Who Killed The KLF?- Library of Mu
- Library of Mu record:
- Title: Who Killed The KLF?
- Date: July 1992
- Journal: Select
- Author: William Shaw
- Type of resource: Articles
- Status: text
- No. views: 32553
- Description: Essential reading. The full story behind the KLF's split, from the Black Room sessions to Mexico, with reaction from kollaborators.
Who Killed The KLF?
By William Shaw (July 1992, Select)
It's the last grand gesture, the most heroic act of public self destruction in
the history of pop. And it's also Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty's final
extravagant howl of self disgust, defiance and contempt for a music world gone
foul and corrupt. The KLF are no more. But what actually *happened* during
those last days at Trancentral?
On May 14 1992 the KLF issued a press statement to the effect that they had
ceased to exist. Delivered in magnificently epigrammatic Drummond-ese,
"We have been following a wild and wounded, glum and glorious,
shit but shining path these past five years. The last two of
which has led us up onto the commercial high ground --- we are at
a point where the path is about to take a sharp turn from these
sunny uplands down into a netherworld of we know not what. For
the forseeable future there will be no further record releases
from The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, The Timelords, The KLF &
any other past, present & future name attached to our activities.
As of now all our past releases are deleted...."
The group themselves were unavailable for comment. The KLF had apparently
vanished. No one had seen Bill Drummond for days. On or around the 5th May,
the 38 year old Scot had boarded a plane for Mexico city. At the airport he
had hastily scribbled a card to Jimmy Cauty, telling him to join him in Mexico.
If, as those close to the KLF seem to believe, they have not only split the
group, but have genuinely deleted all their back catalogue, Bill and Jimmy
have just pulled off one of the most glorious acts of self destruction in the
history of pop. If the statement is true, it's either the most spectacular
end to a group ever, or the most stupid. Or both.
With licensing deals recently signed with Arista in the USA, and with Toshiba
in Japan, the KLF hadn't even begun to peak yet in terms of worldwide sales.
They could have made substantial sums of money without even recording another
note. Simply deleting their back catalogue is equivalent to piling up maybe
a million or more five pound notes, dousing them with petrol and.... woooooof.
Or, of course, it could just be another amusing publicity stunt.
In retrospect, to everyone involved with Bill and Jimmy, the first clear hint
that they were looking for a drastic way out came with their notorious Brit
Awards performance on February 12 this year. The great dead sheep incident.
On the day of the performance, Bill Drummond drove up to Northampton in a van
and returned with the carcass of a sheep, bought from a local slaughterhouse.
Followers of Drummond and Cauty will know that, ever since the release of the
1990's "Chill Out" LP featured pictures of sheep on the sleeve the animal had
been the KLF's emblem.
This time the sheep was to used as a rather pastoral icon. As part of their
Brit Awards performance, Drummond and Cauty had originally planned to carve
up the dead animal on stage and fling the pieces at the audience, on front
of just under nine million TV viewers.
Scott Piering is an American who has worked with them as plugger since they
released the Timelords single; he is described in the KLF book *The Manual*
as "a true star", and is the cowled figure who narrated the opening to
"America:What Time is Love". He was kept in the dark about this scheme until
the last possible moment, lest knowledge of the plan would jeopardise his
relationship with the BBC. In hindsight he sees the sheep plan as a way doing
something so utterly disgusting that it would deliberately ruin the run away
success of their career: "They really wanted to cleanse themselves and be
ostracised by the music industry."
PR Mick Houghton has worked with Bill Drummond since the latter managed Echo
and the Bunnymen. "I don't know if they would have ever done it," he says,
"but part of the thinking was, if we did it, we wouldn't have to make a
decision whether to carry on or not. People would be so appalled, we would
have just alienated everyone in the industry."
Whatever, the audience was spared their dry cleaning bills. In the performance
of "America: What Time is Love", a nervy looking Bill he merely sprayed the
audience with earsplitting blanks from a vintage sub-machine gun, not with
lumps of meat. "Maybe they chickened out in the end," suggests Houghton.
