King Crimson

King Crimson
King Crimson

King Crimson, 1982, l-r Robert Fripp, Adrian Belew, Tony Levin, and Bill Bruford
Background information
Origin London, England, United Kingdom
Genres Progressive rock, jazz fusion, experimental rock, avant-garde, hard rock, new wave
Years active 1969–1974, 1981–1984, 1994–2009 (hiatus)
Labels Island, Atlantic, E.G., Virgin, Warner Bros., Discipline, Caroline, Polydor
Associated acts ProjeKcts, Giles, Giles, and Fripp, UK, 21st Century Schizoid Band, McDonald and Giles, Porcupine Tree, HoBoLeMa, Jakszyk, Fripp and Collins
Past members
See: King Crimson membership

King Crimson are a rock band founded in London, England in 1969. Often categorised as a foundational progressive rock group,[1] the band have incorporated diverse influences and instrumentation during their history (including jazz and folk music, classical and experimental music, psychedelic rock, hard rock and heavy metal,[2] new wave, gamelan, electronica and drum and bass). They have been influential on many contemporary musical artists and have gained a large cult following, despite garnering little radio or music video airplay.[3]

Though originating in England, King Crimson have had a mixture of English and American personnel since 1981. The band's line-up (centred on guitarist Robert Fripp) has persistently altered throughout their existence, with eighteen musicians and two lyricists passing through the ranks; though a greater degree of stability was achieved later in their history, with Adrian Belew having been a consistent member since 1981.

The debut line-up of the band was influential but short-lived, lasting for just over one year. Between 1970 and 1971, King Crimson were an unstable band, with many personnel changes and disjunctions between studio and live sound as they explored elements of jazz, funk and classical chamber music. By 1972 the band had a more stable line-up and developed an improvisational sound mingling hard rock, contemporary classical music, free jazz and jazz fusion before breaking up in 1974. They re-formed with a new line-up in 1981 for three years (this time influenced by new wave and gamelan music) before breaking up again for around a decade. Since reforming for the second time (in 1994), King Crimson have blended aspects of their 1980s and 1970s sound with influences from more recent musical genres such as industrial rock and grunge. The band’s efforts to blend additional elements into their music have continued into the 21st century, with more recent developments including drum and bass-styled rhythm loops and extensive use of MIDI and guitar synthesis.

King Crimson's existence has been characterised by regular periods of hiatus initiated by Robert Fripp, and their current status is ambiguous. Despite online diary posts from Fripp suggesting that he does not feel a powerful desire to work within the King Crimson context,[4] he and other members continue to work within the context of related "ProjeKCts" (an ongoing succession of spin-offs from the main band initiated in 1997, of which the latest example is the song-based "Jakszyk, Fripp and Collins"[5]).


"The Giles Brothers were looking for a singing organist. I was a non-singing guitar player. After 30 days of recording and playing with them I asked if I got the job or not – joking like, you know? And Michael Giles rolled a cigarette and said, very slowly, 'Well, let's not be in too much of a hurry to commit ourselves, shall we?' I still don't know if I ever got the job."

Robert Fripp on signing up with Michael and Peter Giles[6]

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, advertised for a singing organist to join their new project.[7] 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.[3] 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.[3] Attempting to expand their sound, Giles, Giles and Fripp then recruited the multi-instrumentalist Ian McDonald on keyboards, reeds and woodwinds. McDonald brought along his then-girlfriend, the former Fairport Convention singer Judy Dyble, whose tenure with the group was brief and ended at the same time as her romantic split with McDonald (she would later resurface in Trader Horne).[3][8] More significantly, 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?" [9] One of the first songs McDonald and Sinfield wrote together was "The Court of the Crimson King".[citation needed]

Fripp, meanwhile, had seen the band 1-2-3 (later known as Clouds) at the Marquee. This band would later inspire some of Crimson's penchant for classical melodies and jazz-like improvisation.[10] Feeling that he no longer wished to pursue Peter Giles' more whimsical pop style, Fripp recommended his friend Greg Lake, a singer and guitarist, for recruitment into the band, with the suggestion that Lake should replace either him or Peter Giles.[8] Although Peter Giles would later sardonically describe this as one of Fripp's "cute political moves",[8] he himself had become disillusioned with Giles, Giles and Fripp's failure to break through, and stepped down to be replaced by Lake as the band's bass player, singer and frontman. At this point, the band morphed into what would become King Crimson.[3]

King Crimson, line-up 1 (1968–1969)

The first incarnation of King Crimson were formed in London on 30 November 1968 and first rehearsed on 13 January 1969.[3][11] The band name was coined by lyricist Peter Sinfield as 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" – although it literally means "with a cause".[12] At this point, Ian McDonald was King Crimson’s main composer, albeit with significant contributions from Lake and Fripp, while Sinfield not only wrote all the lyrics but designed and operated the band’s revolutionary stage lighting, and was therefore credited with "sounds and visions". McDonald suggested the new band purchase a Mellotron (the first example of the band’s persistent involvement with music technology) and they began using it to create an orchestral rock sound, inspired by The Moody Blues.[13]

King Crimson made their live debut on 9 April 1969,[11] and made a breakthrough by playing the free concert in Hyde Park, London, staged by The Rolling Stones in July 1969 before 650,000 people.[3]

In the Court of the Crimson King

The band's 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' claim that the band never used psychedelic drugs).[11] The album received public compliments from Pete Townshend, The Who's guitarist, who called the album "an uncanny masterpiece."[14] The sound of In the Court of the Crimson King (specifically the track, "21st Century Schizoid Man") has also been described as setting the antecedent for alternative rock and grunge, whilst the softer tracks are described as having an "ethereal" and "almost sacred" feel.[15] 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 in England, the band embarked on a tour of the United States, performing alongside many contemporary popular musicians and musical groups. Their first US show was performed at Goddard College, in Plainfield, Vermont. While their original sound astounded contemporary audiences and critics,[3] creative tensions were already developing within the band. Michael Giles and Ian McDonald, still striving to cope with King Crimson’s rapid success and the realities of life on the road, 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 California tour. In order 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.[8]

The original line-up played their last show together in San Francisco at the Fillmore West on 16 December 1969.[11] Ian McDonald and Michael Giles then formally left King Crimson to pursue solo work, recording the semi-successful McDonald and Giles studio album in 1970 before dissolving their partnership (McDonald would later resurface in Foreigner while Giles became a session drummer). Live recordings of the original King Crimson’s concerts were eventually released twenty-seven years later in 1996 as the double/quadruple live album Epitaph and in the King Crimson Collector's Club releases.

