All Bound For Mu Mu Land
WRITTEN BY JOSH RAY – JANUARY 2017
On 1st January 1987, Bill Drummond called up Jimmy Cauty to ask him if he wanted to form a hip-hop group called The Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu. Knowing exactly where he was coming from, Cauty agreed and over the next seven years, under various monikers including The Timelords, The KLF and The K Foundation, the partnership undermined culture with anarchistic iconoclasm, brought esoteric ideas into the heart of the unknowing mainstream, sold more singles than any one else on the planet in 1991, left the music industry spectacularly and destroyed the entirety of their remaining and future profits, screened the footage of themselves burning their last remaining million pounds and then, in the face of widespread condemnation, decided to not speak about it for 23 years, writing up a contract on a rental car and pushing it off a cliff.
On 1st January 2017, a video surfaced on YouTube featuring cut up footage of The KLF. It asked “2017 – WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON?”, mirroring The JAMs’ entrance into the music industry in ’87 with their debut album, ‘1987 (What the Fuck Is Going On?)‘. Although it was quite clear the upload wasn’t from the band, a story soon began to ferment in the post-truth press, feeding all sorts of wild conjecture. Then, on 5th January, a poster emerged from K2 Plant Hire dismissing rumours that the KLF would return or “resurrect their historic work”, instead announcing the return of The Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu, who are at work in a light industrial unit on something that will be revealed to the public on 23rd August 2017 – 23 years to the day since they burned those bundles of crisp, brand new £50 notes in a boathouse on the Scottish Isle of Jura.
“The announcement was textbook Operation Mindfuck, in that it was chaos, contradiction and misinformation, but it was also accidental and unplanned, explains John Higgs, author of ‘The KLF: Chaos, Magic And The Band Who Burned A Million Pounds‘. “It was quintessential KLF, in other words.”
“To recap – it started on the Brooklynvegan blog as ‘Could 2017 see the return of The KLF?‘ That post got copied by websites like the NME and then by FACT, and before long the internet was claiming that the video definitely was by The KLF. You might have thought that after last year we’d be wise to believing unsourced online claims that we desperately want to be true, but apparently not.”
“Having put out their poster, you might have thought we would have some level of clarity and that the rumours would die down. But the Guardian stated that there will be ‘new material‘ unveiled, even though that’s not what the poster says, so now everyone is looking forward to new music, Now, I don’t know what they are doing – I had been told some of their plans a while back, but I’ve made a point of not finding out anything more, and those early plans would have evolved and changed by now. So, I don’t know what’s coming, but I’m not expecting them to do what everyone wants, which is to play the Stadium House trilogy on the pyramid stage at Glastonbury. I expect them to do what people aren’t expecting. There may be new music involved of course, but that may not be the focus of it.”
It would be naïve to expect to see Drummond and Cauty return to what they’ve already done, and would show a great misunderstanding of the driving forces behind the two men. As Cauty once put it, they like to stay at “the cutting edge of reality” and are continually looking to push themselves as far as they can go. What they did back then captured the zeitgeist of the time in a way that would miss the mark today. Given that they’re both clearly sincere and inspired as artists, it’s impossible to predict how they’ll return simply because they explore the places no one else goes.
“It’s coming at an interesting time, I think, because for my money both Bill and Jimmy are doing some of the best work in their careers at the moment,” John Higgs notes. “It might seem an odd time for them to collaborate again, but the weight of the 23rd anniversary of the money burning is just too heavy for them to ignore. Just going by current form, what they might do as the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu could be really special. All this leaves us in an odd space where we are wise not to have any expectations, and also wise to circle August 23rd on our 2017 diaries. KLF fans, of course, know to embrace the contradictions.”
Having written the seminal account of the band a few years back, John Higgs has put a great deal of time and thought into trying to fit The KLF within some kind of context and, taking in a number of reference points, he’s definitely presented the most coherent account of how we should view what Drummond and Cauty did in the years between 1987 and 1994.
For me, the book shows why their body of work during that period, taken in its entirety, should be regarded as one of the 20th Century’s greatest cultural contributions. Whether you like their music or not, it’s undeniable that they were working on a different level to everyone else but, at the same time, they were able to bring ideas out of the leftfield in a way that consistently captured people’s imaginations, even if most of the audience never properly understood what it was all about. Hopefully now those 23 years have passed and there are reference points like John’s book at hand, people will regard their actions in a new context. Perhaps in a world of precarious credit bubbles and quantitative easing, negating a million pounds will be seen in a new light.
To successfully tell their story John had to look at the wider influences surrounding their actions. In the same way Alan Moore‘s ‘From Hell’ transcended all other accounts of Jack The Ripper, by, instead of trying to get to the bottom of who was responsible, asking why it happened, John’s book goes well beyond any other account of the duo because it looks to the circumstances and ideas around their actions, acknowledging the limitations in using first hand accounts alone. As he notes, many of the key characters in the story didn’t even know they were a part.