According to Extreme Noise Terror, who were to share the stage with the KLF
that night, it was *them* who made Drummond and Cauty abandon their entrail
distribution exercise. Dean Jones, singer with the Ipswich noiseniks, says
that shortly before the show, his band refused point blank to go through with
it. "There *was* some tension," says Dean. "We're an extreme vegetarian band,
known for smashing up butchers shops. We couldn't justify that."
Mark Stent, KLF's engineer, mixer and producer, was there that night to witness
the strange pre-performance drama: "We had to calm it down, because it was
going to get well out of hand. It was really funny seeing the bands (ENT's)
reaction. They're anti-fascist-vegetarians. No! you can't do *THAT !* It was
really funny, cos they're like all from Ipswich, with funny accents..."
At the end of the sheep free performance, Drummond's parting shot, echoing
the Elvis line, was, "The KLF have left the music business". At the time,
neither Houghton nor Piering read much into that remark. Mark Stent says he
thought it was a joke.
If Cauty and Drummond had intended that night as the final dramatic act, it
failed. The next day, the tabloids ran the story of how they disposed of the
unfortunate beast by dumping it in the lobby of the Royal Lancaster Gate Hotel.
And then the press forgot about it.
Jonathan King, one of the Brit Awards organisers, went on record backing the
whole performance, which, according to Scott Piering, "*had* to be the real
"They started to feel they were being absorbed into the public domain," he
says. "Everything they did was *not* a prank. I'm sure everyone thought of
them as jolly pranksters. Those KLF guys, what are they up to next ? I can't
help but think they needed to destroy it. It's the only logical explanation.
"Bill said he felt like the guy from the Hungerford massacre the day after the
BPI-you know, where you'd never in your right mind do something as horrific
as you'd contemplated..."
Two weeks later, the KLF had definitely NOT left the music business. They
were back in the studio with ENT recording "The Black Room", the album that
came from the other side of the looking glass from "The White Room". Drummond
would burst into the studio clutching his note book, full of ideas for that
weeks recording, discuss them with the quieter, more laid back Cauty, and
then tell the group what they wanted them to do. ENT followed the plot as
best they could.
"Basically," admits Dean Jones, "we didn't really see what they were doing."
To the engineer / producer Mark Stent, the resulting music was pure genius.
"The most awesome track for me was one called "The Black Room and Terminator
10" which was like a very slow tempo thrash. It was mad. It was brilliant,
absolutely brilliant, and it would have shown a lot of people up because it
was as ballsy as hell. Guitars screaming all over the place, Bill doing his
vocals and Dean doing his. There was such a raw power to it. It was so
different from anything anyone else had ever heard. This was really heavy."
Brilliant or not, by the end of the week, Cauty and Drummond had lost
interest. They scrapped the entire session. That's not to say there's
anything particularly unusual about Bill and Jimmy scrapping things. In 1989
they scrapped the best part of an entire LP recorded on the "Kylie said to
Jason" flop. And then there was *The White Room* film project, in to which
they poured practically every penny they had earned from "Doctorin' The Tardis"
before junking it. No one really knows how much money they had poured into
that project, but a huge amount of footage was shot (a vast amount of it
unusably out of focus), and estimates of the budget vary between a quarter
and half a million pounds.
Regarding "The Black Room" LP, the sessions may have been junked, but as far
as ENT and Stent understood things, the intention at that point was to go back
into the studio at some point in the near future and re-record the songs...
Lyrics from the song "38", recorded in mid-February by Bill Drummond during
recording of the scrapped "Black Room" sessions:
"I'm looking for something but it wasn't there/(next line indecipherable)/
I'm 38 and I'm losing control/and when I find it I'm going to take it/
and when I find it I'm going to make it/and when I've found it I'm going
to break it/I'm 38 and I'm losing control/I'm looking for nothing that I
can't feel/I'm looking for something that I can't see/I'm 38 and I'm losing control."
