King Crimson are an English rock band formed in London in 1968. The band has undergone numerous formations throughout its history of which 21 musicians have been members; since 2016 it has consisted of Robert Fripp, Jakko Jakszyk, Tony Levin, Mel Collins, Pat Mastelotto, Gavin Harrison and Jeremy Stacey. Fripp is the only consistent member of the group, and is considered the band's leader and driving force. The band has earned a large cult following.
Developed from the unsuccessful trio Giles, Giles and Fripp, the band was seminal in the progressive rock genre in its first five years with its standard of instrumentation and complex song structures. King Crimson's debut album, In the Court of the Crimson King (1969), remains its most successful and influential, with its elements of jazz, classical, and experimental music. Their success increased following an opening act performance for The Rolling Stones at Hyde Park, London, in 1969. Following the less successful In the Wake of Poseidon (1970), Lizard (1970), and Islands (1971), the group reached a new creative peak with Larks' Tongues in Aspic (1973), Starless and Bible Black (1974), and Red (1974). Fripp disbanded the group in 1974.
In 1981, King Crimson reformed with a change in musical direction which lasted for three years, resulting in the trio of albums Discipline (1981), Beat (1982), and Three of a Perfect Pair (1984). Following a decade-long hiatus, Fripp revived the group in 1994 and released Thrak (1995). Since 1997, several musicians have pursued aspects of the band's work and approaches through a series of related bands collectively referred to as ProjeKCts. In 2000, the band reunited once more and released The ConstruKction of Light (2000). The band's most recent album is The Power to Believe (2003). In 2009 the band undertook a tour to celebrate their 40th Anniversary and continue to perform live in various capacities. King Crimson has been influential to several other musical artists.
- 1 History
- 1.1 Formation
- 1.2 1969–70: In the Court of the Crimson King
- 1.3 1970–72: In the Wake of Poseidon, Lizard, and Islands
- 1.4 1972–75: Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Starless and Bible Black, Red, and hiatus
- 1.5 1981–84: Discipline, Beat, Three of a Perfect Pair, and second hiatus
- 1.6 1994–99: Vroooom, THRAK, and the ProjeKcts
- 1.7 2000–04: The ConstruKction of Light and The Power to Believe
- 1.8 2007–present: 40th Anniversary Tour, hiatus, and touring
- 2 King Crimson members' bands devoted to playing King Crimson's music
- 3 Musical style
- 4 Influence
- 5 Personnel
- 6 Discography
- 7 References
- 8 Notes
- 9 External links
In August 1967, brothers Michael Giles (drums) and Peter Giles (bass), who had been professional musicians in various jobbing bands since their mid-teens in Dorset, England, advertised for a singing organist to join their new group. Fellow Dorset musician Robert Fripp – a guitarist who did not sing – responded and the trio formed the band Giles, Giles and Fripp. Based on a format of eccentric pop songs and complex instrumentals, the band recorded several unsuccessful singles and one album, The Cheerful Insanity of Giles, Giles and Fripp. The band hovered on the edge of success, with several radio sessions and a television appearance, but never scored the hit that would have been crucial for a commercial breakthrough. The album was no more of a success than the singles, and was even disparaged by Keith Moon of The Who in a magazine review. Attempting to expand their sound, the three recruited Ian McDonald on keyboards, reeds and woodwinds. McDonald brought along his then-girlfriend, former Fairport Convention singer Judy Dyble, whose brief tenure with the group ended when the two split. McDonald brought in lyricist, roadie, and art strategist Peter Sinfield, with whom he had been writing songs – a partnership initiated when McDonald had said to Sinfield, regarding his 1968 band Creation, "Peter, I have to tell you that your band is hopeless, but you write some great words. Would you like to get together on a couple of songs?" Fripp, meanwhile, saw Clouds perform at the Marquee Club in London which inspired him to incorporate classical melodies and jazz-like improvisation in his song writing. No longer interested in pursuing Peter Giles' more whimsical pop style, Fripp recommended his friend, singer and guitarist Greg Lake, join and replace either him (Peter Giles) or his brother (Michael). Peter Giles later called it one of Fripp's "cute political moves", but had become disillusioned with the lack of success of Giles, Giles and Fripp which led to his departure, leaving Lake to become bassist and singer.
The first incarnation of King Crimson formed in London on 30 November 1968 and first rehearsed on 13 January 1969. The band's name was coined by Sinfield, though it is not meant to be a synonym for Beelzebub, prince of demons. According to Fripp, Beelzebub would be an anglicised form of the Arabic phrase "B'il Sabab", meaning "the man with an aim". Historically and etymologically, a "crimson king" was any monarch during whose reign there was civil unrest and copious bloodshed; the album debuted at the height of world-wide opposition to the military involvement of the United States in Southeast Asia. At this point, McDonald was the group's main composer, albeit with contributions from Lake and Fripp, while Sinfield wrote the lyrics, designed and operated the band's stage lighting, credited with "sounds and visions". McDonald suggested the band purchase a Mellotron, and they began using it to create an orchestral rock sound, inspired by The Moody Blues. Sinfield described Crimson thus: "If it sounded at all popular, it was out. So it had to be complicated, it had to be more expansive chords, it had to have strange influences. If it sounded, like, too simple, we'd make it more complicated, we'd play it in 7/8 or 5/8, just to show off".
