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King Crimson are an English progressive rock band formed in London in 1968. King Crimson have been influential both on the early 1970s progressive rock movement and numerous contemporary artists. The band has undergone numerous formations throughout its history of which 22 musicians have been members; since October 2017 it has consisted of Robert Fripp, Jakko Jakszyk, Tony Levin, Mel Collins, Pat Mastelotto, Gavin Harrison, Jeremy Stacey and Bill Rieflin. 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. They were ranked No. 87 on VH1's 100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock. Although considered to be a seminal progressive rock band (a genre characterised by extended instrumental sections and complex song structures), they have often distanced themselves from the genre: as well as influencing several generations of progressive and psychedelic rock bands, they have also been an influence on subsequent alternative metal, hardcore and experimental/noise musicians.
Developed from the unsuccessful psychedelic pop trio Giles, Giles and Fripp, the initial King Crimson were key to the formation of early progressive rock, strongly influencing and altering the music of contemporaries such as Yes and Genesis. Their debut album, In the Court of the Crimson King (1969), remains their most successful and influential release, 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 In the Wake of Poseidon (1970) and the less successful chamber jazz-inspired Lizard (1970), and Islands (1971), the group reformatted and changed their instrumentation (swapping out saxophone in favour of violin and unusual percussion) in order to develop their own take on European rock improvisation, reaching a new creative peak on 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 another change in musical direction and instrumentation (incorporating, for the first time, a mixture of British and American personnel plus doubled guitar and influences taken from gamelan, post-punk and New York minimalism). This 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 as an expanded "Double Trio" sextet in 1994, mingling its mid-‘70s and 1980s approaches with new creative options available via MIDI technology. This resulted in another three-year cycle of activity including the release of Thrak (1995). King Crimson reunited again in 2000 as a more alternative metal-oriented quartet (or "Double Duo"), releasing The Construkction of Light in 2000 and The Power to Believe in 2003: after further personnel shuffles, the band expanded to a double-drummer quintet for a 2008 tour celebrating their 40th anniversary.
Following another hiatus between 2009 and 2012, King Crimson reformed once again in 2013; this time as a septet (and, later, octet) with an unusual three-drumkit frontline and the return of saxophone/flute to the lineup for the first time since 1971. This current version of King Crimson has continued to tour and to release live albums, significantly rearranging and reinterpreting music from across the band’s entire previous career.
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 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 Peter Giles or Fripp himself. Peter Giles later called it one of Fripp's "cute political moves". But he had become disillusioned with the band's lack of success and departed, leaving Lake to become bassist and singer.
The first incarnation of King Crimson was 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 worldwide 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, being 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".
King Crimson made their breakthrough live debut on 5 July 1969 by playing the Rolling Stones free concert at Hyde Park, London in July 1969 before an estimated 500,000 people. The 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 precedent 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 1997 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.
Fripp and Sinfield recorded the second King Crimson album, In the Wake of Poseidon, in 1970 with the Giles brothers hired back as the session rhythm section, and with jazz pianist Keith Tippett and Circus saxophonist Mel Collins 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 recruited Andy McCulloch as drummer, retaining Collins as saxophonist, flautist and occasional keyboard player.
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. Described retrospectively as an "acquired taste", Lizard was certainly not to the taste of the more rhythm-and-blues-oriented Haskell and McCulloch, both of whom found the music difficult to relate to. As a result, Haskell quit the band acrimoniously after refusing to sing live with distortion and electronic effects. McCulloch also departed, 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 and John Gaydon, the band's manager. The position went to Raymond "Boz" Burrell. Bassist John Wetton was invited to join, but declined (at the time) in order to play with Family. Rick Kemp also declined an offer to join, leaving Fripp and Wallace teaching Burrell to play bass rather than continue auditions. Though he had not played bass before, Burrell had played enough rhythm guitar to assist him in learning the instrument. 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 bandmates, 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 wanted the band to move in a Miles Davis direction) 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 musical differences and a loss of faith in his partner's ideas. The remaining band broke up acrimoniously in rehearsals shortly afterward, owing 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.
