful in that they're both ace, of course.

      Edelweiss are reputed to have had a (s)hit single by following the manual, but they actually were dreadful.

      Oh, and don't forget that one KLF spin off was a Plant Hire company.

  9. Kyzer says:

    From The Manual:

    In this day and age no song with a BPM over 135 will ever have a chance of getting to Number One. The vast majority of regular club goers will not be able to dance to it and still look cool. The vast majority of indie bands, however large their cult following is, who play what various music journalists often describe as “perfect, classic pop” will never see the inside of the Top Five for one reason alone: they perform all their songs above the 135 BPM ceiling. Their love traumas and balls of confusion of hate and bile all rush by at some immeasurable blur of a BPM.

    I realise they said "in this day and age", but it just makes it clear how the tastes of the public have moved on, and we're now hearing D&B, garage and even dubstep at number one. As an example, Hot Right Now made number one in February 2012 and it clocks in at 175BPM. I'm not sure even Stock, Aitken and Waterman could have imagined that would be the winning pop formula 30 years later.

  10. dan mcanulty says:

    Fell in love with Chill Out, discovered The Manual, thought it was hilarious, dug up all their back catalogue, and was like 'oh..., huh, this is not what was expecting!' A bit disappointed that all their work didn't live up to the level of awesomeness of those two things.

    Later I was particularly struck by how much they seemed to regret burning the million pounds. But I do really admire them for doing it. And I loved that awesome Jimmy Cauty Lord of the Rings poster that I had in my teenage bedroom.

  11. Dave Pease says:

    I've always loved the quote "We realised that struggling artists are meant to struggle, that's the whole point." These guys did a few incredible things in and with their careers.

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