1969–70: In the Court of the Crimson King
37-second sample from King Crimson's "The Court of the Crimson King", demonstrating the sound of the first incarnation of the band, with its classically influenced style and use of the Mellotron instrument.
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King Crimson made its live debut on 9 April 1969, and made a breakthrough by playing the Rolling Stones free concert at Hyde Park, London in July 1969 before an estimated 500,000 people. Its debut album, In the Court of the Crimson King, was released in October 1969 on Island Records. Fripp would later describe it as having been "an instant smash" and "New York's acid album of 1970" (notwithstanding Fripp and Giles' assertion that the band never used psychedelic drugs). The album received public compliments from Pete Townshend, The Who's guitarist, who called the album "an uncanny masterpiece." The album's sound, including its opening track "21st Century Schizoid Man", was described as setting the antecedent for alternative rock and grunge, whilst the softer tracks are described as having an "ethereal" and "almost sacred" feel. In contrast to the blues-based hard rock of the contemporary British and American scenes, King Crimson presented a more Europeanised approach that blended antiquity and modernity. The band's music drew on a wide range of influences provided by all five group members. These elements included romantic- and modernist-era classical music, the psychedelic rock spearheaded by Jimi Hendrix, folk, jazz, military music (partially inspired by McDonald's stint as an army musician), ambient improvisation, Victoriana and British pop.
After playing shows across England, the band toured the US with various pop and rock acts. Their first show was at Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont. While their original sound astounded contemporary audiences and critics, creative tensions were already developing within the band. Giles and McDonald, still striving to cope with King Crimson's rapid success and the realities of touring life, became uneasy with the band's direction. Although he was neither the dominant composer in the band nor the frontman, Fripp was very much the band's driving force and spokesman, leading King Crimson into progressively darker and more intense musical areas. McDonald and Giles, now favouring a lighter and more romantic style of music, became increasingly uncomfortable with their position and resigned from the band during the US tour. To salvage what he saw as the most important elements of King Crimson, Fripp offered to resign himself, but McDonald and Giles declared that the band was "more (him) than them" and that they should therefore be the ones to leave. The line-up played their last show at the Fillmore West in San Francisco on 16 December 1969. Live recordings of the tour were released in 1996 on Epitaph.
After their first US tour, King Crimson was in a state of flux with various line-up changes, thwarted tour plans, and difficulties in finding a satisfactory musical direction. This period has subsequently been referred to as the "interregnum" – a nickname implying that the "King" (King Crimson) was not properly in place during this time. Fripp became the only remaining musician in the band, with Sinfield expanding his creative role to playing synthesizers.
1970–72: In the Wake of Poseidon, Lizard, and Islands
Fripp recorded the second King Crimson album, In the Wake of Poseidon, in 1970 with the Giles brothers, Collins, and Keith Tippett as guest musicians. The group considered hiring Elton John to be the singer, but decided against the idea. Lake then agreed to sing on the album in exchange for receiving King Crimson's PA equipment, except on "Cadence and Cascade", which is sung by Fripp's friend Gordon Haskell. Though Tippett was offered band membership, he preferred to remain as a studio collaborator, performing with the band for a single gig. Upon its release in May 1970, In the Wake of Poseidon reached No. 4 in the UK and No. 31 in the US. It received some criticism from those who thought it sounded too similar to their first album. With no musicians to perform material from their new album, Fripp and Sinfield persuaded Haskell to join as singer and bassist and Andy McCulloch as drummer, with Collins.
During the writing sessions for the third album, Lizard, Haskell and McCulloch had no say in the direction of the material, since Fripp and Sinfield wrote the album themselves, bringing in Tippett, Mark Charig on cornet, Nick Evans on trombone, and Robin Miller on oboe and cor anglais as additional musicians. Haskell sang and played bass. Jon Anderson of Yes was also brought in to sing the first part of the album's title track, "Prince Rupert Awakes", which Fripp and Sinfield considered to be outside Haskell's range and style. Lizard featured stronger avant-garde jazz and chamber-classical influences than previous albums, as well as Sinfield's upfront experiments with processing and distorting sound through the EMS VCS 3 synthesiser. It also featured complex lyrics from Sinfield, including a coded song about the break-up of the Beatles, with almost the entire second side taken up by a predominantly instrumental chamber suite describing a medieval battle and its outcome. Released in December 1970, Lizard reached No. 29 in the UK and No. 113 in the US. It has been described retrospectively as "acquired taste".