From the start of 1970 until mid-1971, King Crimson remained in a state of flux with fluctuating line-ups, 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.[8]) Greg Lake was the next member to leave, departing in early 1970 after being approached by Keith Emerson to join what would become Emerson, Lake & Palmer. This left Fripp as the only remaining musician in the band, taking on part of the keyboard-playing role in addition to guitar. To compensate, Sinfield increased his own creative role and began developing his interest in synthesisers for use on subsequent records.

In the Wake of Poseidon

The band's second album, In the Wake of Poseidon was recorded by a mixture of the remaining members (Fripp and Sinfield) and their former associates. Michael Giles returned to play drums on a session only basis, joined by Peter Giles on bass. At one point, the band considered hiring the then-unknown Elton John (on spec) to be the album's singer, but decided against it.[16] Instead (and in exchange for receiving King Crimson's PA equipment as payment[8]), Lake agreed to sing on the band's developing second album In the Wake of Poseidon, covering all of the album’s vocal tracks except "Cadence And Cascade", which was sung by Fripp's old schoolfriend and teenage bandmate Gordon Haskell. Mel Collins (formerly of the band Cirkus) contributed saxophones and flute. Another key performer was jazz pianist Keith Tippett, who became an integral part of King Crimson's sound for the next few records. Although Fripp offered him full band membership, Tippett preferred to remain as a studio collaborator and performed live with the band only once.[8] In the Wake of Poseidon was moderately well received on release, but was criticised as sounding very similar in both style and content to the band's debut album, to the point where it seemed like an imitation.[3]


With In the Wake of Poseidon on sale, Fripp and Sinfield had material and releases to promote, but no band to play them. In considerable desperation, Fripp persuaded Gordon Haskell to join permanently as singer and bass player and also recruited former Shy Limbs/Manfred Mann's Earth Band drummer Andy McCulloch (another Dorset musician moving in the West London progressive rock circle). Mel Collins was also retained as a full band member.[8] Both Haskell and McCulloch joined King Crimson in time to participate in the recording sessions for the band's third album, Lizard,[3] but had no say in the writing of the material. Fripp and Sinfield, now effectively equal artistic partners, had written the entire album themselves and had also brought in a squad of jazz musicians to help record it – Keith Tippett, cornet player Marc Charig, trombonist Nick Evans and oboe player Robin Miller. Jon Anderson of Yes was also brought in to perform vocals on one song ("Prince Rupert Awakes")[3] which Fripp and Sinfield considered to be outside Haskell’s range and style.[8] Lizard featured much 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 VCS3 synthesiser. It also featured Sinfield’s most complex set of allusive lyrics to date, 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 mediaeval battle and its outcome.

Lizard has subsequently been described as being an "acquired taste":[3] it was definitely not to the taste of the more rhythm-and-blues-oriented Haskell and McCulloch, who did not enjoy the sessions and rapidly became disillusioned. Haskell also realised that he would be playing material that he had no sympathy for, and that he would have no creative input into King Crimson for the foreseeable future. Just prior to the release of Lizard, Haskell quit the band acrimoniously, having refused to sing through distortion and electronic effects for live concerts. McCulloch quit immediately afterwards,[3][8] later joining Arthur Brown's band and subsequently becoming the drummer for Greenslade in 1972. Fripp and Sinfield were forced to return to the arduous process of auditioning new members.

King Crimson, line-up 2 (1971–1972)

The next King Crimson line-up featured Fripp, Sinfield and drummer Ian Wallace (a former bandmate of Jon Anderson). Auditionees for the role of singer included Bryan Ferry and the band's manager John Gaydon, but the post went to Raymond "Boz" Burrell,[3] who’d previously worked with his own band Boz People and at one point had been tipped to replace Roger Daltrey in The Who. Fripp approached bass player John Wetton (ex Mogul Thrash) in mid-1971 to complete the line-up, but Wetton declined in order to accept a place in Family, although he kept in touch with Fripp.[17] Rick Kemp was eventually selected as the new bass player but turned the band down at the last minute.[3][8] Once again faced with limited choices, Fripp and Wallace taught Boz to play the bass rather than start the search all over again. Although Boz had not played bass before, he had played enough occasional rhythm guitar to make learning the instrument easier.[3][8]

In 1971, King Crimson undertook their first tour since 1969 with the new line-up. The concerts were well received, but the roots-based musical inclinations and rock-and-roll lifestyle favoured by Burrell, Collins and Wallace began to alienate the drug-free, more cerebral Fripp. He began to withdraw socially from his colleagues, creating tension that spread to the rest of the band, although King Crimson completed the tour intact.[8]


Later in the year King Crimson recorded and released a new album, Islands. The band's warmest-sounding record to date, it was strongly influenced by Miles Davis’s orchestral collaborations with Gil Evans and had a loose thematic connection with Homer’s Odyssey. It also showed signs of a stylistic divergence 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 use and banjo-inspired guitar technique). Islands also featured the band’s one-and-only experiment with a string ensemble ("Prelude: Song of the Gulls") and the raunchy rhythm-and-blues-inspired "Ladies of the Road" – by far the closest representation of the band’s live style, and probably the only track that the whole band liked. A hint of trouble to come came when one (unnamed) member of the band allegedly described the more delicate and meditative parts of Islands as "airy-fairy shit".[8]

Following the next tour, Fripp ousted Sinfield[3] (with whom his relationship had deteriorated) claiming musical differences and a loss of faith in his partner’s ideas.[8] (Sinfield would go on to release a solo album, Still, featuring all of the current and previous members of King Crimson aside from Fripp, and then reunited with Greg Lake by becoming the principal lyricist for Emerson, Lake & Palmer:[18] many years later, he would achieve great success writing pop songs for Bucks Fizz.) The remaining band broke up acrimoniously in rehearsals shortly afterwards, due to Fripp’s refusal to incorporate other members’ compositions into the band’s repertoire. (He later cited this as "quality control" and an attempt to ensure that King Crimson was performing the "right kind" of music.[8])

The band were persuaded to reform in order to fulfil their 1972 tour commitments, with the intention of disbanding afterwards.[3] Recordings from this tour were later released as the Earthbound live album,[3] noted and criticised for its bootleg-level sound quality and a style that occasionally veered towards funk, with scat singing on the improvised pieces.[19][20] This was a flagrant sign of the musical rift between Fripp and all three of the other members, the latter of whom were attempting to steer the band back towards a rootsier rhythm-and-blues style in open defiance of Fripp.[8] Despite these problems, relationships across the band gradually improved during the tour to the point where Collins, Burrell and Wallace offered to continue with the band. However, Fripp had already decided to entirely restructure King Crimson with a new musical direction that he felt was entirely unsuited to the current band, and was already recruiting new members.[8]

Having spent a long time being critically overshadowed by the preceding and subsequent line-ups of King Crimson, the Islands line-up of the band benefited from positive reappraisal in the mid-2000s following the release of several live archive releases (including the double live set Ladies of the Road and various King Crimson Collectors Club recordings) and reassessments by Fripp and other band members. Fripp would subsequently mend his damaged relationships with Wallace and Collins, although not with Burrell.

