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.

The KLF - Justified Ancients of Mu Mu - 1987 - What the  Fuck is Going On.JPG

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.

The KLF - The History of The JAMs (1988) back cover - burning of 1987

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

Long Slow Slippy / Eventually But

I’ve just given a first-listen to Underworld’s limited edition special single for the new edit of “Born Slippy.nuxx” which appears in Trainspotting 2. The single arrived in a die-cut jacket with no inserts or download codes, confirming that this mix and its b-side are exclusive to this single. NME reported the tracklist for the movie soundtrack which features the b-side with a parenthetical ‘Spud’s Letter to Gail’ tagged onto the title, and a shorter edit of the a-side, “Long Slow Slippy” will appear as the album closer under the title, “Slow Slippy.”

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Side A is fairly cut and dry – it’s just born slippy.NUXX slowed down a bit. Not remarkable in its own right but perhaps it will have greater significance when I see its use in the film. (Sadly TS2 has yet to hit the States and I’d like to see it proper in the theatre.) The same goes doubly-so for the b-side.

While there is nothing quite as slippy as the original .NUXX, I am fond of a few oddball/fringe mixes which have surfaced over the years. The first is the “Dictionaraoke Remix” by Stop Children, from around the time AVid’s mixes were circulating. It’s basically a Google Dictionary recitation of Karl’s lyrics with the a canned backing beat. The mechanical delivery is really hilarious and worth checking out.

The other is “Born Sleepy”, an ambient downtempo interpretation of .NUXX. Nice for a bit of a wind-down. I don’t see it on YouTube at present but there are still copies kicking about.

But in my recollections of Slippy mixes past and present, there was a faint memory of Karl slowly speaking the lyrics in a measured, low-register tone – a track I hadn’t spun in years and couldn’t quite place.  Thankfully, a bit of digging through my collection, (I have 16 hours of Slippy mixes, alone) produced the track in question – it was an official mix released exclusively on the Born Slippy remix CD [V2 ‎– V2CP 166] issued only in Japan. The track is called “Born Slippy (Down Version)” and features the aforementioned ultra-slow vocals by Karl which work perfectly for this edit. Track it down – it’s really enjoyable.

dsc08424Where it all began – The original Born Slippy .NUXX on Junior Boys Own, UK May 1st, 1995 and the WaxTrax!/TVT US CD maxi single from 1996.

5’50” of Pop – The Sound of Muzak

5'50'' of Pop

As an archivist of historically significant recordings, I thrive on sound that is experimental, that tests the limits of and challenges the very definition of what we call music.  I’m grateful that, for most hours of the day, I have the freedom to immerse myself in cerebral and inspiring sounds.

But once upon a time, not so very long ago, I worked a job where that sort of musical luxury was the stuff of pure fantasy.  For I, like so many of my young peers, spent each day in a world of retail Muzak.

Perhaps you’ve worked a similar job at one point of your life.  Perhaps you see no problem with Muzak as you can simply, “tune it out.”  Unfortunately, we are not all so lucky.

The Sound of Muzak

The Sound of Muzak

The soundtrack of my former workplace was a Muzak station comprising 100 pop songs repeated ad infinitum for the entirety of my retail servitude.   It was eight hours a day of Britney Spears, Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber, Shania Twain, Reba McEntire, Nickelback and Amy Grant… enough to drive any reasonable man insane.  But instead of succumbing to the madness, I made it a personal mission to transform my situation into something expressive and artful.

The result was 5’50” of Pop – a complex, atonal and aggressive short film effectively simulating the experience of living inside a forty-hour loop of teen pop-idols.  5’50” of Pop aims to transform formulaic, predictable, homogeneous pop music into something challenging, something arresting, and something dauntingly complex.

The film composites the music videos for every one of the songs I heard each day… played from start to finish… all at the same time.  The result is a cacophonous stream of abstract noise and an indiscernible collage of light and shadow, presenting the viewer with a visual and auditory experience completely unlike the content of which it was composed.

If you’ve never had the misfortune of working retail, please indulge me, for a mere 5’50” of Pop.

Embittered pretension aside, 5’50” is first a reactionary piece, but also serves as an honest criticism of the pop music status quo.  Contemporary pop is made to be instantly forgotten and shuffled through in a constant stream of predictability and irreverence.  More product than poetry, its cookie-cutter lyricism and melodic structure have abandoned all that made-great the genres it’s co-opted and mimicked in empty pantomime.

Thankfully, I’ve since freed myself from that terrible environment, and now spend my days soaking-in Frippertronic solos and tape music soundscapes.  So to any of my readers still-trapped in a similarly vapid and soulless work environ; take heart.  There are scores of beautiful music waiting for you.  Until then, keep tuning in.  The music will set you free.

[NOTE: Due to copyright claims from Warner Music and the Universal Music Group, this video is not available in Germany and may include advertisements.]