Lizard was not to the taste of the more rhythm-and-blues-oriented Haskell and McCulloch, who found the album difficult to grasp. As a result, Haskell quit the band acrimoniously, refusing to sing live with distortion and electronic effects. McCulloch also followed suit, leaving Fripp and Sinfield to recruit new members once more. After a search for new musicians, Fripp and Sinfield secured a returning Collins and Ian Wallace on drums. Auditions for a singer included those from Bryan Ferry, Elton John, and John Gaydon, the band's manager. The position went to Raymond "Boz" Burrell. Bassist John Wetton was invited to join, but Wetton declined (at the time) in order to play with Family. Rick Kemp also declined the offer, leaving Fripp and Wallace teaching Burrell to play bass rather than continue auditions. Though he had not played bass before, Burrell played enough rhythm guitar to make learning the instrument easier. With the line-up complete, King Crimson toured in 1971 for the first time since 1969. The concerts were well received, but the musical and lifestyle differences of Collins, Wallace, and Burrell began to alienate the drug-free Fripp, who began to withdraw socially from his band mates, creating further tension.
In 1971, the new King Crimson formation recorded Islands. Loosely influenced by Miles Davis's orchestral collaborations with Gil Evans and Homer's Odyssey, the album also showed signs of a split in styles between Sinfield, who favoured the softer and more textural jazz-folk approach, and Fripp, who was drawn more towards the harsher instrumental style exemplified by the instrumental "Sailor's Tale", with its dramatic Mellotron and banjo-inspired guitar technique. Islands also featured the band's one-and-only experiment with a string ensemble on "Prelude: Song of the Gulls" and the raunchy rhythm-and-blues-inspired "Ladies of the Road". A hint of trouble to come came when one member of the band allegedly described the more delicate and meditative parts of Islands as "airy-fairy shit". Released in December 1971, Islands charted at No. 30 in the UK and No. 76 in the US.
Following a period of touring Islands, Fripp asked Sinfield to leave the band, citing a deterioration of his relationship with Sinfield, musical differences, and a loss of faith in his partner's ideas. The remaining band broke up acrimoniously in rehearsals shortly after due to Fripp's refusal to incorporate other members' compositions into the band's repertoire. He later cited this as "quality control" with the idea that King Crimson would perform the "right kind" of music. The band reformed to fulfil touring commitments in 1972, with the intention of disbanding afterwards. Recordings from various North American dates between January and February 1972 were released as Earthbound in June 1972, noted and criticised for its sub-par sound quality and playing style that occasionally veered towards funk, with scat singing on the improvised pieces. By this time, a musical rift between Fripp and the rest of the band existed; Pete Sinfield wanted the band to move in a Miles Davis direction; Boz Burrell and Mel Collins favoured a more rhythm-and-blues style. Though relations improved during the 1972 tour to the point where the majority wished to continue, Fripp restructured King Crimson with new members since he felt the current members wouldn't be able to play the material he had in mind for Larks' Tongues in Aspic.
1972–75: Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Starless and Bible Black, Red, and hiatus
The third major line-up of King Crimson was radically different from the previous two. Fripp's four new recruits included free-improvising percussionist Jamie Muir, drummer Bill Bruford, who left Yes at a new commercial peak in their career in favour of the "darker" King Crimson, bassist and singer John Wetton, and violinist and keyboardist David Cross whom Fripp had encountered through work with music colleagues. With Sinfield gone, the band recruited Wetton's friend Richard Palmer-James as their new lyricist. Unlike Sinfield, Palmer-James played no part in artistic, visual, or sonic direction; his sole contributions were his lyrics, sent to Wetton by post from his home in Germany. Following a period of rehearsals, King Crimson resumed touring on 13 October 1972 at the Zoom Club in Frankfurt, with the band's penchant for improvisation and Muir's startling stage presence gained them some press attention.
An excerpt of "Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Part One", demonstrating the heavy metal influences, complex structure of the music, improvisation, and the percussion of Jamie Muir.
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In January and February 1973, King Crimson recorded Larks' Tongues in Aspic in London which was released that March. The band's new sound was exemplified by the album's two-part title track – a significant change from what King Crimson had done before, emphasising instrumentals and drawing influences from classical, free, and heavy metal music. The record displayed Muir's free approach to percussion, which included using a drum kit, bicycle parts, toys, a bullroarer, hitting a gong with chains, and a joke laughing bag. The album reached No. 20 in the UK and No. 61 in the US. After a period of further touring, Muir departed in 1973 to quit the music industry. Initially thought to have been due to an onstage injury caused by a gong landing on his foot, Muir went through a personal spiritual crisis and withdrew to become a monk.
With Muir gone, the remaining members reconvened in January 1974 to produce Starless and Bible Black, released in March 1974 and earned them a positive Rolling Stone review. Though most of the album is formed of live performances from the band's late 1973 tour, the recordings were painstakingly edited to sound like a studio record, with "The Great Deceiver" and "Lament" the only tracks recorded in the studio. The album reached No. 28 in the UK and No. 64 in the US. Following the album's release, the band began to divide once more, this time over performance. Musically, Fripp found himself positioned between Bruford and Wetton, who played with such force and increasing volume that Fripp once compared them to "a flying brick wall", and Cross, whose amplified acoustic violin was increasingly being drowned out by the rhythm section, leading him to concentrate more on keyboards. An increasingly frustrated Cross began to withdraw musically and personally, with the result that he was voted out of the group following the band's 1974 tour of Europe and America.