Bill Drummond has jumped ship a few times in his career. In 1977 he founded
Big In Japan, the legendary go-nowhere punk group whose line-up included
Holly Johnson. In '78 he left them to form Zoo Records with David Balfe,
keyboard player with The Teardrop Explodes and - later - founder of Food
Records. From 1979 he acted as manger, producer and publisher for The
Teardrops and Echo and the Bunnymen before leaving Liverpool to concentrate
on work as an A&R man for WEA record in London. Among his signings was a
group called Brilliant who featured Youth from Killing Joke and a guitarist,
artist, biker called Jimmy Cauty. Brilliant got nowhere, but worked closely
with Eurodisco producer Pete Waterman, then in the process of setting up his
After a year full time with WEA, Drummond quite the business in self disgust,
issuing a proclamation in exclamation. It's style complete with footpath
imagery - has a familiar ring:
"I will be 33 1/3 years old in September, a time for a revolution in my
life. There is a mountain to climb the hard way, and I want to see the
world from the top, these foothills have been green and pleasant but I
want to smell the rock, touch the ice and have the wind tear the shirt
off my back..."
The letter ended: "Goodbye rock and roll let the guitar scream forever.
Comrades and rival, thanks. 'Good sherpa lead the way'."
Drummond's solo LP, "The Man", followed; next year the Justified Ancients of
Mu Mu pressed 500 copies of their first one-sided 12-inch "All You Need Is
Love", kicking off his miraculous partnership with Jimmy. On June 4 1988 The
Timelords found themselves with a freak number one, 'Doctorin' the Tardis'.
Flush with success, the rushed out a book called *The Manual (How To Have A
Number One Hit The Easy Way)*. At the time it was reviewed largely as a joke.
In fact it still reads as an extremely astute breakdown of the mechanics of
hit record making, reduced to a series of what they referred to as "Golden
Rules". One passage is particularly relevant:
" Leiber and Stoller, Goffin and King, Berry Gordy, Chinn and
Chapman and Peter Waterman have all understood the Golden
Rules thoroughly. The reason why Waterman will not continue
churning out number ones from now until the end of the
century and the others had limited reigns, was not because
Lady Luck's hand had strayed elsewhere, or that fashion had
moved on, it is because after have had a run of success and
your coffers are full, keeping strictly to the G.R.s is
boring. It all becomes empty and meaningless... "
'Doctorin' the Tardis' sold over a million copies. The KLF's brief life-span
included five Top Five singles in the UK, and two US Top Tens, plus number
ones all over the world. And last year The KLF were the UK's biggest selling
Immediately after scrapping "The Black Room" sessions, Jimmy and Bill returned
to the studio to re-work singles versions of tracks from 'The White Room' LP
to be released in Europe and America under the title 'Moo'. around this time
Houghton, who was in daily contact with them, began to get the feeling that
they just didn't feel there was any point to it any more. An exhausted
Drummond would come on the phone, one minute proposing grandiose plans, the
next saying things like, "Oh God, it's terrible".
"They were just desperate for ideas," says Houghton. "And near the end Bill
would ring up and say 'This is not working'."
One day he got a call from Bill suggesting their search for new ideas was now
bordering on the farcical. He was saying how they'd filled the studio with
session singers trying to recreate the sound of The Swingle Singers for a new
version of 'Make It Rain'. "I think he felt it had become too easy to be The
KLF and rattle off the hits. It had ceased to mean anything."
On April 1 Houghton took Bill to Brighton to see the Rollercoaster tour,
telling journalists who were present that he'd brought him because he felt he
needed cheering up. Backstage, Bill seemed happy enough, talking to William
Reid, Damon from Blur and Bobbie Gillespie, but didn't bother watching any of
the bands because, he said, they were all singing about 17-year-old angst and
drugs. "I'm 38," he announced on the way back to London. "I'm only interested
in songs about how difficult it is to get baby-sitters these days."
