The KLF (also known as The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, The Timelords and other names) were one of the seminal bands of the British acid house movement during the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Beginning in 1987, Bill Drummond (alias King Boy D) and Jimmy Cauty (alias Rockman Rock) released hip hop-inspired and sample-heavy records as The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, and on one occasion (the British number one hit single “Doctorin’ the Tardis”) as The Timelords. As The KLF, Drummond and Cauty pioneered the genres “stadium house” (rave music with a pop-rock production and sampled crowd noise) and “ambient house”. The KLF released a series of international top-ten hits on their own KLF Communications record label, and became the biggest-selling singles act in the world for 1991.

The duo also published a book, The Manual, and worked on a road movie called The White Room.
From the outset, they adopted the philosophy espoused by esoteric novel series The Illuminatus! Trilogy, gaining notoriety for various anarchic situationist manifestations, including the defacement of billboard adverts, the posting of prominent cryptic advertisements in NME magazine and the mainstream press, and highly distinctive and unusual performances on Top of the Pops.

Their most notorious performance was a collaboration with Extreme Noise Terror at the February 1992 BRIT Awards, where they fired machine gun blanks into the audience and dumped a dead sheep at the aftershow party. This performance announced The KLF’s departure from the music business, and in May 1992 the duo deleted their entire back catalogue.

With The KLF’s profits, Drummond and Cauty established the K Foundation and sought to subvert the art world, staging an alternative art award for the worst artist of the year and burning one million pounds sterling. Although Drummond and Cauty remained true to their word of May 1992—the KLF Communications catalogue remains deleted in the UK—they have released a small number of new tracks since then, as the K Foundation, The One World Orchestra and most recently, in 1997, as 2K.

The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu

The JAMs’ debut single “All You Need Is Love” dealt with the media coverage given to AIDS, sampling heavily from The Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love” and Samantha Fox’s “Touch Me (I Want Your Body)”. Although it was declined by distributors fearful of prosecution, and threatened with lawsuits, copies of the one-sided white label 12″ were sent to the music press; it received positive reviews and was made “single of the week” in Sounds. A later piece in the same magazine called The JAMs “the hottest, most exhilarating band this year…. It’s hard to understand what it feels like to come across something you believe to be totally new; I have never been so wholeheartedly convinced that a band are so good and exciting.”

The JAMs re-edited and re-released “All You Need Is Love” in May 1987, removing or doctoring the most antagonistic samples; lyrics from the song appeared as promotional graffiti, defacing selected billboards. The re-release rewarded The JAMs not just with further praise (including NME´s “single of the week”,) but also with the funds necessary to record their debut album. The album, 1987 (What the Fuck Is Going On?), was released in June 1987. Included was a song called “The Queen and I”, which sampled large portions of the ABBA single “Dancing Queen”. The recording came to the attention of ABBA’s management and, after a legal showdown with ABBA and the Mechanical-Copyright Protection Society, the 1987 album was forcibly withdrawn from sale. Drummond and Cauty travelled to Sweden in hope of meeting ABBA and coming to some agreement, taking an NME journalist and photographer with them, along with most of the remaining copies of the LP. They failed to meet ABBA, so disposed of the copies by burning most of them in a field and throwing the rest overboard on the North Sea ferry trip home. In a December 1987 interview, Cauty maintained that they “felt that what [they]‘d done was artistically justified.”

The Timelords

In 1988, Drummond and Cauty became “Time Boy” and “Lord Rock”, and released a ‘novelty’ pop single, “Doctorin’ the Tardis” as The Timelords. The song is predominantly a mash-up of the Doctor Who theme music, “Block Buster!” by The Sweet and Gary Glitter’s “Rock and Roll (Part Two)”, with sparse vocals inspired by The Daleks and Harry Enfield’s “Loadsamoney” character. “Doctorin’ the Tardis” reached number one in the UK Singles Chart on 12 June, and charted highly in Australia and New Zealand.

Also credited on the record was “Ford Timelord”, Cauty’s 1968 Ford Galaxie American police car (claimed to have been used in the film Superman IV filmed in the UK). Drummond and Cauty declared that the car had spoken to them, giving its name as Ford Timelord, and advising the duo to become “The Timelords”.

The Timelords released one other product, a 1989 book called The Manual (How to Have a Number One the Easy Way), a tongue-in-cheek but nonetheless insightful step-by-step guide to achieving a number one hit single with little money or talent.