In July 1974 Fripp, Bruford, and Wetton began recording Red. Before recording began, Fripp, now increasingly disillusioned with the music business, turned his attention to the works of Russian mystic George Gurdjieff and experienced a spiritual crisis-cum-awakening; he later described it as if "the top of my head blew off". Though most of the album was already written, Fripp retreated into himself in the studio and "withdrew his opinion", leaving Bruford and Wetton to direct most of the recording sessions. The album contains studio recorded material with one live track, "Providence", recorded on 30 June 1974 with Cross in the group. Several musicians, including some from past King Crimson line-ups, contribute to the album. Released in October 1974, Red went to No. 45 in the UK and No. 66 in the US. AllMusic called it "an impressive achievement" for a group about to disband, with "intensely dynamic" musical chemistry between the band members.
Two months before the release of Red, King Crimson's future looked bright with talks regarding McDonald rejoining the group. However, Fripp wished not to tour as he felt the "world was coming to an end". He felt increasingly disenchanted by the group and the music industry; he announced King Crimson "ceased to exist" and was "completely over for ever and ever". The group formally disbanded on 25 September 1974. It was later revealed that Fripp attempted to interest his managers in a King Crimson without him, but the idea was turned down. Following the band's disbanding, the live album USA was released in May 1975, formed of recordings from their 1974 North American tour. It received some positive reviews, including "a must" for fans of the band and "insanity you're better off having". Issues with some of the tapes rendered some of Cross' violin inaudible, so Eddie Jobson was hired to perform overdubs of violin and keyboards in a studio; further edits were also made to allow the music to fit on a single LP. Between 1975 and 1980, King Crimson were inactive.
1981–84: Discipline, Beat, Three of a Perfect Pair, and second hiatus
In 1981, Fripp wished to form a new rock group with no intentions of reforming King Crimson. After Bruford agreed to join in, Fripp asked singer and guitarist Adrian Belew, the first time Fripp was in a band with another guitarist and therefore indicative of Fripp's desire to create a sound unlike any of his previous work. After touring with Talking Heads, Belew agreed to join and also become the band's lyricist. Bruford's choice of Jeff Berlin as bassist was rejected as his playing was "too busy", auditions for musicians took place in New York. On the third day, following roughly three auditioners, Fripp left, only to return several hours later with Tony Levin, who got the job after playing a single chorus of "Red". Fripp later confessed that, had he initially known that Levin was available and interested, he would have selected him as first-choice bass player without holding auditions. Fripp named the new quartet Discipline, and the band went to England to rehearse and write new material. They made their live debut at Moles Club in Bath, Somerset on 30 April 1981, and completed a UK tour supported by The Lounge Lizards. By October 1981, the band changed their name to King Crimson.
The reformed King Crimson bore some resemblance to new wave music. With a sound described in The New Rolling Stone Album Guide as having a "jaw-dropping technique" of "knottily rhythmic, harmonically demanding workouts", Fripp intended to create the sound of a "rock gamelan", with an interlocking rhythmic quality to the paired guitars that he found similar to Indonesian gamelan ensembles. Fripp concentrated on playing complex picked arpeggios while Belew provided an arsenal of guitar sounds, including animal noises, industrial textures, and guitar screams with a range of electronic effects pedals. Levin used the Chapman Stick, a ten-string polyphonic two-handed tapping guitar instrument that has a bass and treble range, that Levin played in an "utterly original style". Bruford experimented with a Simmons SDS-V electronic drum kit.
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In 1981, the band recorded Discipline with producer Rhett Davies. The songs were shorter in comparison to previous King Crimson albums, with Belew's pop sense and quirky approach to writing lyrics. The music incorporated additional influences including post-punk, latterday funk, go-go and African-styled polyrhythms. While the band's previous taste for improvisation was now tightly reined in, the instrumental "The Sheltering Sky" emerged from group rehearsals. The noisy, half-spoken/half-shouted "Indiscipline" had been partially written to give Bruford a chance to escape from the strict rhythmic demands of the rest of the album and to play against the beat in any way that he could. Released in September 1981, Discipline reached No. 41 in the UK and No. 45 in the US.
King Crimson followed Discipline with Beat, released in June 1982 and the first King Crimson album recorded with the same band line-up as the album preceding it. None of the members of the group produced the record; Davies undertook production duties himself. The album had a loosely linked theme of the Beat Generation and its writings, reflected in song titles such as "Neal and Jack and Me" (inspired by Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac), "The Howler" (inspired by Allan Ginsberg's "Howl") and "Sartori in Tangier" (inspired by Paul Bowles). Fripp asked Belew to read Kerouac's novel On the Road for inspiration, and the album contained themes of travel, disorientation and loneliness. While the album was a noticeably poppier version of Discipline, it features the harsh, atonal, and improvised "Requiem". Recording Beat was faced with tension with Belew suffering high stress levels over his duties as front man, lead singer, and principal songwriter. On one occasion, he clashed with Fripp and ordered him out of the studio. After, differences were resolved, and King Crimson resumed as a live act. Beat reached No. 39 in the UK and No. 52 in the US. "Heartbeat" was released as a single which peaked at No. 57 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart. Around this time the band released the VHS-only '"The Noise: Live in Frejus" (DGMVC2), a record of a show played at the Arena, Frejus, France on August 27, 1982. (This video is now on DVD as part of the compilation Neal and Jack and Me.)