King Crimson 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 definite musical rift between Fripp and the rest of the band existed, since Wallace, Burrell and Collins favoured a more rhythm-and-blues style. Though personal relations improved during the 1972 tour (to the point where most of the band wished to continue), Fripp opted to part company with the existing band and to restructure King Crimson with new members, since he felt the current members wouldn't be able to play the new material he had in mind.
The third major line-up of King Crimson was radically different from the previous two. Fripp's four new recruits were 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 gaining them renewed press attention.
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, quitting the music industry altogether. Though this was initially thought to have been motivated by an onstage injury caused by a gong landing on his foot, it was later revealed that Muir had gone through a personal spiritual crisis, and had withdrawn 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 founder member Ian McDonald rejoining the group). However, Fripp wished not to tour as he felt increasingly disenchanted by the group and the music industry and also felt the "world was coming to an end". Despite a band meeting while touring the US in which Fripp expressed a desire to end the band, the group formally disbanded on 25 September 1974 when Fripp announced that King Crimson had "ceased to exist" and was "completely over for ever and ever". It was later revealed that Fripp had 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.
In 1981, having spent seven years in spiritual pursuits and smaller projects (from playing guitar for David Bowie, Peter Gabriel and Daryl Hall to pursuing an experimental solo career to leading the instrumental beat band The League of Gentlemen) Fripp decided to form a new "first division" rock group but had no intentions of reforming King Crimson. Having recruited Bill Bruford as drummer, 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 suggestion of Jeff Berlin as bassist was rejected as his playing was "too busy", so auditions were held in New York: on the third day, Fripp left after roughly three auditions, 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 had opted to change their name to King Crimson.
In 1981, King Crimson recorded Discipline with producer Rhett Davies. The album displayed a very different version of the band, with newer influences including post-punk, new wave, latterday funk and go-go and African-styled polyrhythms.[not in citation given] 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. In addition to bass guitar, Levin used the Chapman Stick, a ten-string polyphonic two-handed tapping guitar instrument that has a bass and treble range and which he played in an "utterly original style". Bruford experimented with cymbal-less acoustic kits and a Simmons SDS-V electronic drum kit. The band's songs were shorter in comparison to previous King Crimson albums, and very much shaped by Belew's pop sensibilities and quirky approach to writing lyrics. Though the band's previous taste for improvisation was now tightly reined in, one instrumental ("The Sheltering Sky") emerged from group rehearsals; while the noisy, half-spoken/half-shouted "Indiscipline" was a partially-written, part-improvised piece created in order 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.
In June 1982, King Crimson followed Discipline with Beat (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 noticeably poppier than Discipline, it featured 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 while Beat reached No. 39 in the UK and No. 52 in the US, King Crimson resumed touring. "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 27 August 1982. (This video is now on DVD as part of the compilation Neal and Jack and Me.)
King Crimson's next album, Three of a Perfect Pair, was recorded in 1983 and released in March 1984. Having encountered difficulty in both writing and determining a direction for the album, the band chose to record and sequence it as a "left side" — four of the band's poppier songs plus an instrumental — and a "right side" (experimental work including extended and atonal improvisations in the tradition of the mid-1970s band, plus as 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, with "Three of a Perfect Pair" and "Sleepless" being 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.
—Bill Bruford on the band's 1984 disbanding.
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 the early 1990s, Belew met with Fripp in England with an interest in a reformed King Crimson. Two years later, in 1992, Fripp established the Discipline Global Mobile (DGM) record label with producer David Singleton: this would subsequently be the main home for Fripp's work, with main album releases distributed to larger record companies, affording Fripp and his associates greater freedom and more control over their work.
