The Lost Classic of Hip House Plunderphonia

“All sounds on this recording have been captured by the KLF in the name of mu. We hereby liberate these sounds from all copyright restrictions, without prejudice.”

The statement appears around the center label of The KLF’s very first full-length recording, published under what would be the first of many monikers, The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu. John Higgs notes in his book, The KLF: Chas, Magic, and the Band Who Burned a Million Pounds that the name, lifted from The Illuminatus! trilogy represented “the principle of chaos working against the corporate music industry, a guerilla band of musical anarchists who existed to disrupt, confuse and destroy.”

The year was 1987, and Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty were pillaging the music industry with reckless abandon. The album, titled 1987 What The Fuck Is Going On? could never be reissued in today’s world of militant copyright litigation. The record makes liberal use of samples ripped from massive artists who would be untouchable in the 21st century, including Stevie Wonder, The Fall, Beatles, ABBA, The Monkees, The J.B.s, Dave Brubeck, Sex Pistols, Scott Walker, Led Zeppelin and Bo Diddley.

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You don’t make friends in the music industry by sampling just about the entire refrain of ABBA’s “Dancing Queen”, and the duo was promptly investigated by the Mechanical-Copyright Protection Society, who in August of that year ordered The JAMs to recall and destroy all unsold copies of 1987. In an effort to salvage the project, The JAMs traveled to Sweden with the remaining copies of the album hoping to negotiate with ABBA. Sadly, the band wouldn’t hear of it, and so, quite ceremoniously,  The JAMs burnt the remaining LPs in a pyre in the Swedish countryside, the scene depicted on the front and back covers of their 1988 JAMs farewell, Who Killed the JAMs. The album featured the track, “Burn the Bastards,” a sample-heavy celebration of the fire set to house music.

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1987 stands as a piece of history – a snapshot of a sliver of time when an act of plunderphonia like this was still possible. It embodied the ideas of sampling, hip-hop, and Discordianism and somehow, it all made sense together.

Higgs contextualizes the intent and the perception of this recording: “If and when The JAMs are remembered today, it is for their pioneering role in establishing sampling as a legitimate creative act in modern music. In many ways, that misses what it was they were doing.” While today’s understanding of sampling concerns itself with manipulating and reshaping elements of a recording and repurposing them for something new, The JAMs had something else in mind. “They took things not for how they sounded, but for what they represented,” Higgs explains. “When they took parts of ABBA and The Beatles, it was not because of the quality of the sound, but very specifically because they were records by ABBA and The Beatles.” The act was an exercise in what the Situationists called, détournement, which involves taking the cultural images forced upon us and using them instead for our own ends.

Remix culture really came into its own in the digital age, where the technology to rip and reshape culture became democratized to the point where any 13-year-old can start remixing and mashing copyrighted works. But in 1987, just two years after John Oswald’s Plunderphonics EP was released, and at the dawn of Negativland, this was still new and unplundered territory in the world of music.

And the world is waiting for August 23rd, when The KLF will close their 23-year contractual hiatus, returning to the eternal question asked with their first release.

What the fuck is going on?

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Photograph by: The KLF

Daydreams of Exile – An Exploration of Dub Techno

This weekend’s musical exploration began, and it so often does, with a single catalyst. That agent was the arrival of the latest addition to The much-hailed KLF Recovered & Remastered series, titled The KLF Remix Project (Part One).  This limited edition promotional comp features an assortment of delicious deep cuts and rare and exclusive mixes breathing new life into the long-deleted KLF catalog.

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One of my favorite selections from the comp is a surprising remix of “Me Ru Con” – an acapella track from The Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu’s 1987 What The Fuck’s Going On? LP.  This is the album The KLF are pictured burning on their follow-up album, Who Killed The Jams?  The Remix Project compilation presents Steve Rowlands’ “Me Ru Con (WTF Mix)” which transforms the unassuming and humble recording into an ethereal mix of radio signals, steel drums, and atmospheric beats.  The mix really gets you grooving and stirs all sorts of nostalgia for the legacy of the band.  If you have the opportunity, pick up this comp (as you should all titles from the series).  It does a fantastic job of filling the void left by the absence of the KLF.  And for a remix comp the collection functions extraordinarily well as a cohesive piece – consistent with all of the releases in this fantastic series.  The Remix album is packed with dark ambient dub and dub techno beats and fueled my aforementioned muse resulting in this weekend’s discoveries.

