The Core: “The KLF: Genius or Gibberish?”

Cover of The Core magazine number 6, 27 November 1991

It’s two weeks since I posted the last thing from my deep past, the Script Challenge, and no-one’s solved it yet. So I’ll post something less cryptic, a little less demanding — an extract from The Core magazine, which I worked on back during the brief period when I was cool.

Plus it gives me a chance to reminisce about The KLF.

The Core dates from a fantastic period of my life. I’d been working for ABC Radio for a few years, and along with club promoter Scott Thompson — does anyone know where he is now? — I presented Club Escape, a dance music program on Triple J created by John Thompson-Mills that aired in Adelaide in 1990-91.

Club Escape was hot. We had 11% of the total radio audience on a Saturday night, which means we probably blitzed the 15-25yo demographic. Nightclub owners told us their venues were deserted until the clock struck midnight and we were off the air.

It Was So Much Fun.

But I was getting tired of the ABC.

Dance music enthusiast Acb Tyson griped that there wasn’t a local magazine about dance music, and The Core was born. The first issue hit the streets on Wednesday 23 October 1991, and I left the ABC in February ’92 to concentrate on it full time.

I’ll write more about The Core another time. I’m even tempted to put all of the content online, since it chronicles an important period in the evolution of dance music in Australia. But for now, here’s an article from The Core number 6, published 27 November 1991. Enjoy!

KLF: WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON?

With a new version of The JAM’s It’s Grim Up North, and The KLF about to stomp the US charts with America: What Time is Love?, Stilgherrian tries to explain dance music’s most confusing people.

“The KLF’s weird, right? I mean, seriously weird, y’know what I mean? But it all seems to make some strange kind of sense…” If that’s your reaction to The KLF, then read on, because it all does make some strange kind of sense…

For a start, The KLF is two people — the same two people as The JAMs, the Timelords (remember Doctorin’ the Tardis?), Disco 2000 and, to some extent, The Orb. According to the official biography, they started working together in January 1987.

One half of The KLF is Jimmy Cauty, alias Rockman Rock. At age 17, he drew that greenish-grey poster of Gandalf and Frodo that became the biggest selling print of the 70s. He lives at Transcentral, which doubles as The KLF’s working space. He played in Brilliant, a thrash-pop band, and owns that American cop car that features in the Timelords and KLF videos.

The other half of The KLF is Bill Drummond, alias King Boy D. Born in Scotland, he played guitar with Big in Japan, who in turn owned the Zoo label, who signed Echo and the Bunnymen and A Teardrop Explodes. He’s married with two children and lives on a farm not too far from London.

Now here’s the first big connection. The KLF’s other incarnation, The JAMS, is one of the forces of chaos in a set of three wildly chaotic books called Illuminatus! — it even stands for exactly the same thing: the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu. If you really want to understand what the fuck is going on, you’ll need to read those books, because 90% of everything the KLF does ties in with Illuminatus!.

Illuminatus! was written back in the 70s by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson. In rather confusing detail, it explains (if “explain” isn’t too strong a word) how a secret society called the Illuminati attempts to “Immanentize the Eschaton” — a mystical ritual when thousands of people are killed so a select few can become immortal. Along the way, they explain the assassination of John F Kennedy and most other conspiracy theories in history.

If you’ve never heard of IIluminatus!, don’t panic. The only people under 35 who’ve read it are nerdy science fiction fans with the wrong-shaped glasses, brown corduroy trousers and desert boots — odd, really, because the books are full of underground political thought, rampant drug abuse and explicit sexual activities between varying numbers of people of various genders. (Why do people who read SF looking decades even centuries into the future dress as if the 70s never ended?) Illuminatus! has even been called a training manual for subversives.

Any decent dictionary will tell you the Illuminati (which means “the enlightened ones”) was a secret society founded by Adam Weishaupt in Bavaria in 1776. Some people claim the Illuminati still operate in secret today. Illuminatus! explains that they’re “structure freaks”, the bad guys who want everything to be ordered, under control.