After a tour with David Sylvian in 1993, Fripp began to assemble a new version of the band with Belew, Levin, Bruford, Chapman Stick player 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 Warr tap guitar with which Gunn replaced the Stick. 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.
—Robert Fripp's press release for THRAK
In October and December 1994, King Crimson recorded their eleventh studio album, Thrak. Formed of revised versions of most of the tracks on Vrooom, plus new tracks, 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 fresh writing rehearsals began in mid-1997 in Nashville, Tennessee, Fripp was dissatisfied with the quality of the new music being developed by the band; developing friction and disagreements between himself and Bruford led to the latter deciding to leave King Crimson. The resulting atmosphere and the lack of workable band material almost broke the band up altogether. Instead, the six members (including Bruford) 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.
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 forced him to take an indefinite break from the band. The remaining members (Fripp, Belew, Gunn and Mastelotto) reconvened as a "Double Duo" to write and record 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: they featured 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 supported the band on some live shows.
On 9 November 2001, King Crimson released a limited edition live extended play called Level Five, featuring three new pieces: Previously unrecorded new tracks "Dangerous Curves", "Level Five" title track and "Virtuous Circle", plus versions of "The Construkction of Light" and 1998 ProjeKct Two's "Deception of the Thrush" followed by the unlisted track "ProjeKct 12th and X" after one silent minute. 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. 2003 also saw the release of the DVD Eyes Wide Open, a compilation of the band's shows Live at the Shepherds Bush Empire (London, 3 July 2000) and Live in Japan (Tokyo, 16 April 2003).
In November 2003, Gunn left the group to pursue solo projects and was replaced by the returning Tony Levin. The band reconvened in early 2004 for rehearsals, but nothing developed from the sessions. At this point, Fripp was publicly reassessing his desire to work with King Crimson and within the music industry, often citing the unsympathetic aspects of the life of a touring musician.
Despite this, a new King Crimson formation was announced in 2007: 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 the band's 40th Anniversary Tour. The setlists featured no new material, drawing instead from the existing Discipline-era/Double Trio/Double Duo repertoire, although several pieces received striking new percussion-heavy arrangements. Additional shows were planned for 2009, but were cancelled due to scheduling clashes.
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. Among Belew's suggestions was a temporary reunion of the 1980s line-up for a thirtieth anniversary tour: an idea declined by both Fripp and Bruford, the latter commenting "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 for this decision.
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 suddenly and unexpectedly 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 to the whimsical: "I was becoming too happy. Time for a pointed stick." The new line-up drew from both the previous lineup (retaining Fripp, Levin, Harrison and Mastelotto) and the Scarcity of Miracles project (adding Jakszyk and Collins), with former R.E.M./Ministry drummer Bill Rieflin as the seventh member. Adrian 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. This version of the group took on the nickname of "the Seven-Headed Beast".
In early 2014, King Crimson had no plans to record in the studio, instead playing "reconfigured" versions of past material For the first time since 1974, the band's repertoire included songs from the run of albums between In The Court of the Crimson King and Larks' Tongues in Aspic, as well as including instrumentals from THRAK and The Power to Believe (although Adrian Belew's songs were conspicuously absent). 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 2015. A live recording from the Canadian leg of the tour was released as Live In Toronto. A European tour was planned for 2016. Following Rieflin's decision to take a break from music after the three dates of March, April and June in Salisbury, drummer Jeremy Stacey of Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds was called in place for dates from September, building-up the now so-called 2016-SOND line-up.
On 7 December 2016, founding King Crimson member Greg Lake died of cancer.
On 3 January 2017, Robert Fripp announced Bill Rieflin's return to King Crimson. Since the band liked and wished to retain Jeremy Stacey, Rieflin shifted his group role and became King Crimson's full-time keyboard player. Consequently, King Crimson became an octet, referred to by Fripp as the "Double Quartet Formation".
