Friday, 21 June 1991
The KLF - The Rites Of Mu
“You could put quotation marks around this whole story and call it definitive. As far as The KLF is concerned, it’s as definitive as anyone’s ever got. In interviews, rock papers always ask things like how me and Jimmy got together; we felt what we were doing that weekend was getting to the heart of things like an interview never could. The way we feel now is that we never want to sit down and do an interview again.” Bill Drummond, The KLF
“The KLF have invited you to join them in celebrating The Rites Of Mu this summer solstice, during which the fall of mankind may be reversed, returning him to the garden where the rest of creation waits…”
On Midsummer’s Eve, 50 strangers from across the globe gather at check-in desk 71, Glasgow Airport. Final destination unknown. Why? What? Where? When? Don’t ask. There are no answers. In The KLF’s greatest prank yet, they have lured record-bizzers from around the universe to Scotland, but have given us absolutely no idea what will happen next. They have come from Tokyo, South Carolina, New York, Brussels, Paris, Berlin and beyond. Theories buzz from ear to ear. Perhaps there will be a rave on a glacier near Reykjavik, Iceland? Or a caber-tossing competition in the Highlands? Or a gig in the Western Isles?
Air Merlin chartered flight 8907 cruises in low over sand and sea to land on an obscure airstrip in the Inner Hebrides. We are welcomed by a Minister Of Mu in a full-length plastic black mac, complemented by silver DMs and a purple mohican. A bus and boat journey is still to come. During these, we are instructed to study a document titled The Rites Of Mu, the only explanation of what is to come.
As we step from the boat onto The Isle Of Mu, a massive military official sternly checks names. “No photos!” he snaps at i-D’s startled Andrew Catlin, who carries on regardless. “NO PHOTOS!” He’s insistent this time, pushing a huge black hand menacingly in front of the lens. In The Land Of Mu, unofficial photography is banned.
At the top of the slipway sits a lone Mu customs bureaucrat in Nazi uniform, his authority confirmed by the ram’s head perched on his desk. “Passports!” he barks, studying each one intently before endorsing it. They are stamped with the Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu ghettoblaster immigration logo.
“Alcohol!” He demands. Totally taken in, shocked Japanese journalists hand over their newly-purchased bottles of whiskey. In The Land Of Mu, collective wellbeing is more important than individual greed.
The desolate Isle Of Mu is better known as Jura, a Hebridean outpost with a population of 170. It has a large whisky distillery, but only one hotel, one pub and one shop. There is just one policeman and he only works part-time. It was here in the late ’40s, that George Orwell retired to write 1984, and that The KLF made their ‘Waiting’ video last year.
The base for the coming ‘happening’ was Jura House, a mini-mansion with a walled garden and grounds stretching to the horizon. If Bill Drummond was Ken Kesey and Justified Ancients were the Merry Pranksters, then Jura House was La Honda, their ’60s San Fransisco hide-out. Jura House’s owner is a tall, dark and very, very strange man called Francis. A ragged public school exile, one minute he’s jovial, the next violently obnoxious. Once upon a time he was even banned from Jura, despite owning almost a third of its land.
t last the foreign musos have their first opportunity to meet that dynamic duo The KLF, also known as Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu, The JAMMs, The Timelords and Disco 2000. Bill ‘King Boy’ Drummond welcomes them in his kilt of family tartan. What’s he wearing underneath? That’s a secret. Meanwhile enigmatically silent Jimmy ‘Rockman’ Cauty hovers in the background. Our mission begins to unravel.
Standing in line, still nervous and extremely embarrassed, we are fitted with ‘costumes’. These are glaring, tent-like, hooded yellow robes. Each one is emblazoned with The JAMMs’ logo. Now all we have to do is chant, “m000000000000!” We begin a long slow walk, away from The Big House and down a winding hill, walking in pairs chanting the Mu Mantra as we go.
An astonishing scene awaits us. Down on the mudflats by the Irish Sea, the estate’s boathouse has been transformed into a place of pagan revelry. The stench of decaying meat wafts our way from the slaughtered sacrificial birds hanging from log frames. The landscape is dominated by a gross Wicker Man. Towering 60 feet high, it shadows the skyline. At its feet the Pagan King stands in white robes with a unicorn horn. We gather before him, dressed as rave druids and rechristened The Lost Children Of Mu.
