Rewind: Fantastikoi Hxoi on “The White Room”

Posted: October 18th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Features | Tags: , , , , , , , | No Comments »

In discussion with Fantastikoi Hxoi on “The White Room” by The KLF (1991).

What introduced you to the KLF? Were you already familiar with their previous incarnations as Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu or The Timelords, or did it start with their period from KLF onwards?

Well, I was something like twelve years old when “The White Room” broke internationally. I remember the “Last Train To Trancentral” video coming on after Paula Abdul on TV. I was like “ok, this is different”. It was a bit spooky to my young mind to be honest, all that faux-ritualistic imagery – and the music was equally gripping. Some years later I discovered The Orb and re-discovered the KLF and all their previous incarnations. Slowly I started to realise what they were really about.

Considering that “What Time Is Love?” was already released in 1988, would you say that The KLF introduced rave to dance music with all the according signals, stadium noises and such, or did they pick up on developments that were already there? Did they actually relate to a timeline in dance music?

As far as I can tell, they are one of the first underground rave acts that brought this kind of music (or elements of it) to the mainstream, complete with conceptual visual imagery and a certain philosophy. And ‘mainstream’ of course, is not 20.000 punters in a field in the UK. It’s a 12-year-old in Greece, on telly.

Is the “The White Room” compiling a particular phase in their career? What aspects and sounds constitutes its appeal for you?

It is their musical peak I think, the musical project that will finance the K Foundation and their most important gesture, but we’ll get to that later.

In terms of their tunes, I like their big room atmosphere, the sense of grandeur, they have no fear for melody. The big drops, good use of pauses, great ear for hooks, their sense of musicality is apparent everywhere in that album. They’re almost at the limit of cheese sometimes, but with their music retaining an esoteric quality and/or irony. They really knew what they were doing.

As several tracks on the album were released as singles before, does “The White Room” still work as a coherent album? Does it have the added value the format requires?

For some reason, I’ve never really experienced it as a coherent album, even though it has its recurring themes and everything. For me it doesn’t work as a whole in terms of musical continuity, I can’t say why – it certainly works as a whole conceptually, though.

“The White Room” was originally conceived as a soundtrack to a film of the same name. They had to cancel the film project, but still the videos accompanying the album were already very impressive. How important was the visual aspect of The KLF?

Very important. It made the whole KLF universe come alive – from their powerful graphic designs (such as the “Justified” pyramid with the ghettoblaster) to the future-noir appearance of the battered Ford Timelord, they have showcased a selection of images that aided to make their cult status achievable.

The KLF seemed to have two major streaks in their music. On the one hand ambient music, as on The KLF’s first album “Chill Out” and the collaborations of Cauty with The Orb, on the other hand what they themselves called “stadium house”. Do you think they decidedly wanted to unite two aspects that were originally opposed to each other? And did they succeed?

It’s two sides of the same coin, I think. All part of the endless cross-hybridisation and fertile experiments going on in electronic dance music of the early nineties. “Stadium house” and “ambient” are the two ends, and these guys were just running forwards and backwards all the time.

What do The KLF still have in common with ambient music as produced by Brian Eno? Did they just transfer it to a club context, or was there more to it?

Very few people produce music that has anything in common with the exact meaning coined by Eno. Very few people want to actually produce muzak (or furniture music as conceived earlier by Satie), an aural tapestry that will mingle with surrounding sounds in an environment. They want their work to have a life of its own – or rather, only its own. On the other hand, even Chris Watson’s work (who prefers to be called ‘sound-recordist’) is ‘ambient’ in the most literal sense, but again has nothing to do with Eno’s original conception. Basically what I think happened is, after a certain point, the term ‘ambient music’ bags together everything that has floating pads and moves around certain “soothing” chords – later stuff by Eno, like the Apollo.

What all these people actually did (Alex Paterson, Youth, The KLF, Mixmaster Morris) is that they created an alternative universe for the frantic rave crowd of the early nineties. It had practical importance (such as in the chill-out rooms) but basically it was just thinking-outside-the-box. New music, with a new purpose. A kind of ‘anti-rave’ thing. In that sense, ‘ambient’ is a word that sounds nice and has a particular meaning, but it’s really far from the philosophy that’s originally described in the liner notes of Discreet Music – and it’s also detached from Eno’s ‘ambient’ stuff.

Both Bill Drummond and Bill Cauty don’t have a background you would normally associate with the music they did. What might have driven them to explore territorries so detached from their origins in the business? Boredom? Disappointment?

A little bit of both probably. You know how America trained all these Afghan radicals in the ‘80s, just to find them 20 years later bombing their own homeland? It’s something like that.

The KLF claimed that they abandoned their earlier projects because they wanted to concentrate more on the music, and not lead a crusade for sampling. Their aim was to produce “pure dance music, without any reference points, without any nod to the history of rock and roll”. Do you think they achieved that? And are the musical beginnings of their partnership still ringing through?

They are great artists. It’s really frightening, the sheer volume of their talent and how they managed to pull it all off. After all the sampling thing (which was something like John Oswald’s Plunderphonics but mainstreamized and with added anti-establishment value – more plunderphonics than hip-hop, actually) they did go to produce pure dance music.

Their early rave tunes are flawless underground tunes that would destroy any rave. Then they remix and re-pack them in an album and they go on to sell millions worldwide. They weren’t actually doing anything new, because they were already informed by acid house, by the facelessness of the DJ, the dark room, where you didn’t go out to see anymore, you where going out to listen. These barriers, set by 60 years of rock music, are still there in our present day.

