Who are the most important musical group of all time? There’s a strong argument for the ultimate musical game-changers being none other than the KLF; their singles went straight to the top of the charts, they quit while they were miles ahead of their imitators, and they subverted the entire music industry by deleting their entire back-catalogue at the height of their fame. As a result their singles are rarely heard on the radio, there’s no album containing their greatest hits, and their songs couldn’t even be heard on YouTube until a couple of years ago. So this limited edition DVD/blu ray release of their 1988-1992 output is a must for collectors; there were many pretenders to the crown, but when it comes to propulsive dance music, it’s always time to head to the church of the KLF.
So let’s put any thoughts of narrative aside; we’re looking at promotional films, some completed and familiar, others unfinished and exhumed, ‘lost or damaged over the years’ like the people that made them, as an opening inter-title suggests. Jimmy Cauty and Bill Drummond were the key minds behind the KLF, and director Bill Butt was the gun for hire who took up their musical cause. We starts with legs sticking out of the bottoms of wooden Daleks and 1998’s Doctorin’ the Tardis, a big enough hit to set the KLF on their merry prankster way. Their next project was The White Room, a road movie using the car featured in the Tardis video, with a soundtrack that was released to public acclaim even if the final film was not. Chasing a ’liberation loophole’ in their contracts to Sierra Nevada, it’s fairly indulgent pop-star stuff, as was follow-up Kylie Said To Jason, but the KLF strapped themselves to the nose-cone of dance music with their stadium house/trance sound which ignited global hit singles 3Am Eternal, Last Train to Transcentral, and What Time is Love?
With the KLF, every right turn is accompanied by a wrong turn by design, and follow-up The Rites of Mu is an elliptical short film at 29 minutes was never intended to generate the same approval; narrated by Martin Sheen in sonorous Apocalypse Now tones, it’s a visual record of a trippy summer solstice on the island of Jura, complete with a burning Wicker Man. Whether you consider this kind of act to be ‘enlightenment or madness’, the KLF went out with a bang with two more conceived controlled and constructed works, a failed bid to crack the US with the epic America; What Time Is Love? and the sweet farewell of their duet with Tammy Wynette, Justified & Ancients.
As a teenager, the KLF were a mind-blowing proposition, seemingly uninterested in playing the game for money or fame, subverting expectation and blowing up the establishment in favour of a shy brand of obscure self-mythology. They’re probably best know for (allegedly) destroying a million pounds, but they certainly knew how to waste cash enjoyably and extravagantly; America was filmed with full sized Viking longboats in the 007 Studio at Pinewood, and yet failed to dent the US top 100. That’s all part of the underlying story here, with this blu-ray piecing together the remarkable rise and rise of a genuine pop phenomenon, with success and failure impostors encountered along the way. Whether you accept its grimness or not, the North will rise again, and when it does, the KLF should provide the anthem we can proudly salute as the uncaring world burns down around us.
Thanks to the BFI to blu-ray access to this title, out now (Nov 2023) in the UK.
The release of 23 SECONDS TO ETERNITY has been ‘acknowledged’ by K2 Plant Hire Ltd.