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. [Catch parts one, two, and three here].
Part 4: “One of the greatest bands of the 19th Century”
I woke up violently at around 8am, feeling like I’d been lobotomised with some sort of blunt garden instrument and with little to no recollection of what had happened.
Then it came back, in a sort of PTSD flood of half memories and vague glimpses. Singing the Pet Shop Boys in the Grapes on Mathew street. Laughing at the snoring people in the hostel room with Aidan, the lovely Korean chap in the bunk opposite who was in Europe for the first time ever and ended up meeting an incarnation of me, beer-soaked and filled, babbling absolute tripe.
It all made sense. I had attacked myself in a way. It felt like my brain had been trampled by a herd of stiletto-wearing elephants and my stomach had contorted into one of those misshapen medieval footballs. I had made my bed, and I was to lie in it.
Today was the final day of the event. This was our graduation day, the day of the MuMufication and the Rites of MuMu. It would also mark the one and only performance of (now cult band) Badger Kull and their song ‘Toxteth Day of the Dead’. On the programme we had been forewarned of a three mile walk today - what it was going to entail was anyone’s guess. Once again, no one had a clue.
My job card from the first day stipulated that I had to head down to the community space the Florrie at 1pm for further instruction and, after many wrong turns, I staggered in, sweaty, unkempt, and viciously hungover. Outside the building, the Ice Kream Van was there - however there were 2 lengths of rope attached to the bumper, and several loops in each length, which were, in turn, tied onto one of the 23 people there. These were the ‘Great North Pullers’ it turned out. What they were going to do, where they were going to go and why, was a mystery to both them and me. I found someone who seemed to know what was going on and was led into a room (of course, it was Room 23) and shown my work station. I was going to do the make-up for all the people involved in the ‘rites’ - such as the ‘bishops’, the standard bearers and the choir members. The remaining volunteers would congregate en-masse in a room below and have their make-up done quickly - I was told that those involved in the ‘rites’ would need a bit more time and care.
The room had several piles of different coloured tunics and robes in, each one marked with a different role (i.e. Koffin Karrier, Choir etc). After some drifting around, I was escorted into the main hall of the Florrie, which was where it was all happening. 23 choir members were positioned in a double line on the stage, with a backdrop of three screens behind them. Sitting around were the others who were part of the procession - the Koffin Karriers, Grave Diggers and so on. It seemed I had walked into a rehearsal, so I sat quietly and listened.
“You guys must remember that when we do the tech run through with ‘the Singer’, you cannot tweet or post anything, it’s got to be a secret,” said one of the directors of the show. A mumbled agreement was taken as gospel. This was interesting - however I still didn’t know the design of the make up they wanted, or what colours, or where the paints were.
This was quickly rectified by a brief chat with Jimmy Cauty, who softly explained the design he wanted. I was then introduced to Cauty’s friend, Anwen, who spent most of the day swigging from a bottle of tequila and hosted a ‘Dischordia’ festival each year. I didn’t quite know what that was supposed to mean, but many people had been shouting about ‘Dischordia’ throughout the past few days so I assumed that it was related.
I quickly invented some make-up jobs I had done so as to reassure both the ‘Rites’ director and Anwen about my expertise in the world of make-up, we were then given our equipment and we decided to set to work - or rather, I spent some time carefully watching what Anwen was doing and proceeded to copy it outright.
I was so worried about fucking it up or doing something wrong that I kept on asking her if what I was doing was okay, to which she reassured me that yes it was and I should shut up and carry on doing what I was doing. And so I did, and actually rather enjoyed doing it. A few people whom I had spoken to at other points remembered me saying that I had no make-up experience, and that they were rather impressed with my work.
Look at them! Look at my happy customers! Their beaming, skeletal faces! I was getting cockier as time went on, and my jokes becoming ever lewder. Some unforeseen power had taken me over, it seemed. In no time at all, all the important people had been made up, and they were summoned for the tech rehearsal. This is where the people involved in the rites would meet ‘the Singer’ for the first time.