Three loosely-allied forces of chaos fight the Illuminati. The Legion of Dynamic Discord (LDD, the Discordians) is headed by a lawyer and engineer turned pirate, Hagbard Celine, who travels the world in a submarine. The Erisian Liberation Front (ELF) is more mystical, worshipping Eris, the Greek goddess of confusion, (I don’t need to point out that “ELF” isn’t too different from “KLF”, the Kopyright Liberation Front, do I?) And the JAMs worship the Babylonian goddess of chaos, Mummu. They’re led by John Dillinger, whose first robbery was in 1923. In every robbery, Dillinger used the JAMs’ motto, “Lie down on the floor and keep calm”. You’ve heard that on Last Train to Transcentral, and the cover notes even credit Dillinger with the sample!

John Dillinger isn’t the only tie-in. For the Illuminati, the numbers 17 and 23 are important, because of the Law of Fives. A pyramid has five points, four at the bottom and one at the top. Both 17 and 23 are prime numbers, with five numbers in between them. If you look closely at history you’ll see the signs of the Illuminati when 17 and 23 appear. For example, Imelda Marcos currently faces 17 criminal charges in the Philippines and Jimmy Cauty’s cop car is number 23.

Pyramids — especially pyramids with eyes — have been used as symbols by the Egyptians Pharaohs, the Freemasons, the Illuminati, Dr Timothy Leary (a American still prevented from entering Australia due to his more than liberal attitudes towards LSD) — and of course The KLF (although their pyramid has a ghetto blaster).

The KLF video Stadium House: The Trilogy is allegedly recorded live at Woodstock Europe, the location of the Illuminati’s attempt to Immanentize the Eschaton — even the stage is in the form of a pyramid. There’s the submarine. Last Train to Transcentral has a “Live from the Lost Continent” mix — one version of the Illuminati story says they were really founded on the Lost Continent of Mu.

On top of everything else, there’s ELF’s Operation Mindfuck (OM), The guiding philosophy is that the only strategy your opponent can’t predict is a random strategy. The KLF’s efforts at OM include playing heavy metal music at a Dutch house rave. Art historians call it Situationalism: using symbols and objects in unusual situations to subvert the established order.

Call it Situationalism, call it Operation Mindfuck, Bill and Jimmy have taken on the music industry in a series of guerilla strikes.

The first JAMs Single, All You Need is Love, on the KLF Communications label, sold 6500 copies to rave reviews. The LP followed, 1987 (What the Fuck is Going On?), more of that sample’n’scratch. The cover said “In the name of Mu we hereby liberate these sounds from all copyright restrictions without prejudice.” It didn’t work.

One track. The Queen and I, sampled Abba’s Dancing Queen more than the band liked, and they sued. Typically, the JAMs didn’t send in their own lawyers — they took Jimmy’s cop car on a ferry to Sweden to talk it out with Abba, with all the remaining copies of 1987 in the boot. But when they arrived in Gothenburg at 3am (note the time!) no-one was awake. So the JAMs found a fat blonde prostitute and gave her a gold record labelled “presented to Bjorn, Benny and Stig to celebrate sales in excess of 0 copies of The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu’s LP 1987“. They took a photo. Then they burned the rest of the records in a field — and took a photo of that, later used on the cover of the album The History of the JAMs — while a Swedish farmer shot at them.

The only live performance by the JAMs took place on the ferry on the way back to England. They were paid in Toblerones. The second album was called Who Killed the JAMS?, and the JAMs officially ceased to exist at midnight at the very end of ’87.

In ’88, house was king and Bill and Jimmy wanted a number one. To finance it, they advertised five remaining copies of 1987 in The Face for £3,000 each, They found three buyers, The Timelords’ track Doctorin’ the Tardis was designed specifically to be a hit — and it worked, selling more than a million copies worldwide. They wrote a book, The Manual: How to Have a Number One the Easy Way, to tell others how to do it.

Then comes the huge success of The KLF. In ’90 the singles What Time is Love? and 3am Eternal; in ’91 the ambient house LP Chill Out, a 40-minute video Waiting, and the single Last Train to Transcentral, which entered the UK charts at number 3 and stayed at number 2 for three weeks — kept from hitting the magic 1 by a woman called Cher.

