No time like the present: Everything you need to know about The KLF and their glorious return

The KLF is back using an old name and none of their old techniques. The JAMs returned, but they’re not going to be musicians this time around. They are now gravediggers. And they’re going to build a pyramid. When finished, it will be 23 feet tall, have 23 steps and consist of 34592 bricks, each containing the ashes of a dead person. They call it “The People’s Pyramid” and it will be located in Toxteth, Liverpool.

It’s been 30 years since their first album and 23 since they retired from the music business burning more than bridges. The most important band that nobody knows about consists of artists Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty and used to go by the name The KLF – Kopyright Liberation Front – furthermore known as The Timelords, 2K, and the name they came back with, The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, sometimes shortened as The JAMs. Outside of music, in the art world they frequently crashed, they went by the K-Foundation and their arm K2 Plant Hire Ltd.

Their return, however, is through the literary world. Drummond and Cauty published “2023: A Trilogy”, a reportedly extra weird novel which Josh Ray describes as: “”an intriguing, self-referential dystopian trilogy set in a parallel universe where Drummond and Cauty are undertakers (more on that later) and their career as The KLF is reimagined in two women, Tat’jana and Kristina, based in the Soviet state of Ukraine. Tat’jana and Kristina penned a book called ‘Back in the USSR’, which they’d based on a novel by George Orwell – who, in this world, is actually just a pen-name for Roberta Antonia Wilson.

To announce the arrival of this obvious masterpiece they organized a three day extravaganza called “Welcome to the Dark Ages” in which 400 lucky individuals got to live a transmedia experience, a happening, that apparently changed all of their lives. Forever. They also revealed their plans for “The People’s Pyramid” and announced the first annual “Toxteth Day Of The Dead” for November 23, 2018, a gathering with to-be-determined characteristic. Apparently there will be no new The KLF music, but the madness is just beginning. The 400 are making sure of that.

On the first day of the “Welcome to the Dark Ages” event the 400 received their job assignments, four bassist were chosen to form the new band Badger Kull and a panel discussion was held, the topic: “Why Did The K Foundation Burn A Million Quid?” back in 1994 (more on that later). Five panel members exposed possible motives, five closed allies told related stories, the 400 voted and Drummond responded: “Whatever…”. The winning explanation was by Annebella Pollen, which Josh Ray summarizes as: “it was a ceremonial rejection of excess that followed in an ancient tradition of “high-art weirdness”. When interviewed about it the author of the most respected book about the band, John Higgs said: “I’m increasingly of the opinion that the money was asking for it. I mean, have you seen money? It’s all paper-y and hand-sized. It’s practically demanding the flame.

The second was “The Day Of The Book”, based on pages from “2023: A Trilogy” the 400 wrote and recited poetry, designed posters and nonexistent albums and performed plays in a Bombed Out Church. Since I wasn’t there, the mic returns to Josh Ray: “The groups of previously unacquainted strangers spilled out into the city and added to the random acts of mischief and minor vandalism the Badger Kull super fans had already undertaken. Working together they subverted, created and generally disrupted the norm with all kinds of capers including the worship of the Mathew Street John Lennon statue, various pranks involving Starbucks, the sending of a letter to Yoko Ono, ‘2023’ pages being placed in numerous books in central library, the assembly of the Fox Templars and the sing-along performance of the 2023 Christmas #1, ‘Fuuk The World’. Soup was shared amongst everyone in the church as we worked through the chapters.”

On the third and final day they premiered a 23 minutes film about the novel and recruited Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker, a living legend, for a live new gospel-like version of their classic “Justified & Ancient; this time let’s turn to Dj Food for the first person account: “Suddenly a procession sweeps into the room, standard-bearers holding a Toxteth Day of the Dead banner, monks in Mu Mu gowns, coffin-bearers carrying two no-frills bare wood coffins, gravediggers, I also remember traffic cones worn on heads, a choir, there were more but it’s all a but of a blur.” Then, 400 faces  were painted to look like skeletons and a pilgrimage through Liverpool dragging the legendary ice cream van with ropes and manpower started; they all arrived to the bank of a river and burned a pyramid-like pire. At the closing party, Badger Kull performed its only song and broke up.