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Yearning for more dub techno greatness, I turned to my own archive and performed a search for genre values including “dub” + “techno”.  Surprisingly, there were a number of discographic archives from artists whose names were familiar but whose body of work had escaped me. Several online sources indicated that one of the resulting artists – Basic Channel were universally heralded as the founding fathers of the subgenre in Berlin in the early 1990s.  Basic Channel is Mark Ernestus and Moritz von Oswald, who appeared in my library under the alias, Rhythm & Sound.  Ernestus owns the Hard Wax store in Berlin and together, the duo has released numerous minimal dub 12-inch singles as Basic Channel, Cyrus, Round One/Two/Three/Four/Five and other aliases.  This is an ideal starting place to familiarize yourself with the genre.

Finnish electronic musician and producer Sasu Ripatti creates dub techno albums as Vladislav Delay, and interestingly intersected with Basic Channel member Moritz von Oswald where he provided percussion for a series of LPs released as The Moritz Von Oswald Trio between 2009 and 2012.

Oswald also collaborated briefly with Thomas Fehlmann as Schizophrenia.  They issued on lone split single – a self-titled track on the b-side of Sun Electric’s “Monolith” in 1995, but the track is a stand-out classic.  And listen close – the single samples Ash Ra Tempel’s “Sunrain”, the opening track from New Age of Earth from 1976.

Andy Stott is another dub techno artist from Manchester.  His work began around 2005, but his most critically-acclaimed recording is his 2012 LP,  Luxury Problems, receiving awards from both Resident Advisor and from Pitchfork Media.

Digging further into my library I discovered Canadian electronica musician Scott Montieth’s work as Deadbeat as well as his collaboration with Paul St. Hilaire from 2014 titled The Infinity Dub Sessions.

Also well-represented in my collection was Rod Modell and Stephen Hitchell’s catalog performing as cv313 on the Echospace label.  Modell’s solo project under the moniker Deepchord is also fantastic, particularly his releases from the series  of “Deepchord Presents Echospace” albums produced with  Souldubsounds owner Steven Hitchell (aka. Soultek).  Discogs notes that these recordings were “produced using nothing but vintage analog equipment, Roland Space Echo, Echoplex, Korg tape delay, vintage signal processors, noise generators, Sequential Circuits 8 bit samplers & numerous analog synthesizers” featuring an array of “sounds, static, tones and field recordings, including paranormal activity captured and recorded in Chicago & Detroit.”

Fluxion is another figure worth exploring in this category.  A pseudonym of Konstantinos Soublis (aka K. Soublis), Fluxion is an electronic music producer from Athens Greece.  The artist’s profile states that his music “has a characteristic of slowly evolving parts and contemplating elements which form lengthy musical pieces. His sounds are heavily processed to a point where the origin of a sound has little to do with the end result.”  – soundscapes in which a listener may lose him/herself.

Berlin artists Robert Henke and Gerhard Behles performing as Monolake are also noteworthy, if not for their catalog perhaps for the fact that together they founded the Ableton music software company, responsible for instrument and sample libraries used by countless musicians over the last 15 years.

One of the better-known German sound projects of the genre is Andy Mellwig and Thomas Köner’s catalog performing as Porter Ricks (whose name is based on a character from the series, Flipper).  Their sound is described as “a project that lies between clubs and art.”

In fact, Köner also works as a multimedia installation artist and gained critical acclaim for his digital opera, The Futurist Manifesto.

It’s really wonderful to have a music library as a resource for genre explorations like this.  And extra special thanks to those behind the KLF Recovered & Remastered series for the quality tunes which inspired this latest journey.