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Mar 11

THE KLF ft THE CHILDREN OF THE REVOLUTION – “3AM Eternal”

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#659, 2nd February 1991

“Faceless”. I don’t know who first used this particular epithet against dance music’s pop takeover, but the concept stuck. Facelessness became a stick used to beat the new music with – by suddenly-old DJs, faux-concerned critics, frustrated executives and not a few confused former pop fans. The idea was that club music didn’t create stars, marketable individuals, long-term careers and audience focus points – in the longer term these claims were proved wrong but in the wide-eyed, loose-limbed climate of the early 90s they seemed credible. In fact they didn’t go far enough – what the dance singles filling the charts were doing was turning the existing purpose of a ‘single’ on its head. Singles had long been a promotional medium – an advert for something, be it an album, a tour, a film or TV show, a comedian’s career. Dance tracks, though, weren’t announcing anything – they were instead the echoes of events which had already happened. A rave record’s moment of currency was when it spread through DJ sets, not when it entered the charts. This had been, for a long time, the logic of the holiday hit, “Y Viva Espana” et al – but now extended to encompass an entire subculture. No wonder the old guard were horrified.

This meant that the public face of rave music – on TV music shows, for instance – was enormously variable. Sometimes the acts genuinely didn’t seem bothered, sometimes they were woefully amateurish… and sometimes they seized the opportunity, redefined “facelessness” as a blank pop canvas and worked to bring a bit of spectacle into the charts. Altern 8, with their boiler suits and face masks; The Orb, playing cosmic chess on Top Of The Pops. And before them, the KLF.

Bill Drummond had been creating pop events for more than a decade – it was his signature tactic as a manager, it had carried successfully over into the early, sample-driven KLF days and it had taken him to the top of the charts already. He’d been a student during glam rock, managed at the start of the video era – he knew how important concept and imagery were to pop. And I think his insight with the KLF at their (and his) mainstream zenith was something like this: if rave music is always the aftermath of a party that’s already happened, the ideal pop incarnation of rave music needs to be the aftermath of an entirely imaginary party, the greatest party that ever could happen.

So the Stadium House trilogy – the trio of hits which includes “3AM Eternal” – is all billed as “live” from some imaginary geographies (Trancentral, the Lost Continent… though “SSL”, the cryptic location of “3AM”, is rather prosaically a mixing desk). The group’s work is full of jumbled references to their own private mythology, which almost certainly was never even as barely coherent as the songs made out. But the robes and horns and cars looked great, the “ancients of Mu Mu” chants sounded great – the group dressed and acted like nobody else around. In a way it was pure gimmick, just the Timelords again on an even bigger scale: but they gave the impression of enough going on in the background for deep cult appeal, and there was enough happening in the hits to cross over completely. Because, after all, none of it would have worked if the Stadium House material wasn’t instant pop, thrilling and energising even if you never paid attention to anything else the KLF did.

“3AM Eternal” is the rushiest, most exciting, most modern-sounding Number One since Adamski – but it’s also the weakest of the Stadium House hits for me. “What Time Is Love?” has even bigger hooks; “Last Train To Trancentral” is even more euphoric. What “3AM” does have is the amazing, machine-gun fire intro, and Wanda Dee floating pure and serene over the crowd noises and crunching breakbeats, and an oddly wistful, high synth line picking its way through the bombast and into your brain. And it has Ricardo Da Force, not the first or last dodgy rapper we’ll encounter in the early 90s, spouting amiable nonsense on roughly a Turbo B level. The whole thing is similar to “The Power”, in fact, but everything seems faster, more flamboyant, more baffling and more of an event. It’s a shot of abstracted pop thrill-power and still an enormously welcome one.

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Comments

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  1. 101
    abaffledrepublic on 26 Mar 2011 #

    #90: the January 31st TOTP appearance must therefore have been the occasion when Anthea Turner proved how down with the kids she was, by introducing the group as the KLM.

  2. 102
    Tom on 4 Apr 2011 #

    Anyone keen to see me talk about the KLF at (even) greater length is urged to get themselves to http://oneweekoneband.tumblr.com, where I’ll be guest-blogging about them all week.

  3. 103
    Cumbrian on 4 Apr 2011 #

    Tom: enjoying the oneweekoneband thus far. Wouldn’t dream of providing a suggestion if the question of Friday were not still open – but it seems to me that something could be said of the remix work that KLF did and how they fitted in with the wider pop music culture of the UK in the late 80s/early 90s (especially in as much as they remixed Pet Shop Boys and Depeche Mode at points in their careers where all three were large/important bands). Feel free to ignore – as I said, enjoying it as it is unfolding anyway and I am sure you’ll have better ideas than me!

  4. 104
    Tom on 4 Apr 2011 #

    Cumbrian – thanks! The question of Friday isn’t actually open, I know what’s going to be in there (and actually the PSB/DM stuff would fit in with it). Just not saying what it is yet. There’ll be stuff about the KLF in 80s/90s pop culture on Wednesday, too.

  5. 105
    Cumbrian on 4 Apr 2011 #

    Cool – I shall look forward to it.

