A fortnight ago, I popped along to Electric Ballroom in Camden with my pal Jon (of New Noise fame) to see Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All (OFWGKTA).
You all know who they are. Depending on your outlook, they’re either a horrible, cartoonish every-parent’s-worst-nightmare bunch of kids who joke about, and possibly even endorse, rape and drugs and violence and not eating your vegetables (probably), or they’re subverting what is expected of young black males in the US in 2011. I happen to think it’s the latter, and I’d use a highly revealing quote from an interview with Tyler, the Creator (OFWGKTA’s de facto leader) in a recent issue of The Stool Pigeon. When asked what the most tedious thing about doing interviews with the press was, Tyler responded with:
‘….that they always ask questions about Tyler, and never about me.’
I’d argue that, as many musical artists have done before them (I referenced this most recently in my entry about CW Stoneking), OFWGKTA (or Tyler, the Creator at the very least) have created a set of characters to inhabit, and subsequently perform as them both at their live shows and on record. I’m not suggesting the characters don’t overlap and sometimes get blurred, I’m sure they do. But they are still characters.
Anyway, on to the gig. It was an impressively energetic performance, even without the absent Earl Sweatshirt (apparently currently exiled in Samoa, bizarrely) and with Tyler in a leg cast which rendered him chair bound for most of the set. As they stage dived and swore and fist-pumped their way through the show, it was clear that youthful exuberance is both their biggest asset and their biggest hindrance. There is something absolutely vital about youthful energy and Odd Future have it in abundance. It fuels everything they do. It underpins all their releases to date and it was clearly the lifeblood of this (and I’d imagine every other) live performance. In places, it was impossible to not be swept away by it all. However, their inexperience was also abundantly clear; the insistence on stopping for a minute or two between every single song to indulge in what amounted to little more than in-jokes and mostly inaudible patter was naive. The claim that they hadn’t worked out a set list came across as lazy. It was like they were sucking out the energy as effortlessly as they had injected it.
But the biggest misfire of the evening was left to Tyler, the Creator himself. Towards the end of the set he earnestly exclaimed that the venue’s management had given them their ten minute warning. ‘But fuck it,’ screamed hip hop’s newest superstar, ‘we’re gonna do FIFTEEN!’
He may be every parent’s worst nightmare, but Axl Rose he is not.
Check out a decent quality video of the show here.
‘At the moment, he’s drawn a big line diagonally across a map of the United Kingdom, and he’s travelling along it. Any person who happens to live on that line, he goes into their house and makes them soup.’
This is the answer I received when, a couple of years ago, I asked my friend and ex-colleague Joe what his uncle was up to these days. Joe’s uncle is Bill Drummond, former enfant terrible of the music industry. With his long-time collaborator Jimmy Cauty, Drummond turned the music business on its head for a few wonderful years at the end of the 80s/start of the 90s with his hiphop/acid house outfit The KLF, who mixed genuinely brilliant pop music with a variety of artistic statements.
The KLF a.k.a. The Justified Ancients of Mu-Mu, further known as The JAMMs (to give them their full name) were formed by Drummond in 1987 after he quit the music business upon reaching the age of 33 1/3 (the very speed a vinyl LP rotates on a turntable) and decided to rail against an industry he felt had become stagnant and staid. Within four short years, and on their own independent label KLF Communications, The KLF had become the biggest selling band in the UK, and it’s hard to think of an artist that released a better selection of singles in 1991 than What Time is Love?, 3am Eternal, Last Train to Trancentral and Justified and Ancient (which featured ‘First Lady of Country Music’ Tammy Wynette). Brilliant rap verses, spat with great dexterity by Ricardo Da Force over huge, punishing beats and melodic refrains, coupled with stadium crowd noises collided and sounded like music from the future. It propelled them to the top of the charts. It was breathtaking stuff.
I feel that part of this story is worth reiterating (especially given the state of the music industry in 2011): in 1991, The KLF had more top ten hits than Madonna, Kylie Minogue and Queen, one of their biggest hits was an acid house song featuring Tammy Wynette, and they achieved this on their own independent label. Note to younger readers: this did ACTUALLY HAPPEN.
