THE KLF: THE APOCALYPTIC HORSEMEN IN POP CULTURE PARADISE
Those who intend to dig up a higher meaning of what two guys have done under the flags of The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, Timelords, The KLF or K Foundation are likely to get stuck in conflicting conjectures. They will be driven crazy and will find themselves on the roadside, mumbling some words and asking for money from passersby for a flight to Liverpool to meet the guys and demand an answer to the question «What was that?! »
It all started with the meeting of a former troubled A&R Bill Drummond and an artist Jimmy Cauty, who once played guitar in a failure rock band. Soon Bill and Jimmy would understand that they are one the same wavelength of creative madness. On the 1st of January, 1987 Drummond offered Cauty to make a hip-hop-house band called The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, which would be renamed Timelords a year later and then they would shine in glory under the name The KLF. They’d rock at least British charts, invent «stadium house», release milestone ambient and earn tons of money — and all this as a joke, if not as a mockery of pop culture, and with anarchic passion. At the same time, Bill and Jimmy would refresh dull art-mainstream with shocking performances, after which half of humanity would remember them as utter fools while the other — as brilliant geniuses.
Some people believe The KLF appeared to the world only to tear the music and art industry to bits. While we believe that a couple of friends brought to this industry some honest spontaneity, naughtiness, and insanity, which are lacking in the era of polished show business and merciless tolerance.
SAMPLES FRAUD AND RIDICULOUS FEATS
In 1987 The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu (abbreviated as The JAMs) started their brash revolution in the use of samples. While everywhere in the world musicians were very cautious with sampling, Bill and Jimmy were unabashedly making their own tracks from the fragments of world hits of that time without even asking permission of copyright holders.
Their debut single “All You Need Is Love” was pasted of a 15 seconds long (!) sample from The Beatles song “All You Need Is love, an exclamation of Rob Tyler “Kick out the Jams, motherfuckers!” from the album MC5 “Kick Out the Jams”, Samantha Fox’s vocal from the hit “Touch Me (I Want Your Body)”, children songs “Ring a Ring o’Roses” and a recitation of the phrase “Ancients of Mu Mu” by rapper Chike, that will sound repeatedly in other tracks of Drummond and Cauty. Over this Bill is energetically rapping with a strong Scottish accent. In this track, we can also hear John Hurt’s words cut from British social film “Don’t Die of Ignorance” about the danger of AIDS. Actually, the release of “All You Need Is Love” was the reaction of The JAMs to media coverage of the AIDS problem. The track highlighted contradictions in the public perception of “the death of sex”. It turned out an energetic pop-house-rap-punk track that became the single of the week according to Sounds and NME if only no one had done anything like this before. However, the record was rejected by distributors of fear of prosecution by copyright holders. That’s why The JAMs reissued the “safe” version of “All You Need Is love”, which allowed them to earn money for the first long play.
The most famous track from the album “1987, What the Fuck is Going On?” was “The Queen And I”, in which we hear “Dancing Queen” ABBA. Its popularity was brought by the withdrawal of The JAMs record from sale due to a lawsuit from the management of the Swedish band. Drummond and Cauty raked up the unsold copies and went to Stockholm to talk to ABBA. Since the band’s studio was closed at 3 a.m., the guys decided not to waste time waiting, and went out of town to an open field where they started a big fire and committed the records to the flame. The stink and smoke worried the farmer who lived nearby, and he rushed to send the wretches away with shotgun shots. They had to run for life and drown the remaining illegal records in natural waters on their way home. After the incident, The JAMs changed all the controversial samples of the album to silence and reissued it as “1987: The JAMs 45 Edits” with instruction for restoring the original sound of the songs at home.
The publisher, exclusively on its own label KLF Communications (renamed from The Sound of Mu(sic) in 1988), allowed Drummond and Cauty to release whatever they wanted. For example, the single “Whitney Joins The JAMs” where besides the theme of American series “Mission: Impossible” was used the sampled song of Whitney Huston “I Wanna Dance With Somebody”. Unlike the management of ABBA, the representatives of Huston met the track of The JAMs with an offer to produce the new album of the singer, and to make remixes but they refused.
