I’ve been working with Mark Barrott from International Feel for a while and he’s been on at me to read this book. I love the KLF so it wasn’t a hard sell. From “Chill Out” to the Pure Trance version of “What Time Is Love” (which are both pretty much perfect) their music was always fitting for mine and my friends addled minds but its their way of being that makes them a total anomaly in the world of music (and in turn art).
John Higgs, the author, has approached the “band biography” from a different perspective and with the KLF there is a lot to work around and it is a total mind bend. It is basically a world of coincidences and doing exactly what feels right. Not because they should but because they can. The magic and the chaos of the title. No career plan for these two. Just follow your nose and it’ll be ok. Stay on the track. Or off it. Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty are the KLF. Cauty clearly has his (major) part to play in this story but its easier to hang this one off Drummond. With a love of pop music from an early age and understanding of the machinations of the music industry from his early days running a label and managing Echo and The Bunnymen and The Teardrop Explodes, bands he loved more for their names than their music (which says a lot), to working with Pete Waterman and then as an A&R at a major, he had the tools at hand to know how to do what he wanted to.
The KLF found their feet trying to make hip hop records. When realising they were unable to sound like Schooly D, and understandably so, they found themselves pulling from the world of acid house. Right time. Right place. The records they made from here on would be enough but when you add a thread running through pulling (maybe accidentally, maybe not) from the worlds of magic and chaos as well as being totally unafraid and then hugely successful you have something increasingly powerful.
Higgs has a wonderful way with words. Describing “Chill Out” he says, “ …its tempting to say the state of mind Ambient House captured continued to fascinate them. It was all about the end of the rave, when all your energy had been dissipated and all that is left is an unearthly glow, a sense of euphoria that has somehow risen from the worn-out body. It is a feeling of exhaustion where you also feel extraordinarily awake. It’s a sense of expanded awareness, the sense that you can see for miles even when you are lying in a dark corner. It is that moment, in the small hours before dawn, that seems to hang outside of time.” We’ve all been there.
So to remind ourselves… This is a band that under the loose term “pop music” took out one page ads listing their current manifestos, made a perfect acid house record and “Chill Out”, created an alternative Turner Prize (and doubled the fund), had number ones, told you how to do it, set fire to a million pounds, remade their records over and over, shot the music industry and far more. In fact screw the reminding just watch the video below with Tammy Wynette and listen to the words she sings and you realise how mental it was and that we took that for normal. Imagine the conversation – “you know who we need on this beat Jimmy – Tammy Wynette the biggest country singer ever”. “Makes sense Bill. Lets do it.” I’m starting to appreciate how out there it all was.
But to be honest I feel like I am doing the book a disservice as its in the magic that hangs around the band and in the supporting stories and theories where you end up thinking “what the fuck???”. Often I don’t think Drummond and in turn the KLF knew what they were doing or why but the path led them and they went with it. Higgs pulls in the worlds of Discordianism and Operation Mindfuck, Doctor Who, “The Illuminatus! Trilogy” (it started here but read the book), the Situationists, the number 23, Alan Moore’s Idea Space and the reappearing of the mystical Echo rabbit. In fact lets say hello to Echo…
Echo appears from time to time in our culture (and in a number of places that Drummond had involvement with). If you look at the cover of Echo and the Bunnymen’s first album (see below) you can clearly see a rabbits face in the tree on the right. Drummond says this wasn’t the shot they were meant to use but it ended up being the one for whatever reason. Also, Echo and the Bunnymen’s “Killing Moon” was used in the opening scene in Donnie Darko – a film about a giant rabbit. The director wanted INXS but couldn’t get it. Further, there is a line towards the end of the book where the author is running through sources that he pulled from when researching and writes “I am indebted to the Fortean scientist Ian Simmons for alerting me to the fact that cryptozoologists do indeed record occasional accounts of sightings of giant rabbit-like creatures.” Coincidences? I know its out there but there is something in the water and its starting to make total sense…
Read this. I finished it and wanted to pick it up and get my head round it all again as I still feel I have more to understand but a lot of it rings very true and the far-fetched becomes totally plausible. That is the magic of the band. The KLF played with the chaos and the boundaries (who else could write a hit record with The Timelords and attribute it to a car) and it still feels like they are somewhere in the background searching (read all of Drummond’s books – they won’t let you down). We need more people like this. And we need more books of this type as Higgs has nailed a new way of telling a story here. Fair play.
“The KLF – Chaos Magic And The Band Who Burned A Million Pounds” by John Higgs is out now and you should buy it. Its published by Phoenix.