A colossal, concealed sound system calls us to worship. Tribal chanting and terrifying wailing is punctuated by more Mu Mantra. The King begins to chant, whipping up our emotions. Utterly hypnotised, we throw our fists in the air and answer with gu‘teral mu-muing. We are totally entranced. Movie cameras move among us capturing the tension. Confusion lumps in our throats and we’ve tears in our eyes. We follow the King to the edge of the sea, where three virginal maidens named Why, Where and What are blessed. They collect offerings to the Gods from us: fivers, tenners and more. Wrapped in a cloth, the offering is hoisted up into the very heart of the Wicker Man.
The eerie silence is smashed as the Wicker Man explodes into flames, fireworks sprinting through the sky like meteorites. Champagne bottles are broken open and the dancing starts. Only half an hour earlier, we had been cynical press officers, journalists and record company agents. Now, linked by a sense of awe and the fact that no-one knows what the fuck is going on, we are comrades in crime.
Rolling Stone correspondent Peter Puterbough has been travelling for 24 hours; flying from South Carolina to New York to Manchester to Glasgow and on. Shigerub Nakamura, editor of Japan’s Pop Gear, has come from Tokyo on the offchance. The production team from ‘Steve Wright In The Afternoon’ turn up in place of the Radio One jock who has better things to do. The remainder are reps from labels KLF Communications are licensed to. By Sunday evening we feel like old friends.
This year’s solstice celebrations are touched by hate and gloom: Milton Keynes’ supergig/rave Midsummer Night’s Dream is cancelled; six bouncers are stabbed at the Hacienda; a man dies in a fight at another venue; and 94 people are arrested on drugs charges at a World Party rave in Lincolnshire. Where did the love go?
Yet again, nothing compares to The KLF. Here is a delirious fantasy land that exists only in children’s stories and the way-out minds of the creators. Like Narnia, Alice’s Wonderland or Lord Of The Rings’ Middle Earth, for a fleeting few hours, The KLF create their own dream world, The Isle Of Mu. It is a land where there are no policeman, where good food is plenty, where all the drinks are free, and where the music never stops.
In the east, at 11pm on the longest day of the year, a clear moon casts silvery reflections on The Irish Sea, while in the west the sun is only just setting. For miles and miles, there are nothing but great black hills contrasted by long white beaches. “Have you ever seen anything so beautiful?” wonders King Boy.
The Wicker Man has fallen. Burnt to ashes and replaced by an awesome bonfire. Children dance in a snowstorm of orange embers carried by the breeze. Dazzled and intoxicated, they reach out as if they were catching raindrops. Eagles fly, gulls cry out, stags with massive antlers appear from nowhere and disappear just as quickly.
The sound system is in effect and the dancing begins right there in the open. The boathouse itself becomes ‘The White Room’, an epileptic dungeon, complete with lobster pots and filled with dry ice so thick you have zero visibility. A blinding strobe plays for seven hours. Is it true it’s illegal to use one for more than ten seconds at a time? Bill, stoned and immaculate, called it “techno hell”. He wasn’t far wrong.
Imagine The KLF had staged The Rites Of Mu on the Isle Of Wight or Jersey. Local dignitaries would be outraged; front pages would declare “Acid House Junkies Not Wanted Here!”; Conservative councillors would have The KLF banned before they even stepped on their shores. Yet on Jura, The KLF were keenly welcomed. The nearest to a rave they usually get is a Clootie Dumping Ceilidh or maybe a gig by Hamish Moore on bagpipes. For years to come, Jura will truly remain The Kingdom Of Mu.
In ‘The White Room’, tanked-up Jura boys stagger to an awe-inspiring mix of the finest rave tunes ever heard. A burly, middle-aged man from the distillery talked with wide-eyed enthusiasm about The KLF. “For sure, we get plenty of outsiders here, tourists and the like, but they’re very ordinary, very normal. The KLF though, it’s something we’ve never seen before. All these weird people. They’re welcome.”
He smiles approvingly at purple-mohicaned Jonny in his silver Doc Martens and his friend Michael’s sequinned trousers. Instead of taking the piss out of these glamour queens, the Jura kids are starry-eyed. The pair had dedicatedly slaved over a sewing machine for three whole days to make tens of yellow Mu gowns.
The KLF posse are proof you never need grow up. One of the most remarkable things about the dance revolution is how not only kids have gotten hooked, but the muso oldies too. Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty do not stand alone. There’s The Orb, Gary Clail, Graham Massey and Martin Price of 808 State, Youth and so on. In the ’60s Harvard lecturer Timothy Leary was 40 when he took the magic mushroom that changed his life and put him on a mission to feed LSD to the masses. In the late ‘805, The KLF and compatriots got equally turned on by ecstasy and drum machines and the fact their 30th birthdays had been and gone was totally irrelevant. “KLF have a lot of empathy with 808 State. We met them just recently and couldn’t believe what down-to-earth, regular guys they were,” says King Boy, also admitting that he’s married with two kids.