Then he fell asleep in the back. He had, it transpires, partaken of a
In order to preserve a suitably KLF-ish distance from the rest of the music
industry, Bill and Jimmy were finding their ideas becoming ever more random
Mark Stent, Bill and Jimmy had plans to record a further KLF LP this summer.
They talked about hiring one of the most expensive recording studios in London
for six months, ripping up the floorboards, and replacing them with turf.
They would then fill the playing area with sheep (living) which they could
watch from the control area as they worked.
Another KLF plan which was hatched over the last few months involved putting
up statues. Bill and Jimmy began to search out stonemasons and sites for
sculptures of themselves. Plans were underway to erect a first such monument
in Liverpool. At the base to be the words "Beyond ego".
After the recording of 'Moo' had been abandoned, Jimmy, Bill, and several of
the KLF's friends turned up at the Nordoff-Robbins music therapy charity
stock car race. They had been asked to appear in the JAMS mobile, Jimmy's
custom-built American car the had featured in the 'Doctorin' the Tardis' video.
But the original car was a wreck, so Bill and Jimmy built another. KLF's long
serving video editor Bill Butt estimates they spent three nights customising
a new car. And when it all seemed like the JAMS mobile wouldn't be ready in
time for the race Jimmy went out to an Army surplus yard he knew of and came
back with an armoured car. In the event they turned up to the stock car race
When it came to the race itself, Jimmy more or less wrecked the new JAMS
mobile, driving with what could be described as undue care and attention.
Bill Butt was there to record the event for the KLF's extensive film library.
"It was the drugs he was on," comments Butt drily of Cauty's on-track showing.
That night was, effectively, the very last KLF performance. It reached its
peak when one of Jimmy's friends climbed into the five tonne armoured car and
drove it straight onto the track. The race marshals were not best pleased.
One of them managed to climb on board the vehicle and ensure it was steered
away from the less well armoured pop star filled cars that were bumping their
way happily round the track.
Dead sheep, Swingle Singers and armoured cars. To Jimmy and Bill it seemed
like whatever they did was going to be lapped up. After the Tammy Wynette
collaboration they were deluged with phone calls from pop stars' agents and
managers hoping for a spoonful of KLF's career-reviving tonic. "I was in the
studio," recalls Mark Stent, " and we had Neil Sedaka phoning up, we had Sweet
phoning up, we had all kinds phoning up. I mean, that's just when I've been
The KLF had become cure-all miracle workers. Glenn Hughes, former Deep purple,
Gary Moore and Black Sabbath vocalist who'd been hired for the 'America: What
Time is Love' session issued a press statement headed "The KLF Saved My Life!".
The recording session, he spouted, had inspired him to kick a cocaine habit.
"I suddenly understood that there was more to life than drugs," gushed Glenn.
"I mean the KLF guys were aware of my previous record of drug-induced
unreliability but were willing to give me a chance... I did ten vocal tracks
for them in 25 minutes, and realised that 'America' would be huge and probably
my last chance to make a go of my career again. My credit on the single:
'Glenn Hughes - The Voice Of Rock' restored my confidence and was a kind of
life-line... Drugs are for losers."
Thus did "The KLF guys" inspire young Glenn to check in *chez* Betty Ford in
LA. Bring on The Swingle Singers.
How long Bill and Jimmy had been considering aborting The KLF project no one
really knows. It's clear that by this spring they were both suffering from
exhaustion. Maybe their inability to reach decisions about music was part
of that, though they were not new boys at scrapping albums and recording
sessions. Houghton describes it as "a period of self-doubt."
It's also true that around March this year Bill applied for a job as some
sort of warden at a nature reserve near Arundel in Sussex. Drummond's extra
curricular activities have always included bird-spotting and talking about
animal husbandry. Houghton even maintains that Drummond even *got* the job
too. "I remember asking him about it," he says. "Do they actually know who
you *are*? And Bill said, 'Yes, I told them I'm a musician, wanting to take
some time off.'"
