Once upon a time in a decade not so far away, the KLF were a nineties pop sensation. Briefly the hottest, most profitable dance act on the planet, they dominated both the global charts and newspaper column inches. Yet, with the world at their feet, they deliberately decided to end it all and vanish into thin air.
… If Machiavelli had been alive in the 90s, the KLF would have been his theme tune.
Forsaking any box set royalties, reformation gigs or charity comeback singles, the KLF deleted their masters and deliberately stayed away from any late-in-life cash-ins. Ultimately by proving to be far more punk than the Sex Pistols and Clash ever were, director Chris Atkins’s Who killed the KLF? goes on to show that the KLF’s Bill Drummond and Bill Cauty, in the haunting words of Johnny Rotten, really did “mean it, ma-aaan!” when it came to walking away from the money.
Starting out in the 1970s, both members are shown to be a collision of jaded ambitions waiting to happen. Bill Drummond had been in bands, who then fell into managing Echo and Bunnymen, after which he wanted to quit the music business for good. However, in 1987, he formed a hip hop band The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu with like-minded Tolkien illustrator Bill Couty.
Similarly disenchanted with the music biz and travelling in tandem with Picasso’s quote that “artists don’t create, they steal”, they rebranded band, the KLF, shamelessly raided other records and set about capturing a generation’s imagination instead. Hits would follow and even after hitting the number one spot with their Doctoring The Tardis, they then took the unlikely step of publishing their entire approach in a DIY manual called “How To Have A Number 1 – The Easy Way“.
Now imagine that happening today.
-In short, you can’t.
This is because, if anything, KLF were far more intersted in creating a mystique than music. As long-time devotees to Discordianism [a pseudo-religion cooked up by two ageing SciFi writers], the band was far more into creating chaos and confusion than crafting hits. And then acid house came along. With each of their songs and videos becoming even more preposterous, the KLF eventually became a band daring itself into failure, without ever letting either the public or the press in on the joke.
And this is where Who Killed The KLF? duly deserves praise. Solidly constructed within the recorded words of the band themselves, this is a documentary for the post-truth generation about a band who saw the future and duly exploited it. That said, this is also a very affectionate film which manages to keep much of the KLF’s mysterious mosaic intact. So expect tall tales and jaw-dropping candour in a retelling that feels, for the most part, true.
As opined by one of the film’s talking heads, Watchmen‘s Alan Moore hits KLF’s modus operandi: “(the) purest actions are done without lust for result. It just has to be done.” With this in mind, you should watch this movie cold and free yourself from any over-analysis or prior expectations. Just surrender your mind to the glorious nerve and absurdity of a movie and its perpetrators. Why?
Well, if Machiavelli had been alive in the 90s and wanted to divide and conquer the music press, the chances are very high that the KLF would have been his theme tune.