The most frequently asked questions regarding The KLF. This is where you should start reading about the work of Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty to explore the History of the JAMS.
The creative partnership of Bill Drummond (alias King Boy D, Time Boy) and Jimmy Cauty (alias Rockman Rock, Lord Rock), mainly appreciated for their ground breaking dance music from 1987-92, under the names ‘The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu’ (‘The JAMs’), ‘The Timelords’, ‘The Kopyright Liberation Front’ (‘The KLF’), ‘The Forever Ancients Liberation Loophole’ (‘The FALL’), and post 1992 as ‘The K Foundation’, ‘The One World Orchestra’ and ‘2K’. They have also produced other groups, including their sometime backing singers ‘Disco 2000’, and remixed tracks by Depeche Mode and The Pet Shop Boys. Cauty was also a founder member of ‘The Orb’ which he left, taking some tracks with him which were released under the name ‘Space’.
After producing critically acclaimed work, utilising cheap sampling technology to its fullest, yet not selling many records (albeit interrupted by a freak novelty world-wide No. 1), they finally found fame in the emerging UK rave scene, and released a string of world-wide hit singles in the 90’s, selling more singles than any other band in 1991.
They have also branched out into other forms: they published two books (The Manual and 2023) and planned but never published at least two others and a graphic novel, filmed a motion picture (The White Room) which has yet to be shown, released an ‘ambient video’ and planned at least two art exhibitions but never staged them. They are also infamous for various anarchic situationist ‘pranks’ or ‘happenings’ which include billboard defacements, a crop circle hoax, a pagan midsummer’s ritual (The Rites Of Mu), a BRIT Awards protest involving a dead sheep and buckets of blood, a string of strange full-page mainstream press adverts, staging an alternative art award for the worst artist of the year, and they also burned a MILLION POUNDS and subsequently toured the film of the burning round the U.K.
One may well ask. We believe that this is no easy question and any answer we can give will be far too simplistic for what is a very complex concept.
On one level the KLF was about a duo of music business veterans who initially used their knowledge and experience to utilise cheap sampling technology later leading to commercial success and acclaim (though not necessarily to a comfortably filled bank account).
JC: “We can play instruments and we can do other things. Nobody seems to be able to do more than one thing without not getting taken seriously; not that we mind not getting taken seriously. We just think, ‘that looks interesting’, so we do it.”Bill Drummond & Jimmy Cauty (Sound On Sound, Apr 1991)
BD: It’s highly unlikely that we’ll ever get rich. It costs a fortune making albums, even singles. And, unlike a major record company, we’ve no forward plan.Bill Drummond & Jimmy Cauty (Melody Maker, 16 Feb 1991)
But then they also conducted this part of their careers in such a way that it challenged the traditional models of the music-business, and even rebelled against them.
A lot of The KLF’s activites might look like situational pranks from the outside, yet they always insisted to be entirely serious about their activities.
I think with whatever we do, if we stopped to think about it, it’d be ‘What are we letting ourselves in for now?’ But we don’t. We think ‘Yeah! Let’s do that!’ And it’s a genuine excitement. Something that gives us a buzz. We’re not thinking ‘That’ll impress the bastards!’ Or ‘This’ll take the piss ouf of that!’Bill Drummond (NME, 12 Jan 1991)
To anyone wanting more, we can only suggest they read ALL the material in this FAQ, and examine ALL other related literature and material (including the music itself) and then come to their own conclusions.
While not given as a direct answer to the question the 2003 audio book release of The Manual features a foreword voiced by Bill Drummond giving the following advice:
… which certainly fits The KLF’s modus operandi.
The letters ‘KLF’ stood for many things, which changed many times throughout their life-span. The first documented occurrence is in 1987, when the moniker ‘Kopyright Liberation Front’ was mentioned on their record releases. But over the years up to the 1992 retirement, they always got asked this question in interviews and were always making up new names. One much-quoted line is “We’re on a quest to find out what it means. When we find out, we can stop what we’re doing now.” Various examples of these names are: ‘Kings of the Low(er) Frequency’, ‘Kool Low Frequency’, ‘Keep Looking Forward’, ‘Kevin Likes Fruit’ and so on, but the usually accepted definition is ‘The Kopyright Liberation Front’.
The next question is how did this name come about. The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu came from the Illuminatus books, and possibly to some extent the name KLF was influenced by these as well. Over recent years there’ve been a number of organisations using an acronym ending -Liberation Front. In the 1960’s was the NLF – National Liberation Front – the North Vietnamese resistance to the USA supported by ‘hippies’ in the US. In the 1980’s was the ALF – Animal Liberation Front – British radicals who became famous for freeing animals from experimental labs. There’s also the Kasmiri Liberation Front. Then in Illuminatus! there’s the ELF – Erisian Liberation Front – leading the forces of chaos against order.