Finally, in the last week in April, Bill rang Mick Houghton and announced that
he and Jimmy were going to make The KLF disappear. "When he actually told me,
he read the statement out, it was quite a shock, because even though I could
see it coming I thought it was just they were both mentally and physically
exhausted. And to hear that statement... Bill told me 'that was it, we're not
going to exist any more, we're deleting the records.' There's a finality to
Originally the statement was to have been made public on May 5, but it was
impossible to book the advertising space for it at such short notice, so the
split was postponed for a week.
And then Bill Drummond simply disappeared. Without contacting his family, or
any of the people he worked with, he vanished.
Houghton refers to this period as "Bill's breakdown", though he is obviously
unhappy about the expression. "In a sense he has had a kind of breakdown, but
that's just a phrase. If someone goes AWOL for two weeks and doesn't
communicate with anyone, he's obviously troubled about something..."
In fact, during the two weeks of his "disappearance" he spent time looking up
old friends like Bill Butt and Ian McCulloch, talking over his decision.
"It's not for me to comment on things like breakdowns, "says McCulloch,
"because breakdown is such a misleading thing, people imagine someone with
a straitjacket. I think he was going through a few personal traumas in his
head, which I've been through in the last two years, but I'd never call it
McCulloch was taking five days holiday near Port Merion - where *The Prisoner*
was filmed - in North Wales. Drummond turned up there too. "We talked about a
lot of things, to be honest, "says McCulloch, "some serious, some funny. The
impression I got was he needed a break. One thing he said to me was that he
put so much effort and heart and soul into three songs, pretty much over a
year, that it had drained him."
McCulloch knew something was up. Drummond had already talked vaguely about
their plan to kill The KLF. "We kind of got some fresh air, and, erm, sat in
pubs and just had a laugh really. I knew he wasn't there just to see me about
I'm up to, which was the basic premise of our meeting. We checked out the ley
lines and Bill mentioned something about Mexico having some Ley lines as well."
He also told McCulloch that he would be happy if he never heard another dance
record in his life.
On the Sunday before the news was officially released - days after Bill had
left for Mexico - Jimmy rang Scott Piering, and told him about the split for
the first time. During the three hour call he asked him "to take care of the
funeral arrangements". Jimmy left details vague. "They purposefully did not
want to give us more information than we needed. At first it felt like I was
being too sober and too sensible, asking very formal questions about what was
going to happen. Sort of like shock. Was I worried about Bill's state of mind ?
Well no. I mean Yes. I mean, I feel a bit insecure not being able to be close
Later, Scott went to The KLF office and changed the ansaphone message.
" This is a recorded announcement from KLF Communications. Listen
carefully because it's the only and last statement that will be
made. Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty have left the music
business. This answering machine and The KLF fax number will be
operative for one month only from 13 May 1992. Do not expect a
response, but all essential matters will be responded to.
That's it. "
The day after the announcement, Arista in Los Angeles haven't heard the news.
("Really ? We haven't heard that. Can I put you on hold ? *happy telephone
music*. "Hello ? We have no comment at all here.")
Dean Jones of ENT hasn't heard the news either; he is still expecting a phone
call any day from Bill or Jimmy to go back into the studio. "The last we heard
was a few days ago saying they hadn't split up," says Dean.
Well they have.
"Oh," he laughs. "I still don't believe it, to be honest". A couple of days
later he is taking the news more seriously. "I'm not very happy with them," he
says. "They still owe us 7500 pounds..."
Mick Houghton's office is oddly quiet. After the news broke he had expected to
be inundated with calls about The KLF, but very few people bothered to ring. In
all probability, most people - like Dean Jones - just don't believe the press
statement. People think it's a scam.