  6. 106
    enitharmon on 5 Apr 2011 #

    As I was waiting for my bus to Kendal this morning in Cavendish Street, known around these parts as “The Gaza Strip” for it’s vibrant{1} club scene, I noticed that the Circus Circus club claims to feature one ‘Deejay Migraine’.

    Says it all, really, about how I feel about this kind of music.

    {1} I reference, I should think, to the multicoloured vomit to be found eternally at 3am on a Saturday morning.

  7. 107
    Tom on 5 Apr 2011 #

    Oddly enough Chill Out often makes me think of long journeys by car up to Kendal. It’s the dry-stone wall on the cover I guess!

  8. 108
    Dave on 13 Apr 2011 #

    This tune (in its pure trance incarnation) was absolutely played in clubs and at raves – KLF famously did a PA at one of the outdoor raves (Helter Skelter?) and threw their fee in pound notes into the crowd.

    I distinctly remember Bukem featuring KLF tunes in his set around 90 / 91

  9. 109
    lonepilgrim on 8 May 2011 #

    This track features in this round-up of clips from 1991:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b010w8t0/Movin_on_Up_Pop_Hits_from_1991/

  10. 110
    AndyPandy on 8 May 2011 #

    108 yes that was the pure trance version which was very different and very good (the What Time Is Love one was good too)and that was about 1988/89. And just because they did that PA doesn’t mean people were buying them at Boogie Times etc By the time of the completely revamped (and IMHO ruined pop chart toppers) I’d be very surprised if the new (‘stadium house’)versions were getting spun – I know you didn’t hear them on the pirates or even Kiss except for a token play on chart rundowns.

  11. 111
    lonepilgrim on 20 Jan 2012 #

    one of the sources for KLFs mythology can be found here:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/gwendalcentrifugue/6666374389/in/photostream/lightbox/

  12. 112
    wichita lineman on 11 Mar 2013 #

    A sad and unexpected goodbye to Ricardo Da Force, aka Ricky Lyte.

    http://newsflash.bigshotmag.com/news/uk-news/23576/

  13. 113
    hectorthebat on 22 Mar 2015 #

    Critic watch:

    1,001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010) 1002
    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    Mixmag (UK) – Nominations for the Greatest Dance Track of All Time (2012)
    Paul Morley (UK) – Words and Music, 210 Greatest Pop Singles of All Time (2003)
    Q (UK) – The 1001 Best Songs Ever (2003) 150
    Gilles Verlant and Thomas Caussé (France) – 3000 Rock Classics (2009)
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)
    Eye Weekly Canadian Critics Poll – Singles of the Year 17
    Rock de Lux (Spain) – Songs of the Year 14

  14. 114
    Blythwood on 17 Oct 2016 #

    I’d be interested to see if anyone can confirm a claim I’ve seen online that the machine gun / “This is Radio Freedom” intro was sampled from the station ident of an ANC radio station of that name. I’d always assumed it was some kind of WWII/Free French reference.

    Anyway, yes, “baffling” is the word for this – the incredible mixture of bizarre, pumped-up, self-referential slogans and the wistfulness of being awake late at night. Somehow it seems like a triumph of self-imposed restrictions: no lyrics except slogans. Very Frankie.

    The video is really excellent after the cheapness of the Doctorin’ the Tardis video – the decision to share elements between their stadium house singles videos and presumably pool the budget was inspired. You have the combination of Thomas-The-Tank-Engine-gone-dystopian model shots and studio of the pyramid, the space of the first studio shot where the camera zooms away from the performers on the pyramid to reveal the vocalist in the KLF t-shirt, the whirling late-night shots of the car in London…it all feels very appropriate somehow, very imagined geographies.

  15. 115
    Cumbrian on 4 Jan 2017 #

    http://www.factmag.com/2017/01/03/the-klf-video-collage-return-23/

    If this really is the precursor to a comeback, rather than just a continuation of The KLF’s stunt monkey tendencies, I’m unsure how I feel about it. Going back to this well simultaneously does and doesn’t feel like the sort of thing that they should be doing.

  16. 116
    Cumbrian on 5 Jan 2017 #

    Further update, including bill poster stuck up somewhere in Hackney.

    http://thequietus.com/articles/21514-klf-jamms-to-return-slam-film

  17. 117
    Adam Puke on 7 Jan 2017 #

    My money’s on them touring their classic White Room album. With support from N-Trance.

  18. 118
    flahr on 7 Jan 2017 #

    They should tour Chill Out. Or the sampleless version of 1987.

  19. 119
    Phil on 7 Jan 2017 #

    The poster was quote spotted unquote by Cally, the design genius behind everything from Eastfolk to the Kaiser Chiefs board game to that Nick Drake CD (and that other Nick Drake CD) to the Tea Set. (I think I had a letter from him once. It said the Rabbi Joseph Gordan single had sold out ages ago and tried to flog me something else. Those were the days.) Oh, and he’s also Bill Drummond’s manager.

    Anyway, the 23 years aren’t up until November 2018, so you’d think next August would be a bit previous, but who’s to say. I have to admit that my admiration for everyone involved is puppyishly intense, even after all this time (and it’s a long time since “Cups and Saucers”).

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