King Crimson, line-up 3 (mid-1972–1974)

The third major line-up of King Crimson was radically different from the previous two and the interregnum work, being both the first without saxophone or woodwind and the first to embrace active improvisation as a major musical element. Fripp’s first new recruit was the free-improvising percussionist Jamie Muir,[3] who had previously worked with Sunship and Derek Bailey.[8] In the first of King Crimson’s “double drummer” line-ups, he was paired with former Yes drummer Bill Bruford,[3] who had chosen to leave the commercially successful Yes at the peak of their early career in favour of the comparatively unstable and unpredictable King Crimson.[21] Fripp also finally secured John Wetton as King Crimson’s singer and bass player, recruiting him directly from Family. The line-up was completed by David Cross, a relatively unknown violinist (doubling on keyboards) whom Fripp had encountered through work with music colleges.[3]

I might have known it was going to be an interesting ride when the first of the two gifts (Fripp) gave me in some 35 years was a book called Initiation into Hermetics. I wasn't given a setlist when I joined the band, more a reading list. Ouspensky, J.G. Bennett, Gurdjieff and Castaneda were all hot. Wicca, personality changes, low-level magic, pyromancy – all this from the magus in the court of the Crimson King. This was going to be more than three chords and a pint of Guinness.

Bill Bruford on joining King Crimson in 1972[22]

With Sinfield gone, the band recruited a new lyricist, Wetton's friend Richard Palmer-James (the former guitarist for Supertramp).[3] Unlike Sinfield, Palmer-James played no part in artistic, visual or sonic direction. His sole contributions to King Crimson were his lyrics, sent by post to Wetton from his home in Hamburg.

Larks' Tongues In Aspic

Rehearsals and touring began in late 1972, with the new band’s penchant for improvisation (and Jamie Muir’s startling wild-man stage presence) immediately gaining King Crimson some excited press attention. A new album – Larks' Tongues in Aspic – was released early the next year.[3][23] This was the first King Crimson record to demonstrate Fripp’s dominant compositional vision, without either the template of Ian McDonald's songwriting and arrangements or the influence of Sinfield’s elaborate conceptual lyrics and references, and as such was also the first King Crimson record to escape from the shadow of the debut album.

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,[3] drawing from influences as diverse as Bartók, the free music scene, Vaughan Williams and the embryonic heavy metal sound,[24] and featuring a whisper-to-scream dynamic that was extreme even by the band's previous standards. There were some nods to the past in the continued use of Mellotron, as well as in the inclusion of stately ballads, but the band now featured a small ensemble sound with an emphasis on instrumental music. In particular, the record was permeated by Muir’s freewheeling approach to percussion and “found” instrumentation, utilising everything from a prepared drumkit to bicycle-horn bulbs, toys, bullroarers, gongs hit with chains, foley-style sound effects and a joke laughing-bag. Wetton’s loud, crisp and overdriven playing style provided King Crimson’s most distinctive bass playing to date, while Fripp’s guitar playing had taken on a wiry and aggressive character previously seldom heard in the band’s studio recordings.

Following more touring, the group became a quartet in early 1973 when Muir suddenly departed. This was initially thought to have been due to an onstage injury – a dropped gong landing on his foot during a gig at the Marquee.[25] Twenty-seven years later it was revealed that Muir had gone through a personal spiritual crisis and had to immediately withdraw from the band, who themselves had not been told the truth about the situation by their management.[8] Bruford took on additional Muir influenced percussion duties to flesh out the band's sound.

Starless and Bible Black (1973–1974)

Robert Fripp playing with King Crimson, 1974

During the lengthy tour that followed, the remaining members assembled material for their next album, Starless and Bible Black. This was released in January 1974,[3][26] earning them a positive Rolling Stone review.[27] The album built on the achievements of its predecessor, precariously balancing improvised material with careening heavy-metal riffs and songs that recalled both the Beatles’ White Album experiments and aspects of electric jazz fusion as performed by the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Miles Davis.

Two-thirds of the album was instrumental, including Fripp’s climactic moto perpetuo composition "Fracture" and the atonal sound painting of the title track. For the recording of "Trio" – a hushed and wistful improvised melody featuring Wetton on bass, Cross on violin and Fripp on flute-Mellotron – Bruford notoriously contributed “admirable restraint” by sitting with his drumsticks crossed over his chest throughout the piece, understanding that the music did not require him to add anything, and was thus given compositional credit equal to the rest of his bandmates. Although most of Starless and Bible Black had been recorded at live performances,[24] it was painstakingly edited to sound like another studio album.[28] Fuller documentation of the quartet’s live work was revealed eighteen years later on 1992’s four-disc live recording The Great Deceiver, and again on 1997’s double live album The Night Watch, which used the original source tapes for much of the material on Starless And Bible Black.

By this time, the band were once again beginning to divide into performance factions. 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”,[8] and Cross whose amplified acoustic violin was increasingly being drowned out by the rhythm section, forcing 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,[8] playing his final performance in Central Park in New York.[3]

Red (1974)

The remaining trio reconvened to record a new album, which would be called Red.[3] Unknown to the other two, Fripp, increasingly disillusioned with the music business, had been turning his attention to the writings of the mystic George Gurdjieff,[28] and experienced a spiritual crisis-cum-awakening immediately before the band entered the studio. He would later describe his experience as having seemed as if “the top of my head blew off.”[8] Although most of the album material had been written, the transformed Fripp retreated into himself in the studio and “withdrew his opinion”, leaving Bruford and Wetton to direct most of the sessions.

In spite of this, Red proved to be one of the strongest and most consistent King Crimson albums to date. It has been described as "an impressive achievement" for a group about to disband,[29] with "intensely dynamic" musical chemistry between the band members. Opening with the harsh, tritone-based instrumental that gave the album its name, the album also featured two relatively short and punchy Wetton-led songs, and a last look back at the period with David Cross via the live improvisation “Providence”, which was recorded on the preceding tour. The album finale was the majestic twelve-minute “Starless”, which acted, in effect, as a potted musical history of the band, travelling from Mellotron-driven ballad grandeur via intense improvisation to savagely structured metallic attack and back again. Red also included guest appearances by former members and collaborators. In addition to Cross’s appearance on “Providence”, Robin Miller and Marc Charig returned on oboe and cornet for the first time since Islands, and both Mel Collins and Ian McDonald played saxophones on “Starless”.