Every event inside “Welcome to the Dark Ages” was unannounced, and as it happens some people were not satisfied and complained that they, the public, did all the work. Oliver Senton’s explanation puts everything in context, “Friday’s events, indeed the entirety of Welcome to The Dark Ages, was about giving the power, the music, back to us”; he served as one of the Masters of Ceremony for the event, and later added “See how much art and inspiration we can create in a very short time, if we want to?” I asked one of the 400 vía e-mail about what the weekend meant, Miss Anwen responded “It was about the books, empowering us and the people’s pyramid they intend to build, with the help of their new company CCC&D Undertakers. It was a most magical event. It was also about creating a new myth about that weekend to capture our imagination and creativity.”

The closing act at the closing party, DJ Food, besides chronicling the whole event, declared “As gigs go, it was a milestone in my career that I’ll never forget. As an event it was a success on so many levels I doubt the participants will ever fully get their heads around it.” He’s apparently right, Miss Anwen continues: “It was about replacing one lot of WHYs with a different new lot of WHYs, the question is no longer why did the burn the money but why are they back and what are they doing now they are here” and finally added “You see, I would need a whole page to say what it was really about.” So lets just say it was not your typical filthy-lucre-motivated return to the spotlight. That’s not what The KLF is about.

And there’s the detail, even though they were a huge band and had several #1 hits when active, the world at large doesn’t remember them. And there are good reasons for that. This time the culprit is not the conspiracy to silence true art, which exist and is running rampant these days, Drummond and Cauty themselves made sure that their music and antics remain the material for legends by dissapearing it, by depriving the world of their genius on purpose, by making a bigger than life statement that still resonates even though their songs do not. And to make sure it keeps ringing, here I come to save the day. With a list, “The 5 most spectacular feats The KLF ever did”. Because we’re on the Internet, after all.

5.- They practically invented ambient with “Chill Out”

This seminal album came out in 1990, still celebrated and constantly brought up, occasionally present in the best ever electronic albums lists.The legend says they recorded most of it in a sole live session, using several instruments, sampling their own songs and stealing pieces from other’s.

It is to be noted that Jimmy Cauty was a founding member of The Orb, another big name in ambient and house music. And that The KLF spearheaded the sampling revolution and at the time were perceived as pioneers and defenders of the movement, which they didn’t find amusing. In 1987, when ABBA refused to license certain pieces of “Dancing Queen” to them, they burned all copies of their first album “1987 (What the Fuck Is Going On?)”, but that’s another story and shall be told another time.

And yeah, Brian Eno’s “Ambient 1: Music for Airports” from 1978 is often credited as the first ambient album, but whatever man. Chill out.

4.- They basically invented mashups with “Doctorin’ the Tardis”, published “The Manual”

Even though later on they released a few worldwide certified hits, their most notorious success was a pop song they stumbled upon in the studio and decided to release under the The Timelords moniker. Highly criticized by the musical press of the time, with which they had a symbiotic relationship until that point, it sneaked into the radio lists and got to number one. For a week. As the legend goes, radio stations smelled the satirical nature of the piece and turned their back on it.

It basically is a mashup between the “Doctor Who” theme song and “Rock and Roll (Part Two)” by Gary Glitter, with samples from “Blockbuster!” by Sweet and “Let’s Get Together Tonite” by Steve Walsh.

Later on, inspired by the experience, they released “The Manual (How to Have a Number One the Easy Way)“, an out of print book that explains how to get to the top of the charts without much talent or effort. In spite of its humorous nature, this book contains supreme knowledge and, even though it was published more than two decades ago, it’s recommended for every aspiring musician who wants to know how the industry works. Also, it’s prophetic. Nowadays almost all popular music is produced using the processes and techniques described inside.

3.- As if by magic, their whole catalogue disappeared

Before starting the band Bill Drummond was a veteran A&R inside the Industry, so from day one The KLF had total control of the rights to their music. All their albums and singles came out through their KLF Communications label, so when retirement came, they could afford the luxury of taking all of their catalogue out of circulation, potentially losing incredible amounts of money.

Nowadays you can only buy “The White Room” through Arista, the label that distributed them in the U.S.