Further to this, these characters often couldn’t properly explain themselves, as is clear from any interview you’ll find of Drummond or Cauty just after the burning. They were failing to transmit things that made sense to them symbolically on an emotional and spiritual level into the rational world of facts and words.
One of the useful ways John highlights of helping contextualise The JAMs’ actions is through the lens of Situationist International, viewing their career as a series of détournements, “taking the cultural images that are forced on us and using them for our own ends.” The Situationists were a subversive group of thinkers and activists who emerged out of Paris in the 1950s, arguing that society creates a spectacle that keeps us in line and directs our attention away from the real power so it’s therefore our duty to create our own spectacle in order to undermine the prevailing one.
This line of thinking fits perfectly with the beginnings of their career, with their early use of sampling seeking to contradict the original track, as opposed to the majority of other artists looking to complement it. It also fits with their infamous money burning: acting “to turn the expressions of the capitalist system against itself.” However, any comparisons to Situationist International come loaded, with Malcolm McLaren’s ‘The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle‘ opening up the idea of Machiavellian impresarios who are the great media manipulators. The release of Drummond and Cauty’s book ‘The Manual (How to Have a Number One the Easy Way)‘, following on from their novelty Doctor Who record, ‘Doctorin’ The Tardis‘ that became a number one hit, added to the false impression that they were grand schemers.
Although this was often put on them from the outside it clearly wasn’t the case, if you looked beyond their media image you’d see that they were driven by something else. Consistently it seemed that they were coming up with the ideas no one else was having, and not only that, they were seeing them through to the nth degree. That’s what drove them forward.
One of the people who had something constructive to say when he saw the footage of them burning the money was Alan Moore, who described it as a “powerful magical event,” adding, “I can’t see any other explanation for it. You’re dealing with a form of language, a conversation – but you’re not sure what the conversation is… You’re waiting for a reply.”
John recommends using Alan Moore’s theory of ideaspace to look at The KLF. Moore had come up with ideaspace as a way of conceptualising our mental world, explaining that some parts of it are personal while others are shared. Swiss psychologist Carl Jung had come up with a similar concept in the early 20th Century, except he called it ‘the collective unconscious’. He’d come up with the idea after puzzling over some worrying dreams he’d had of northern Europe being flooded by “yellow waves, swimming rubble and the death of countless thousands.” The following year these dreams suddenly seemed like premonitions as World War I spread devastation and yellow waves of mustard gas across northern Europe. His way of explaining it was that the idea of a technological war on that scale was beginning to form in the collective unconscious and he had unwittingly stumbled upon it in his dreams. The collective unconscious or ideaspace also explains why inventions like the steam engine and the light bulb happen in different places independently around the same time: the idea has moved into the shared unconscious space.
Looking at it this way, what Drummond and Cauty were doing was going right to the edges of our shared ideaspace to find things no one else had thought of before and acting on them, not with any hopes of success or fears of failure, but because they felt compelled to entertain these ideas and take them forward to their logical conclusion. That’s why they didn’t have a fully formed answer as to why they burned the money except for that they had the idea and they followed it through.
To understand the symbolism and imagery around the band, you have to look back to a dream Carl Jung recounted in his 1927 book ‘Memories, Dreams, Reflections‘. Talking about the city he’d never actually visited as ‘the pool of life’, Jung described a dirty, sooty place that was dark and raining, however amidst the abominable weather he found an island with a magnolia atop which “stood in the sunlight and were at the same time the source of light.” The dream profoundly affected Jung and influenced him to embark on a study of synchronicity, or meaningful coincidences.
Fast forward to Liverpool in the mid-’70s, which had been left barren when The Beatles departed to take over the world, and something was beginning to bubble up from the underground again. Inspired by Carl Jung’s vision, the dreamer and poet Peter O’Halligan set about finding the place he’d mentioned, seeking out “a broad square dimly illuminated by street lights, into which many streets converged.” He found a spot that fit the description, where Mathew Street meets Rainford Square and Temple Court and purchased a disused apple warehouse, which became The Liverpool School Of Language, Music, Dream And Pun.
This was just down the road from The Cavern where The Beatles had cut their teeth the previous decade and was in a prime position for the next youth culture to take the city by storm. With the Armadillo Tea Rooms, a café kids could stay in all day for the price of a pot of tea and Aunt Twacky’s, the first independent market outside of London, the place became a hub for the misfit kids who had nowhere else to go. With the opening of the close-by Probe Records and Eric’s Club, the area soon became a creative hotbed again.