With one of their strongest albums ready to promote, King Crimson’s future prospects looked bright, and talks were underway regarding Ian McDonald rejoining the band. However, Fripp did not want to tour as he felt that the "world was coming to an end".[28] He was, in any case, becoming discouraged by both the working relationships in the band and by the realities of high-profile rock band activity, which he increasingly saw as overblown and detrimental to both musicians and audience. Two months before the release of Red, Fripp announced that King Crimson had "ceased to exist" and was "completely over for ever and ever",[14][30] The group formally disbanded on 25 September 1974.[3] Much later on, it was revealed that Fripp had attempted to interest his managers in a Fripp-free version of King Crimson (consisting of Wetton, Bruford and McDonald) but had been turned down.[8]

USA (1975)

A posthumous live album, USA, documenting this version of King Crimson's final tour of the United States, was released in 1975 to critical acclaim,[19] reviewers calling it "a must" for fans of the band and "insanity you're better off having".[31][32] Technical issues with some of the original tapes rendered some of David Cross' violin parts inaudible when mixed in 1974, so Roxy Music’s Eddie Jobson was brought in to provide studio overdubs of violin and keyboards. Further edits were also necessary to allow for the time limitations of a single vinyl album.[33] The album was reissued with two extra tracks, “Fracture” and “Starless”, in 2005.

King Crimson, line-up 4 (1981–1984)

Discipline (1981)

By 1981, Fripp had opted to fold The League of Gentlemen in favour of a project that was more artistically and commercially ambitious. At the time, he had no intention of reforming King Crimson.[28] However, his first step was to contact Bill Bruford and ask whether he wanted to join a new band, to which Bruford agreed.[28] Fripp then contacted guitarist and singer Adrian Belew (ex-David Bowie/Frank Zappa), whom he had met when Belew's band Gaga had supported The League of Gentlemen. Belew was, at the time, a major collaborator with Talking Heads both on record and on tour.[34] Fripp had never been in a band with another guitarist before, other than his stint in Peter Gabriel's 1977 touring band, so the decision to seek a second guitarist was indicative of Fripp's desire to create a sound unlike any of his previous work.[28] Belew (who agreed to join the new band following his tour commitments with Talking Heads) would also become the band’s lyricist.

Having decided against selecting Bruford’s colleague Jeff Berlin as bass player (on the grounds that his playing style was "too busy"[8]), Fripp and Bruford resigned themselves to a long search and began auditioning scores of applicants in New York. On the third day, Fripp absented himself from the auditions after hearing about three musicians and returned several hours later accompanied by Tony Levin, who got the job after playing a single chorus of "Red".[22] 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 auditions. In addition to his bass-playing contributions, Levin introduced the band to the use of the Chapman Stick, a ten-string polyphonic two-handed tapping instrument of the guitar family that had both a bass and treble range and that Levin played in an "utterly original style".[35]

Fripp named the new quartet Discipline, and the band flew to England to rehearse and write. They made their live debut at Moles Club in Bath on 30 April 1981 and went on to tour the UK,[36] supported by The Lounge Lizards.[37] By October 1981, the four members of Discipline had made the collective decision to ditch their original name and to reactivate and use the name of King Crimson.[3]

The new version of King Crimson bore some resemblance to New Wave music,[38] which can be attributed in part to the work of both Belew and Fripp with Talking Heads and David Bowie, Levin's work with Peter Gabriel, and Fripp's work on Exposure and with The League of Gentlemen. With this new band, described by J. D. Considine in The New Rolling Stone Album Guide as having a "jaw-dropping technique" of "knottily rhythmic, harmonically demanding workouts",[39] 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.[28] Fripp concentrated on playing complex picked arpeggios while Belew provided a striking arsenal of guitar sounds (including animal and insect noises, backward envelopes, industrial textures and demented lead guitar screams) utilising a broad range of electronic effects and unorthodox playing styles. Within the rhythm section, Levin brought elements of contemporary urban styles to the basslines, while Bruford experimented, at Fripp’s behest, with a cymbal-free drumkit. As with previous incarnations of the band, the new King Crimson line-up also embraced new technology that in turn informed the music – in this case the Roland guitar synthesiser, the Chapman Stick and the Simmons electronic drumkit. Although King Crimson’s trademark Mellotrons were no longer present, Fripp’s rich and overdriven lead guitar breaks provided a link to the past, with the new band also having turned in animated versions of "Red" and "Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part 2" during the original Discipline tour.

The first album by the new line-up was 1981’s Discipline, an immediate benchmark for the new sound and still considered to be one of the band’s finest records. The songs were short and snappy by King Crimson standards, with Belew’s pop sense and quirky lyrical approach a surprising contrast to previous Crimson grandeur. 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, one of the album’s two instrumentals (the serene "The Sheltering Sky") had emerged unplanned out of group rehearsals. The noisy, half-spoken/half-shouted "Indiscipline" had been partially written 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.[8]

Beat (1982)

Discipline was followed in 1982 by Beat, which was both the first King Crimson album to have been recorded with the same band line-up as the album preceding it[40] and the first not to have been produced by a member of the group.[40] The album had a loosely-linked theme of the beat generation and its writings,[41] 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 had asked Belew to read Keroauc's novel On the Road.[16] for inspiration, and the album was peppered with themes of travel, disorientation and loneliness. While the record was a noticeably poppier version of the Discipline template (and contained the limpid ballads "Heartbeat" and "Two Hands", the latter with lyrics by Belew’s wife Margaret), it also featured the harsh, atonal and entirely improvised “Requiem”, which was more reminiscent of the left-field work of King Crimson circa Starless And Bible Black.

The recording process of Beat was fraught, with Belew suffering high stress levels over his duties as frontman and main songwriter. On one occasion, he clashed with Fripp and ordered him out of the studio. Fripp would later sardonically comment “So much for my being the leader of King Crimson”.[8][22] The band's immediate differences were resolved and King Crimson toured again, followed by a recuperative time-out during which Belew recorded a solo album.

Three of a Perfect Pair (1984)

Reconvening to record Three of a Perfect Pair in 1984, the band found the compositional process hard and this time had difficulty reconciling the disparate musical ideas of the four members. They ultimately opted for a "two-sided" album consisting of "the left side"—four of the band's poppier songs and a melodical instrumental—and a "right side" of experimental material that ranged from extended and atonal improvisations in the tradition of the mid-70s band to a third tightly-structured episode in the "Larks' Tongues in Aspic" sequence. The "left side" songs had a loose lyrical theme—this time the workings of the brain (from dysfunction to dream), and its impact on life. The "right side" had more of a preoccupation with technological society, from the lengthy instrumental "Industry" to the sprechstimme piece “Dig Me” (sung from the viewpoint of a scrapped automobile) and saw the band experimenting with more mechanistic sounds. The 2001 CD remaster of the album added "the other side", a collection of remixes and improvisation outtakes plus Levin’s tongue-in-cheek vocal piece "The King Crimson Barbershop".