In 1988 as Timelords the musicians released an invincible hit “Doctorin’ the Tardis”. An ode to British national treasure – fantastic TV-show about the “time lord” Doctor Who and his time machine Tardis – was unbearable and beautiful in its simplicity. The basis is “Rock and Roll (Part Two)” of a disgraced glam-icon Gary Glitter, and over it is the ever being music of the TV-show. The author and producer Nick Coler, who had worked with Drummond for a long time, said that “Doctorin’ the Tardis” started as a joke: «They just wanted to do something dancey with the “Doctor Who” theme. My friend Dominic Glynn had just redone the TV theme for the BBC, so he had all the original samples. When the BBC asked us where we got the Tardis noise, we said, oh, yes, we scraped a house key down a piano string, just like the original …». Critics were puzzled — the British were singing alone and raising the track to the height of national charts. With “Doctorin’ the Tardis” The JAMs made it to the show Top of the Pops, and served some rock-n-roll wearing tailcoats with capes and top hats in the company of self-made Daleks (a hostile extraterrestrial race from the TV-show).
By the way, the guys were friends with Gary Glitter. He performed with them on Top of the Pops and joined them on the cover of NME against Stonehenge. The KLF masterly chose collaborations no one would think of. In 1991 they called American country star Tammy Wynette from Tennessee to sing another version of the song “Justified and Ancient” about how The KLF is “ancient”, “justified” and how they roam the land in an ice-cream wagon. The latest official release of the band hit the second place in pop-charts of Britain and the US.
STADIUM HOUSE AND AMBIENT WITH DRIVE
The main thing Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty were doing was having fun, honestly and selflessly. They were doing one thing in a certain way until it seemed interesting to them, and were never doing what didn’t seem like that. We can assume that their jocose manner freed them from the burden of responsibility, duties, and compromises that usually go along with mature ambitions, significant goals, and lofty mission. They preferred creative drive to complicated success and it still brought them high chart ranks, fame and money. Additionally, this drive changed the landscape of British pop culture. «They are jokers, they are not like us», — said Neil Tennant from Pet Shop Boys about The KLF, meaning by «us» an army of pop stars with elaborate career strategies in show business.
The guys were having fun in a squat of Jimmy Cauty in Southern London, which they called Trancentral. It was a dilapidated Victorian mansion with a police car parked at the entrance, which was later given a proud name Ford Timelord. The building was full of holes and heated by three gas rings in the kitchen, on the wall there was a picture of the band sent by a 5 years old fan. Piles of all sorts of stuff were everywhere, including musical instruments and some simple equipment for the production and recording of sound. According to sound producer Mark «Spike» Stent, who had been in the squat, it was nowhere near a studio, but Bill and Jimmy were absolutely amazing in that space like complete anti-pop-stars: «Their energy was always good. It was: we can do what the fuck we want. And in all the madness there was a genius pop sensibility going on. »
After the release of their debut album, The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu wanted to get rid of the pop-hits generators tag. They said they would make several 12-inch records of pure dance music under the flag of The Pure Trance. After their transformation to The KLF in 1988, they released an acid-house timeless song “What Time Is Love?” that would also be released as “What Time Is Love? (Live at Trancentral)” in 1999 and “America: What Time Is Love?” a year later. Within “the pure trance” The KLF also created ageless bangers “3 A.M. Eternal” and “The Last Train To Transcentral” — both were further released in different interpretations. By 1991 The KLF made comprehensible for masses versions of these three tracks with rap and vocal and collected them into the series of video clips “The Stadium House Trilogy”. Thus Drummond and Cauty became the pioneers of «stadium house» — a mix of acid-house, pop-rock and sampled noise of the crowd.
At the same time, The KLF had recorded one of the most significant ambient albums with a simple and clear name “Chill Out”. Cauty’s collaboration with DJ Alex Paterson referred musicians to ambient — together they played on parties as The Orb. The album sounds like a soundtrack to a leisured trip by car through canyons to the horizon, in which you can hear the samples from “In The Ghetto” by Elvis Presley, wandering guitar moaning, evangelistic lamentation, Mongolian throat singing, and other wonders. Dreamy “Chill Out” in electronic wrapper reminds of early experiments of Pink Floyd, as well as the album cover refers to the 1970 pastoral opus “Atom Heart Mother” of the band. The only difference is that there are sheep instead of a cow on the lawn.
