KLF: Chaos Magic Music Money is a wild trip

KLF: Chaos Magic Music Money
JMR Higgs
Publisher: The Big Hand (Ebook)

It seems inconceivable now, but for a brief period in the early 1990’s, KLF were one of the biggest bands in the world. Their strange blend of dance-pop, infused with shades of mysticism, was widely accessible, yet the band itself was shrouded in controversy and self-made mythology. Thankfully, JMR Higgs’ KLF: Chaos Magic Music Money now unveils a completely mind-blowing picture of the mysterious British dance duo.

This is a book that begins with the band (Bill Drummond & Jimmy Cauty) travelling to the picturesque Scottish island of Jura in 1994 to burn one million pounds sterling in a fireplace. The burning of the cash was filmed, and the film subsequently brought on tour in an attempt by the duo to glean an understanding from the public as to why they felt compelled to perform such a flagrant act. Were they simply “attention seeking aresholes,” as Higg describes the prevailing consensus at the time, or was something deeper at work?

KLF were essentially set out to be subversive hit-machine from the start. Drummond & Cauty’s earlier inception of the band was the JAM’s, a pioneering, sample-heavy hip-hop unit.

Regarded as innovative yet entirely unlistenable, the JAM’s were interesting not for their shtick as rapping Scottish Dock Workers (under the amazing pseudonyms of King Boy D & Rockman Rock –it was 1987), but for their wholesale cribbing of large sections of Beatles & Abba songs for their tracks, resulting in cease & desist lawsuits from both camps. The band’s response, and the subsequent hijinks that ensued, illustrate the prevailing chaos that Drummond & Cauty were operating within at the time, to which Higgs designates a huge swath of the book:

Cauty & Drummond headed to Sweden with the NME journalist James Brown in tow.  Here they played the offending song outside ABBA’s publishing company and presented a fake gold disc (marked for ‘sales in excess of zero’) to a prostitute who, they argued, looked like a bit like one of the women from ABBA. They then destroyed most of the remaining copies of the album by setting fire to them in a field and were promptly shot at by a farmer for their troubles. On the ferry home they threw the remaining copies into the North Sea and performed an improvised set on the ferry, the only know JAMs live performance, in exchange for a large Toblerone.

Higgs proposes that events like this, while seemingly unplanned, have their origins in Cauty & Drummond’s interest in Discordianism, a pre-hippie-era, absurdist semi-religion that advocates the practice of Operation Mindfuck, which can encompass subversive arts, civil disobedience, and general trolling. The chaos theory espoused by Discordianists meshed well with the duo’s infatuation with the Illuminatus! Trilogy by famed author/weirdo Richard Anton Wilson (the JAMS; or, The Justified Ancients of MuMu, took their name from the series). The Illuminatus! Trilogy, co-written by Wilson and Robert Shea in the mid-1970’s, is a sci-fi brain-twister that purportedly traces the influence of the Illuminati shadow-sect through history, via a number of complex literary devices.

The JAMs clearly stated their debt to Robert Anton Wilson and the ethos of Discordianism, in what must have been one of the strangest press releases to ever reach the desks of music journalists: “THE JUSTIFIED ANCIENTS OF MUMU are an organization (or disorganization) who are at least as old as THE ILLUMINATI. They represent the primeval power of Chaos. As such they are diametrically opposed to the order that the ILLUMINATI try to oppress on mankind and on mankind’s order of the Universe.”

With the JAMs failing to catch on, the duo took their inspiration from the most British of sources; Doctor Who. Now billed as The Timelords, the dup mashed clips from the show with Gary Glitter’s Rock n’ Roll (Part II), inadvertently creating a monster gimmick hit that went on to sell over a million copies. Perhaps under the muse of Discordianism, the performance of the song was attributed to…Cauty’s beat-up American car. The sleeve of the single featured said automobile, painted to look like a police cruiser, with a caption reading “Hi! I’m Ford Timelord. I’m a car and I’ve made a record.”

Funded by the flummoxing success of The Timelords, Cauty & Drummond launched The KLF proper at an invite-only ceremony for flown-in journalists on the island of Jura (notice a theme?) during the summer solstice of 1991. The group celebrated the release in relatively atypical PR-fashion; with the burning of a giant wooden wicker man.

With their mystique now properly enshrined in the British press, KLF released The White Room LP in 1991. Spawned by the monster success of the Justified & Ancient single featuring country-legend Tammy Wynette (who was likely as flabbergasted by her participation as everyone else), KLF became one of the highest-selling acts in the world.

The band’s infamy peaked at the 1992 BRIT Awards, where they teamed with grind-core originators Extreme Noise Terror, for a performance that featured Drummond hoisting a machine gun and firing blanks into the crowd of music industry luminaries.

With the PA announcing that “The KLF have now left the music business”, the band kept to their word, going so far as to delete their catalogue, ensuring no further records would reach the public.

When Higgs reaches the era in the duo’s chronology when Cauty & Drummond morphed from The KLF into the K Foundation, an art initiative that would eventually lead to the burning of the million pounds, he unleashes a set of inter-locking, imagination-stretching conspiracy theories that will send even the harshest of skeptics in search of a tinfoil hat.

While the earlier sections of the book feature long digressions into the history of Discordianism and devil imagery, in the timeframe leading up to the money burning, Higgs attempts to pin the act as a last-ditch attempt for the blighted Cauty & Drummond, disillusioned from their brief and massive access, to reclaim their souls.

Framing the duo as modern-day Situationists, Higgs links the money burning back to the Dada movement & Cabaret Voltaire, in an attempt to place the act as an unconscious reaction to some sort of temporal sickness caused by the cultural & social wasteland of the early 90’s; it all gets fairly overwrought and ridiculous, yet makes a strange sort of internal sense, as this is the same book that earlier implied an underlying connection between the founding of KLF and the assassination of JFK.

Whether you posit that Cauty & Drummond were swept up by quasi-magical forces created by their adherence to The Illuminatus! Trilogy, or simply media-savvy entertainers, is irrelevant.  KLF: Chaos Magic Music Money succeeds, in that it is infinitely more bonkers than you can possibly imagine. This is a book that deserves to be read simply for its sheer audacity; just be sure to keep that tinfoil close by.

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