Robert broke up the group, again, for the umpteenth time, dwelling at length, I suppose on our lack of imagination, ability, direction and a thousand other things we were doubtless missing. I suppose this only because I remember not listening to this litany of failures. Might as well quit while you're ahead, I thought.

Bill Bruford on the second King Crimson break-up in 1984[22]

The last concert of the Three Of A Perfect Pair tour, which was also the last concert played by the 1980s line-up, was recorded at the Spectrum club in Montreal and subsequently released in 1998 as the live album Absent Lovers: Live in Montreal. Immediately after this concert, Fripp dissolved the band for the second time, having become dissatisfied with its working methods. Bruford and Belew were to express some frustration over this (with the latter recalling that the first he had heard of the split was when he read about it 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.

King Crimson, line-up 5 (1994–1997)

At some point in the early 1990s, Adrian Belew visited Fripp in England and strongly expressed his interest in playing in a reformed King Crimson. Following the end of his tour with David Sylvian, Fripp began to assemble a new version of the band, bringing Belew and Levin back from the 1980s line-up while adding Trey Gunn on Chapman Stick and Jerry Marotta on drums. In the early stages of planning, Marotta was replaced by Pat Mastelotto. The last addition to the line-up was Bill Bruford as second drummer. Fripp explained the unexpected sextet arrangement by claiming to have had the vision of a “double trio” (two guitarists, two bass/Stick players and two drummers) to explore a different type of King Crimson music. Bruford, however, would later assert that he had 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. In his 2009 autobiography, he also revealed that one of the conditions Fripp had imposed upon his rejoining was that Bruford would cede all creative control of the band to Fripp.[22]

Vroooom and B'Boom (1994–1995)

The "double trio" convened for rehearsals in Woodstock in 1994 and released the EP Vrooom in the same year. This revealed the new King Crimson sound, which featured elements of the interlocking guitars on Discipline and the heavy rock feel of Red,[42] 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"[22]). As with previous line-ups, new technology was used for, and informed, the music. In this case, the technology was MIDI, used extensively by Fripp, Belew and Gunn, to which Gunn would add the Warr Guitar (a tapping guitar instrument with which he would replace his Chapman Stick after VROOOM).

The apparent twinning of instruments was, in fact, used less than initially suggested. Using Soundscapes (the greatly expanded digital successor to Frippertronics) Fripp's guitar took on more of a textural and ambient role in many pieces. Gunn’s Stick and Warr Guitar playing, rather than staying in the bass register with Levin, covered a proportion of the guitar arpeggios and functioned as another lead instrument (as well as producing experimental and distorted sounds and acting as a MIDI trigger). The main use of twinned instrumentation was in the drumming. Bruford initially took on a more exploratory role over Mastelotto’s steady beat, but this soon shifted toward a more equitable sharing of percussive roles.

The revived band made its concert debut in Buenos Aires in 1995. The concert was recorded for the live album B'Boom: Live in Argentina, which was released in August of the same year). In addition to a large body of new material, the band played three mid-70s pieces ("Red", "Larks’ Tongues In Aspic Part 2" and "The Talking Drum") and six songs from the 1980s repertoire, predominantly from Discipline.

Thrak and Thrakattak (1995–1996)

"What does THRAK mean? The meaning of THRAK – and I'll give you two definitions – the first one is: a sudden and precise impact moving from direction and commitment in service of an aim. And again, it's a sudden impact moving from direction, intention and commitment in service of an aim. The second definition is: 117 guitars almost hitting the same chord simultaneously. So, the album THRAK, what is it? 56 minutes and 37 seconds of songs and music about love, dying, redemption and mature guys who get erections."

Robert Fripp's press release for the Thrak album[43]

King Crimson released their next full-length studio album, Thrak in April 1995. Containing revised versions of most of the tracks on Vrooom, Thrak was described by reviewers as having "jazz-scented rock structures, characterised by noisy, angular, exquisite guitar interplay" and an "athletic, ever-inventive rhythm section",[44] whilst being in tune with the sound of alternative rock musicians in the mid-1990s.[45] 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”. Instrumentally, the album featured a couple of clear descendants of the driving “Red” (“VROOOM “ and “VROOOM VROOOM”), the drum duet “B’Boom”, the savagely displaced and rhythmic “THRAK” and a couple of brief solo Soundscapes from Fripp. The album also featured the brief return of Mellotron to the band’s sonic palette.

During 1995 and 1996 King Crimson continued to tour. In 1996, the band released the challenging avantgarde live album Thrakattak, which consisted entirely of concert improvisations from the midsection of performances of "THRAK", digitally combined into an hour-long extended improvisation.[46] 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.

Although musically exciting, the Double Trio was expensive and cumbersome to run, which in turn led to insecurity. In mid-1997, the band gathered for rehearsals in Nashville that came to a compositional impasse in which none of the generated material appeared to satisfy Fripp. At this point, the friction between Fripp and a particularly exasperated Bruford effectively ended the latter’s time as a King Crimson member.[22] Bruford would later comment "by now, Robert and I couldn't even agree where to have dinner. And if you can't agree that, you sure as heck can't play together."[22] This, plus the lack of workable material and coherent group ideas, could have broken the band up altogether. Instead, the six members opted for an alternative solution – the ProjeKcts.

ProjeKcts 1-X (1997–1999)

Rather than split up absolutely, the six musicians of the Double Trio decided to work in smaller "sub-groups" – or "fraKctalisations", according to Fripp – called 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 in one place at once. As with previous King Crimson endeavours, the ProjeKcts embraced new technology – in this case, Mastelotto's electronic drum loop devices, Trey Gunn’s MIDI-triggered "talkbox" and the new electronic Roland V-Drums played by both Mastelotto and Belew. (Bruford had declined to play the V-drums despite Fripp’s request). Various King Crimson members have continued to create new ProjeKcts up until the present day, as and where necessary (and to cover recent hiatuses in main group activity).

The first four ProjeKcts played live in the US, Japan and the UK during 1998 and 1999 and released a number of recordings that were in many respects similar to the Thrakattak album, demonstrating a high degree of free improvisation.[39] These have been collectively described by music critic Considine as "frequently astonishing" but also as lacking in melody, and thus too difficult for the casual listener.[39]

  • ProjeKct One (Fripp, Bruford, Gunn and Levin) – assembled for a four-night stint in London. The band took on an entirely improvised free-jazz direction and was primarily led by the more jazz-inclined Bruford and Levin (who, for this project, favoured acoustic drums and upright bass respectively). This can also be seen as Bruford's final attempt to work within a King Crimson context.
  • ProjeKct Two (Fripp, Gunn and Belew) – explored more Crimsonic instrumental structures with plenty of MIDI triggering and virtual instrumentation (such as impossible piano lines played via MIDI guitar) plus the unusual and stimulating element of Belew playing electronic drums rather than guitar. The music was generally more light-hearted and humorous than most King Crimson-associated material.
  • ProjeKct Three (Fripp, Gunn and Mastelotto) – explored similar territory to ProjeKct Two but was a much faster-paced experiment driven primarily by Mastelotto’s multi-layered electronic rhythm approach (which drew extensively on high-speed drum and bass and electronica)
  • ProjeKct Four (Fripp, Gunn, Mastelotto and Levin) explored similar territory to ProjeKct Three, although it actually preceded ProjeKct Three into action; however, the presence of Levin on bass and Stick resulted in a much fuller "live band" sound and a more driving avant-rock approach.
  • ProjeKct X – a studio-only rearrangement of the 2000 King Crimson line-up, with composition and ideas led by the rhythm section rather than by Fripp and Belew.

