Solid State Logik 1
From the moment they formed, on New Year’s Day 1987, The KLF treated pop music as their playground, with only one rule: All rules are meant to be broken. They were provocative from the start: Bill Drummond, a 33-year-old former A&R rep, and Jimmy Cauty, a rock guitarist, initially called themselves The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu (or The JAMs)—a reference to The Illuminatus! Trilogy, a series of sci-fi novels about a secret order of shadowy overlords. They began by making crude, wildly illicit hip-hop records filled with uncleared samples; within a few years, after lucking into a No. 1 single with “Doctorin’ the Tardis,” a mash-up of the Doctor Who theme with glam rocker Gary Glitter, they would become darlings of the rave scene and then give it all up. In a performance-art stunt in 1994, the pair set fire to a million pounds sterling in cash, the remainder of their earnings as pop titans, and announced what would become a 23-year hiatus from the music business. Since their return, in 2017, they have been preoccupied mainly with the People’s Pyramid, a monument to be assembled from bricks made of human cremains.
As the singles collection Solid State Logik 1 attests, they were nothing if not audacious. Part nostalgia trip, part shuffling sports chant, “Doctorin’ the Tardis” would be absurd if it weren’t so effective; even listening at home, you sense intuitively there’s no stadium too big for it to fill. Virtually everything here is beefed up to those mammoth proportions. Released in 1990, at the height of the UK’s acid-house mania, “What Time Is Love? (Live at Trancentral)” is a rave anthem writ large, its minor-key synth riffs and air-raid sirens trailing hangar-sized reverb. The 1991 hip-house hit “3AM Eternal (Live at the S.S.L.)” feels even huger, thanks to its snippets of crowd noise and infectious chant of “Ancients of Mu Mu,” but nimble rapping and soulful background vocals give it a lightness of spirit typically missing from such over-the-top fare. Held aloft by stabbing pianos and train-whistle whoops, “Last Train to Trancentral (Live From the Lost Continent)” might be the collection’s most flat-out euphoric song, while “Justified & Ancient”—a chunky new jack swing beat paired with a winsome lead vocal from country legend Tammy Wynette—proves just how determined The KLF were to follow their own mischievous muse. So, for that matter, does “3AM Eternal (From the Black Room (The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu Vs Extreme Noise Terror)),” a collaboration with a notorious crust-punk band. Shortly after the song’s 1992 release, the two groups would take the stage at the BRIT Awards, where Drummond fired blanks from a machine gun over the shocked crowd’s head, announced his retirement from the music industry, and dumped a sheep’s carcass on the venue stairs. Even without the blood and gunpowder, the recorded version of the song captures the genius of The KLF in all its incendiary glory.