The Strange and Wondrous Story of the KLF
Be ready to ride the big dipper of the mixed metaphor. Be ready to dip your hands in the lucky bag of life, gather the storm clouds of fantasy and anoint your own genius. –The Manual: How to Have a Number One the Easy Way
I’ve been told by numerous people that the newer version of the BBC series: Dr.Who is well worth the watch. I took a few hours out of my holiday schedule and put it to the test. It did not disappoint. When I was a kid, stumbling upon it while surfing the thirteen channels that were available at the time was a mixed blessing; intriguing but kind of scary. I remembered the Tardis, the Daleks, the silver painted Doc Martens on the Cybermen, the Dr’s striped scarf and most of all the theme song and those trippy credits. Certainly one of the greatest theme songs in television history. While watching Dr. Who I couldn’t help but be reminded of The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu.
Before any Whovians start to comb through their collective databases looking for the lost Mu Mu episode; The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu are also known as the KLF, The Timelords, the JAMS, the K Foundation or Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty. Who are they you may be asking yourself? In 1992 they were the biggest selling British act in the world, and then shortly after that they literally let their fame and fortune go up in flames.
The story of The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu starts in 1987 when the duo decided to form a hip-hop band. Influenced by the Discordian philosophy popularized by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson’s novel The Illuminatus! Trilogy, armed with a digital sampler and a desire to appropriate the canon of pop music they released : WTF Going On? The record samples The Monkees, Dave Brubeck and ABBA among others. No royalties were paid for the use of any audio clips. ABBA‘s lawyers eventually had the record destroyed over its use of Dancing Queen in the track The Queen and I. Unfazed by this; they followed the same formula and released Doctorin’ the Tardis in 1988 under the moniker The Timelords. The song combines Gary Glitter’s Rock n’ Roll Part 1 and the Dr. Who theme. The song became a number #1 hit.
After achieving pop chart supremacy, they decided to write a ‘how to manual‘ so that anyone could beome a pop star. The Austrian band Edelweiss followed the manual to a number one hit with Bring me Edelweiss sampling ABBA’s S.O.S.
Because it is only by following the clear and concise instructions contained in this book that you can realise your childish fantasies of having a Number One hit single in the official U.K. Top 40 thus guaranteeing you a place forever in the sacred annals of Pop History. Other than achieving a Number One hit single we offer you nothing else. There will be no endless wealth. Fame will flicker and fade and sex will still be a problem. What was once yours for a few days will now enter the public domain.
The book itself was a humorous indictment of the music industry. It even came with a money back guarantee.
In 1990 Jimmy Cauty together with Alex Paterson formed the Orb and helped to invent the genre of ambient house music. Around this time The KLF also released the seminal album Chill Out which Mixmag voted the 5th best dance album of all time. Cauty soon left the Orb and continued on with The KLF. After the success of Doctorin’ the Tardis the band took on a more electronic sound. Hip-Hop’s influence was replaced by House Music. What Time is Love?, 3.am Eternal and Justified and Ancient featuring Tammy Wynette all appeared on the album The White Room. The band became critical darlings and helped define popular British music of the early nineties.
In 1992 The KLF won the Brit Award for best Dance Act and then promptly retired from the music business. Their final performance was at the awards ceremony. They finished their song by firing a round of blanks over the heads of the crowd from a machine gun. They originally wanted to spray blood on the audience but the BBC weren’t having any of it. Disenfranchised by the music industry they decided to call it quits, delete their entire catalogue, destroy all their merchandise and liquidate their earnings. Their actual Brit Award was found years later buried in a field just outside Stonehenge.
In November of 1992 Drummond and his friend Zodiac Mindwarp attempted to drive to the North Pole where they were going to bury a picture of Elvis Presley in hopes that his soul would seep into the core of the earth and cause world peace. They got as far as Lapland before they nearly froze to death. Eventually they gave the picture to the keeper of the northern most lighthouse in the world and returned home. Their adventure ended up as a book entitled Bad Wisdom.
After paying their taxes and any outstanding debts, the KLF were left with 1 million quid. They set up the K Foundation and decided to get into the art making business. Their first idea was to take the million dollars and nail bundles of 5o thousand dollars to the wall of a gallery. No gallery would accept it due to insurance reasons. After universally being rejected, they decided to burn it. On August 23rd 1995 on the Island of Jura the KLF burned 1 million pounds in a furnace. You can see it in the documentary here. This of course raises so many questions.
I have a hard time wrapping my head around this act. Is it art? Is it a comment on the vacuousness of pop music? Is it a sheer act of will? Is it anti-materialism? Is it stupid? Is it genius? What would Dr. Who do?
True to their word, they have disappeared from the spotlight. They burned extremely bright for a brief moment and then went out. Think what you will about them, but one thing’s for sure ‘KLF is going to rock you.’