Sunday, October 11, 2009

The KLF -- "What Time is Love?" (1988)

Reloading a new terabyte external drive drive in my production studio tonight, I clicked on a bubbling synth bass loop on a disc called "Psychedelic Trance and Goa," rippling so fast, reminding me of one of the UK's pioneering acid house hits, "What Time is Love."

The KLF, to the average American, means practically nada. In the UK, they were complete chart domination in the late 80's, two guys who made up this whole back story of being followers of the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu (!!) ripped right from Robert Anton Wilson's classic conspiratorial Illuminati trilogy (so there, Dan Brown!).

Bill Drummond and Jimmy McCauty concocted weird videos, dressed up in Druid-type robes, and had a damn good laugh all the way to the bank, as they pretty much retired KLF once it peaked. They came in, made a ton of money with their records and videos, and knew when to call it a day.

But while they were masquerading as The KLF (??), they were taking the UK's burgeoning acid house scene and putting it on the Top 20. Stomping psychedelic electronic music, heavy with samples, with a charge of hip hop, and a throttling raw Roland 303 synth bass, it was the music of heavy clubbing and drugs in Europe. I was in London at the time, buying up double-CD compilations that were not available in the US, just to soak up all this music that I couldn't hear back home.

"What Time Is Love" brilliantly starts off a clip of Detroit garage rock legends The MC5 doing their famous "Kick Out The Jams" rally cry, sliced right into the 135bpm one-chord rave-up, police sirens swarming in from all sides, and another sample of C+C Music Factory's "Gonna Make You Sweat." The KLF boys had the women shouting "Mu! Mu!" during the breaks, in case you forgot this was the dance music of conspiracy theorists who packed the club floors in a psychedelic fury.

And if you didn't get the joke then, The KLF continued pulling the public's leg, albeit with great music, when they released another single called "We're Justified and Ancient" sung by country warhorse Tammy "Stand By Your Man" Wynette.

The KLF barraged the world with numerous remixes of each songs, twisting and turning them, tongue firmly planted in cheek. Why just look at the videos for the three "What Time Is Love" remixes below. First, you have your original version, complete with aerial shots of crop circles (gimme a break!). Then their electric guitar-inflected 1992 American bid for the song, complete with one of the "Justified Ancients" standing on a rock in the middle of the windy sea extolling their perilous journey to the U.S. on board what looks like a Viking boat with a drum kit set up in the rear. Finally, the "pure trance" dub version of the song, featuring lots of grazing sheep out in a field, long extended shots of a police car riding through a valley, and then back to the sheep again!

American producers have had relentless efficiency in cashing in on manufactured pop with a decidedly straight face. But The KLF was a purely British creation of not only concocting a silly elaborate musical scheme, while actually pioneering the musical genre it was delivering.