FREAK SHOW- Library of Mu
- Library of Mu record:
- Title: FREAK SHOW
- Date: December 1994
- Journal: i-D
- Author: ?
- Type of resource: Interviews
- Status: original
- No. views: 4656
- Description: Drummond/Manning interview. Mainly about the Bible of Dreams, art and madness.
By ? (December 1994, i-D)
As one half of the KLF and then The K Foundation, Bill Drummond had hit
records, wrote a manual about it, disrupted the Turner Prize, abandonded
music and burned a million pounds. Now he's hooked up with rock'n'roll
casulty Zodiac Mindwarp to publish books they reckon will save the world.
Are this unlikely pair situationists, postmodernists or just piss artists?
"Do you want a fight?" snarls Bill Drummond. Ask him if his career is
anything more than a series of pranks and the response is violent. But its a
fair question. In 1987, Drummond had a Number One hit record. (sic) He then
wrote a book about it. By 1990 he was part of the KLF, a million-selling pop
group with far-out ideas like singing about ice-cream, dressing up in dumb
costumes and claiming to have discovered America. In 1993, he set up a
scheme to award £40,000 to the worst artist in Britain. And in 1994, he took
a million pounds out of his bank account and burned it. King Jester or what?
Bill Drummond sits on the floor of a North London flat. After years of
refusing to be interviewed, he wants to talk about the publishing company
called Curfew Press he's set up with Zodiac Mindwarp. Its first book, A
Bible Of Dreams, is a joint effort they describe as a 'visual poem'. It
consists of a series of collages by Zodiac with an accompanying text by
Drummond. The book will be sold as a limited edition of 200 copies, priced
at £500 each
At first glance, theirs is an unlikely partnership. Drummond is someone
who's had vast pop success without surrendering to a rock'n'roll lifestyle.
By contrast Zed, as Drummond calls him, managed to become a rock'n'roll
casualty without having the success. His band, Zodiac Mindwarp And The Love
Reaction, were the self-styled last rock stars of the millennium. Their
devotion to the apocalyptic rock myth of leather, sex and chemicals was so
extreme it could've been a joke. But the fall-out from collapse was real. "I
did it all," confirms Zed "I got a house in the country, several divorces
and lost all my money. It's all there; drugs, women, booze, excess, hotels
and televisions. What can I say about being a fuck-up? Now you can ask Bill
about The KLF."
"There's no way we're going to be doinq interviews to talk about the past,"
thunders Drummond. "It's pointless." It's not. To reprise, Bill Drummond was
born in Scotland and educated at art school before entering Liverpool's punk
scene. He played in the band Big In Japan, set up Zoo Records and managed
two successful acts, The Teardrop Explodes and Echo And The Bunnymen. By the
mid '80s, he'd joined WEA as an A&R, where he worked alongside Stock, Aitken
and Watermen, Youth and Jimmy Cauty. Together with Cauty he forrned a band
called The JAMS (Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu), who released a cut'n'paste
album in 1987 aptly entitled What The Fuck's Going On. One track, which
sampled Dancing Queen, so incensed ABBA's management company that they
threatened legal action. Drummond and Cauty retaliated by ditching every
copy of the record overboard from the Stockholm ferry. After this, the pair
became one-off act The Timelords, and in 1988 reached Number One for a
single week with the trashy Doctorin' The Tardis. They then wrote a book
about it, The Manual (How To Have A Number One The Easy Way), which is still
an inspiring, open-eyed critique of the pop business. So clear-cut is its
advice on how the industry can be manipulated that an Austrian band called
Edelweiss followed the Manual's instructions and topped charts across Europe
with their derisive, ABBA-derivative Bring Me Edelweiss single.