So it could follow that for sampling in the 80’s and 90’s there’s the KLF – Kopyright Liberation Front – Freeing Mu(sic) from copyright laws and using past sounds as much as you want. There are many other ..LF’s too, but I reckon those are the important ones that led to Bill and Jimmy choosing the name KLF.
Finally, Jamm!n [one of the original FAQ’s contributors – Ed.] adds: “Why Kopyright in KLF was spelt with a K… Well, there are three reasons I can think of, all/some/none of which may relate to the real reasons:
- CLF sounds considerably less cool.
- The letter K has many mystical connections. Too many to list here, but it is linked to certain grams in I Ching and Tarot amongst others. KLF aren’t the only band to spot this; for example mystic-guru-wannabes Kula Shaker with their album “K”. “K” was also the letter used to mark barrels of the strongest brewed drink available, and hence is now the brand name of an 8.4% abv cider. Decide the relevance of that for yourself.
- Kopyright has been used in Discordian circles for some time to draw attention to the complete absence of Copyright. The standard rubric is something like:
Kopyright (k) 3163 Gold & Appel Transfers, Inc.
All rites reversed. Reprint what you like.
The use of K here of course has the additional relevance that it is the first letter of kallisti, and hence a common Erisian symbol is the golden apple with just a K on it.
The KLF ‘retired from the music industry’ on the 5th of May 1992, deleted their entire back catalogue, and burned all remaining merchandise to prove that this action was serious and not a stunt to sell more records. In an ad taken out in the UK music press they stated that for ‘the foreseeable future there will be no further record releases from … any past, present & future name attached to our activities’. Quite how long the foreseeable future represents depends on your own optimism/pessimism. They also said that ‘if we meet further along be prepared…our disguise may be complete’.
They did return to public attention as The K Foundation, in a series of strange press ad’s in summer 1993, but as the typeset, the poetic language and pyramid logo were familiar, and there was an excess of letter K’s the disguise was certainly not complete. They have commercially released one single since then, the K Foundation’s interstellar anthem ‘K Sera Sera (War Is Over If You Want It), which is ‘Available Nowhere…No Formats’ until world peace has been established, although it has been played at major public gatherings including music festivals, and a limited release was arranged in Israel/Palestine to honour the limited peace that the signing of the Rabin/Arafat deal represented. Copies of this single now change hands for very large sums of money.
In September 1995 they recorded a track called “The Magnificent” for the HELP album under the name One World Orchestra. They agreed to make this track, (for free), as it was for a non-profit-making charity record, and Bill considered it worth doing.
In September 1997 they returned for a brief moment as 2K, releasing the single “Fuck The Millennium” as well as doing a live performance at the Barbican Centre, London. There is a whole chapter in Bill Drummond’s book “45” dedicated to the How’s And Why’s of this short-lived episode.
The official line taken at the time was that they were “worn out” after producing 6 hit singles and a LP over the previous 18 months, but there appear to be many other possible contributing reasons. These are documented in an excellent article in Select magazine in July ’92 (‘Who Killed The KLF’) which is available on the ftp archive. Mainly it seems, once you’ve reached the top, it is both boring to continue having hits and a pressure to find follow-up’s.
They wrote in ‘The Manual’ of the Golden Rules of hit pop song composition:
… after having 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…
Their publicist Mick Houghton was in daily contact with them as they worked on new material in the studio, and 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’. I think he felt it had become too easy to be The KLF and rattle off the hits. It had ceased to mean anything.”. In a GQ interview in 1995, Bill revealed he’d almost suffered a nervous breakdown.
Also since they had worked with Tammy Wynette and Glen Hughes they had been plagued by washed-up singers pleading for a collaboration to revive their careers. “I was in the studio,” recalls engineer/producer 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 there…”
In retrospect their attempt to shock the public at the BRIT Awards in February ’92 can be viewed as an attempt to take the decision out of their own hands. They wanted to do something so utterly disgusting that it would deliberately ruin their career. Instead the industry viewed their stunt as just another KLF prank which made it worse.
And finally there’s the theory that they had always planned to go out at the top, so that their future output would not suffer from “diminishing returns”. Kylie Said To Jason contained the line “I’m gonna leave this party now” where party has been used by Drummond as a metaphor for the music business before. The Justified and Ancient video contains the subtitle ‘The fall of the empire and the death of little Mu are at hand”. At the end of the BRIT awards came the announcement “The KLF have now left the music industry”. And Drummond wanted the announcement to be made on the 5th of May, fifteen years to the day after he entered the music industry.