2.- Retirement, merge with Extreme Noise Terror

Their performance at the 1992 Brit Awards, in which they won “Best British Band”, was the stuff of legend. They summoned the grindcore band Extreme Noise Terror and played the most noisy and obnoxious version of their hit “3 a.m. Eternal“. Drummond came out with an unexplained pair of crutches, a cigar and a machine gun, spat out the lyrics and at the end shot a round of blanks over the heads of a perplexed audience. The 90s were off the hook.

All of this was a compromise, their original plan was to bathe the audience in sheep’s blood in a kind of reverse “Carrie”, which they didn’t do out of respect for Extreme Noise Terror’s vegan lifestyle and some objections from the TV station’s lawyers. There’s a rumor that Drummond’s real plan was to cut off his hand and throw it to the audience, but take it with a grain of salt.

In the end, they left a dead sheep at the entrance of an after party with the message “I died for ewe – bon appetit“.

And the next year, apparently a farmer found their “Best British Band statuette buried near Stonehenge.  

1.- They burned One Million Pounds:

In 1994, already retired from the music business, both artist sailed to the Isle of Jura in Scotland and started a bonfire. Their fuel was one million quids in bills. A director named Gimpo filmed their greatest work of art, a feat that’s printed in Great Britain’s collective memory, the main reason The KLF is remembered for over there.

It is my duty to inform you all that, in those early years, they did more. Much more. And that even though everything up there is documented and was widely reported by the musical press of the time, there are possibilities that some of it are lies and exaggerations. You can’t really trust Discordian pranksters.

The KLF’s origin story goes back to a legendary Ken Campbell’s nine hours stage production of “Illuminatus!” – the underground classic by Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea – in which Bill Drummond served as stage designer/ carpenter. At the time, he asked Campbell about the story the play was based on, the director answered: “It is about a secret society that controls the world called the Illuminati and their arch rivals the Justified Ancients of Mumu. But some people think they are the same organisations.” He started making sets the next day. It affected him so much that most of his work since has been influenced by that experience in some way or another.

The novel, “Illuminatus!”, another trilogy, was – in a way – a companion piece to the “Principia Discordia”, the holy book of Discodianism. Is it a joke disguised as a religion, or a religion disguised as a joke?, that’s the main question that school of thought generates, one nobody has been able to answer satisfyingly. They adore Eris, the greek Goddess of Discord, and their antics and practice are a direct predecessor of everything The JAMs have done so far. They are to blame.

For everything, including the defiling of a superfan’s replica of The Ford Timelord – their classic car, their Batmovil, the third member of the band. Painting it white without authorization from the owner may have marked a first for Drummond and Cauty, because as Dj Food puts it: “The act left a bad taste in the mouth and I felt sorry for Phil, hoping it hadn’t ruined his enjoyment of the event. The JAMs have never shied away from pissing people off, defacing other people’s property or doing the unexpected and this seemed like a spontaneous but cruel reaction. For all the acts that they’ve perpetrated over the years there’s never been a direct victim in the way there was here.” Would you have reacted the same way as Phil? Or would you have felt honored to be a part of The KLF’s history? They did paint the original car white at some point in their unreleased road movie “The White Room, after all. And the rules of the “Welcome to the Dark Ages” event clearly held that all old The KLF memorabilia would be destroyed. There’s no time like the present, as people say.

So, back to the money. They knew that’s what everyone wants to know about, so it was the first question they addressed in the “Welcome to the Dark Ages” event. Also, it was the subject a disgruntled assistant, a harsh critic, tackled in a series of posters using their characteristic design and iconography that appeared the next morning covering the outside walls of the venue the closing party was held in. The posters read: “WHY? Because we’re fucking stupid and ran out of ideas. Now we need the money back”. The question this brings is as mysterious as The KLF’s whole career has been: Did they do it themselves? Is that the answer to the question every materialistic prick has been asking since 1994? Or did they rub someone the wrong way with all their lucidity, lack of music and random group activities? We’ll probably never know.

 

P.S. This just in: The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu announced a new mysterious event titled “Burn The Shard for November 23 in London. Await further instructions.

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