By early 1992, Cauty and Drummond were The Kopyright Liberation Front and
the biggest selling singles band on the planet, with five consecutive top
five hits in 18-months: What Time Is Love, 3am Eternal, Last Train To
Trancentral, Justified And Ancient and America: What Time Is Love. They were
also the most radical. Instead of pop's traditional concerns, they wrote
serni-mythical, nonsensical lyrics about themselves. As The Wombles sang
Remember You're A Womble, so the KLF declared "this is what KLF's all about"
or, as The JAMS, declared themselves "justified and ancient". The names they
gave themselves were lifted from Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea's
trilogy Illuminatis!, where The JAMS are history's original anarchists. And
The KLF behaved like anarchic children, throwing ever more lavish and
chaotic pranks. To celebrate 1991's summer solstice, they invited a group of
journalists to the Isles Of Jura. The guests were kitted out in yellow robes
and ordered to follow a horned, cloaked man to a site where a 60-foot Wicker
Man was burned to ritual chants. The following day, the sarne group of
people went onstage at Liverpool's Comedy Festival where they chanted
"justified...ancient" while The KLF sold the audience ice creams.
And, for a while, Drummond and Cauty released pop from all its conventions
to rediscover the eternal values of freedom and creativity Their work had
the same thrill factor as whacko art like Italian Alighiero e Boetti's
Annual Lamp: a sculpture that lights up once a year for eleven seconds. The
ideas are so outrageous and precisely executed that it makes the modern
world look like a playground for cool intelligence. So just as Nirvana
rewrote the cultural agenda for rock'n'roll, The KLF raised the Top 10's
artistic stakes. Videos, press releases, PR stunts, records and sleeve notes
were all part of some huge interconnected game or gripping personal myth.
And then, at the height of their success, for reasons they've never
explained, on May 16, 1992, they announced that it was all over. They
deleted their entire back catalogue and took out a music press advertisement
stating that, "for the foreseeable future, there will be no further record
releases". Right when they were the biggest, the best band in Britain, they
gave it all up. They quit.
Even now, Drummond refuses to talk about The KLF. Maybe it's because the
past bores him, or perhaps he realises that to explain would remove the
mystery that makes his pop career so fascinating. This becomes clear when he
declines to discuss the significance of 23, a mystical number that marks
certain dates and events in his life. "It's one of these things, isn't it?"
smiles Bill enigmatically. Why is it important? "I know. But I'm not going
to tell, because then other people would have to stop having to wonder and
the thing about beauty is for other people to wonder at it. It's not very
beautiful once you know."
Drummond loves mystery, embraces it as central to the process of art and,
like Agatha Christie, seems unable to restrain himself from writing more. On
August 23 this year, Cauty and Drummond invited journalist Alex Reid to Jura
where they burned a million pounds in cash. "The money, practically all the
former chart topping duo had left in their account, made a good fire," wrote
Reid "It proves nothing," Drummond told him "It doesn't matter why we've
done it... any meaning will have to do with how people react to it"
What does it feel like to burn a million pounds? It suggests waste as you
wonder what you would have spent the money on. It also feels like a
political act, a gesture of utter contempt towards a materialist society.
It's not unlike burning the flag. "It didn't feel like a KLF type thing,"
reckons Peter Robinson, writer of the definitive KLF biog in his Justified
And Ancient History fanzine "It's more like Bill and Jimmy trying to get rid
of anything that was left from their career. I think it had taken its toll
on Bill and his life, he was quite drained. I think they burned the money
more for themselves than as a publicity stunt."
So Drummond has a problem with money? Or was it a gigantic fuck- you to all
those who said The KLF, like any other pop group, were just doing it for the
cash? Does this mean they're now real artists, freed from market forces?
What's Drummond's take on art? "Art is irnportant because it is," he
declares. "It's one of the first things that ever happened after the fall of
mankind. Mankind had to try and understand why the fuck had he fallen and
that dog and everything else in creation hadn't? So he/she came up with art
Zed's art in The Curfew Press' A Bible Of Dreams looks like it's
deliberately fallen. The collected trash of a rock'n'roll degenerate, the
collages entangle images from heavy metal, pornography, Nazi Germany and
Disney. One picture, Cathy Come Home, shows tears falling down Dumbo's face
next to the spunk-spattered features of a porn-girl. It's the kind of art
that could easily land them in court as Disney realise their heavily
copyrighted icons have been skewered. Drummond's text on the pictures
suggests they represent an archetypal rock'n'roll headspace: a place where
sleaze, ambition, rebellion and religion meet. Zed's images provoke Drummond
to discuss art in the context of progressive rock, pornography and fascism.