The KLF did very few live performances when they were active under that name, and (obviously) none since their retirement. Sometime KLF guest-vocalist Wanda Dee, on the other hand, has performed hundreds of dates round the world for the past three years under the names “The KLF featuring Wanda Dee”, “Wanda Dee and The New KLF”, “Wanda Dee and the KLF experience” and so forth, which *strangely* always seem to be advertised by promoters as just “The KLF”. This is probably what you saw a flyer for.
Bill and Jimmy have nothing whatsoever to do with these “concerts” and would like very much to see them stopped, but it’s difficult to pursue legal action against her unless she performs in the UK, which so far she has been savvy enough not to do. (She’s played dates in Russia and Estonia, though!) If you want to spend your hard-earned money to watch a woman gyrate on-stage to pre-taped KLF music, by all means, please attend. 🙂 There is a review by a KLF fan on the ftp archive, which you should read if you want an idea of what the show will be like.
Whenever Wanda is questioned (either by the press or KLF fans in the audience of one of her shows) she comes up with an explanation somewhat like this: All 90’s dance music is constructed in the studio by production teams and this can never be recreated live on stage. However the performers (dancers singers etc.) on the record can play live. She says she is the co-writer and singer of all the biggest hits on The White Room and she was the reason those songs were hits.
This is a *slight* misrepresentation of the truth however. The KLF sampled vocal snatches from her (erotic?) rap record “To The Bone” on Tuff City Records and included them in WTIL? and the single version of LTTT. When Wanda’s manager heard these records they sued the KLF and the out-of-court settlement was that Wanda would get a cash payment, co- co-writing credits on these songs, and hence publishing royalties, and appearances in the videos for these songs. I expect that if the KLF had known the trouble she would cause them they wouldn’t have sampled her.
It’s up to you to decide whether the non-inclusion of “I wanna see you sweat” and “Come on boy d’ya wanna ride” would have detracted from these songs.
In lots of the early info sheets (and interviews) they said they were going to do “some live dates”, “a heavy metal tour”, “high and low profile shows”, a “JAMs world tour in 1989” and so on, but none of these seem to have happened as info sheets 6 and 8 state that their premier live performance was:
31st July 1989 Land Of Oz, Heaven, London
“…they were making their debut live performance at the London Club HEAVEN. The performance consisted of a 15 minute version of “WHAT TIME IS LOVE”. During which they splattered their audience with polystyrene pellets fired from a giant wind machine. The event was deemed a strange success.” This is the live version included on JAMS LP4 – The What Time is Love? Story.
Infosheet six then says that “the lads have done a few impromptu live performances (as K.L.F. not The JAMs). These will develop in their own way, but please don’t expect regular gigs”. Info Sheet 11 says “the huge orbital raves, at which The KLF became a regular live attraction, blasting their audience with polystyrene pellets some weeks, showering them with Scottish pound notes at others.” Apparently there was a club date at which some sheep appeared on stage too.
30th Sept 1989 (date from infosheet) Woodstock 2, Brixton Academy, London
“They will be in full effect (lasers, smoke, go go dancers etc.) at Woodstock 2 at The Academy in Brixton on Sept. 30th, in the illustrious company of Liz Torres, Corporation of One, Lollita Holloway, Frankie Bones, Little Louie Vega and more!”
30th Sept 1989 Helter Skelter, Oxfordshire
Matthew Collin’s book ‘Altered State – The Story of Ecstasy Culture and Acid House’ (Serpent’s Tail, London, New York, ISBN 1-85242-3777-3, UKP 10.99, www.serpentstail.com) is a MUST read. But surprisingly perhaps it only mentions the KLF once, on page 105, describing a live appearance on September the 30th 1989: “To the north of London, the Helter Skelter party brought an awesome line up of performers to a muddy plough field in Oxfordshire. The incongruity was sweet, seeing these house icons climbing up a rickety ladder onto the back of a flat bed lorry – in open farmland! – to sing and play. … There were post-punk pranksters, The KLF, who demanded their UKP 1000 fee upfront, in Scottish pound notes, upon each of which they scribbled the message “we love you children” before throwing them to the crowd, a dress rehearsal for their burning of 1 million pounds in a situationist art statement a few years later. Despite the drizzle and the turn-out (only 4000!), the mood was elevated.”
January 1990 Energy, Brixton Academy, London
One list member, writing in 1997 recalls he was there: “not sure if it is the gig you are refferring to as woodstock-2, but I did attend a show at the Brixton Acad sometime around 89/90, where the KLF did play (even carried a sheep with them – or at least caused a big pre-gig fuss by proclaiming that they were bringing in a load) – …. heard them though, but just a tad-busy at the time to bother getting up to view them – an ambientish-set if my mind serves me correctly…. not sure if it is the same show though – pretty sure frankie-b played – again very, very mashed up at the time…..”