The album that contained these hits, The White Room was and is a glorious affair, linking the lead singles together with a tight overall concept and aesthetic, resulting in something truly imaginative. Unfortunately, whilst it was only their second long player as The KLF, it also proved to be their last. In early 1992, The KLF performed a magnificent version of 3am Eternal with hardcore crust-punk band Extreme Noise Terror at the Brit Awards (again, yes, really) which ended in Drummond firing a machine gun filled with blanks into a stunned audience of music industry executives and other pop artists. As they disappeared from the stage, a PA crackled into life: ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, The KLF have now left the music business.’ There was only time to drop off a dead sheep at the aftershow party, before disappearing (save a couple of brief reunions under various guises in 1995 and 1997) forever. A further project with Extreme Noise Terror based around a heavy-metal version of The White Room called The Black Room was also shelved and remains unreleased.
Drummond immediately set about deleting The KLF’s entire back catalogue, undoubtedly costing him and Cauty a fortune, and to this day The White Room and its predecessor Chill Out remain unavailable. And, as if that wasn’t enough of a statement, a couple of years later Drummond and Cauty (by now operating under the moniker ‘The K Foundation’) travelled across to the Isle of Jura along the west coast of Scotland and filmed themselves burning one million pounds; this amount was later revealed to be the grand total of The KLF’s earnings.
But, as impressive a statement as burning a million pounds is, The KLF’s clever stunts, set-piece art and controversy just wouldn’t have worked had they not been a wonderfully refreshing, interesting pop band. Their innovative way of making music, fusing several genres together to create something fresh and new makes for entertaining and rewarding listening, and 20 years on they continue to be a per’ennially underrated and often overlooked part of British pop music history. Hopefully, this blog posting goes a tiny way towards redressing the balance.
Since the self-imposed demise of his most successful group, Drummond has busied himself with a number of more low-key art and music projects, sometimes with Jimmy Cauty, sometimes not. Indeed, there have even been rumours that they continue to make music as The K Foundation, yet refuse to release it.
Will The KLF come back to give the music industry a much-needed shot in the arm? It seems not, at least not for the moment. In November 1995, a 23 year moratorium between Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty was agreed and signed prohibiting either man from carrying out or even talking about further KLF/K Foundation activities. So it looks like we’ve got 7 more years to wait. That’s a lot of soup.
Glastonbury kicks off on Friday 24th June, and to be frank, there’s more artists playing than you can shake a juggling club at. It can be a terrible business trying to plan your weekend. To that end, here’s our pick of performances worth trudging half an hour through a selection of fields for.
On Friday night, before pop-rock behemoths U2 (who finally make their Glastonbury headlining bow, 35 years after their formation and a year after having to pull out due to Bono’s unfortunate back injury) is the living legend that is Morrissey. A compelling presence live and a master storyteller through his songs, Mozza’s huge stage persona and tight-as-Joey Ramone’s-jeans backing band will have no problem filling the Pyramid Stage. Given that The Smiths are unlikely to reform anytime soon (Johnny Marr is too busy joining every other band on the planet), this is undoubtedly the next best thing. He has a delightful habit of dropping Smiths covers into his set, too. He’ll be quick to tell you that he’s made loads more records on his own than he ever did with The Smiths, but try telling that to anyone when the first note of How Soon Is Now? rings out. Be there.
But, before Friday night obviously comes Friday afternoon, and what better way to spend it than to sit in the sun (fingers crossed) and watch the best rap collective of all time? Staten Island’s finest, RZA, GZA, Method Man, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck, U-God and Masta Killa aka Wu-Tang Clan hit Worthy Farm right in the chin with some of the dirtiest, kung-fu influenced hip-hop known to man. It’s a long way from the Slums of Shaolin to Somerset, UK, and provided they make the trip (no shows have been known), the entertainment level will be sky-high, even if you’re not someone with an ear for rap. If you’re sitting down at the start of their set, you certainly won’t be by the end. Honestly, don’t miss it.
