The KLF – or Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu as they’ve always preferred to be known – are simply unique. That said, Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty always had that anarchic Malcolm McLaren vibe of “destroy, subvert and undermine expectations…” and of simply improvising their strategy in response to each new idea or opportunity as it cropped up.
That’s why The White Room – far from stemming from some cunning master plan – was the almost accidental result of several years of failed projects, dwindling cash, and creative dead ends. But Bill and Jimmy well understood that making mistakes and being prepared to wander up blind alleys is an essential part of the creative process. They continued to defy conventional music industry wisdom, went their own sweet way – and kept trying stuff and chucking it at the wall to see what would stick.
Then in 1990 their now-legendary remix of What Time Is Love – suddenly propelled them into the commercial stratosphere – crystallising the approach they’d been groping towards all along. And it was the ensuing Stadium House trilogy of singles What Time Is Love?, 3 a.m. Eternal and Last Train to Trancentral that allowed the JAMs to revisit their failed White Room movie soundtrack and transform it into the landmark album we still know and love 26 years later.
To this day nobody’s heard that initial soundtrack version of The White Room. It was originally conceived for a road movie – featuring Drummond and Cauty on another of their legendary surreal quests – which they were forced to abandon for lack of funds. The single Kylie Said To Jason was supposed to help bankroll the film, but failed to even make the Top 100. On top of that there’s an entirely different – darker and harsher – version of the album called The Black Room which may likewise never see the light of day. Like Prince and Bob Dylan, the KLF/JAMS are surrounded by myth, legend and rumour, and clearly have no interest whatever in revisting the past.
It’s hard to remember today the bitterness of the cultural war being fought in the charts around the start of the 90s. Dance Music on the one hand (house, techno and rave) was often underground and anti-establishment and in stark contrast to the Proper Pop Music favoured by the music industry establishment. That battle echoed the arrival of punk rock a generation before, and even the birth of rock’n’roll itself. I’m old enough to remember records by Chuck Berry and Little Richard being dismissed as primitive, repetitive and content-free, exactly like 1990s dance music.
The KLF’s major achievement with The White Room – with its trio of Stadium House hits and Tammy Wynette followup – was it squared the circle and appealed to both sides of the chart divide at once. Here was brilliantly made dance music with all monster hooks and larger-than-life personalities that are the very hallmark of conventional pop stardom. Its success was sudden and staggering.
For me though, the mark of the JAMS‘ true greatness as artists is that acclaim and money completely failed to seduce them. Anarchic to the last, Bill and Jimmy stuck to their situationist principles and walked away from the entire circus at the very pinnacle of their fame.
– The Manual: How To Have A Number One Hit The Easy Way
– 2004 interview with Bill Drummond (below)