"Fuck Picasso!" he writes, "Hitler was the greatest artist of the 20th
Century. His Third Reich the ultimate artistic expression. But that doesn't
Is this serious?
"There's a way of looking at the Third Reich," explains Drummond, "as the
artistic expression of one man and his mates. I'm not pro- Hitler, but there
is an angle you can see it from where the canvas is Europe and beyond, and
it's like phenomenal. It's just an obvious example of one of the biggest
statements of the 20th Century."
"That wasn't really an artistic expression," counters Zed, "more like
"Actually, I completely disagree with what I said," says Bill "Just because
you can define something as art doesn't excuse it. I might want to go and
nail up a load of 12 year-old girls to the rallings of a school fence in a
pretty line starting, from the palest girls, going through the Italian
girls, getting further East and then getting the African girls. And it could
look phenomenal, but I know that as much as that would be a great artistic
statement, it goes against the grain."
"Art, madness and crime are very closely integrated," adds Zed sagely "But
there are rules, and hurting other people is out of the question. As a
species we've decided this. It wasn't even us, it was God. Left to our own
devices, we'd still be clueless."
"We'd be animals without having the innoncence of animals," says Bill. These
moralists have just published a work that engages with the extremity of
graphic pornography. Zed reckons that just by sampling these images he's
raising them from the base to the divine. And there are points in his
commentary where Bill finds a postitivity in porn. "It celebrates, explores
and expresses some of the most natural urges of life," he writes. "It openly
reflects, maybe, the only reason why we are on this earth: to fuck, spunk up
and get in the family way." Maybe Zed and Drummond are examining cultural
inequality. Wondering why some kinds of art are raised over others. Which is
no great surprise from two men who work in rock or pop, an area of culture
that is often ignored by art critics. "I'm not against any art that other
people call art," blurts Drummond. ''I'm a great believer in the lady who
exhibits in her local village hall with her little watercolours. And the
whole Royal Academy thing..."
"Hang on, Bill," interrupts Zed, "weren't you the guy that wrecked the
Turner Prize? The Turner Prize is an annual award given by the Tate Gallery
and Channel 4 to a British artist providing the year's best body of work.
It's been criticised for doing little more than preserving the status quo of
the art establishment. Last year, Drummond and Cauty announced their return
to public life as The K Foundation, "dedicated to the advancement of
kreation". Their first works explored the relationship between art and
money. One piece, Nailed To The Wall stuck a million pounds in cash to a
wooden board. It had a reserve price of £500,000. If it had been sold, the
owner would have to work out how much it was worth as art or whether they
should remove the cash and spend it.
This year, the K Foundation took on the Turner. A series of adverts appeared
in newspapers, inviting readers to ''Abandon All Art Now". A subsequent
advert stated, the following "Serious direct action is necessary. The K
Foundation will award £40,000 to the artist who haas produced the worst
body of work in the last 12 months." They invited people to vote, and Rachel
Whiteread was chosen. On November 23, 1993, the night of the Turner Prize
ceremony, the K Foundation gave Whiteread the £40,000. That same night,
the Turner cornmittee announced that she had won their prize. It was worth
"I'm not against anything personally," insists Drummond, who refuses to
speak about the K Foundation without Cauty present. Yet the attempts of
Drummond and Cauty to engage with the art world', could be interpreted as
evidence of anxiety about their own cultural status. When pop stars start
painting or writing books, it often means they feel their talent is too
great to be confined within the narrow sphere of popular music "I'm 41,"
laughs Drummond "Why would I be interested in pop music? The things that
motivated me when I was 21 are obviously not the same. l'm not going to
pretend to be the same person because I'm not. And that's okay. Things
change all the time."
"Easy listening is what we dig now," adds Zed.
"All I've got to say," expands Bill "is Melody Radio. Keep it locked."
"We are thinking of doing an album of easy listening music," adds Zed.
Their next scheduled project however is a book, The Lighthouse At The Top Of
The World. It's an account of a journey they took to the North Pole. "We
went there with a picture of Elvis," recalls Zed "and placed the picture of
Elvis in his glory in the lighthouse at the North Pole. And we said Elvis
saved the world. And we know in our hearts that this picture would leak down
ghostly vibes down all the leylines."
