Gotye on the Enduring Brilliance of the KLF

Gotye on the Enduring Brilliance of the KLF

While working on the recently-published-by-Stereogum oral history of Gotye's "Somebody That I Used to Know," I did a follow-up interview with Wally to run a few different facts by him, including the milestone of his song tying Lil Nas X's "Old Town Road" for most-times-gone-platinum by RIAA certifications. At one point, he compared Lil Nas X to legendary electronic duo and eternal tricksters the KLF in terms of his ability to garner publicity, and I asked him to talk at length about his love for the KLF. It didn't quite make sense in the oral history, but with Stereogum's permission I'm publishing this as-told-to right here.

I responded to it musically for whatever reason. As I got older, I thought back and realized that I appreciated their particular pop smarts, as unlikely as they are coming from their punk and theater backgrounds. But the way they are as producers—with all their session musicians and amazing engineers who programmed and played keyboards for them—they had a great ear and a great pop collage sense through using '80s hip-hop and the house music exploding at raves at the time.

As a kid in Australia, I was fascinated in a way I couldn't articulate. They were the ones in robes with horns coming out of their heads, and you got a cast of characters like the rappers who would appear to be fronting the band even though they were just the side people in the project. It was a musical attraction. I was so enraptured by the pop hooks in their music, and I still am when I put it on. I realize as years have gone by that I still think there's something special about Mark Stent's mixes, which are really representative of early in his career but also a time in which you had these S.S.L. mixes that were really complex for their time—a super full-frequency range, very dense, very loud and compressed, with a huge amount of high end. I responded to it purely musically.

I think one of the reasons why I loved them more and more over time is because, being a ten-year-old when I first heard them and responded on a pure pop level, even through my 30s and into my 40s I keep discovering and rediscovering things about how cool and awesome Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty were in all the decisions they made, and the reasons they made them. It feels like a never-ending series of surprises that keeps enriching that pure pop response I had to their music at the time.

Along the way, you discover all these other amazing things like the Chill Out record, and Bill Drummond's done other conceptual projects post-KLF since. It just keeps going deeper, even as it possibly gets more obscure and willfully challenging. It makes me reflect on how it relates to me, and my personal relationship to making music—and how does it relate to super-fans of mine who might be waiting for new music.

I sometimes think that, as interested as I am in everything Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty have done in the KLF and since the KLF, it's sometimes hard...and as much as I think to some people, on an immediate level, the K Foundation burning of a million quid thing almost does a disservice to the brilliance of their creative legacy, I think. Apart from it being, I think, a securely brilliant act in itself, it turns off people from discovering what's brilliant about so much of the other things they've done. It's almost an unfortunate tip of the iceberg for them, if there's anything mainstream about them at all.

As interested as I am, and as much as I've enjoyed reading Bill's books and some of the things they've done since, it's hard to shake that feeling that the work from that period is so brilliant to me, like lightning in the bottle. They were aiming to make pop in the most unlikely of ways—and they nailed it! #1 singles around the world! I think about fans of mine who might just be like, "Well, that's great if Wally is pursuing whatever he's interested in that nourishes him, but I wish he'd just make a song that I unabashedly love. Fundamentally, that's all I want from that person."

I'm sort of aware of it, so it's a tricky position to see whether it's a responsibility I have, or if that's not the case—or if it's just not possible! If you could capture lightning in a bottle any day of the week, you'd just do it.

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Jamie Larson