As far as shape-shifting creative duos go, the KLF were up there – shaking things up before you even caught up with what they did last. But, after a 23-year hiatus, they’re showing that they are old dogs with a whole bunch of new tricks.
The KLF, also known as The Justified Ancients of Mumu, stole sounds from the Beatles and Abba, sneaked illegal rave culture on Top of the Pops, coined the phrase ‘stadium house’ and most notably – hijacked the 1992 Brit awards as a symbol of massacre-suicide for the entire music industry. They used and abused music and money as contestable art objects, and anticipated the work of Damien Hirst and Banksy.
Our resident writer Seb Tiley has managed to shapeshift his way into their creative utopia, where ticketholders are less the passive, adoring watchers, but actually ‘volunteers’ of the 3-day event. Stay tuned for his day-by-day record of the chaos that will ensue.
Part 1: ‘What the fuck is going on?’
You would be forgiven for asking this question on a daily basis. Look at what’s going on - two monstrously powerful men with terrible haircuts seem ready to send us back to the dark ages, the events in Charlottesville made everyone feel like it was 1937 rather than 2017, and the formerly immortal Bruce Forsyth has died. So, quite justifiably, we may ask ourselves - what the fuck is going on?
Two young musicians also asked this question back in 1987; a year of Reagan and Thatcher, when the Peugeot 405 was car of the year. These two men were Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty, and under the name The Justified Ancients of MuMu, they released their debut album, ‘1987: What the Fuck is going on?’.
After trying and failing to break into the music industry, with Cauty playing in the commercially unsuccessful band Brilliant and Drummond briefly playing guitar in Big in Japan - as well as managing Echo and the Bunnymen - they found themselves in a rut. Then, as legend has it, Drummond decided, one crisp and clear New Year’s Day, that he was going to make an illuminatus-inspired hip-hop record with Cauty under the name Justified Ancients of MuMu. And, thus, the world of music changed forever.
In the following 10 years, the duo would mercilessly mock the music industry, releasing illegally sampled records under numerous guises - from Justified Ancients of MuMu to the KLF, the Timelords, the JAMS and Space. They could write a book on how to have a number 1 single (and subsequently write and record a number one single - described in the press of the day as “pure unadulterated agony… a record so noxious that a top ten place can be it’s only destiny”).
It seemed like the only limit to their antics was their imagination.
They would effectively bring house music to the public eye in the UK. They infuriated nearly everyone who came into contact with them - from fellow samplers who vehemently disagreed with their sampling of well-known songs such as ABBA’s ‘Dancing Queen’, the Beatles’ ‘All You Need is Love’ and ‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody’ by Whitney Houston, to the management of said groups, who demanded the records using these samples be destroyed. Legend has it that, with the uncleared ABBA sample, Cauty and Drummond went over to Sweden but were refused an audience with ABBA and so burnt the records in a field nearby. They appeared at raves and pelted audiences with Scottish pound notes which had ‘children we love you’ written on them. It seemed like the only limit to their antics was their imagination.
Fast forward to 1992, and they’d had enough. Scheduled to perform their song 3am Eternal at the Brit Awards, they decide to switch things up a bit. Instead of their signature ‘stadium house’ vibe, they decided to team up with Extreme Noise Terror for a thrash rendition of the track. The show ended with Drummond firing a machine gun full of blanks into the audience - which is slightly tamer than his original plan to cut off his own hand and throw it at them. After this show, which led to Piers Morgan describing them as “pop’s biggest wallies”, their promoter announced “the KLF have now left the music business”. Not satisfied with leaving it at that, they dropped a dead sheep off at the after party with ‘I died for you - bon appetit’ written on it. And that was it. Well, on the music front anyway.
From 1993 to 1997, they participated in various art projects - from awarding the winner of the Turner Art Prize 1994 their prestigious award ‘the Worst Artist of the Year’ (they paid out double the prize money), to burning £1 million on the Isle of Jura, to collaborating with the oldest Viking appreciation group in the UK for a 23 minute song at the Barbican.
They both carried on doing their own things after this; playing music, writing books, helping with art projects. Until earlier this year, when this poster was spotted in Hackney.
A flurry of various ‘communications’ from the duo revealed that an ‘event’ in Liverpool has been planned and a book is due to be released. Fast forward to last month, and some more details were released - there were only 400 tickets going on sale for the event, and all ticket holders would be ‘volunteers’. The tickets would be released at 11:23 (anyone clued up on their illuminatus theories will know that the number 23 is something that occurs throughout) and it would mark 23 years since the last ‘transmission’.
I was lucky enough to be one of the 400 ticket holders, and received an email that had some more details of what to expect. There is a ‘slow-paced walk of around 3 miles’ on the Friday. The Justified Ancients of MuMu themselves will arrive in their Ice Kream Van at 00:23 on the Wednesday. Volunteer jobs are to be delegated at Volunteer Initiation. And there is also going to be a ‘graduation ball’ which ‘will be for all of The Volunteers who have graduated to the Dark Ages’. There, they will screen a film called ‘2023: What the FUUK is going on?’ and feature a performance by ‘Badger Kull’ playing, for the first and only time, their only song ‘Toxteth Day of the Dead’, followed by DJ sets from Greg Wilson and DJ Food.
So, if you have any interest in what might might unfold for this KLF event, I will be reviewing each day as it happens. Let’s find out just what the fuck is going on.