Three of a Perfect Pair was recorded in 1983 and released in March 1984. The band faced some difficulty in the song writing and style of the album; they chose to produce an album with a "left side"—four of the band's poppier songs and an instrumental—and a "right side" of experimental songs ranging from extended and atonal improvisations in the tradition of the mid-1970s band, including the third part of "Larks' Tongues in Aspic". Three of a Perfect Pair peaked at No. 30 in the UK and No. 58 in the US. "Three of a Perfect Pair" and "Sleepless" were released as singles. The 2001 remaster of the album included "the other side", a collection of remixes and improvisation out-takes plus Levin's tongue-in-cheek vocal piece, "The King Crimson Barbershop". The last concert of the Three of a Perfect Pair tour, at the Spectrum in Montreal, Canada on 11 July 1984, was recorded and released in 1998 as Absent Lovers: Live in Montreal.
Following the 1984 tour, Fripp dissolved King Crimson for the second time, having become dissatisfied with its working methods. Bruford and Belew expressed some frustration over this; Belew recalled the first he had heard of the split was when he read about it in a report in Musician magazine. Despite these circumstances, the musicians remained on fairly amicable terms. Belew would later refer to the band "taking a break" that ultimately lasted for ten years. In 1992, Fripp established the Discipline Global Mobile (DGM) record label with producer David Singleton. DGM would subsequently be the main home for King Crimson work, with main album releases distributed to larger record companies.
1994–99: Vroooom, THRAK, and the ProjeKcts
In the early 1990s, Belew met with Fripp in England with an interest a reformed King Crimson. After a tour with David Sylvian in 1993, Fripp began to assemble a new version of the band with Belew, Levin, Bruford, guitarist Trey Gunn, and drummer Pat Mastelotto who replaced the first choice, Jerry Marotta. Fripp explained the six-member formation was to be a "double trio" with two guitarists, two bassists, and two drummers, to explore a different style of music. Bruford later said he lobbied his own way into the band, believing that King Crimson was very much "his gig", and that Fripp had come up with the philosophical explanation later. One of the conditions Fripp had imposed on Bruford regarding his return was to give up all creative control to Fripp. Following rehearsals in Woodstock, New York, the group released the extended play Vrooom in October 1994. This revealed the new King Crimson sound, which featured elements of the interlocking guitars on Discipline and the heavy rock feel of Red, but also involved a greater use of ambient electronic sound and ideas from industrial music. In contrast, many of the actual songs – mostly written or finalised by Belew – displayed stronger elements of 1960s pop than before – in particular, a Beatles influence (although Bruford would also refer to the band as sounding like "a dissonant Shadows on steroids"). As with previous line-ups, new technology was used including MIDI and the tapping Warr Guitar. King Crimson toured the album from 28 September 1994 in Buenos Aires, Argentina; following concerts were released on the double live B'Boom: Live in Argentina in 1995.
In October and December 1994, King Crimson recorded their eleventh studio album, Thrak. Formed of revised versions of most of the tracks on Vrooom, the album was described by Q magazine as having "jazz-scented rock structures, characterised by noisy, angular, exquisite guitar interplay" and an "athletic, ever-inventive rhythm section," while being in tune with the sound of alternative rock of the mid-1990s. Examples of the band's efforts to integrate their multiple elements could be heard on the complex post-prog songs "Dinosaur" and "Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream" as well as the more straightforward "One Time" and the funk-pop inspired "People".
King Crimson resumed touring in 1995 and 1996; dates from October and November 1995 were recorded and released on the live album Thrakattak in May 1996, consisting of improvisations from performances of "THRAK" and Fripp's DGM partner David Singleton into an hour-long extended improvisation. A more conventional live recording from the period was later made available on the 2001 double CD release Vrooom Vrooom, as was a 1995 concert on the 2003 Déjà Vrooom DVD.
When group rehearsals began in mid-1997 in Nashville, Tennessee, Fripp deemed the new material developed unsatisfactory. Developing friction and disagreements among Fripp and Bruford ended Bruford's time in King Crimson. This, plus the lack of workable material, could have broken the band up altogether. Instead, the six members opted to work in four smaller groups, or "fraKctalisations" according to Fripp, known as the ProjeKcts. This enabled the group to continue developing musical ideas and searching for Crimson's next direction without the practical difficulty and expense of convening all six members at once. In 1998 and 1999, the first four ProjeKcts played live in the US, Japan, and the UK and released recordings that showed a high degree of free improvisation. These have been collectively described by music critic J. D. Considine as "frequently astonishing" but lacking in melody, and perhaps too difficult for a casual listener.