King Crimson, line-up 6 (2000–2004)

By the time the ProjeKcts came to an end, Bruford had entirely left the King Crimson world in order to fully embrace his jazz work with Earthworks and others. Levin’s session career commitments – mostly to Peter Gabriel and Seal – were also obstructing future King Crimson activity. Fortunately, Levin's lack of availability suited Belew’s preference for working with a smaller unit following the logistical challenges of the Double Trio, and it was decided that Levin could withdraw amicably from the band for the moment. (Fripp stated that he still considered Levin to be a King Crimson member, albeit for now an inactive “fifth member”.)

The remaining four active members of King Crimson – Belew, Fripp, Gunn, and Mastelotto – continued with the band, sometimes referring to themselves as the “Double Duo” in a tongue-in-cheek reference to the previous line-up. Despite featuring two-thirds of the previous band’s personnel (and no new members), this incarnation of the band would be strongly distinct from the Double Trio and was effectively a different, rather than reduced, line-up. The altered membership and the experience of the ProjeKcts led to changes in role. Gunn began to concentrate on the bass register for his Warr Guitar playing, and added work on the baritone guitar and Ashbory silicone-string bass guitar. Mastellotto made a much greater use of electronics. Once again, new technology was employed (the electronic V-Drums and rhythm-loop machines, which had been used for the ProjeKCts), while Belew took the additional step of entirely embracing Fripp’s New Standard Tuning on guitar.

The ConstruKction of Light (2000)

King Crimson recorded their next album, The ConstruKction of Light,[14] in Adrian Belew’s basement and garage near Nashville. The results were released in 2000 and proved to be the band’s most hard-rocking album to date. All of the pieces were metallic and harsh in sound, similar to the work of contemporary alternative metal bands such as Tool, 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 also contained a lengthy fourth instalment of the “Larks’ Tongues In Aspic” series and another piece, “FraKCtured”, which effectively rewrote the 1973 piece “Fracture”. Fripp argued that the original “Fracture” had been written for and interpreted by a specific group of musicians, and that in order to pursue a similar theme in 2000 it had been necessary to rewrite the music in accordance with the skills and personalities of the current line-up. This explanation, however, did not protect the album from criticism for apparently lacking new ideas.[47]

Although the whole band contributed to arrangements, the basic material on The ConstruKction of Light was almost entirely composed by Belew (songs) and Fripp (instrumentals). To avoid creative frustration, the band recorded a parallel album at the same time under the name of ProjeKct X, called Heaven and Earth.[48] This second album was conceived and led by Mastelotto and Gunn (with Fripp and Belew playing subsidiary roles in the band) and was a further development of the polyrhythmic/dance music approach seen earlier in the ProjeKCts. The album’s title track was also included as a bonus track on The ConstruKCtion of Light. Like The ConstruKction of Light, Heaven and Earth was criticised for an apparent lack of new ideas.[48]

King Crimson toured to support the records, releasing a live document of the results as the triple live album Heavy ConstruKction. This showed the band constantly switching between the structured album pieces and ferocious ProjeKCt-style Soundscape-and-percussion improvisations. Among King Crimson's live engagements were shows opening for self-confessed Crimson disciples Tool in 2001. At one of these, Tool’s lead singer Maynard James Keenan joked onstage: "For me, being on stage with King Crimson is like Lenny Kravitz playing with Led Zeppelin, or Britney Spears onstage with Debbie Gibson." [49]

Level Five and Happy With What You Have To Be Happy With (2001–2002)

Later in 2001, the band released a limited edition live EP called Level Five, which featured three new pieces. A version of “The Deception of the Thrush”, a ProjeKct track now regularly featuring in the live set, plus the new tracks “Dangerous Curves” and “Virtuous Circle” suggested that the band was heading back towards a broader dynamic including quieter, more textural work. In 2002, King Crimson released another EP Happy With What You Have to Be Happy With.[50] This featured eleven tracks (including a live version of “Larks’ Tongues In Aspic, Part IV”) and confirmed that the band were moving back towards greater diversity. 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.

The Power to Believe (2003)

The two EPs both acted as work-in-progress reveals for King Crimson’s 2003 album The Power to Believe,[51] which Fripp described as "the culmination of three years of Crimsonising" and which was possibly the most self-referential album of the band’s career. The album incorporated reworked and/or retitled versions of “Deception of the Thrush” and four of the EP tracks, plus a 1997 Soundscape with added instrumentation and vocals, and also used lyrics from an Adrian Belew solo song (“All Her Love Is Mine”) as a linking theme across four songs. It did, however, confirm the band’s return to more diverse songwriting and instrumentation, with a greater reliance on space and Soundscapes and with Mastelotto using more ProjeKCt-style percussion textures. Songs such as “EleKtrik” fused 1970s, 1980s and 21st century Crimson styles, and the album ran the gamut from metal to ambient. Once again, the band toured to support the album, resulting in the 2003 live album EleKtrik: Live in Japan, recorded in Tokyo.

In late November 2003, Trey Gunn announced his departure from King Crimson. He would continue his active association with Mastelotto in projects such as TU and KTU, as well as leading his own band. Tony Levin was subsequently reinstalled as King Crimson’s bass player, reconvening with Fripp, Belew and Mastelotto for rehearsals in early 2004.

Hiatus and related projects (2004–2007)

Adrian Belew in 2006

Following the early 2004 rehearsals, King Crimson was placed on hold for another three years, although the band did not formally split up. By this point, Fripp was continually reassessing King Crimson in view of his dislike of the music industry and what he saw as the unsympathetic side of touring. While this did not break up the band, it contributed to changes in approach. During the hiatus, ProjeKct Six (Fripp on guitar and Soundscapes, Belew on drums, bass and guitar) – played four shows in the north-eastern United States in 2006, opening for Porcupine Tree[52]

King Crimson, line-up 7 (2007–2009)

A new King Crimson line-up was announced in late 2007,[53] consisting of Fripp, Belew, Levin, Mastelotto, and a new second drummer – Gavin Harrison[54] (the band’s first new British member since 1972). Although best known as the drummer for Porcupine Tree (a position he continues to hold alongside his King Crimson work), Harrison had a formidable reputation as one of the best session drummers in the music industry and had had a long career including work with Level 42, The Lodge, Jakko Jakszyk, Sam Brown and innumerable others.