On 27 April 2017, King Crimson announced a new live EP named "Heroes" after the David Bowie song, as a tribute to both the artist and the album featuring the song in question (both of which featured distinctive Robert Fripp guitar contributions throughout). The video to the song won "Video of the Year" at the 2017 Progressive Music Awards. Shortly afterwards, King Crimson embarked on an extensive tour of North America beginning on 11 June 2017 in Seattle, Washington and ending on 26 November 2017 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
On 3 September 2017, Robert Fripp announced that his differences with Adrian Belew had been resolved and that Belew was now King Crimson's "Ninth Man Inactive"; meaning that there were "no current plans for (him) to come out with the current formation; but (he) has rejoined the larger family - hooray! - and doors to the future are open." Belew confirmed this, adding "it means I may be back in the band in the future at some point. It leaves the door open for Crimson to evolve as necessary."
On 13 October 2017, it was announced that Bill Rieflin would be unable to join the Double Quartet Formation on the 2017 Autumn tour in the U.S. He was temporarily replaced by Seattle-based Crafty Guitarist Chris Gibson.
On 22 November 2017, King Crimson announced that the Uncertain Times tour, an extensive 33-date UK and European tour, would take place throughout 2018 (from 13 June to 16 November), visiting Poland, Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, Italy, the UK and France.
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 had played on the band's first four albums. The band featured Ian McDonald, Mel Collins, Peter Giles and Michael Giles (the latter subsequently replaced by Ian Wallace), and was fronted by guitarist/singer Jakko Jakszyk (a decade prior to his own recruitment into King Crimson proper). 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, which also features Pat Mastelotto (the band was initially completed by 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 band's entire career in their live sets. Reuter and Mastelotto also play together as a duo (originally called Tuner), for which they have been known to rework the mid-1980s King Crimson instrumental "Industry" live.
Between 2011 and 2014, Stick Men and Adrian Belew’s Power Trio band (Belew plus drummer Tobias Ralph and bass player Julie Slick) joined forces to play and tour as The Crimson ProjeKCt, covering the music made during Belew’s tenure as King Crimson frontman and principal songwriter.
During his solo career (including performance with the Power Trio), 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,". Post-Crimson, he has also performed live versions of King Crimson songs which he neither wrote nor composed (in particular when he has played with Eddie Jobson), such as "Red" or "Larks' Tongues In Aspic, Pt. II," .
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.
Several King Crimson compositional approaches have remained constant from the earliest versions of the band to the present. These include:
—King Crimson violinist David Cross on the mid-1970s band's approach to improvisation.
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 King Crimson unambiguously improvising 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, (some of whose songs can be regarded stylistically as Lake's attempt to continue the early work of King Crimson); McDonald in Foreigner; Burrell in Bad Company, and Wetton in 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.
King Crimson's influence extends to many bands from diverse genres, especially of the 1990s and 2000s. 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." Modern progressive, experimental, psychedelic and indie rock bands have cited them as an influence as well, including the Mars Volta, Porcupine Tree, Primus, Mystery Jets, Fanfarlo, and Anekdoten, who first practised together playing King Crimson songs. Steven Wilson, the leader of Porcupine Tree, was responsible for remixing King Crimson's back catalogue in surround sound and said that the process had an enormous influence on his solo albums. In November 2012 the Flaming Lips in collaboration with Stardeath and White Dwarfs released a track-by-track reinterpretation of In the Court of the Crimson King entitled Playing Hide and Seek with the Ghosts of Dawn. Colin Newman, of Wire, said he saw King Crimson perform many times, and that they influenced him deeply. The seminal hardcore punk group Black Flag acknowledge Wetton-era King Crimson as an influence on their experimental period in the mid-1980s. Melvin Gibbs said that the Rollins Band was influenced most by King Crimson, using similar chords. Bad Religion cites the lyrics of "21st Century Schizoid Man" on their single "21st Century (Digital Boy)" and the name of their record label, Epitaph (founded by their guitarist Brett Gurewitz), comes from the song of the same name of Crimson's debut album.