2000–04: The ConstruKction of Light and The Power to Believe
At the end of the four ProjeKct runs, Bruford left King Crimson altogether to resume his work in jazz. At the same time, Levin's commitments as a session and touring musician affected his time in the band. The remaining members, Fripp, Belew, Gunn, and Mastelotto, wrote and recorded The ConstruKction of Light in Belew's basement and garage near Nashville. Released in May 2000, the album reached No. 129 in the UK. All of the pieces were metallic and harsh in sound, similar to the work of contemporary alternative metal, with a distinct electronic texture, a heavy, processed drum sound from Mastelotto, and a different take on the interlocked guitar sound that the band had used since the 1980s. With the exception of a parodic industrial blues, sung by Belew through a voice changer, under the pseudonym of "Hooter J. Johnson," the songs were unrelentingly complex and challenging to the listener, with plenty of rhythmic displacement to add to the harsh textures. The album contains the fourth instalment of "Larks' Tongues in Aspic". It received a negative reception for lacking new ideas. The band recorded an album at the same time, under the name of ProjeKct X, called Heaven and Earth. Conceived and led by Mastelotto and Gunn, with Fripp and Belew playing subsidiary roles, it was a further development of the polyrhythmic/dance music approach adopted in the ProjeKcts.
King Crimson toured to support both albums, including double bill shows with Tool. The tour was documented in the triple live album Heavy ConstruKction, released in December 2000. This showed the band constantly switching between the structured album pieces and ferocious ProjeKct-style Soundscape-and-percussion improvisations. Bassist John Paul Jones also performed on some live shows.
In November 2001, King Crimson released a limited edition live extended play called Level Five, featuring three new pieces: A version of "Deception of the Thrush" plus the new tracks "Dangerous Curves" and "Virtuous Circle". A second EP followed in October 2002, Happy with What You Have to Be Happy With. This featured eleven tracks including a live version of "Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Part IV". Half of the tracks were brief processed vocal snippets sung by Belew, and the songs themselves varied between gamelan pop, Soundscapes, and slightly parodic takes on heavy metal and blues.
King Crimson released their thirteenth album, The Power to Believe, in October 2003. Fripp described it as "the culmination of three years of Crimsonising". The album incorporated reworked and/or retitled versions of "Deception of the Thrush", tracks from their previous two EPs, and a 1997 track with added instrumentation and vocals. The Power to Believe reached No. 162 in the UK and No. 150 in the US. King Crimson toured in 2003 to support the album; recordings from it were used for the live album EleKtrik: Live in Japan.
In November 2003, Gunn left the group to pursue solo projects and was replaced by Levin. The band reconvened in early 2004 for rehearsals, but nothing developed from the sessions. Fripp reassessed his desire to work with King Crimson and the music industry altogether, seeing the unsympathetic aspects of the life of a touring musician.
2007–present: 40th Anniversary Tour, hiatus, and touring
In 2007, a new King Crimson formation was announced: Fripp, Belew, Levin, Mastelotto, and a new second drummer, Gavin Harrison, the first new member from the UK since 1972. In August 2008, after a period of rehearsals, the five completed a four-date tour as a warm up for the band's 40th Anniversary Tour, which took place in 2009. Performances of the band's past songs received striking new versions, in particular percussion-heavy arrangements. Additional shows were planned for 2009, but they were cancelled due to scheduling clashes. 2009 saw the release of the DVD Eyes Wide Open, a compilation of the band's shows Live at the Shepherds Bush Empire (London, July 3, 2000) and Live in Japan (Tokyo, April 16, 2003).
King Crimson began another hiatus after the 40th Anniversary Tour. Belew continued to lobby for reviving the band, and discussed it with Fripp several times in 2009 and 2010, including a temporary reunion of the 1980s line-up for a thirtieth anniversary tour. The idea was declined by Fripp and Bruford, who said: "I would be highly unlikely to try to recreate the same thing, a mission I fear destined to failure." In December 2010, Fripp wrote that the King Crimson "switch" had been set to "off", citing several reasons.
In 2011, a band called Jakszyk Fripp Collins (and subtitled "A King Crimson ProjeKct") released an album called A Scarcity of Miracles. The band featured Jakko Jakszyk, Robert Fripp and Mel Collins as main players and composers, with Tony Levin and Gavin Harrison covering bass guitar/Chapman Stick and drums respectively. At one point, Fripp referred to the band as "P7". Unusually for a ProjeKCt, it was based around fully finished and carefully crafted original songs (initially derived from improvisations). For a while, King Crimson fans debated whether this was a new line-up of the main band under another name, but the project did not tour or release another album. In August 2012, Fripp announced his retirement from the music industry, leaving the future of King Crimson uncertain.
In September 2013, Fripp announced King Crimson's return to activity with a "very different reformation to what has gone before: seven players, four English and three American, with three drummers". He cited several reasons to make a comeback, varying from the practical, and the whimsical: "I was becoming too happy. Time for a pointed stick." The new line-up drew from the previous one and the Scarcity of Miracles project, retaining Fripp, Levin, Harrison and Mastelloto with Jakszyk and Collins, and drummer Bill Rieflin. Belew was not asked to take part, thus ending his 32-year tenure in King Crimson. Jakszyk took his place as singer and second guitarist.
In early 2014, the group had no plans to record in the studio, instead playing "reconfigured" versions of past material. After rehearsing in England, they toured North America from 9 September 2014 across 20 dates. Recordings from the Los Angeles dates were released as Live at the Orpheum. Tours across Europe, Canada, and Japan followed in the later half of the year. A European tour is planned for 2016 with drummer Jeremy Stacey of Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds in place of Rieflin, following his decision to take a break from music.