I tidied up all the splodges of paint, and thought I’d treat myself to a cigarette. Bounding past the doors to the main hall, however, the tech rehearsal was coming to an end and the Rites people were filing out, with the Singer at the front. And who should he be, but Mr Jarvis Cocker! He saw me do a triple take and had a little chuckle about it, but he was in work mode so I couldn’t accost him as I would have so desired to. At least the realisation served to dissipate my hangover almost immediately.
In the time I was there for the build up, I soon figured out what was going on in the main hall. The ‘Rites of MuMufication’ would be a 23 minute performance, with a procession into and out of the hall, all led by Jarvis. I craftily pressed my ear against the door to the hall and had a listen.
By the time the tech rehearsal was over, it was pretty much time for the actual performance - and neither Anwen nor I had any facepaint on. We quickly did each other’s faces and dashed off into the hall, snagging a chair so as not to have to lean against the wall. Almost as soon as my skinny buttocks had landed upon the faded and moth eaten velour of the decaying theatre seat, the lights went down, and the Officiator came to the stage. Once again, he gave virtually nothing away.
He was quickly replaced by two business-looking individuals, a woman and a man, who explained to us how the JAMs had decided to enter into the funeral business, amongst some other information that my semi-pickled brain no longer had the faculties to retain. They were replaced in turn by three robed figures with big conical hats on. For quite a long time, they stood, almost motionless onstage, whilst a video showing various clips including the Shard on fire, grapefruits, what looked like a lovely walk down Regent’s Canal and a video of an eyeball, on the screens behind them. This was occasionally overwritten with some words in Ukrainian. The music playing was a combination of field recordings and queasy ambient light-drone music.
After some time, the music subsided and softened and the robed figures left the stage. This marked the moment of the main part of the procession, and in came the figures involved in the Rites. The music changed into a sort of warped, synthesised instrumental version of the hymn Jerusalem, whilst the huge ‘Toxteth Day of the Dead’ banner was carried in, followed by the standard bearers, the Bishops, the Choir, the Grave Diggers and the Koffin Karriers, carrying, unsurprisingly, the coffins. In amongst the choir, you could just make out the flowing blue hooded figure of the Singer, who sidled to the side of the stage. Soon the music started, a synthesised version of an early Scott Walker track, with more pop bombast thrown in. The hooded blue figure took centre stage behind the choir and began to sing. Almost immediately people gasped and cheered - how many other people have such a gorgeous, silken Sheffield rumble? He flung back his hood, threw off his robe, and did the full Jarvis. Here is the song they sung all together.
Didn’t make a lot of sense to me either. But it had Jarvis, the benchmark for greatness. He grooved his way through the song, relishing the references to ‘Sheffield’ and ‘Jarvis’, and whilst they sang the final refrain at the end of the song, they started to leave the hall. When they were about halfway out, everyone was on their feet, bellowing the words along with the Jarv and his choir.
As soon as the key figures of the rites had left the hall, there was a bit of a stampede to get outside. It was evident, from the ropes attached to the Ice Kream Van, that it was going to be towed somewhere. The coffins were loaded into the back of the van, several stolen trolleys-worth of ragwort was wheeled forwards, and the march began. This was without a doubt, the most cult-like thing that had happened. People dressed in flowing yellow robes, everyone with the ‘Toxteth’ skull facepaint, ragwort being thrown in front of the Ice Kream Van (which was appropriately being towed by 23 people). Here’s a glimpse of what it was like.
Not your normal Friday afternoon stroll, it would seem. We went along in this manner for the allotted three miles, until we came to an empty site just outside of the Invisible Wind Factory, where Badger Kull were to be performing later that night. Here is what we saw as we turned the corner.
— Seb Tiley (@SebTiley) August 25, 2017
That strange pointy structure is a sort of ‘Shard’ lookalike. The van was deposited on the opposite side of the structure, and the coffins were unloaded and placed on a platform below the structure. Then the JAMs appeared, wearing horns on their heads (it’s worth having a dig through some of their videos as these are a recurring piece of gear for them). Then, both with a flaming torch a-piece, they set the coffins and the structure on fire.
