Friday Night Tune: The KLF – What Time Is Love?

I’m not always the smartest creature on the planet but there are still a few things I’ve managed to figure out over the years, a few tiny observations of life I’ve come to regard as almost transcendentally true. Firstly, the condition ratings you find on Discogs are often works of fiction that give the novels of Tolstoy a run for their money; that ‘human resources’ departments rarely contain much of either; and that awards ceremonies are what happens when great lumps of cosmic evil congeal around the twin stumps of money and fame.

Not all awards shows, I have to say. I have no truck for awards that seek to boost the profile of worthwhile organizations, or give a bit of praise and respect to people who have worked hard with little reward for the benefit of other people. The British Guide Dogs Awards is fine, for instance. It’s a worthwhile cause and features very clever dogs, so it wins all over the shop. That’s cool. I have no problems with the guide dogs. Nah, where I get snarky is with what Billy Crystal described as the sight of millionaires giving each other tiny gold statues.

We’ve already had the yearly bonanza of backslapping bellendery that is the Brits – a celebration of a music industry so middle of the road they should just give out Cat’s Eyes as the awards, and a show that has only been worth watching once (twice if you count the weird Sam Fox/Mick Fleetwood match up) – but we’ll get to that in a minute. I won’t even mention the Oscars which will be along before you’ve finished reading this.

The wost of the lot appears to be the soon to be all-to-real Electronic Music Awards which will be hosted in LA in April. I can barely imagine the depths of loathing towards humanity that must exist for something like this to come into being. It’s easy to say that this has nothing to do with us, that it’s about a strand of electronica which is far closer to being about brands and sales than anything that we would consider important. That’s true enough, but it’s also true that it hijacks an entire form of music rich with its own history, flavour and impact – and cuts out all of that, casting adrift everything that matters in exchange for a cold, hard dollar. That it’s being hosted in LA, (and no offence whatsoever to any LA readers) instead of a city with a heritage of electronic music – the Berlins or Londons or Chicagos or Detroits – says an awful lot. As does the fact the nominations seem to contain only one black artist in Carl Cox – an electronic music awards with only a single black nominee? That’s next generation wrongness.

But you know what? It really doesn’t matter because I was right the first time – it has nothing to do with us. Let them do their thing and we’ll do ours. Besides, no awards show is ever again going to be as chaotic, hilarious, exciting and genuinely mind-blowing as when The KLF won Best Group at the Brits in 1992.

They shared the award with Simply Red, which was itself the act of a bloated music industry damning the outsiders with faint praise. The KLF were one of those bands who changed lives even though they would probably loathe the idea that they did. Their entire career was one long snort of derision towards the very people who were now pretending to honour them. Their art-techno-punk shtick rubbed countless people up the wrong way. You could hate their knowing cynicism even though you loved the fact they were absolutely authentic about it. And they spat out some of the most lunatic records to ever get in the charts. They were as mainstream as they could get away with, but they were our sort of mainstream.

They opened the Brits in brilliantly vicious style, playing 3AM Eternal with thrash rockers Extreme Noise Terror and scaring the pets of countless households across Britain. That was nothing compared to when they reappeared later. Bill Drummond limping out onto the stage with a crutch under his arm and cigar in his mouth, clad in a leather greatcoat he claimed had once belonged to Rudolf Hess, before drawing out a vintage machine gun and firing blanks into the crowd, finally leaving the stage to the immortal words ‘Ladies and Gentleman, the KLF have now left the music business.’ They returned later in the night, after the cameras had stopped rolling, to dump a dead sheep outside the afterparty. For a 17-year-old, this stuff leaves a lasting impression.

This What Time Is Love is taken from their album, The White Room (which remains one of the stand out records of the era) and is one of those tracks that don’t seem to exist anymore (and rarely did). It’s extremely radio friendly, a tune for Radio One, but it keeps both feet planted firmly in the underground, and retains a punk spikiness that in a time becoming dominated with the limp rock styling of grunge made it seem that it was the one that actually knew what it was talking about; a real deal clawing itself from a scene that had largely been ignored by the mainstream. The claims they had left the music business were pretty accurate too. After this they deleted their catalogue and only performed together again on a tiny handful of occasions. Enjoy what they left behind. We’ll never get another band like them. I still don’t know whether to applaud that, or break down in mourning. Ladies and gentleman, The KLF.

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