King Crimson members' bands devoted to playing King Crimson's music
Since the early 2000s, several bands containing former, recent or current King Crimson members have toured and recorded, performing King Crimson music.
Active between 2002 and 2004, the 21st Century Schizoid Band reunited several former King Crimson members who'd played on the band's first four albums. Fronted by guitarist/singer Jakko Jakszyk (the only non-Crimson member at the time), the band also featured Ian McDonald, Mel Collins, Peter Giles and Michael Giles (the latter subsequently replaced by Ian Wallace). The band engaged in several tours, played material from the band's 1960s and 1970s catalogue, and recorded several live albums.
Since 2007, Tony Levin has led the trio Stick Men, also featuring Pat Mastelotto and Chapman Stick player Michael Bernier (replaced in 2010 by touch guitarist and former Fripp student Markus Reuter). This band includes and interprets King Crimson compositions (from the Larks' Tongues In Aspic to Power to Believe periods) in their live sets. Reuter and Mastelotto also play together as the duo Tuner, who have been known to rework the mid-1980s King Crimson instrumental "Industry" live. During his solo career Adrian Belew has performed versions of certain King Crimson songs written predominantly by himself, such as "Dinosaur," as well as ensemble pieces like "Frame by Frame" and "Neurotica".
The band's music was initially grounded in the rock of the 1960s, especially the acid rock and psychedelic rock movements. The band played Donovan's "Get Thy Bearings" in concert, and were known to play The Beatles' "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" in their rehearsals. However, for their own compositions, King Crimson (unlike the rock bands that had come before them) largely stripped away the blues-based foundations of rock music and replaced them with influences derived from classical composers. The first incarnation of King Crimson played the Mars section of Gustav Holst's suite The Planets as a regular part of their live set and Fripp has frequently cited the influence of Béla Bartók. As a result of this influence, In the Court of the Crimson King is frequently viewed as the nominal starting point of the progressive rock movements. King Crimson also initially displayed strong jazz influences, most obviously on its signature track "21st Century Schizoid Man". The band also drew on English folk music for compositions such as "Moonchild" and "I Talk to the Wind."
The 1981 reunion of the band brought in even more elements, displaying the influence of gamelan music and of late 20th century classical composers such as Philip Glass, Steve Reich, and Terry Riley. For its 1994 reunion, King Crimson reassessed both the mid-1970s and 1980s approaches in the light of new technology, intervening music forms such as grunge, and further developments in industrial music, as well as expanding the band's ambient textural content via Fripp's Soundscapes looping approach.
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Several King Crimson compositional approaches have remained constant from the earliest versions of the band to the present. These include:
- The use of a gradually building rhythmic motif. These include "The Devil's Triangle" (an adaptation and variation on the Gustav Holst piece Mars played by the original King Crimson, based on a complex pulse in 5/4 time over which a skirling melody is played on a Mellotron), 1973's "The Talking Drum" (from Larks' Tongues in Aspic), 1984's "Industry" (from Three of a Perfect Pair) and 2003's "Dangerous Curves" (from The Power to Believe and the Level Five EP).
- An instrumental piece (often embedded as a break in a song) in which the band plays an ensemble passage of considerable rhythmic and polyrhythmic complexity. An early example is the band's initial signature tune "21st Century Schizoid Man," but the Larks' Tongues in Aspic series of compositions (as well as pieces of similar intent such as "THRAK" and "Level Five") go deeper into polyrhythmic complexity, delving into rhythms that wander into and out of general synchronisation with each other, but that all 'finish' together through polyrhythmic synchronisation. These polyrhythms were particularly abundant in the band's 1980s work, which contained gamelan-like rhythmic layers and continual overlaid staccato patterns in counterpoint.
- The composition of difficult solo passages for individual instruments, such as the guitar break on "Fracture" on Starless and Bible Black.
- Pieces with a loud, aggressive sound akin to heavy metal music.
- The juxtaposition of ornate tunes and ballads with unusual, often dissonant noises (such as "Cirkus" on Lizard, "Ladies of the Road" from Islands and "Eyes Wide Open" from The Power to Believe).
- The use of improvisation.
- Ascending note structure (e.g. "Facts of Life" and "THRAK").
King Crimson have incorporated improvisation into their performances and studio recordings from the beginning, some of which has been embedded into loosely composed pieces such as "Moonchild" or "THRaK". Most of the band's performances over the years have included at least one stand-alone improvisation where the band simply started playing and took the music wherever it went, sometimes including passages of restrained silence, as with Bill Bruford's contribution to the improvised "Trio". The earliest example of an unambiguously improvising King Crimson on record is the spacious, oft-criticised extended coda of "Moonchild" from In the Court of the Crimson King.
