One YouTube jukebox party with other expats living in Berlin later, and this part of my childhood came flooding back…
You can read my little essay about The KLF’s 1989 hit ‘3am Eternal’ over there.
I’d still love this song even if it hadn’t dated as well as (I think) it has.
I was only a kid at the time, and about as far from the British club scene as a suburban Aussie kid watching Video Hits on a Saturday morning could be. I understood none of what any of it was about (and neither, I learned much later, did anyone else, including the KLF). But from the first time I heard that “KLF is gonna rock ya” lift-off, I was hooked.
The KLF themselves (no-one knew what that stood for either) described 1989′s ’3am Eternal’ as “Stadium House”. To my ears, that means combining elements of the Brit- and Euro-house and techno that was charting at the time with classic hip-hop ingredients (rap verses, soul choruses), arena crowd cheers, and huge breakbeats that could still rock a festival dance tent today. In short: crossover epic-ness.
Perhaps what made ’3am Eternal’ sound so epic was the way in which those elements were combined: where the sounds of fellow-top-40 hitmakers Technotronic and Black Box were closed, dry, contained perhaps in a concrete-bunker basement-rave, ’3am Eternal’ is awash with reverb, as if the KLF were liberating these sounds from the underground and unleashing them upon the world. And, ultimately, that’s just what they proclaimed they were doing.
Amid the hugeness of the production, the key ingredient of ’3am Eternal’s larger-than-life atmospherics may have been the vocals. The lyrics seemed to be preaching from some secret gospel; maybe the KLF were envoys of a kind of Illuminati, attempting to communicate their Earth-shattering message through cryptic symbols planted in dance-pop music, and it was up to us to decipher the clues. Each new character or concept – “Justified Ancients of Mu Mu”, “3am Eternal”, and of course “KLF!” (“Uh-huh!”, as if we should know exactly what that meant) – was another facet of a mystery that just had to be solved. It was all so urgent (those guys are BOOMING the words “Mu Mu”), and too big to be ignored.
All the mythos surrounding the KLF that I only learned years later – the burning of a million pounds made from record sales; the building of studios on ley lines to channel Druid spirits for artistic inspiration; that the whole project was the brainchild of two successful Top 40 producers bitterly manipulating pop music culture like a jaded Neo bending the Matrix – never enhanced or helped to explain the sheer excitement I felt as a kid whenever ’3am Eternal’ would come on the radio, and especially on TV.
Ah, that video: who didn’t want to MC over a CB radio, driving around at night in a car made of speakers? It’s an image and a fantasy that has certainly stayed with me til now – and, while I couldn’t afford the car, I can proclaim that, as of last month, I’ve at least rocked the CB in a music video.
And I think that’s what this entry is about: the magic and power a song can have for you even when it makes no sense; a song that isn’t really about a whole lot of anything other than pushing your buttons; a song that captures your imagination when you’re still young enough to be captured that way; a song that’s so infectious that you and all your friends know every “word”, or your best guesses, without stopping to ask why none of the lyrics make sense, and what the hell is a Mu Mu anyway; a song about singing over loudspeakers that stays with you long after you’ve (supposedly) left your childhood behind.
Originally published in One A Day – Jan 11th, 2012