The KLF

The KLF appeared at the Helter Skelter rave in Oxfordshire. “They wooed the crowd”, wrote Scotland on Sunday some years later, “by pelting them with… £1,000 worth of Scottish pound notes which each bore the message ‘Children we love you’”.

K Foundation burning a Million Quid

K Foundation Burn a Million Quid was an action that took place on 23 August 1994, in which the K Foundation (an art duo consisting of Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty) burned one million pounds sterling in cash on the Scottish island of Jura. This money represented the bulk of the K Foundation’s funds, earned by Drummond and Cauty as The KLF, one of the United Kingdom’s most successful pop groups of the early 1990s.

The incineration was recorded on a Hi-8 video camera by K Foundation collaborator Gimpo. In August 1995, the film—Watch the K Foundation Burn a Million Quid —was toured around the UK, with Drummond and Cauty engaging each audience in debate about the burning and its meaning. In November 1995, the duo pledged to dissolve the K Foundation and to refrain from public discussion of the burning for a period of 23 years. Despite this Drummond has spoken about the burning in 2000 and 2004. At first he was unrepentant but in 2004, he admitted to the BBC that he regretted burning the money.

A book—K Foundation Burn A Million Quid, edited and compiled by collaborator Chris Brook—was published by ellipsis Books in 1997, compiling stills from the film, accounts of events and viewer reactions. The book also contains an image of a single house brick that was manufactured from the fire’s ashes.

Retirement

On 12 February 1992, The KLF and crust punk group Extreme Noise Terror performed a live version of “3 a.m. Eternal” at the BRIT Awards, the British Phonographic Industry’s annual awards show; a “violently antagonistic performance” in front of “a stunned music-business audience”. Drummond and Cauty had planned to throw buckets of sheep’s blood over the audience, but were prevented from doing so due to opposition from BBC lawyers and “hardcore vegans” Extreme Noise Terror. The performance was instead garnished by a limping, kilted, cigar-chomping Drummond firing blanks from an automatic weapon over the heads of the crowd. As the band left the stage, The KLF’s promoter and narrator Scott Piering announced over the PA system that “The KLF have now left the music business”. Later in the evening the band dumped a dead sheep with the message “I died for ewe—bon appetit” tied around its waist at the entrance to one of the post-ceremony parties.

Scott Piering’s PA announcement of The KLF’s retirement was largely ignored at the time. NME, for example, assured their readers that the tensions and contradictions would continue to “push and spark” The KLF and that more “musical treasure” would be the result, but they noted: “[Drummond has] himself nicely skewered on the horns of an almighty dilemma. He has taken over pop music and it has been a piece of piss to do so. And he hates that. He wants to be separate from a music industry that clasps him ever closer to its bosom. He loves being in the very belly of the beast, yet he wishes he was something that’d cause it to throw up too. He wants not only to bite the hand that feeds but to shove it into an industrial mincer and stomp the resultant pulp into the dirt, yet pop, as long as you continue to make it money, would let you sexually abuse its grandmother. There is, Bill old boy, no sensible way out.”

Movie director Bill Butt said that “Like everything, they’re dealing with it in a very realistic way, a fresh, unbitter way, which is very often not the case. A lot of bands disappear with such a terrible loss of dignity”. Scott Piering said that “They’ve got a huge buzz off this, that’s for sure, because it’s something that’s finally thrilling. It’s scary to have thrown away a fortune which I know they have. Just the idea of starting over is exciting. Starting over on what? Well, they have such great ideas, like buying submarines”. Even Kenny Gates, who as a director of The KLF’s distributors APT stood to lose financially from the move, called it “Conceptually and philosophically … absolutely brilliant”.

In the weeks following the BRITs performance, The KLF continued working with Extreme Noise Terror on the album The Black Room, but it was never finished. On 14 May 1992, The KLF announced their immediate retirement from the music industry and the deletion of their entire back catalogue:

“We have been following a wild and wounded, glum and glorious, shit but shining path these past five years. The last two of which has [sic] led us up onto the commercial high ground—we are at a point where the path is about to take a sharp turn from these sunny uplands down into a netherworld of we know not what. For the foreseeable future there will be no further record releases from The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, The Timelords, The KLF and any other past, present and future name attached to our activities. As of now all our past releases are deleted…. If we meet further along be prepared…our disguise may be complete.”