Where this becomes relevant to The KLF’s story is when O’Halligan crossed paths with the maverick playwright and actor, Ken Campbell, who was working at The Everyman in Liverpool at the time. Campbell was to have profound influence on a young Drummond, and a more indirect influence on the younger Cauty. He decided to set up The Science Fiction Theatre of Liverpool in O’Halligan’s warehouse alongside Chris Langham. He found the perfect novel to adapt while in an esoteric book shop in Camden, he was drawn to a yellow submarine on the cover, which was synchronicity enough for Liverpool, but to confirm it was the perfect book he turned to page 223 – the page in which Jung recounted his Liverpool dream – and sure enough Jung was mentioned.
The book was the first in ‘The Illuminatus! Trilogy‘, a sprawling epic written by Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea, which weaved together the various outrageous conspiracy theories that had begun to emerge in the mid-late sixties, mainly fuelled by the ever-growing Discordian movement. Discordianism was a spoof religion created by Greg Hill and Kerry Thornley which venerates the Greek goddess of chaos Eris and seeks to undermine people’s comfortable world-views with a practice called Operation Mindfuck. While working as editors at Playboy Magazine, Shea and Wilson had recieved many letters from OM and they picked up correspondence with Thornley and Hill, eventually leading to them writing Illuminatus!
Describing it as the “the greatest book ever written,” Campbell set about transforming it into a mammoth nine-hour production, that expanded many minds, but also sent a few souls ‘down the rabbit hole’. A 23-year old Bill Drummond had been brought in to build the sets. He wrote Campbell’s key direction, ‘Is It Heroic?’ on his workshop wall in white paint and this mentality would stick with him throughout his career. He created some perception-altering sets that fit perfectly with the mind-bending nature of the production but he left before the show’s sell out run at the National Theatre in London. Cauty made it to one of the London shows and it resonated with him too – although he wouldn’t meet Drummond until a few years later.
Drummond moved into music, playing guitar in the band Big In Japan, known as a super-group in reverse for all the member’s accomplished subsequently in their careers. The band emerged out of the Eric’s scene which fed into Liverpool’s psychedelic explosion of the 1980s. Drummond would manage two of the city’s big bands of the time, Echo & The Bunnymen and The Teardrop Explodes before becoming A&R man at WEA Records. It was then that he signed Brilliant, a band Cauty had formed with The Killing Joke’s Youth. Cauty had been in a number of bands through the ’80s including Angels 1–5, who recorded a Peel session, Zodiac Mindwarp and the Love Reaction, he’d later go on to found The Orb with Alex Patterson in the late ’80s and help ignite the ambient house/post-rave sound The Orb would find global fame with. This sound would also feed back into The KLF’s music on their debut LP, ‘Chill Out’.
This sort of pioneering work wasn’t really there with Brilliant however. With Drummond later describing it as “artistically bankrupt” and “financially deaf”, the whole thing was doomed to failure but Drummond and Cauty had found they shared many of the same tastes, and not only that, they had received a grounding in how to make a hit by the infamous pop-peddlers Stock Aitken & Waterman.
In the summer of 1986, on his symbolic 33⅓ birthday, Drummond decided to leave the music industry and began re-reading ‘The Illuminatus! Trilogy’. In the story, a group of Discordians calling themselves The Justified Ancients Of Mummu infiltrate the secretive organisation The Illuminati, feeding them false information to stop the spread of their malignant force around the world. Having spent a number of years in the ‘belly of the beast’, Drummond began to formulate an idea – he would infiltrate the bloated and corrupted music industry and claim it for himself. He needed some help with this however so he made the call to Jimmy Cauty on the first morning of 1987 and the Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu were born.
Taking these influences and intentions into account, more light is shone on their exit from the music industry and the destruction of all their profits – they had set about to co-opt the music industry, but instead the music industry had co-opted them. Appearing on the 1992 Brit Awards alongside Extreme Noise Terror, the duo performed in an aggressive and antagonistic manner, with Drummond firing blanks into “a stunned music-business audience.” When they left the stage a voice appeared on the PA system stating, “The KLF have left the music industry.” Later they arrived at one of the post-show parties and left a dead sheep on the steps of the building with a note saying “I died for you – bon appetit”.
The duo then turned their attention to the money-driven art world as The K Foundation, subverting the Turner Prize by awarding its winner, ‘the worst artist in the world‘ award a day in advance and offering up double the prize money. They made various attempts to transform their remaining profits into art but when it became clear that galleries weren’t willing to exhibit things like a skip full of a million pounds, they decided something else was to be done and they ventured up to The Isle Of Jura in August 1994 with their roady Gimpo, journalist Jim Reid and a suitcase full of £50 bundles.