Tucked away in haphazard piles are press cuttings going back years. There's a
copy of a letter on JAMS-headed note paper from Bill Drummond about the "1987"
Album headed "Dear Media Moguls...". An eleven-page treatment for the aborted
*The White Room* film, in Bill's scrawled upper case, lies tucked among the
cuttings, the script is about a search for an unobtainable White Room, and
there are complicated references to a film within a film. It doesn't make much
sense at all. On one page, Drummond has written, "Scene where we came across a
beautiful but decomposing eagle by the side of the road. Nobody else would go
near it. It stank. King Boy (Drummond) insisted on being filmed with it. As he
strode down a one track rail like the significance of this at the time could
not be argued. Meaningless. But dramatic."
Downstairs the phone rings. It turns out it's Jimmy, reporting in from Mexico
City, where he's just arrived to meet up with Bill. They are planning to hire
a car and drive up to Los Angeles.
Bill Butt, Mark Stent and Scott Piering all admit to being shocked when they
were told the news that was about to break.
Butt: "Like everything, they're dealing with it in a very realistic way, a
fresh, unbitter way, which is very often not the case. A lot of bands disappear
with such a terrible loss of dignity..."
Stent: "I had so many people who I know, heads of record companies, A&R men
saying, 'Come on, It's a big scam.' But I firmly believe it's over."
Piering: "They've got a huge buzz of this, that's for sure, because it's
something that's finally thrilling. It's scary to have thrown away a fortune
which I *know* they have. Just the idea of starting over is exciting. Starting
over on what ? Well, they have such great ideas, like buying submarines..."
In his Brussels office, Kenny Gates, a director of The KLF's distributors APT,
has been weighing up reports of the groups split for the last day. "It came as
a total surprise. Conceptually and philosophically, I think it's absolutely
brilliant," he declares, somewhat generously, seeing as his company lose a
large sum of money if, as he believes is true, the records really have been
deleted. "The KLF press their own records. If they decide to delete their own
records, they are deleted. That's the only thing we could feel let down on. I
don't know the situation in Japan or America, but it will just make The KLF's
licencees in Europe export back records to England. They own the licenses for
the next few years. That's the only weak part in their concept. But it's not
David Balfe, founder of Food records and co-owner of Zoo Publishing with
Drummond, has worked with him since 1977. "Am I jealous ? Oh absolutely. It
comes down to two things. Firstly the path he's trod is a more artistic one
than mine. I know that deep down I like the idea of building up a very
successful career, where Bill is more interested in weird stuff."
He talks about The KLF split as "The last great act of artistic purity".
"I'm 99.9 percent sure they mean it. It's a very KLF thing to do. I think the
very avoidance of cliche has become their particular cliche and I think they
found themselves boxed in. They couldn't do something obvious, and to do
something non-obvious was the obvious thing for The KLF to do from then on,
so they couldn't. They were caught in a paradox."
Dead eagles and dead sheep. King Boy D and Rockman Rock, aka Lord Rock and
Time boy, aka The Timelords, aka The Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu, aka The JAMS,
aka The KLF, aka The Kopyright Liberation Front, aka The Fall, aka The Forever
Ancients Liberation Loophole, aka Disco 2000, all driving off together into a
typically western sunset, in the most perfect end ever conceived for a group.
Significance? Probably meaningless. But like Cauty's deceased eagle, decidedly
dramatic. For the very last spectacularly insane time, The KLF have done what
was least expected of them.
There are 5 comments for this record
You can leave a comment below.
Posted by Guest on 2007-08-05 02:27:20
Geurilla marketing - at its best.
Posted by Guest on 2013-03-22 08:47:01
FOR SALE AMERICA: WHAT TIME IS LOVE CD. SIGNED BY JIMMY CAUTY.
Posted by Guest on 2013-04-22 03:27:23
Hi, Bill Drummond will be in Liverpool on April 28th for his last The17 performance ever http://www.penkilnburn.com/news
A great chance to meet him.
Posted by Guest on 2013-10-23 09:21:47
Have they reformed yet?
Posted by Guest on 2013-12-01 18:00:27
I hope not. It would be...anticlimactic. I miss them. What a time it was, but time moves on. Make mine a 99...