In general, the music of The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, aka Timelords, aka The KLF is a quick and vivid reaction to mainstream culture and everything happening around it mixed with popular genres integration, self-quoting, pathos, childish spontaneity, and fun. By 1991 Drummond and Cauty have sold more singles than anybody in the world. NME called The KLF «the greatest British pop band», while the musicians — «the most brilliant minds in modern pop music».
HOW TO MAKE A HIT AND TALK WITH THE WORLD
In 1989 Austrian band Edelweiss released a song “Bring Me Edelweiss” that has become x5 platinum and the most successful track ever created under the guidance of The KLF. This refers to the instruction on how to write a super hit without an effort called “The Manual: How to Have a Number One the Easy Way”, which Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty published in 1988. In this book, authors presented detailed guidelines on how to make a song that would be number one on UK Top 40 without any talent, money, producer skills, label contracts, and any other means. A relevant to this day instruction from KLF Communications has become an unspoken «cookbook» for many players in show business. Back then its usefulness was noted by, for example, Chumbawamba, Klaxons and The Pipettes.
Written and printed communication with the public was an important part of Bill and Jimmy’s work. They rarely gave interviews, preferring to talk to people through KLF newsletters in which they expressed their thoughts, ideas, symbolic explanations or hints at future acts. The guys also encoded their messages in advertisements on the pages of British newspapers and music publications. These were contrasting messages with white capital letters in recognizable type on black background, which could always be identified on the band’s merch.
Cauty and Drummond were especially fond of advertising sabotage that is — «illegal but effective use of graffiti on billboards and city buildings». On the analogy of tracks sampling, information guerillas chose objects with a suitable context and modified them according to their ideas with the help of graffiti. Thus, in the days of “All You Need Is Love” release, The JAMMs used the billboard with the phrase “HALO HALO HALO” — a headline of the British newspaper Today — and transformed it into “SHAG SHAG SHAG”. In the context of the single, it was quite witty, because under the phrase was James Anderton, the chief constable of Greater Manchester, who was a religious bigot and a famous at that time persecutor of homosexuals and HIV positive people.
TO LEAVE MUSIC WITH CHIC
In 1992 The KLF won «The best British band» on BRIT Awards. The statuette was taken by a courier, who drove to the stage on a motorcycle. Drummond and Cauty were trusted with the final performance on the ceremony, and the guys did their best. The KLF came to the stage with the band Extreme Noise Terror, and they rocked the hall with the thrash-metal version of “3 A.M. Eternal”. Moreover, Bill Drummond in a kilt and with a cigar in his mouth spiced up the final with a volley of automatic gunfire (blank). Leaving the stage, the band announced: «Ladies and gentlemen, the KLF have left the music business».
And then to the entrance of the venue, where the afterparty of The BRIT Awards took place, they dropped dead sheep with a message: «I died for you – bon appetite». Later, Bill told that initially, he was going to chop off his hand and to throw it to the crowd, but his wife and Cauty dissuaded him. And then he thought of splashing sheep’s blood to the audience, but vegans Extreme Noise Terror objected to this idea. So they chose a light version. A bit later, The KLF confirmed the quitting of the industry radically: they destroyed all the catalogues of the band’s records in all its incarnations (though bootlegs and releases outside Great Britain, of course, were still wandering around the world).
The announcement of The KLF in New Musical Express said: «We have been following a wild and wounded, glum and glorious, shit but shining path these past five years. The last two of which has led us up onto the commercial high ground-we are at a point where the path is about to take a sharp turn from these sunny uplands down into a netherworld of we know not what. For the foreseeable future there will be no further record releases from The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, The Timelords, The KLF and any other past, present and future name attached to our activities. As of now all our past releases are deleted.... If we meet further along be prepared...our disguise may be complete».
In 1993, near Stonehenge, was found The BRIT Awards statuette which was awarded to The KLF as to «The Best British Band» in 1992.
BURN, MOTHERFUCKER / £1 MILLION, BURN!
On a summer morning in 1994, some parts of the Inner Hebrides coast in Western Scotland flashed with 50-pound banknotes and its unburned remains. About a hundred thousand escaped from a million-pound campfire that Bill and Jimmy had lit on the night before. On August, 23 the guys rented a small plane, loaded their suitcases with money to it, and arrived on a remote island Jura to perform the burning ceremony in the oven of an abandoned house – the most expensive act of art.
