Who Killed The KLF? is not a murder mystery, nor is it a crime thriller of any sort. Rather, director Chris Atkins (who I presume isn’t related to actor Christopher Atkins) helms a documentary about the odd British band The KLF. While their name might not immediately be recognized, perhaps the aliases of the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu (JAMs) or The Timelords will ring a bell. No matter what name you know them under, the band was a bedrock of EDM and Techno in the 1980s and 90s. But, of course, all good things must come to an end.
Bill Drummond met Jimmy Cauty when the former was working at WEA Records. After resigning and hitting upon a bold new idea for a band, Drummond reached out to Cauty, noting that they two “share similar tastes.” Thus, in 1987, the two began a collaboration. Unfortunately, after some critically well-received releases and several legal tangles, they were on the verge of breaking up. But then a lark of a song, “Doctorin’ The Tardis,” was released under the fake band name The Timelords became a surprise song.
After officially changing the band name to The KLF after their record label and moving in the direction of house music and dubstep, the duo found loads of success. The band wound up so successful that they were nominated for Britpop’s Band Of The Year, which the pair instantly wanted to torpedo to prove a point. Oh yeah, I should probably mention that Cauty and Drummond were very much into performative acts, eventually setting a million pounds on fire and filming it. Atkins dutiful tracks the rise and fall and comeback (?) of The KLF while highlighting what made their act and songs such a dominant force at the time.
“…wound up so successful that they were nominated for Britpop’s Band Of The Year, which the pair instantly wanted to torpedo…”
Even more so than the amazing music that is heard throughout, Who Killed The KLF? is unique in that it is a story of a band that never sought fame or notoriety, thus, making the title itself a bit of an in-joke. At one point, either Drummond or Cauty state that “music is a cruel mistress,” which prevents them from doing things outside of the industry. It speaks volumes to their artistic integrity that this is how they view it, and Atkins does an excellent job at highlighting how and why they think this.
Also novel is how the filmmaker chooses to move through the timeline of the band and its various names. While interviews with several people, including a brilliant one from the god of modern comics himself, Alan Moore, much of the documentary is narrated by the band members themselves through audio and video recordings from their zenith in pop culture. This adds an immediacy to the story, as their thoughts and feelings about this or that event can be discerned almost immediately. It’s shockingly effective, plus many of the things The KLF revolted against are still as timely and prescient as ever.
While the ultimate answer to the titular question, Who Killed The KLF? is the only people who can… The KLF themselves, that is hardly the point. Atkins shines a light on a forgotten band, who were the biggest-selling singles act in the world in 1991 in an engaging and fun way. Plus, those who prefer their music to have something to say will have plenty to sink their teeth into.
"…adds an immediacy to the story..."