Just after that, hot foot it back to the Other Stage in time for Fleet Foxes, a band that are finally getting to grips with filling huge venues with their four-part harmony laden folk rock. In 2009, they failed to really connect on the Pyramid Stage, but they’ve grown as live performers immeasurably since then, and the Other Stage should suit them. Expect cuts from their new Helplessness Blues album, interspersed with music from their now modern classic self-titled debut. They have the potential to be the the performance of the weekend, so make sure you’re able to say you were there.
Coldplay top the bill on the Pyramid Stage on Saturday night, and it’s been six long years since they wowed the crowds on the back of their X&Y record. If you’re a Coldplay fan, that night was truly special, the weather creating a dramatic mist that swamped over the assembled throng, failing to dampen the spirits of those belting the band’s best-known songs back at them. There’s no reason this year will be any different, so expect anthems and moments to savour.
If you don’t fancy the whimsical, soaring AOR that Coldplay deal in, then on The Other Stage at the same time is the full on aural assault that are The Chemical Brothers. Getting people moving their feet since the early 90s, Ed Simons and Tom Rowlands are Glasto veterans. They know the festival, they know the crowd and they know how to give you a night that you’ll never forget. Expect hits. Loads and loads of hits. Oh, and a laser show that will permanently fuse your retinas to your skull. In a good way. In a I-can’t-find-my-way-back-to-my-tent-because-all-I-can-see-is-flashing-lights-in-the-darkness-way. Get a Coldplay watching friend to escort you back.
Beyoncé takes on the much-coveted and now legendary Sunday night slot and should delight the masses with a whistle-stop tour through her (at the last count) 14 billion top ten singles. And, after his astonishing Gallagher brothers baiting performance in ‘08, is it too much to expect a cameo from the jigga man himself, Jay-Z? It’s easy to write Beyoncé off as a straight-down-the-line chart-topping pop act, but she’s so much more than that. She has transcended the genre, and is one of the finest pop performers since Madonna. She’ll send you home from the West Country with a smile on your face and a shake in your booty. No doubt.
Remember though, Glastonbury is about so much more than the mainstream, it rightly has a great reputation for booking artists from across the spectrum. You owe it to yourself and to the price of the ticket to go and experience as much as you can. Here are some smaller acts well worth your time:
Leeds-based Pulled Apart By Horses are electrifying live. Purveyors of the finest song titles in the known world (‘I Punched a Lion in the Throat’, ‘High Five, Swan Dive, Nose Dive’ and ‘I’ve Got Guestlist to Rory O’Hara’s Suicide’ being particular highlights), they mix screaming alternative metal with grunge and throw themselves around the stage with little regard for their own safety. Also, they’re loud. Really, really loud. Catch them on Oxlyers in West in the Dance Village on Saturday.
Also on Saturday afternoon, Yuck play the John Peel Stage. A heady mix of Dinosaur Jr. and Pavement with a shed load of melody thrown in, their self-titled debut record is one of the albums of the year. Capable of long wig-outs as well as slices of pure guitar pop, there’s something for everyone here.
On the Avalon Stage, look out for travelling bluesman and storyteller CW Stoneking. A throwback to the Deep South circa about 1934, Stoneking weaves breathtaking tales of love, loss and shipwrecks and has apparently visited everywhere from New Orleans to sub-Saharan Africa in search of the perfect song. He spins a good yarn, plays a magnificent steel guitar and has a Primitive Horn Orchestra. What more can you ask for?
In the unlikely event that you need a break from all that music, you could do worse than go and listen to former politician and octogenarian Tony Benn. Now aged 86 and still showing no signs of letting up, he’s an engaging speaker, bristling with razor-sharp wit and experience. He delivers his now customary talk in the Greenfields on Saturday. So, if the hangover is precluding you from listening to anything louder than an elderly man talk about the issues of the day, Mr Benn is your man.
Others to watch out for: Warpaint (Friday, The Park) - dreamy art pop; The Secret Sisters (Friday, Acoustic) - Jack White-produced country music; The Joy Formidable (Sunday, John Peel) - noisy Welsh indie; Billy Bragg (Friday, Left Field) - Legendary songsmith and Glastonbury stalwart.
This article originally appeared on IGN.com on June 20th, 2011.