Cauty and Drummond documented everything with the camera and published the video that shocked the public, which was divided into two camps. Some complained about blatant waste because one million pounds could be spent with use: to feed the starving, to cure the sick, to help the homeless, to educate the uneducated, and to establish peace in the world. Others chuckled nervously and acidly at them as at cracked posers seeking for attention. However, according to Drummond, some people felt some silent happiness while watching a heap of money burning.
Mick Houghton, a permanent publicist of The KLF, received a lot of phone calls from outraged social activists who demanded an explanation. «It could have been worse», — said Mick — «Jimmy and Bill had talked about torching the money in Trafalgar Square, or hiring Battersea power station for some huge event and then burning it in front of the crowd. Can you imagine? ». Before the cremation, they had also thought of pinning one million to the board and then selling it to the Tate Gallery for £750,000, so that it would buy some «real art» for a profit of £250,000. The administration of the gallery declined the offer because the storage of such a large amount of cash was quite risky.
Drummond says they do not fully understand what happened but he knows for sure that it never seemed wrong. Every time they were asked why they did that, they gave different answers. They gave many reasons and none at all at the same time. Besides, various artifices always amused the performers. On The Late Late Show, Cauty said to its host Gay Byrne that the release of Michale Jackson’s “Earth Song”, which he had first heard while watching an episode of Top Of The Pops with his children, made him take that desperate step. He said that at that time he understood that The KLF would never compare with Michael in talent and that it would be fair for them to burn all the money they had earned in show business. Byrne tried to specify if that was some kind of material world denial, but Bill answered: «No, it’s really not that. We love the money. We want the money, but we wanted to burn them more». When the host asked Jimmy why they didn’t spend money on assistance to the needy, he emphasized that The KLF was not a charitable organization, and they decided to do with their money what they found more interesting. The audience on the show was indignant! Only a few could not understand why everyone cares about other people’s money. Bill fairly noted that if they had spent millions on villas, swimming pools, and Roll-Royce, no one would have batted an eye.
Actually, Drummond and Cauty always favored careless money spending, when they earned them by accident. In 1989 during their performance on rave in Oxford, The KLF threw one thousand pounds to the crowd with a message on each banknote «Kids, we love you! ». Or, for example, they spent £500,000 on the production of the road-movie “The White Room”, shot by Bill Butt with Ford Timelord in the lead role on the road between England and Spain. The movie was never released, but the musical compilation “The White Room” still satisfies our ears.
Drummond and Cauty committed the great burning of one million pounds as the art union K Foundation, which they had founded in 1993 after they left the music industry. An offer to Tate to buy a million pounds border for £750 000 was the beginning of their flirt with the British gallery. In the course of it, they announced the K Foundation prize of £40 000, which was awarded to the worst artist. It was a double response to the Turner Prize of £20 000, awarded by Tate to the best artist. Bill and Jimmy’s irony became quite evident when Rachel Whiteread won both awards for her work «House» in one day. The sculptor refused the K Foundation prize, but Drummond threatened to light another campfire near the gallery with this money, and Whiteread surrendered.
While working at different art projects and K Foundation media companies, Jimmy and Bill appeared in the music industry now and then, despite the formal break of relations with it. In 1993 they recorded the single “K Cera Cera” with an Israeli Red Army Choir and released it on the territory of Israel and Palestine in honor of Oslo Accords. In 1995 Drummond and Cauty, under the name The One World Orchestra and featuring «the Massed Pipes and Drums of the Children's Free Revolutionary Volunteer Guard» recorded the song “The Magnificent” for the album “The Help”. And in 1997, the musicians united as 2K for the only performance at Barbican Arts Center together with Mark Manning, Gimpo, the band Acid Brass, and Liverpool dockers. They performed “Fuck the Millennium” — another remake of “What Time Is Love”. At that time 2K expanded to K2 Plant Hire Ltd. to build a pyramid of approximately 87 million bricks, each of which would symbolize at least one resident of Britain born in the XX century. The pyramid has not been built.
It may seem that all the actions of Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty are total chaos and anarchy, but it has its own order. First of all, it is seen in the systematic nature of chaos and anarchy: changes and unexpected tricks are permanent in their acts. The releases of The JAMs, Timelords, and The KLF are always full of other artist’s samples. Furthermore, the musicians quote themselves from track to track by using samples of their own production. Also, they exploited the image of a sheep several times, whether it was the cover of the album “Chill Out” or a dead animal at the party of national music award. At the same time, The KLF never explained the animalistic symbolism, which underlines the poster with the question «Why sheep? ».