Somewhere in there, The Orb released two ambient house tracks, A Huge Ever-Growing Pulsating Brain that Rules from the Centre of the Ultraworld and Little Fluffy Clouds with plenty of input from Jimmy Cauty. Bill and Jimmy are also Disco 2000, responsible for the singles I Gotta CD, One Love Nation and Uptight.

The KLF is also full of references back to previous projects. The chants of “Mu Mu”, the references to the Justified Ancients of MuMu — and the continued use of sheep. One idea for an album cover photo was a line of sheep, each with The KLF painted on the side. But real live sheep don’t line up when you want them to — which is why certain photos of The KLF show them just holding sheep instead. The cover for The White Room still shows Bill and Jimmy holding sheep.

Confused? Worried there’s some sinister cosmic conspiracy? Hey, anything sounds mystical if you’re in the right mood. Meanwhile, The KLF insist they’re not taking the piss.

The KLF have consistently declined interviews. Instead, on the solstice they took journalists from around the world to the Lost Continent of Mu — actually a remote Scottish island — to take part in a pagan ritual which they called the Rites of Mu.

Despite the successes. Bill and Jimmy aren’t rich. The money goes back into more silly projects. And with dozens of projects happening at once, most don’t get finished. Still in the works are the movie of The White Room (£250,000 in the red. but we hear it’ll now be financed by Stephen Spielberg), the singles Love Trance, Turn Up The Strobe and Go To Sleep, a comic book, Bill Drummond’s book Zenarchy: A Case History, and the film of the Rites of Mu.

Now. with record company execs telling them The KLF will never succeed in the US, they’ve released America: What Time is Love? with just one purpose — to get to number one in the US before Christmas. My money says they’ll do it.

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12 comments

  1. Royal’s avatar

    Stil,

    Paul Hamon has put a whole load of old Core content online. I think it may be able to be found through his anthems.com.au site.

    Best, Benn.

  2. Stilgherrian’s avatar

    @Royal: Thanks for the pointer! Yes, there’s about 29 issues attached to this forum post as PDF files. I think I’ll put the rest online soon — and dig out the feature articles as text so search engines find them more easily.

    I have an almost-complete set in hard copy, issues 1 through 91 of The Core. The only ones missing are 60 and 74. And a couple around the issue 52 mark (first birthday!) are damaged — eaten by cats. The Core ran from 23 October 1991 to 28 July 1993.

    My involvement ended a few weeks before that — the last issue with my name in it is dated 23 June. Lots of 23s in there! All hail Eris!

    After Acb Tyson imploded there were two interim publications called No Core and Pre Core to cover the fortnight before Matt Pearce and his crew got Core Magazine going — a larger format on glossy paper, and mostly in colour. I’ve got a few of them too — thought obviously they’re not mine to put online.

    Ah, nostalgia…!

  3. Royal’s avatar

    Excellent. I don’t think I have mine anymore – unless there in storage somewhere in Adelaide – highly unlikely.

    Anyway, a little selfish, but there was an issue in 1993 that had a profile on myself with a great photo which I’d love to find.

    Nostalgia indeed! 🙂

  4. Stilgherrian’s avatar

    @Royal: Hmmm… I couldn’t immediately find that in the issues within my realm. Maybe it came later. I’ll look out for it as I’m browsing.

  5. Snarky Platypus’s avatar

    “Now. with record company execs telling them The KLF will never succeed in the US, they’ve released America: What Time is Love? with just one purpose — to get to number one in the US before Christmas. My money says they’ll do it.”

    For what it’s worth, Wikipedia said it reached #57 in the US. Strangely enough, it did better than the original What Time Is Love in the UK (#4, as opposed to #6).

    I always thought it was a rather pointless remix (in terms of artistic merit) but the video was rather grand.

  6. Stilgherrian’s avatar

    @Snarky Platypus: Of course there’s an argument to be made that The KLF is entirely pointless from beginning to end — but that can be said of a lot of things.

  7. kath’s avatar

    nice article thanks

  8. vealmince’s avatar

    But can you hear the sampled fnords in 3am Eternal?

  9. Stilgherrian’s avatar

    Glad you enjoyed it, kath. Re-reading the article last night brought back some good memories. On a side note, my hearing’s pretty good. Considering.

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