The new five-man line-up began rehearsals in spring 2008.[55] In August of the same year, the band set out on a brief four-city tour in preparation for the group's 40th Anniversary in 2009. Live, the band revealed an increasingly drum-centric direction but no new material or any extended improvisations. However, many of the pieces from the back catalogue received striking new arrangements, most notably the renditions of "Neurotica," "Sleepless," and "Level Five", all of which were given percussion-heavy overhauls, presumably to highlight the return to the dual-drummer format.

On 20 August 2008, DGMLive issued a download-only release of the 7 August 2008 concert in Chicago. More rehearsals and shows had been intended for 2009, but these were cancelled following scheduling clashes with various members' other projects and developments with Fripp's own priorities.

Hiatus and related projects (2009–present)

Following the cancellation of the 2009 tour, King Crimson went on another hiatus pending further developments (in particular Fripp's ongoing litigation against King Crimson's outstanding debtors, as well as his attempts to settle his own financial debts and organise his personal life).[56] During 2009 and 2010, Belew revealed in various interviews that he had discussed reactivating King Crimson with Fripp but that the band was "on leave right now for an indeterminate amount of time..."[57] In June 2010, Belew suggested reuniting the 1980s King Crimson line-up of himself, Fripp, Tony Levin and Bill Bruford for a 30th anniversary tour[58] (while also stating that this did not constitute a rejection of Mastelotto or Harrison as current King Crimson drummers).[59]). The reunion idea was politely turned down by Bruford and Fripp, with the former commenting that "it’s precisely because I loved the '80s band so much that I would be highly unlikely to try to recreate the same thing, a mission I fear destined to failure."[60] while the latter pleaded commitment to other activities (using the expression "rather than saying no, I can't say yes") and commented that he would "rather spend his energies toward new (King Crimson) music, although not in the near future."[59]

On December 5, 2010, Fripp wrote a diary entry on his DGM website outlining his current stage of involvement in the music industry. The diary entry suggested that the King Crimson "switch" had been set to "off" and detailed a number of reasons why he was not currently interested in performing or writing with the band.[4] In spite of this, activity related to the band continues. A separate band based around Jakko Jakszyk and King Crimson alumni Robert Fripp and Mel Collins (who played last with King Crimson on Red) was announced in 2011 as being called "A King Crimson ProjeKct". Fripp has also referred to it as "P7".[61] An album A Scarcity of Miracles features these three musicians, along with other Crimson alumni Tony Levin and Gavin Harrison.[5]

21st Century Schizoid Band and other spin-offs

The 2000s also saw the reunion of former King Crimson members from the band's first four albums. The 21st Century Schizoid Band (fronted by Jakko Jakszyk and featuring Ian McDonald, Mel Collins, Peter Giles and Michael Giles – the latter later replaced by Ian Wallace) toured and played material from the band's 1960s and 1970s catalogue.[62]

In September 2008, a line-up called Crimson Project with Adrian Belew, Tony Levin, Pat Mastelotto, Eddie Jobson and Eric Slick (from the Adrian Belew Power Trio) played a short set at a Russian festival.[63]

Musical style and influences

Music sourced from outside the rock canon

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,[16] and were known to play The Beatles' "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" in their rehearsals.[16] 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[16] and Fripp has frequently cited the influence of Béla Bartók.[64] As a result of this influence, In the Court of the Crimson King is frequently viewed as the nominal starting point of the symphonic rock or progressive rock movements.[1] From its earliest years King Crimson also initially displayed strong jazz influences, most obviously on its signature track "21st Century Schizoid Man".[1][65] The band also drew on English folk music for compositions such as "Moonchild"[66] and "I Talk to the Wind".[65][66]

The 1981 reunion of the band brought in even more elements, displaying the influence of gamelan music[28] and of late 20th century classical composers such as Philip Glass,[67] Steve Reich,[68] and Terry Riley.[69] 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.

Compositional approaches

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.[70] 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 Mellotron), 1972'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).[71]
  • 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.[72] 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.[28]
  • 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 (i.e. "Facts of Life", "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".[73] 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.[74][75]

We're so different from each other that one night someone in the band will play something that the rest of us have never heard before and you just have to listen for a second. Then you react to his statement, usually in a different way than they would expect. It's the improvisation that makes the group amazing for me. You know, taking chances. There is no format really in which we fall into. We discover things while improvising and if they're really basically good ideas we try and work them in as new numbers, all the while keeping the improvisation thing alive and continually expanding.

King Crimson violinist David Cross on the mid-'70s band's approach to improvisation[28]

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.[76] 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.[28]

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 onstage for a long time before appearing on record).[77]

Influence on other bands

King Crimson have been influential both on the early 1970s progressive rock movement and numerous contemporary artists.

  • First-wave progressive rock bands such as Genesis and Yes were directly influenced by the band's initial style of symphonic mellotron rock,[14] and many King Crimson band members went on to other notable bands: Greg Lake to Emerson, Lake & Palmer; Ian Mcdonald to co-found Foreigner; Boz Burrell to Bad Company and John Wetton to the supergroups UK and Asia (the latter of which also drew members from Yes, ELP, and The Buggles). Some aspects of the work of Emerson, Lake & Palmer can be seen as Greg Lake's attempt to continue the early work of King Crimson. The veteran Canadian hard rock/progressive rock band Rush cites King Crimson as a strong early influence on their sound (drummer Neil Peart specifically credits the adventurous and innovative style of original King Crimson drummer Michael Giles as a very important influence on his own approach to percussion).
  • Latterday progressive rock bands also cite King Crimson as an influence. These include Porcupine Tree[14] who, as with Tool, have invited King Crimson (this time, in the form of ProjeKct Six) to play as their support band.[52] Progressive/heavy metal rock band Between the Buried and Me are heavily influenced by King Crimson, covering the song "Three of a Perfect Pair" on their 2006 album The Anatomy Of, as are Primus, whose Les Claypool routinely opened his 2002 tour concerts of Colonel Les Claypool's Fearless Flying Frog Brigade with a cover of the song Thela Hun Ginjeet. Progressive metal band Dream Theater included a cover of King Crimson's "Larks Tongues In Aspic, Pt. 2" on disk 2 of the special edition of their 2009 release, Black Clouds & Silver Linings.
  • 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 the Red album to him.[45][78][79] Tool are widely held to have been heavily influenced by King Crimson,[14][49][80][81] with their vocalist Maynard James Keenan even joking on a tour with them that "Now you know who we ripped off. Just don't tell anyone, especially the members of King Crimson."[82] Los Angeles punk band Bad Religion quotes the lyrics of "21st Century Schizoid Man" in their hit single 21st Century (Digital Boy). Steve Steele, mentioned in an interview[83] that King Crimson was a prime influence on his songwriting and arrangements, and in a biography,[84] he cites that other than traditional literary sources, Richard Palmer-James (King Crimson's lyricist from 1972–1974), is one of the only lyricist he credits as having a personal impact.
  • King Crimson have frequently been cited as pioneers of progressive metal. Members of both Iron Maiden and Mudvayne[85] 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.[86] Voivod also did a cover of "21st Century Schizoid Man" on their 1997 recording Phobos.
  • King Crimson have also provided source material and inspiration for hip-hop and dance music acts. Rap star Kanye West sampled King Crimson's "21st Century Schizoid Man" on his 2010 single "Power" and British hip-hoppers The Brotherhood used a prominent sample from "Starless" to open their debut album. British techno/house music act Opus III covered "I Talk to the Wind" on their 1992 album Mind Fruit and released the track as a single.