Compare and contrast The KLF and The Pet Shop Boys. Bill Drummond versus Neil Tennant? Both are wise from ten years as managers and journalists. Yet while The Pet Shop Boys conformed and spend 50 grand on a crass ‘Brits’-style lig for the hell of it, The KLF purposely failed to invite any London liggers and i-D were chosen as the only British magazine to attend. “We’re not so much fighting the system as ignoring it,” Bill says. The KLF deliberately flaunt all the rules, regulations, cans, can’ts, shan’ts and won’ts that keep even indie music devoid of originality.
“Why, What, Where and When have been very busy,” reads The Rites Of Mu. “Their seduction techniques are near-perfect. The KLF, with regular feet of clay, have weakened at times and pretend to answer the unanswerable. They too have tried to understand instead of accepting the unfocusable, beautiful truth of the mystery that lies at the heart of pop’s passing moments…”
“No interviews,” snaps Bill. “No words can justify this.” He can be stroppy when he wants and makes a scary customs official (yes, it was him). “But I can’t write about any of this, unless I have an interview,” exclaims the man from Rolling Stone. Why? “Because I can’t, they wouldn’t print it.” As my Granny used to say, there is no such word as can’t.
Ultimately, the only rule in the land of Mu is there should be no rules. In the science fiction trilogy from which Bill and Jimmy plagiarised their moniker the Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu, it was the name of disorder. KLF is also a lawless entity. Convention will never govern it. It could mean Kings Of The Low Frequency or whatever you want to imagine.
Nothing is certain, anything is possible. The Mu footage shot in Scotland may or may not make a video for the next KLF single. The next single might be ‘Justified And Ancient’ from ‘The White Room’, or a remix of ‘It’s Grim Up North’, but then again, it might not. It might even be a follow up to the ‘Stadium House’ video. See what I mean?
King Boy and Bookman ought to be heroes to anyone who hates all that p0-faced bollocks that aspires to ’situationism’. All it boils down to is anarchists pranks, subversion and weird concepts made reality. KLF use classic situationist techniques, but all they wanna do is have FUN. Pontifications like The Rites Of Mu are a pisstake of themselves as much as anything. If the Situationist Handbook is at one end of your bookshelf and How To Win Friends And Influence People and Think And Grow Rich are at the other, then The Manual: How To Have A Number One The Easy Way should be somewhere in the middle. Bill Drummond wrote it in a fit of manic typing to commemorate The Timelords’ chart-topper ‘Doctorin’ The Tardis’.
The KLF should be an inspiration to us all. At birth all humans step on the conveyor belt to conformity. 99 percent of them will never get off. Sure they’ll rant in the pub or lay in bed and fantasise, but they will never actually do anything to make their dreams come true. It takes a rare nerve to grab your moment. Who else but The KLF could possibly write that book then have number ones – not once, but three times? Who else could arrange such an extravagant party on an isolated island in just two weeks?
It was in 1987 that the KLF emerged, known as Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu. They jumped on the hip hop hypewagon just as the British music press was throwing around terms like ‘pop theft’, ‘dance noise terror’, ‘Brit house’, ’sample mania’ and ‘noise implosion’. None of them stuck. The ’80s dance scene as it was viewed from the pages of the inkies was split neatly into two. On one team there was the black American rap scene, the real thing. On the other were the white European pretenders using hip hop as a gimmick.
Truth echoed in the racial stereotype that black boys treated hip hop as a groove, real soul, while the white boys used it for intellectual experimentation. In the wake of Paul Hardcastle’s ‘19′, sampling overtook trainspotting as the number one hobby amongst Britain’s pimply white youth. The Age Of Chance, Keith LeBlanc, early Gary Clail, Renegade Soundwave, The Beastie Boys and Fini Tribe sealed its white credibility.
It was the perfect moment for the launch of The KLF, aka The Kopyright Liberation Front. Three notorious (but obscure) records from this era should not be forgotten – music that dared to disregard every copyright law in existence. The first came from Americans’ Culturcide, a cover of sick-o-phantic charity single ‘We Are The World’, with the band shouting their own radical, anarcho version over the top of the original.
The second was a sample-crazy thang from Coldcut, whose ‘Doctorin’ The House’ later inspired ‘Doctorin’ The Tardis’. And the third came from The JAMMs. On their debut album ‘1987 – What The Fuck Is Going On?’ and single ‘All You Need Is Love’, they rifled their record collections and recycled them into something new, exciting and totally illegal. They robbed riffs from the rich and gave them to the poor. Nothing was sacred. The Beatles were cut-up with MC5, Abba and Sam Fox.