King Crimson have frequently been cited as pioneers of progressive metal and as an influence on bands of this genre, including Mastodon, Between the Buried and Me, Leprous, Haken, the Ocean, Caligula's Horse, Last Chance to Reason, and Indukti. Members of metal bands Mudvayne, Voivod, Enslaved, Yob, Pyrrhon, and Pallbearer have cited King Crimson as an influence. Heavy experimental and avant-garde acts like the Dillinger Escape Plan, Neurosis, Zeni Geva, Ancestors, and Oranssi Pazuzu all cite King Crimson's influence.
Other artists affected by King Crimson include noise music artist Masami Akita of Merzbow, jazz guitarist Dennis Rea of Land, folktronica exponent Juana Molina, hip hop producer RJD2, hip hop and soul composer Adrian Younge, film director Hal Hartley, and folk-pop singer Ian Kelly.
Former temporary members
Fripp has been the sole consistent member throughout the group's history. He does not necessarily consider himself the leader, describing 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."
...British art rock groups such as the Nice, Yes, Genesis, ELP, King Crimson, the Moody Blues and Procol Harum...
[...] 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," [...]
[...] King Crimson-esque polyrhythm [...]
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.
"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.
For those with long enough memories think of King Crimson's Moonchild, the bit no one plays, and you're almost there.
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.
Their roots lie with seminal alternative band King Crimson [...]
Q: Dette til tross, du kan ikke nekte for å være utpreget influert av King Crimson og Robert Fripp.
Omar Rodríguez-López: Selvfølgelig ikke! Jeg gjør faktisk ingen forsøk på å skjule min affekt for Fripps arbeider. [...] ble jeg introdusert for King Crimson, og på nytt kollapset alt, men på en konstruktiv måte.
(Q: You can't deny that you're influenced by Robert Fripp and King Crimson, right?
Omar Rodríguez-López: No, of course not! I make no attempt to hide my affection for Fripps work. [...] I was introduced to King Crimson and again everything collapsed, but in a constructive way.)
[...] In contrast, De-Loused skips Tribute’s Faith No More worship and leaps straight to King Crimson (their most important influence — more on this later).
We kunnen hier winnen noch verliezen eigenlijk, maar deze band vormt samen met King Crimson toch wel de belangrijkste inspiratiebron. (We can win here or actually lose, but this band [Pink Floyd] together with King Crimson got to be the main source inspiration.)
Q: J’ai toujours pensé que « Elephant Talk » de King Crimson avait servi de base au style de Primus. Qu’en penses-tu ?
Les Claypool: Je ne sais pas si cette chanson en particulier nous a servi de base pour créer Primus, mais il est clair qu’à l’époque nous étions tous fans de cette incarnation de King Crimson et Tony Levin, Adrian Belew, Robert Fripp et Bill Bruford comptaient parmi nos plus grandes influences. Tony Levin encore plus d’ailleurs, car à mon sens il est le meilleur bassiste du monde et celui qui joue avec le plus de goût !
(Q: I always thought that King Crimson's "Elephant Talk" was the basis of Primus's style. What do you think ?
Les Claypool: I do not know if this particular song served as a basis for creating Primus, but it is clear that at the time we were all fans of this incarnation of King Crimson and Tony Levin, Adrian Belew, Robert Fripp and Bill Bruford were among our greatest influences. Tony Levin even more, because in my opinion he is the best bass player in the world and the one who plays with the most taste!)
Les Claypool: I'd say the band is a lot more like King Crimson -- the latter version, with Tony Levin, who's one of my big heroes [...] I've always liked weird, abstract stuff. That's why I asked Larry to join the band and not some Joe Satriani clone. Not that I don't like that type of playing, but I'm big on people like Adrian Belew.
Q: Which artists do you take inspiration from?
Blaine Harrison: Pink Floyd and King Crimson are major influences.