Greg Lake, 1978

King Crimson has had 18 musicians pass through its ranks as full band members. Many others have collaborated with the band at various points in lyric-writing, the studio and in live performance. Most of the musicians who have been members of King Crimson had notable musical careers outside the band, to the extent that it has been calculated that there are over fifteen-hundred releases on which members and former members of King Crimson appear.[87]


Robert Fripp has been the sole consistent member of King Crimson throughout the group’s history. He has stated that he does not necessarily consider himself the band's leader and instead describes King Crimson as "a way of doing things".[28] Fripp has also noted that he never originally intended to be seen as the head of the group.[11] However, Fripp has strongly dominated the band’s musical approach and compositional approach since their second album (albeit with other members tending to write the more song-oriented elements, to the point where other members have left the band because of creative frustration – notably Ian McDonald, Gordon Haskell and Mel Collins).[citation needed] Trey Gunn, who played with the group between 1994 and 2003, has stated that "King Crimson is Robert’s vision. Period."[8]

Most recent lineup

King Crimson is currently on hiatus, and the lineup of the band when they return is unknown, the most recent lineup was:

  • Robert Fripp — guitars, guitar synthesiser/MIDI guitar, Soundscapes, electric piano, Mellotron, keyboards, allsorts (1969–2009)
  • Adrian Belew — lead vocals, guitars, guitar synthesiser/MIDI guitar, electronic percussion (1981–2009)
  • Tony Levin — bass guitars, Chapman Stick, upright bass, synthesiser, backing vocals (1981–1999; 2003–2009)
  • Pat Mastelotto — acoustic and electronic drums and percussion (1994–2009)
  • Gavin Harrison — drums (2007–2009)

These musicians were part of the most recent proper King Crimson formation, which went on hiatus in 2009, but only Fripp is listed as a formal part of the latest ProjeKct – Jakszyk/Fripp/Collins, featuring former 21st Century Schizoid Band frontman Jakko Jakszyk (vocals, guitars, keyboards), early-1970s King Crimson/21st Century Schizoid Band saxophonist and flautist Mel Collins, and Fripp on guitar and Soundscapes (Levin and Harrison perform as the guest rhythm section). Historically, absence from a ProjeKct has not precluded a musician from continued participation in the next proper formation of King Crimson, although a ProjeKCt member or two typically drops off before the next formal King Crimson line-up is announced. Therefore it is, at current, unknown as to who will be in King Crimson if/when they regroup, and whether it will be a continuation of the last known King Crimson lineup or the current ProjeKct.

Former members

Additional/guest musicians and lyricists

  • Peter Giles — bass guitar on In the Wake of Poseidon
  • Keith Tippett — acoustic and electric pianos on In The Wake Of Poseidon, Lizard and Islands
  • Rick Kemp — bass guitar, played for two weeks in band prior to recording of 'Islands' and Boz Burrell's hiring
  • Mark Charig — cornet on Lizard, Islands and Red (from Keith Tippett Sextet and Centipede)
  • Nick Evanstrombone on Lizard and Islands
  • Harry Millerdouble bass on Islands
  • Robin Miller — oboe on Lizard, Islands and Red
  • Paulina Lucas—soprano vocals (Islands).
  • Jon Anderson — guest lead vocals on Lizard (from Yes)
  • Eddie Jobson — violin and electric piano studio overdubs on USA
  • Margaret Belew—source text for "Indiscipline" (on Discipline) and lyrics for "Two Hands" (on Beat). (Margaret Belew was an artist and was also Adrian Belew's wife during the time of King Crimson line-up 4).

Personnel / album chart

Formation I II III IV V P1 P2 P3 P4 PX VI P6 VII P7
Album Court Wake Lizard Islands Larks Starless Red Discipline Beat Pair THRAK   Space     Heaven ConstruKction Power     Scarcity
Guitar Fripp                                        
Drums/Perx         Muir           Mastelotto                    
Drums/Perx M. Giles   McCullough Wallace Bruford                             Harrison  
Words Sinfield       James     Belew                          
Guitar               Belew                         Jakszyk
Vocals Lake   Haskell Burrell Wetton     Belew                         Jakszyk
Bass/Stick Lake P. Giles Haskell Burrell Wetton     Levin                          
Warr Guitar                     Gunn                    
Woodwinds McDonald Collins                                      
Keys/Mellotron McDonald Tippett     Cross                                
Violin         Cross                                


Studio albums


In 1999, Robert Fripp collaborated with Virgin Records on a gradual reissue of the complete pre-1994 King Crimson catalogue. Various "definitive editions" followed.

DGM has announced details of the first three reissues in the revamping of the King Crimson back catalogue, to be released in September and October 2009 as CD/DVDA editions. Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree has been working on these over the past year, restoring the multi-track tapes from the best possible sources, remixing the albums into 5.1 surround sound, mixing unreleased tracks and alternate takes from the master tapes for the first time, and in some cases also creating new stereo mixes that enhance the sonics of the originals significantly. All of this work has been personally overseen by Robert Fripp, who also took part in the stereo remixing. The first three titles are Red, In the Court of the Crimson King (released as close to the exact 40th anniversary of its original release as possible), and Lizard. October 2010 saw reissues of In the Wake of Poseidon and Islands and October 2011 saw reissues of Starless and Bible Black and Discipline.

Further reissues in the works include THRAK, with engineering by Jakko Jakszyk,[88] and Larks' Tongues in Aspic.[89]

See also


  • Buckley, Peter (2003). The Rough Guide to Rock. London: Rough Guides. ISBN 1-85828-201-2. 


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