"We sorted out the stuff in the Middle East," confirms Drummond
"We sorted out Northern Ireland," adds Zed. And why did you choose Elvis to
"He is the nearest thing to Jesus Christ that we've got in the 20th
Century," explains Zed. "Elvis was the second coming and we all missed it.
We all thought he was just a fucking singer."
So Drummond does still see power and magic in pop. He doesn't see it as a
second-rate or bankrupt art-form. "I didn't say that. All I said was that
I've got to a point in my life where I'd be faking it. Pop music has moved
me more than anything ever has. It's stirred my loins and my heart and my
brain for the biggest part of my life. It just happens it isn't now and it's
not for hankering after some higher fucking form."
The Lighthouse book began as a series of letters a troubled Drummond wrote
to Zodiac "We had this correspondence for a year which was like seven
letters a day," recalls Zed "Bill was going through a heavy time and he rang
me up saying 'you know these hallucinations I'm having and all this bad shit
going on in my head that's not existing in the real world ' "
Was post KLF Drummond going through some of creative and physical
exhaustion? "Is yes a good enough answer?" Drummond flinches as if it hurts
to say more. It's hard to imagine Bill Drummond suffering doubt or pain. His
work has always exhibited a hyper-confidence. The credits on his 1986 solo
album The Man (an engaging adventure into jaunty folk) claimed 'all tracks
arranged, produced and mixed by True Genius'. That refers to yourself right?
"No," counters Bill "that's God. God possesses true genius "
"He visits him now and again," assists Zed.
"He talks to me," expands Bill "He says 'fuck off'. What he says mostly is
'yeah' and 'and'."
And Drummond's back on that KLF aesthetic which combines the momentous with
the absurd. "That book is going to save the world," insists Zed. "It's a
major piece of literature."
"We're not supposed to say that," hisses Drummond in a theatrical whisper.
"We're not supposed to know what something's going to achieve. Then we'd be
"But we are," erupts Zed "We're saving the world Bill. We decided that when
we started the press. We're doing it for mankind."
Or is it just another prank?
"Do you want a fight?" growls Blll Drummond in outrage, his formidable six
foot-five frame rising from the floor. "Do you?"
Does that word upset you?
"Obviously if what you do is perceived in some sort of way that annoys you,"
he shouts. "Especially if you can interpret that as maybe it is that,
otherwise you wouldn't be sensitive about it. Zed would get pissed off if he
was thought of as a joke rock'n'roller."
"It doesn't bother me. I know why I did it."
"This won't save the world " sighs Bill quietly
"You haven't been lying to me have you Bill?" asks Zed
"All right " surrenders Drummond "we're here to save the world." And the
game begins again as Zed and Bill fall into their double act of
contradictions and aesthetics. And it's back to the mystery at the heart of
Drummond's work. "I'm going to be contentious now " he says when asked why
pop isn't enough "You don't dominate the world from the Top 40. The most
important thing when you're doing art is that it's you and God. And
obviously you've got an ego that wants people to notice you, but that's not
the most important thing. Forget about mass production and the mass market.
It's that thing where it's 3am and you're almost there..."
Back to basics and a definition of art as creative struggle. And of course
when you give away all the money from a commercial piece of art, in your own
head at least you can restore a Number One pop record to the status of an
oil painting by a pensioner. Because then both are done for love to pass the
time and for yourself. Maybe once again Drummond's searching for those two
eternal truths of creativity and freedom that were at the heart of The KLF.
He's saved pop maybe it's time to save himself.
Or maybe there is no through line maybe he just lurches almost randomly from
one idea to the next.
Drummond looks at the clock.
"Oh, I've got to get going now " And they leave without saying goodbye. They
just walk out of the flat; Drummond to pick up his kid, Zed to visit the
"Find your own way out lad " says Zed.
And they're gone.
Send enquiries about The Curfew Press to The Curfew Tower, Cushendall,
Parish Of Layde, Barony Of Lower Glenarm, County Antrim.
Pictures: Tatooed, bearded, long-haired, Mindwarp has his head in his hands
while unshaven Drummond in typical bird-watchers outfit stares maniacally at
the lens. He has a pair of glasses hanging round his neck. Mindwarp looks
moody and relaxed while Drummond twists and contorts his face with his
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