Over the years there have been many bands and artists who have formed what we do, whether that’s King Crimson [...]
There’s a whole raft of other stuff that we’ve been drawing inspiration from though, for instance we were listening a lot to progressive and space rock while making the record, like King Crimson [...]
When Nicklas, Peter and I started playing together in the middle of 1990 we played covers. The first song that we started rehearsing was "Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Part 2," the second was "Lament" and I believe that the third one was "Red." We wanted to see if we could pull off playing Crimso-songs, primarily from the Wetton-era, as this was our main source for inspiration at the time.
In the period before I was living in London, I saw King Crimson more than any other band, and they had the biggest effect on me. They were so serious. “21st Century Schizoid Man” is just get it out, put it on the table, and deal with that. The combination of heaviness, technical brilliance, and sheer bonkers arrangements was unbelievable. You don’t know whether to be petrified or burst out laughing.
Melvin Gibbs: [...] And like I said, with Rollins Band, King Crimson was a big part of it. You could almost pick out riffs sometimes.
Chris Haskett: [...] the biggest ones that influenced the playing I did in the Rollins Band would have to be the “Red/Starless & Bible Black/Lark’s Tongue”-era King Crimson work of Fripp [...]
Troy Sanders: [...] As far as Prog Rock goes, we all love King Crimson. Roughly ten years ago, our guitarist Brent introduced me to King Crimson. I've fallen in love with the group, and listen to their material all the time.
Brann Dailor: We are influenced by lots of different things, kinds of music, life experiences. Our common ground musically is Neurosis and Melvins and Thin Lizzy, but there's lots of stuff, old thrash, 70 prog rock, King Crimson [...]
Q: Now you mention it, there are some fairly strong King Crimson and Yes references to be found.
Dan Briggs: Yes, that’s exactly what I mean. These influences are a part of our music since the Alaska days, a good ten years ago. King Crimson is a particular big influence. We actually covered ‘Three Of A Perfect Pair’ in 2006. It’s always been there really, but it seems to become more dominant lately. It’s fun because it’s a big part of our musical makeup and it’s still relevant to us who we are as musicians at this point in our career.
Blake Richardson: King Crimson [is an influence,] of course. Maybe not so much musically but rhythmically there is a lot of stuff I try to emulate that they do.
[...] the 80s King Crimson records (Discipline, Beat & Three of a perfect Pair) were also a reference point for us.
Robin Staps: Crimson has always been an influence for me since I started this band at the turn of the millennium. [...]
Q: Your new album, Level 2, was such an incredible album. What bands helped to influence this album and how did they do that?
Michael Lessard: King Crimson was a big influence. The way they're constantly evolving and pushing the limits rhythmically and harmonically with their music is really something else. They manage to be so abstract, yet digestible.
Mike Scheidt: [...] I wouldn’t say that we’re a progressive rock band, but we do have some of those elements, and King Crimson is definitely a big influence on us.
Doug Moore: [...] We also draw on jazz and ‘70s prog a fair amount, especially for the improvisational side of our sound. Mahavishnu Orchestra and King Crimson are consensus favorites of ours. [...]
Q: Who would you say are Pallbearer’s biggest influences?
Joseph D. Rowland: Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd, Robin Trower, King Crimson [...]
Q: Who are your musical influences?
Justin Maranga: Our influences are pretty diverse, but some are definitely more prevalent than others. I’d say that Pink Floyd and King Crimson are probably our biggest influences. [...]
[...] We were profoundly affected by King Crimson's Earthbound
Q: Do you think you'll ever leave that soul music chamber?
Adrian Younge: Never! Oddly enough, I plan to commence work on more psychedelic rock records; however, the psychedelic rock I'm inspired by has a lot of soul like King Crimson, Iron Butterfly, Bo Hansson, etc.
Hal Hartley: I made a list of all the influences I could remember from the time I was 18 to the present. Here it goes: Robert Fripp and King Crimson [...]
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