People need visual stimulation when they go out, they want to see someone soloing, they want to see a drummer sweating, all these useless rock stage theatrics are still there. It’s such a pity for certain music in certain spaces that it has to be that way. And what did Drummond and Cauty do in response? They got a sitar and pretended to play guitar solos on it. Oh man, what I wouldn’t give to go out with these two out for a few drinks…

As so many of Drummond’s and Cauty’s activities were based on conceptual ideas, how important was the music in the first place, and how important was the message?

I think the decision is up to the receiver. Take “The Manual” for example. Some people actually used it to make hit records, even though it was really an ironic critique on how the industry works – an ironic critique by not criticizing it, by just laying the facts. Specifically about the KLF, I feel the messages are as important as the music, you can choose whether you want to be entertained, enlightened, or both. Tunes are flawless, anyway.

What might have inspired them to do what they were doing in terms of concepts? Were they the dance update of Malcolm McLaren’s situationist art references for the Sex Pistols for example, or was it just a modernized version of any working hype in pop history? What influence did Robert Anton Wilson’s “Illuminatus” trilogy have?

It was pop hype. The KLF knew how the thing worked, our society of the spectacle.

For Debord spectacular features like mass media and advertising have a central role in an advanced capitalist society, which is to show a fake reality in order to mask the real capitalist degradation of human life.”

Drummond and Cauty chose, instead of fighting that thing from the fringes, to be part of the spectacle in order to corrode it.

In the “Illuminatus” trilogy, the Justified Ancients Of Mummu is a group of Discordians who have infiltrated the Illuminati (a political organisation which seeks to impose order and control upon society) in order to feed them false information.

That’s a big part of how the KLF did what they had to do – from the Face advertisements to the Brit Awards, from their plundering Abba records to burning a million quid, that’s how they chose to do it. After all, their magnum opus, burning money: how could they ever burn a million quid if they didn’t make a million quid first?

Was the kind of music they produced the perfect vehicle for their ideas, or could you imagine it working with other sounds?

It was perfect. Catchy, almost poppy dance tunes that the masses liked, with the duo’s artistic integrity remaining intact.

How much of The KLF is pure hoax and how much is artistic intention?

Most of it is social provocation through hoax, with a strong anti-establishment cause, aided by great music and art. Through art, they get there, they get to the cause. As the K Foundation, they first carry money nailed in a piece of wood, an art ceremony. Then I can picture them saying “this doesn’t work, let’s just burn the fucking things”.

Not that this was a hoax, mind you. They were dead serious.

Why do you think The KLF became so incredibly successful? Were they just more exciting because they were relentlessly executing their ideas, or were they just at the right time, in the right place? Were others just too afraid?

They were great musicians, with a great ear for hook and many well-executed ideas. Of course all that provocation with the Abba and Whitney Houston samples helped, and I’m sure that they did have their connections, but mainly for me it was determination, talent and a plan. And fearlessness.

It is obvious that the success of The KLF, however it was motivated, soon found imitators. Altern 8 for example took their clues, and countless others seemed to follow their trail both in terms of sound and concept. Even Scooter claim The KLF as their biggest inspiration. Was inevitable that The KLF had to disband as they did? Was everything said and done?

Well, that’s what Bill and Jimmy thought, anyway. They wanted to focus elsewhere. They re-incarnated as the K Foundation. The struggle never stops.

Apparently, The KLF initially worked with the band “Extreme Noise Terror” on an album called “The Black Room” to follow up, but then decided to retire from the music business. Would it have made sense to produce a dark twin, a counterpart?

I’d really love to have heard that.

Still, Drummond and Cauty carried on to work together, with numerous remarkable results, even though they were not connected so much with music anymore. Did you follow their actions after The KLF?

For me, the whole thing climaxes with “The K Foundation Burn A Million Quid” thing. Burning money, a large sum of money. I think it’s as courageous as diving in a river to save someone drowning. More courageous in fact, because good or brave people will instinctively dive to save someone. But nobody will ever burn money as a statement, or because they plainly hate it. I remember reading their book, where they described that they toured the UK and had these conversations with the audience, asking them how they felt about their action. Most people were outraged, few were baffled, fewer approved. Burning money, it was unspeakable.

The outraged argued that the money should be given to charity, to do good. But charity is just a painkiller, isn’t it? While defying the worth of money is actually striking the problem at its core, even if it’s done by two units like Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty. It’s the realisation, that people are enslaved and the momentarily lapse of reason as a response. Think about it for a moment: one million pounds. It takes big cohones to do something like that. It’s a very brave symbolic statement. “We are opposed to this”. “And we don’t give a fuck”.

I know it hasn’t changed much and that they still both live in a capitalist society, but at least they defied their fear, even just for a moment. One.million.pounds.

Do you think they could achieve a comparable impact with another music project again? Could there be another step forward, and if so, how could it possibly sound?

There are no steps forwards anymore, only masked steps backwards. I’d still love some major provocation from their side though, no matter how it would sound.

Even if both Drummond and Cauty are still active with interesting projects, it is not that much under the public eye any longer. Do you think it is possible to establish a longterm career that is both artistically subversive and commercially successful?

I think these two could have done it, if they still wanted to. As for long-term artistically subversive careers that would be commercially successful, I believe all you need is a good marketing plan. I am adamant that the mainstream could be listening even to Iannis Xenakis if they were marketed to it.

With your work as Fantastikoi Hxoi, you are working conceptually yourself. Even if it is looks and sound differently, do The KLF have an influence on what you do?

They taught me to love the stadium feel. Big, epic breakdowns and nice melodies. Expressiveness. And I fear a little less since I’ve known them better.

Sounds like me 10/10

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