Rather than using the standard jazz or blues "jamming" format for improvisation (in which one soloist at a time takes centre stage while the rest of the band lies back and plays along with established rhythm and chord changes), King Crimson improvisation is a group affair in which each member of the band is able to make creative decisions and contributions as the music is being played. Individual soloing is largely eschewed; each musician is to listen to each other and to the group sound, to be able to react creatively within the group dynamic. A slightly similar method of continuous improvisation ("everybody solos and nobody solos") was initially used by King Crimson's jazz-fusion contemporaries Weather Report. Fripp has used the metaphor of "white magic" to describe this process, in particular when the method works particularly well.
Similarly, King Crimson's improvised music is rarely jazz or blues-based, and varies so much in sound that the band has been able to release several albums consisting entirely of improvised music, such as the Thrakattak album. Occasionally, particular improvised pieces will be recalled and reworked in different forms at different shows, becoming more and more refined and eventually appearing on official studio releases (the most recent example being "Power to Believe III", which originally existed as the stage improvisation "Deception of the Thrush", a piece played on stage for a long time before appearing on record).
King Crimson have been influential both on the early 1970s progressive rock movement and numerous contemporary artists. Genesis and Yes were directly influenced by the band's initial style of symphonic Mellotron rock, and many King Crimson band members were involved in other notable bands: Lake in Emerson, Lake & Palmer, of which some of their songs can be seen as Lake's attempt to continue the early work of King Crimson; Mcdonald in Foreigner; Burrell to Bad Company, and Wetton to UK and Asia. Canadian rock band Rush cites King Crimson as a strong early influence on their sound; drummer Neil Peart credits the adventurous and innovative style of Michael Giles on his own approach to percussion. In recent years, Porcupine Tree who, as with Tool, invited ProjeKct Six to play as their support band.
King Crimson's influence extends to alternative rock bands of the 1990s and 2000s. Nirvana are known to have been influenced by King Crimson as a result of Kurt Cobain having mentioned the importance of Red to him. Tool are known to be heavily influenced by King Crimson, with vocalist Maynard James Keenan joking on a tour with them: "Now you know who we ripped off. Just don't tell anyone, especially the members of King Crimson." Punk band Bad Religion quotes the lyrics of "21st Century Schizoid Man" on their single "21st Century (Digital Boy)". Steve Steele mentioned that King Crimson was a prime influence on his song writing and arrangements, and in a biography, cites other than traditional literary sources, Palmer-James as one of the only lyricists he credits with having a personal impact.
King Crimson have frequently been cited as pioneers of progressive metal. Members of both Iron Maiden and Mudvayne have cited King Crimson as an influence. The angular, dissonant guitar patterns associated with Fripp's distinctive approach are also evident in the music of thrash-metal pioneers Voivod, especially in the band's mid-period work.
- Current members
- Robert Fripp – guitars, "Soundscapes", keyboards (1968–74, 1981–84, 1994–present)
- Mel Collins – saxophone, flute (1970–72, 2013–present)
- Tony Levin – bass guitars, NS upright bass, Chapman Stick, funk fingers, synthesisers, backing vocals (1981–84, 1994–98, 2003–present)
- Pat Mastelotto – acoustic and electronic drums, percussion (1994–present)
- Gavin Harrison – drums, percussion (2007–present)
- Jakko Jakszyk – guitars, lead vocals, flute (2013–present)
- Jeremy Stacey – drums, keyboards, backing vocals (2016–present)
- Former members
Fripp has been the sole consistent member throughout the group's history. He does not necessarily consider himself the leader, he describes King Crimson as "a way of doing things". However, Fripp has dominated the band's musical and compositional approach since their second album. Trey Gunn, a member from 1994 to 2003, commented: "King Crimson is Robert's vision. Period."
- Studio albums
- In the Court of the Crimson King (1969)
- In the Wake of Poseidon (1970)
- Lizard (1970)
- Islands (1971)
- Larks' Tongues in Aspic (1973)
- Starless and Bible Black (1974)
- Red (1974)
- Discipline (1981)
- Beat (1982)
- Three of a Perfect Pair (1984)
- THRAK (1995)
- The ConstruKction of Light (2000)
- The Power to Believe (2003)
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- Unterberger, Richie. "Moonchild/The Dream/The Illusion". AllMusic. Retrieved 16 September 2011. "'Moonchild', along with 'I Talk to the Wind', was the clearest link to the folk influences borne by King Crimson on its first album, the only one that included Ian McDonald and Michael Giles among the personnel. The first three minutes or so of 'Moonchild' – really, the three minutes that are all that most listeners remember well – comprise a delicate, folky poetic ballad."
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[...] the band manages to break free of all the aural fog, as it did on the rhythmically romping "Dangerous Curves" and "The World's My Oyster Soup Kitchen Floor Wax Museum," [...]
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[...] King Crimson-esque polyrhythm [...]
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Gunn: [...] We have a couple loose-form songs where improvisation can take place. Even within the very structured pieces Pat (Mastelotto) and I change what we do.
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"Moonchild" [...] is the only weak song on the album. Most of its 12 minutes is taken up with short statements by one or several instruments.
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For those with long enough memories think of King Crimson's Moonchild, the bit no one plays, and you're almost there.
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It's not the diddling, noodling kind of improvising often associated with jazz. This has an aggressive, muscular sound that open-minded listeners can find just as rewarding as it is challenging.
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