Who says crime doesn’t pay? Abba for a start. They had ‘1987′ banned and withdrawn. All remaining copies were thought to have been destroyed until six turned up in Dagenham and were promptly sold for 61000 each via an advert in The Face.
The KLF had mastered the knack of creating the perfect pop novelty record. Study this catalogue. A Petula Clark pastiche in ‘Downtown’; ‘Whitney Joins The JAMMs’; the ‘Shag Times’ album coinciding with AIDS hysteria; The Timelords combining the unlikely influences of Doctor Who and Gary Glitter; ‘Kylie Said To Jason’ the ultimate SAW mickeytake; and more recently a noisy dance tune called ‘It’s Grim Up North’. Wacky, huh?
By the time their ‘Chill Out’ album was released in early ‘90, they had virtually run out of things to parody. It battled with The Orb’s ‘Loving You’ for status as ultimate ‘ambient house’ product, successfully imitating ’70s concept albums, Floydian sleeve and all.
In the last 12 months, the KLF have had the time of their lives. Three huge hit singles: ‘What Time Is Love?, ‘3am Eternal’ and ‘Last Train To Trancentral’ have opened up infinite potential. The only band to have been at the heart of more scams than The Sex Pistols are now in the money and have the world’s media at their feet.
Being ‘in the money’ does not mean they’ll ever be rich. They will always be skint, but their pranks will get more and more extravagant. If they earned ten million pounds, you can bet they’d blow it all immediately by buying Jura Island or a fleet of KLF air-ships or a Van Gogh painting to be ceremonially burnt. Suppose The Rites Of Mu cost £50,000 (it was probably a lot more), that’s at least 61000 a head. Was it worth it?
On our arrival on the Isle Of Mu on Midsummer’s Eve, it was bleakly shrouded in mist and mystery. We were cynical city people, set in our ways and stifled by low expectations. As the first evening wore on, however, we began to open up, chill out and go with the flow.
Correspondingly, the weather began to change, lighten up. The whole scene was like one of those old-fashioned television sets that starts blank but slowly and surely flickers to life. Soon even the sun and moon seemed to be smiling on us. KLF vibes in the area.
Sure enough, when we came to leave, the fog began to descend on Mu once more. The picture began to blur, and eventually shrunk to a pinprick before it disappeared. Yet even though the test-tone signalled it was all over, we were all altered by the experience.
We left the Hebrides shagged out from dancing all night, heading now to Liverpool. On a bus racing through Toxteth and into the city centre, the final and most absurd scam in The Rites Of Mu was revealed. “This evening, every single one of you will be performing live on stage before 2000 people.”
At exactly 8pm, American comic Emo Phillips finishes his act at the Royal Court Theatre. As he walks off, from the wings steps Scott Piering, PR man extraordinaire and one time manager of The Smiths. Sporting his now mud-splashed yellow dress, he introduces the world premiere of The Ice Cream Men and The Lost Children Of Mu. The curtains draw back to reveal a real-life ice cream van, spewing out green smoke. Master rasta Steely, who choruses “All aboard! All aboard!” on ‘Last Train To Trancentral’, saunters on to collect a small cone from ice cream vendor Rockman.
Before you can blink, we’re all on stage, a crowd of yellow frocks. Each of us clutches a rapidly melting ice cream cone. As The Inspirational And Elevated Gospel Choir Of Mu, we begin to sing a hurried version of ‘Justified And Ancient’, the national anthem of Mu. Then we run like mad before the scallies get us. It was a Liverpool Royal Court gig that was the downfall of The Beastie Boys. Bottled from the stage, they were never to be seen again.
What will become of The Lost Children Of Mu? Many of our party seemed more flummoxed by The KLF than before; some had been liberated by their first ecstasy trip; a few, including the Americans, were totally exhilarated by experiencing their first ever rave. And, of course, a million questions remained unanswered.
“Since that fateful day when man left by the Eastern Gate, fruit still fresh in his belly,” rants The Rites Of Mu, “those four beautiful handmaidens of Lucifer, Why, What, Where and When have long tempted but never quenched his disastrous thirst for knowledge.”
Why? What? Where? When? How often? Who with? Don’t ask. “Answers are not only not needed, but could never be given. Maybe after this is all over, we will understand that there is far less to understand than we ever knew…” In peoplekind’s great quest for knowledge this solstice, perhaps only one really great mystery was solved. King Boy really is naked underneath his kilt.