This was possibly the most unexpected part of the whole event. There had been no build up or forewarning about what was going to happen at all, much like during the rest of the event. However this was just totally unexpected. It was also quite relaxing, being able to watch a huge fire with the 399 other people you had just spent three days trying to work out what you had been doing for the past three days. It was a moment of quiet and calm reflection, of ponderous beer sipping and thoughtful cigarette smoking. And actually quite moving. The coffins being burnt seem to mark an end point in the history of the JAMs. They had finished something - what it was would remain to be seen, but it had been finished.
As the embers died down, the cold winds began to blow and the beer drinking became more fervent, and it seemed like it was time to go over to the venue. Inside, DJ Food was keeping the wheels in motion, dropping all sorts of cracking tunes from all and every decade. Yet the crowd seemed listless as the clock crept closer to midnight. We wanted Badger Kull, and we wanted it now.
At the stroke of midnight, 4 men dressed in tattered white robes held together with electrical tape stumbled onto the stage and picked up their basses - three were wearing masks which gave them a slightly threatening edge, including one as a badger. They played their song, Toxteth Day of the Dead.
The picture is a load of shit, yes, but that sort of gets the gist of it. I didn’t quite know what to expect musically, but, for a song conceptualised and written in 2 days, it was actually pretty good. There was a bit of Neu! in there, along with the sporadic wildness of Swell Maps. I bumped into synth wizard and conceptual crackpot, Dean Honer of Eccentronic Research Council and the Moonlandingz in the smoking area who described them as “one of the greatest bands of the 19th Century”. Says it all, really.
Greg Wilson soon took over the wheels, and played quite an astonishing set, veering from techno to the Top of the Pops theme song to Kraftwerk and then back again. It was during his set that I received my official qualification of graduation from the Dark Ages - also the only time within the three days that Drummond or Cauty had signed anything (to my knowledge).
Walking away with my certificate, I suddenly spot a familiar looking figure near the front - gangly, doing a geography-teacher-after-a-shandy wiggle to one of the sections of Tour de France by Kraftwerk. Then I saw the glasses. It was Jarvis. I knew I had to make my move. And it had to be now.
“Jarvis…” I said as I approached him. He leaned in, expecting me to say something else. But I was utterly speechless, completely starstruck.
“I… I… I think… Jarvis.”
He looked bemused. I pulled myself together.
“I think you’re really great. I saw you at the Proms do Scott Walker and it was magnificent.”
“Oh thanks a lot, yeah it was really fun” he drawled back.
“Do you think you could draw me a picture?”
“I’m not very good at drawing but I’ll have a go,” he replied.
He sort of gazed off into the distance, lost in thought. And then he drew this.
“You also kind of made me reconsider the Grateful Dead when you played Shakedown Street way back when,” I said.
“It’s the only song of theirs that I actually like. It’s sort of a shame,” he said, almost mournfully.
“You should listen to ‘Fire on the Mountain’ and ‘Althea’. Sort of similar vibe,” I lectured to him, in ill-concealed disbelief that I might be sending Jarvis off to go and listen to my Grateful Dead picks.
“Alright, I’ll give them a go. You take care now,” he said, pulling me into a close embrace. I inhaled deeply. He smelt like you’d imagine him to smell - slightly dusty, a light overtone of Yorkshire Gold, that smell you often get in museums or in really old books. But there was also a zinginess to it, something that put you on alert. He smelt like Jarvis.
My head swimming, I stumbled around for a while longer, occasionally busting some moves to the wild techno melange Greg was dishing up for us, until, finally, with the crooked and beckoning finger of this article and a comfy bed, I decided to cut my losses, finish my pint, and stumble off home.
It has been a very, very strange few days. I feel like I have changed in the way I consider things - I feel I will now take more time and care over certain thoughts and feelings, try and find out what they might mean, if they mean anything at all. And if maybe they don’t have a meaning, maybe I will just harness it and go along for the ride, as I have done here. I may not be the most obsessive MuMu fan in Liverpool, but I have definitely seen the rolling hills of MuMu Land. And it is far more interesting than this world.