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: 4576
Description: Drummond/Manning interview. Mainly about the Bible of Dreams, art and madness.


FREAK SHOW

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 excuse it."

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 tyrannical exploitation."

"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 £20,000.

"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 help you?

"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 missionaries."

"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 pub.

"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 hands.



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