Feb? 1990 Bootle? Kirby? Community Hall?, Liverpool
The KLF joined the Ian McCulloch-less Echo and the Bunnymen who were playing a benefit concert for a community centre, for an encore of What Time Is Love? which became the record version later that year.
Early July 1990 Isle of Rhodes, Greece
This live appearance has been mentioned on the KLF mailing list, but no details about it are known. Info sheet nine announces “as usual there will be the odd unannounced performances. The only official one will be happening on The Isle of Rhodes in early July.” Bearing in mind all the false promises in the past, whether or not these took place is a matter of conjecture.
Late Oct 1990 DMC Convention, Paradiso, Amsterdam
“THE KLF are at the centre of a controversy again after causing a disturbance during the Disco Mix Club’s European Convention at Amsterdam’s Paradiso Club. During one of their public appearances, as headline act at the DMC Convention, the notorious pranksters decided to ‘liberate’ the organiser’s equipment and re-distribute it to the audience. Reports say they were coming to the end of a 23 minute version of their hit ‘What Time is Love?’ when Bill Drummond decided to give the Technics decks, mixers and other sound gear away to fans in the crowd. Organisers were forced to step in to try and retrieve the equipment as security staff clashed with Drummond himself. As the melee developed, Drummond’s partner Jimmy Cauty allegedly blew up the mixing desk. Most of the equipment was salvaged, but not surprisingly the KLF have been banned from the Dutch venue.”
Late Dec 1990 Rage, Heaven, London
“It’s the day after the all night video shoot [3am Eternal embankment version] and The KLF are building a prop for the night’s ‘performance’ at Heaven. “We’re both quite practical people,” says Bill casting a proud eye over rickety heap of wood … they start to explain their plan to use a wind machine to blow a sackful of one dollar notes into the audience at Heaven that night. That evening, at the Rage club night at Heaven, the joy- boys and gooned-out girls on the dancefloor have their evening’s disco-pigging interrupted by a thoroughly strange performance from two men dressed head to toe in deep sea fisherman’s garb. For 15 minutes The KLF stand absolutely motionless on stage, one on either side of a pyramid which supports two battered speakers arranged in a ‘T’ shape, blinding lights beam from behind them. The club sound system plays the crushing acid grind of ‘It’s Grim Up North’. And video cameramen record the half- struck, half-delighted crowd.” Apparently scenes of this were later used in the embankment version of the video clip for ‘3 a.m. eternal’ as well.
23rd June 1991 Festival Of Comedy, Liverpool
Accompanied on stage by the robed and hooded guests from the Rites of Mu, who chanted Mu Mu in an accapella version of Justified and Ancient. Apparently a lot of Liverpudlians got on stage too and it wasn’t very funny. They gave out ice creams from an ice cream van they had borrowed from a man who parked it in the street outside Trancentral.
13th Feb 1992 BRIT Awards, London
Drummond, wearing a kilt and supported by crutches, announced, “The Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu versus Extreme Noise Terror: This is television freedom”, before the two bands launched into a raucous noise-fest of screaming guitars, super-fast drums, and guttural hoarse shouts of “3 A.M. 3 A.M. ETERNAL” from the two E.N.T. vocalists. This was live on prime-time TV, and performed in front of banks of seats of British music industry executives, at the annual BRIT Awards where the KLF had been nominated for best group and best LP.
“Bill was at the front of the stage, leaning on one crutch, practically shouting the vocals into the microphone. The lyrics were all-new (and different to the released version the KLF had just made available which was based on the original 3AM lyrics), but with the Extreme Noise Terror guys charging around the stage, screeching guitars, and the drummer going into overdrive, most of the actual words tended to get lost. I did pick out “The BRITs” and “BPI” (British Phonogram Industry), but little else. Jimmy had his coat with the hood down right up, so his face was practically concealed, but he was weaving around with his guitar. The few shots of the audience during the performance tended to suggest that they couldn’t believe what they were seeing – popular ‘dance’ music act becomes a thrash metal band, with a mind- numbing fusion of guitar and drums to a vague rendition of a well-known tune. Actually, Bill lost his way part through the second verse, and broke up laughing, but he managed to pick it up again just before slamming into the chorus.”
Bill hobbled off the stage to return with a large automatic rifle instead of a crutch, and a cigar in his mouth, and the whole thing ended with sparks and explosions from the rear of the stage, and Bill shooting blanks into the audience. They left the stage with the audience incredulous, as the voice of Scott Piering announced “The KLF have now left the music industry”.
25th Sep 1997 Barbican, London
Because we still hope they will do more things (and they are, yet not necessarily together). Since they were ahead of their time, we believe they still have relevance. Because there are still issues to discuss, facts to discover, documents to order, newbies to educate. People still think Hendrix’s music has relevance and he’s been dead for more than 30 years now.