Under the Influence, Part One: The KLF

Do you ever find yourself wondering: how did I end up here, listening to the bands I listen to? Why do I like rock and roll more than country & western or electronic music more than opera? Where did I go wrong? I'm only half joking.

The formation of music taste is like a long and unpredictable journey. The path begins at a song you hear on the radio, or played in a club. Once upon a time music videos started adventures. My older brother played a huge role in the music I listen to now. Without him there would be no U2, which led me to hear The Cure and New Order, which led to Madchester, which led me to techno and so forth and so on.

The construction of music taste is also akin to building a house over several decades. Some additions are logically connected; others come from nowhere and seem whimsical upon reflection. New rooms spring up at odd angles, staircases lead to brick walls.

When I trace my listening history, the progression seems linear on the surface. In reality there was no planning. I didn't set out to like Bob Dylan, Robert Johnson, Brian Eno or Prince. How I stumbled upon them, tested them out and finally embraced them as my own is a story full of randomness. It's also not very interesting to anyone other than me.

So rather than expound upon every twist and turn, I thought I would identify the key, taste-defining records and ponder some of the more inexplicable choices, one genre at a time, beginning with electronic and The KLF's The White Room. Bear in mind that my choices may not be in perfect chronological order. I'm relying upon my memory here and it's not always that accurate.

My awareness of electronic music didn't begin with KLF. At some point in the fall of 1990 or early spring 1991 I became a vociferous reader of the NME and Melody Maker. These hyperbolic British rags provided me with an education in the burgeoning shoegaze scene, Madchester and of course techno, house, acid, ambient, rave, etc. My first electronic purchase was an import copy of The White Room, Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty's odd and addictive house classic.

The acid house revolution that I studied in the British magazines had barely stirred the dust at the all-age dance clubs and after hour joints I frequented in Arizona in 1991. There, goths still reigned, rave culture existed on TV and acid house was played at the only good over-21 club in Tucson, Club Congress. Only 19 and without a fake ID, I could merely sit outside the Congress and listen to the house beat thud like a giant, elusive heart.

Ironically, dance music only crashed through the pop-defiant walls of my under-21 goth club when it hit the top 40 charts. The DJs couldn't ignore it any more when the KLF's "3 A.M. Eternal" became a pop sensation, peaking at number five on the Billboard Hot 100. Two merry pranksters from the UK had scored a hit and temporarily pushed aside Robert Smith, Morrissey and all the other mopey rock stars. I savored the victory.

While the KLF was briefly taking over the dance floor, I continued to absorb new electronic music influences. Two records released in the fall of 1991 would prove to be watersheds: Orbital's "Green Album" and The Orb's Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld. More on these next time.