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.

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

Time is Running In

On January 5th, a mysterious poster appeared in London, the same day as its website, k2planthireltd.com.

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The poster announced the end of the 23-year hiatus, (the number 23 having played a critical role in many of the KLF’s works as they relate to the 23-enigma of the Illuminati). This postponement of the K-Foundation was ceremoniously implemented by the duo signing an infamous contract in gold pen across the windscreen of a Nissan Bluebird November 5th, 1995 and the deal was sealed with the act of pushing the Bluebird off a 120-foot cliff at Cape Wrath. 23 years was intended to ‘provide opportunity of sufficient length for an accurate and appropriately executed response to their burning of a million quid’.  

Further investigation into this exciting new announcement led me to an even more mysterious YouTube account, user WGU 18G, which has been posting cryptic new KLF content since January 1st, when they uploaded a 46-minute video puzzle dubbed, “KLF 01 01 2017 WTF FOUND VHS.” Tiny video fragments were posted in the first 23 days of 2017, each a mash up of pop culture film footage recut to speak words like, “KLF” and “Justified Ancients” and “MuMu”. Mixed in are footage of Robert Anton Wilson, the Kennedy assassination, other Illuminati symbology, BBC educational film reels, and fraction-of-a-second long superimposed elements intended to reveal pieces of the puzzle… or to lead the viewer entirely off the scent.

And on January 7th, Instagram user @followersofmu uploaded this addition to the mystery:

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And today – the 23rd of January brings all of this news serendipitously to my attention on the very day my copy of my literary white whale – The KLF’s THE MANUAL arrived at my door from Germany.

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A week ago I decided that it would be foolish to let any more months pass, permitting the few remaining copies of this massive text listed for sale to be snatched up by other collectors. I quickly purchased a copy of the second (and final) edition but was disappointed to see that the giant oversize MANUAL had been reduced to a minute handbook for its reprint and that the author and title were changed to a less-impressive re-wording, (see below).

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Within moments, I located a first edition copy in outstanding condition for only $30 more, which made my decision a no-brainer. In minutes, I’d canceled my order and secured an original for my library.

For those unfamiliar with THE MANUAL, it was published in 1988 and dubbed, “THE MAJESTIC INSIDE STORY OF HOW TO MANIPULATE THE POP MUSIC WORLD.” The book instructs the reader to quit whatever band they’ll in, sell all their gear, buy the top pop singles of the day, sample them, have a number 1 hit, and be forgotten by lunchtime. The book promises that if you’ve followed their instructions and don’t make it to number one, that they’ll refund your purchase.

The first printing of the book is credited to The Timelords, as Cauty and Drummond had just successfully implemented their guide and made it to number one under that moniker with the ridiculous hit, “Doctorin’ the Tardis.” And they were right – just as THE MANUAL instructs, the track liberally samples the theme music from Doctor Who, Gary Glitter’s “Rock and Roll (Part Two)”, sections from “Blockbuster!” by Sweet and “Let’s Get Together Tonite” by Steve Walsh, and neither member of the duo played a single note on the track. Critics hated it. The song was shite. But it made it to number one.

In the years since the abandonment of the K Foundation, Drummond and Cauty have done some fantastic work. Bill Drummond created The 17 and published a book of its collected writings. Graffiti appeared in Derby with messages like this:

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And soon thereafter, a series of posters were created to convey the concept of The 17.

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Meanwhile, Cauty continued his anarchistic art, most recently with a touring art installation dubbed The Aftermath Dislocation Principle (ADP) Riot Tour. ADP is a massive graffiti-covered shipping container with small lenses positioned around its perimeter which grant observers a glimpse into a post-riot dystopian miniature city contained within. Spectators can see flashing lights, police blockades, and the remains of a city torn asunder accompanied by the faint sound of police radio signals from inside the container. The installation toured in from April to December of 2016 and was featured as part of Banksy’s Dismaland. ADP Riot was a larger scale implementation of the theme Cauty explored in 2011 with A Riot in a Jam Jar.

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But all of this – the zenarchistic mythos of the KLF, the Manual, the burning of a million pounds at Jura, their art and music… and 23 years of contractual silence… has led to their return in 2017.

Time is running in.

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UPDATE 01-24-17: Information from some additional sources appear to dispell the cryptic rumours outlined above. First, on January 5th, The Guardian published an article titled, The KLF are back (sort of) – and it’s exactly what 2017 needs containing the following statement:

News of the comeback centred on a mediocre YouTube collage featuring the duo’s previous videos, which turned out to be something someone had compiled for a 2015 book talk. Drummond himself rained on the whole parade, saying: “Jimmy and I have always remained very close but we have no plans to reform the KLF or exploit our back catalogue in any way.”