They had been up to The Isle Of Jura previously as The KLF, taking a number of the world’s press on a secretive trip to a place they called ‘The Lost Continent Of Mu‘; stamping their passports with pyramid blasters, putting them in robes and bewildering them with various ceremonies that culminated in the burning of a giant wicker man. This time however the went there to burn their remaining million pounds, with Gimpo filming it. The end of their career nicely mirrors their beginning: when they were unsuccessful in clearing a contrarian Abba sample on their debut album, they burned all the copies they had in a field in Sweden. Well almost, they burned as many as they could until a farmer shot at them and then they threw the rest in the North Sea on the way home.
The money-burning footage, when it was toured around the country the following year as ‘Watch The K Foundation Burn A Million Quid’ received, by and large, a negative response and no one, the band included was able to fit it within any kind of context. However, as Jayne Casey put it when she was helping them negotiate with galleries, “nothing that’s got any potency is ever accepted by the established art world at the moment of potency. It’s only in retrospect that they’re able to assimilate it into their culture.”
In the time since their “self imposed and self important 23 year moratorium” there have been promising signs that point towards new interest in their ideas. In 2006, John Higgs’ book began to circulate around their cult following, giving new meaning to their 7 year career whilst also picking up some new followers along the way. Then in 2014, Ken Campbell’s daughter, Daisy Eris Campbell decided to stage another Robert Anton Winston novel in Liverpool. Her adaptation of ‘The Cosmic Trigger‘ had all the ‘caper’ qualities of her father’s production and planted a Discordian seed in ‘the pool of life’ over a memorable weekend that sought to ‘find the others’ and connect up many of the creative, countercultural pockets across the country. A group from Sheffield were inspired by this and decided to ‘find the others’ again at Festival 23, a Discordian gathering in a field near Sheffield last summer, drawing in new people to the growing movement. Other individuals and collectives have been pushing the Discordian/wider countercultural agenda recently too including Arts Lab Northampton, The Odditorium in Brighton, The Cult Of Nick podcast and Adam Gorightly, closer to source in California.
There have been interesting things bubbling in Bristol too. The Cube Cinema picked up on John’s book around the same time they have an idea to subvert the way people look at money – putting on an event with a poster that says “£5 on the door” and giving the unexpecting punters £5 when they arrived. They subsequently crossed paths with John Higgs who informed them of a man he’d met called Jonathan Harris who’s concerned with burning money – their idea around money began to develop. They put on an event charging £10 for advance tickets, when people arrived they gave them back £5 and then later on set fire to the remaining £500. Bristol seems to be another place Discordianism resonates, DJ Food made a KLF tribute mix a few years back, and his blog post which mentioned the potential return of The KLF in 2017 was referenced as evidence of their comeback. DJ, United States of Audio also released ‘Embrace The Contradictions‘, a tribute history of The KLF, which coincided with 23rd anniversary of their infamous exit from the record industry.
In November 2015 Bristol’s Cube Cinema put together a montage of footage of The KLF for another of their events, at which they burned £1K. The montage footage was originally intended to only be shown once at that event but as word spread the montage surfaced three more times, at the Stroud Valleys Artspace, Supernormal at Braziers Park and at Festival 23, where 23 DVD copies were distributed.
Then on 1st January 2017, they decided to put the montage online and a discordant storm of speculation and rumour exploded across the internet. “It was intended as a gift to all and any to perceive however they may want, if they happened to happen across it,” we’re told by the Cube Cinema. “We didn’t anticipate news outlets and what they might construct. Frankly, we would have been surprised by more than two to three hundred views.”
“An important point – for us – is that it was meant to be anonymous and mysterious (a tricky trick these days), though obviously never setting out to pretend to be from Dummond & Cauty. At the event it was doing a practical job of having some historic content, but hopefully (in the spirit of the whole phenomena) formed into something new.”
“John Higgs shared the link with no secrecy of origin and the views shot up and out with wild conjecture budding everywhere. The idea of a KLF comeback squawked tracklessly. This was not our intention. If it had been, what would have been edited and released would have been significantly different, but that is not something we would ever have conscioned in the first place. This was no joke.”
“We now know, possibly to only one thousandth of a degree, what Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty experience when being accused of hoaxerism. The widely repeated idea that pop band The KLF would return in 2017, and that this uploading was meant to signal that – or anything – is absolutely ludicrous. The KLF exists between 1989 and 1992, and always will.”
The Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu (Mummu) however continue to exist through time, re-surfacing when their guerilla subversion is needed the most. With all of Drummond and Cauty’s ideas bubbling up again in the collective unconscious the way they are, and with the world heading in the chaotic direction it is, 2017 seems like as good a time as any for them to re-emerge again. As The JAMs originally stated on their debut LP, “we’re back again, they never kicked us out, 20,000 years of shout shout shout!”