But that was no big deal, while the skeleton that bonds together a regular chain of accidents was a postmodern trilogy of novels «The Illuminatus! », written by Robert Shea and Robert Wilson. It tells about the struggle between the Illuminati and their declared enemies — The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu. Embodying «the primitive power of chaos», The JAMs are waging a secret war against the Illuminati to prevent them from approaching the end of the world. Drummond took interest in the concept of the story in 1976 when he worked at the production of 12-hour rock opera based on the novel. Later, when he and Cauty met each other and became companions in insanity, The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu came off the pages of «The Illuminatus! » to British show business. No matter in which disguise Jimmy and Bill showed themselves to the world, they always had «justified» and «ancient» persons of Mu Mu in them, who sabotaged the mainstream from inside. Their performances and videos reminded of rituals with ceremonial dresses, chants, dances, and altar fire. Drummond and Cauty also borrowed the symbol of a pyramid from the Illuminati and replaced the all-seeing deity on it with a tape recorder — a sampled all-time logo of The KLF.
It is important to note the significance of number 23 in the work of the band, which appears in conspiracy theories connected with the Illuminati and more. True fans of The KLF know that their debut single “All You Need Is Love” is found in the catalogues under the number JAM23, “Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu” consists of 23 letters, there is 23 on the mockup of the car in videoclips “Stadium House”, one million pounds was burnt on August, 23, and the only performance after that event lasted exactly 23 minutes. Drummond and Cauty have anchored this chain of numbers with the promise not to discuss publicly the most expensive fire in the history of humankind for 23 years, and to stop any activity of The KLF and other aspects of the band for the same term.
THE SECOND COMING
In 2017 the 23-years silence came to an end. The residents of Liverpool (native city of Drummond) started seeing the leaflets, saying “2017: What The Fuck Is Going On?” and signed by K2 Plant Hire Ltd. This message reminded of once proclaimed moratorium of The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, the reasons of which have sunk into oblivion, and announced that something special would happen on August 23, 2017.
As it turned out, they meant the publication of the novel «2023: A trilogy by The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu». At midnight between 22 and 23 of August, Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty drove up to one of Liverpool bookstores in the already familiar van with the words «Всі йдуть до Mu Mu Land» («Everyone goes to Mu Mu Land» in Ukrainian) and «Свіжий для вас» («Fresh For You» in Ukrainian). A huge crowd gathered there to get the book from the hands of the authors. Instead of traditional autographs and sentimental signatures, the musicians stamped the images of The KLF pyramid on the copies of the novel. They also sold some interesting merch on that event, each item for £20.23 until December 23 (then «the price rises, goes down, or stays the same»). In general, the presentation was held according to strict rules, which were introduced to the public the day before. Bill and Jimmy didn’t say a word about their novel. Later, Dead Perch Merch released an audiobook «2023» read by Daisy Campbell.
The next day, The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu made a 3-days festival “Welcome to the Dark Ages” near Liverpool. Nearly 400 people in symbolic hoodies celebrated the return of The KLF, listened to the stories of what had happened 23 years ago, welcomed the publication of the novel, and saw the art installations.
The publication of the novel and the festival in 2017 can be viewed as part of a big promotional campaign in support of the more serious project of Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty — «MuMufication». The thing is that these already grey-haired daredevils decided to build «The People’s Pyramid» of 34 592 bricks, containing the ashes of the dead. «MuMufication» is the act of putting a portion of the ash to the construction: 23 grams of a person’s cremated remains are fired to a «Brick of Mu» which will then be laid to rest on The People’s Pyramid in Toxteth, Liverpool. Officially, «MuMufication» started on November 23 last year as part of The Toxteth Day Of The Dead. Since that day, the service orders are available online on the website of K2 Plant Hire Ltd. Headquarters — L-13 Light Industrial Workshop. According to the information on the website, for just £99, anyone can secure a place in «The People’s Pyramid» now but «die later».
To this day, this is the last joint initiative of Drummond and Cauty, aka The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, aka Timelords, aka The KLF, aka K Foundation, aka 2K, aka K2 Plant Hire Ltd. We do not even dare to suggest what will come next.