His quote, it turns out, was a feat of semantic nuance. Within 24 hours, a photograph of a chanced-upon bill poster appeared on social media, confirming that the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu (not the KLF) were working on new material (rather than exploiting their back catalogue), and that it would be unveiled on 23 August.

Cauty tweeted confirmation of this new material shortly thereafter.

And on 01-17-17, KLF.de posted the following notice:

In the aftershock of this month’s announcement some publications were fast on turning excitement into exaggeration, so we thought it necessary to point out some facts or, at the very least, debunk some rumours.

  1. The KLF have not announced their return.
  2. At this point no music releases have been teased, be it reissues or freshly recorded material.
  3. There will be no new Jimmy/Alex collaboration. This particular rumour came from a news page which took the then slightly dated Positive Void website for the official K2 Plant Hire Ltd. homepage.

At this point the only official information is that The Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu are gonna unveil their sculpture The Twenty-Three Year Moratorium on August 23rd as announced via the K2 Plant Hire poster and the liner notes from Bill Drummond’s “Imagine…” DVD.

In the meantime, everybody lie down on the floor and keep calm.

So for now, we’re just Waiting.

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The Merits of Nostalgia and a Cozy Placebo Effect

And so it came to pass that my beloved McIntosh C39 pre-amp was not made happy by replacing the volume pot.  I’d decided in advance that if that didn’t fix it, I would cut my losses and consider, for the first time in my 30+ years, to explore the possibility of a brand new pre-amp/power amp combo.

My first McIntosh - a MAC 4280.  RIP 2013.

My first McIntosh – a MAC 4280.

I am fully aware of the tried-and-true code of the audiophile – quality vintage gear will generally out-perform and out-last newer contemporaries dollar-for-dollar.  But after repeatedly battling oxidation, bad resistors, and a few bad volume pots for the better part of three decades, I was ready to consider something new.

The Next Generation: My McIntosh C39 Pre-Amp (RIP 2014)

The Next Generation: My McIntosh C39

My life-long trusted audio adviser and best-friend tossed a few suggestions my way, namely the emotiva xsp-1, some newer Rotel models, and the most alluring of his suggestions – the Parasound Halo p3.  But for the interim, I had a local hi-fi shop tune up my Yamaha CR-840 – the first real amp I ever had.  Years ago channel A stopped working, and oxidation built up rending the amp nearly-unusable, but I’d never given it up, as it was a very special gift.  Thankfully the shop returned it to me the next day in PERFECT working condition!

I’d forgotten how great it sounded.  Please understand – I know it’s not remotely in the same class as some of the finer amps I’ve used, but the warm and familiar tone of this amp transports me back to college and all the memories attached to those years.  I completely acknowledge that this nostalgia trip is in no way a measure of the amp’s technical performance.  It is of no quantifiable measure an amp comparable to my MACs or, likely, to the Parasound amp.  But I will fully-embrace the head-trip it brings and am more than satisfied to use it until the right upgrade comes along.

Next up? Parasound Halo P3

Next up – Perhaps the Parasound Halo P3

To make the amp-swap official, I chucked the eyesore of a component rack that I’d picked up from a thrift shop.  30-seconds of Craigslist searching produced a nifty 60s record shelf for only a few bucks to serve as both a surface for the amp and as additional record storage.  Better still – the funky elderly couple selling it were ridiculously adorable and had mirrored-and-velvet-patterned wallpaper with matching decor all about their home.

Not kidding.  This... with mirrored panels.

Not kidding. This… with mirrored panels.

The shelf has a very “college” feel to accompany the amp, and the space was PERFECT to relocate all my LPs pressed between 1995 and the present.  All my favorites are in here – DJ Food, Boards of Canada, Lemon Jelly, DJ Shadow, The Orb, Underworld, Stereolab, Spiritualized, The KLF, St Germain, Bonobo, Aphex Twin, Cinematic Orchestra, Sigur Ros, Pantha Du Prince, Low, Beck, The FLips, with just enough room to sneak in nearly all of Brian Eno and Tom Waits’ albums.

The Nostalgia Corner

The Nostalgia Corner

This is as good a time as any to resolve to listen to more of my records in 2015 – to enjoy what I have instead of always searching for the next grail.

And there you have it – an objective and meticulous audiophile reduced to a nostalgic dolt by his trust old amp.  Think what you will, but I’ll be happy here, spinning some great tunes.

Eno & Hyde Postcards from their first two LPs

Eno & Hyde Postcards from their first two LPs

The History of Modern Ambient Music: Part 2 – 1993-2014

The conclusion to my 2-part Ambient Milestones series is now published on YouTube!  The exciting final element to the feature arrived in the post just a few days ago and I am delighted to share it with you all.

Or click here for the HD version.