Justified Ancients assemble: it looks like we’re all aboard, bound for Mu Mu Land again.
A lot of people will have absolutely no idea what any of that means, but bear with me, because this is the news that 2017 needed to kick it out of the cripplingly depressing gravitational hold of 2016.
The KLF are one of my favourite bands of all time, and the rumours are that, 23 years after they quit the music business at the height of their success, deleted their entire back catalogue (you still can’t hear it on Spotify or iTunes) and then burned a million quid (for real) – the proceeds of their sales - the duo, Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty, are coming back to save us. Forget Jesus, this is the one you really need to care about.
They had teased a return with the ‘release’ of a ‘found footage’ VHS video collage of their history uploaded to YouTube on New Year’s Day (it’s a brand new account, with one upload, and the extent and quality of footage suggests that it can only have come from them) and now comes something even more substantial – a photo of a flyposter spotted ‘whilst out rambling’ by the editor of the Eastfolk Chronicle Cally Callomon – who also happens to be Drummond’s manager – confirming that ‘The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu are currently at work in their light industrial unit’, adding that ‘This work will not be made public until the 23rd of August 2017’.
But who cares? In this age where barely a single act has split up before eventually reforming for the filthy lucre, why should anyone pay any attention to the return of two sixty-somethings who haven’t released a proper record in over two decades?
Well, because Drummond and Cauty are not your average pop stars and, if anyone can rescue us from a world in which Bradley Walsh can release the biggest-selling UK debut album of the year, they can.
I was but a young slip of a boy when I first encountered the majesty of The KLF.
I remember it vividly: it was the round-up of the best European goals of the month on some ITV football highlights show on in the dead of night, which I had taped to watch the following morning, and this unbelievable backing track could be heard while Jean-Pierre Papin and the rest banged the goals in.
‘All aboard, all aboard way-oh’ went the hypnotic refrain, there were references to ‘Mu Mu Land’, crowd noise, rave pianos – it had absolutely everything a young music fan could want. I played it over and over again and after much (actual, pre-internet) research eventually discovered that this song was called Last Train to Transcentral by a band called The KLF.
One trip to the local library later, and a CD of its parent album, The White Room, had been loaned out to one enthusiastic borrower by one rather confused librarian. Straight on it went, with the opening five tracks of the record quite simply 21 of the best minutes of music I had ever heard in my life. The ‘stadium house’ blast of What Time Is Love, the shuffling electro soul of Make It Rain and then the unstoppable heavyweight jams of 3 a.m. Eternal and Last Train To Transcentral, which sandwiched Church of the KLF. To this day, it’s like a sonic sledgehammer round the face. In a good way.
Being honest, there’s then a load of filler before the triumphant end track of Tammy Wynette (who I had never heard of) singing over the top of album closer Justified and Ancient. But it was incredible. I had no idea what any of the words were about, not a clue who the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu were, or why they didn’t want to upset the apple cart, but it spoke straight to me nonetheless – it was utterly thrilling.
Before I’d even reached double figures, though, it was all over, with the band retiring from the music business by performing with Extreme Noise Terror at the 1992 BRIT Awards (they won Best British Group, shared with – brilliantly – Simply Red), where Bill Drummond fired blanks from an automatic weapon over the crowd.
Imagine doing that today.
Over the following years, I then began to appreciate them on a whole other level, with everything I read adding to the mystery, the intrigue, and the respect I had for them.
I discovered that it was the same duo who had been responsible for the 1988 novelty number one Doctorin’ The Tardis (credited to The Timelords) – the track which had been followed up by a book they wrote about how they’d done it called The Manual (How to Have a Number One the Easy Way).
Years later I was finally able to read it, after downloading it from a dodgy internet link, printing out the hundreds of pages on my work printer (ironically, at a record label) and was astonished at just how perceptive it was about the music industry (they promised that anyone reading it could copy their instructions and have a number one – and one act, Austrian Eurotrash band Edelweiss actually went and did).
But even amidst the cynicism of the exercise, there were some absolutely golden rules and observations about the process of making great pop music that they’d written about, which had never occurred to me before but were undoubtedly true – these were clearly no pranksters; they really knew what they were talking about.
Indeed, in The Manual, they’d advised getting a young, enthusiastic engineer who actually knew what they were doing to do all the actual music stuff for them – it turned out that the legendary producer and mixer Mark ‘Spike’ Stent (who would go on to work with Madonna, U2, Massive Attack and everyone else you’d care to name) worked on The White Room; no wonder the thing sounded so bloody amazing.
I then read that they’d burned a million quid on the remote Scottish island of Jura in 1994 – an act which was recently in the news again following the ‘punk memorabilia burning’ by Joe Corre. People didn’t really believe they’d done it at first, then became angry when they realised that they actually had. And then even more angry when they discovered that Drummond and Cauty couldn’t really explain why they’d done it.
But to me, it was brilliant. They’d had all this spare money after royalties from The KLF’s records carried on coming in and didn’t know what to do with it. Initially, they’d wanted to give to to struggling artists, before realising that the whole point of being a struggling artist was to have no money. So they burned it. Who knows what the hell it meant, but it was clear it was done as a piece of pure art. They had the guts to do something just for the hell of it. Just to cause a reaction. Just for the art of it.
I read Drummond’s book 45, full of crazy stories from his life and ridiculous ideas like driving round the M25 for 25 hours in a row. It was mindblowingly inspirational.
I could go on with more stories, more legends, more quasi-religious meaning they inserted into everything they did, but that’s why God invented Wikipedia – how many musical acts do you know with a section subheading entitled ‘Transcentral, eternity, sheep’? Give yourself an hour to read the whole thing and thank me later.
But, again, why does any of this matter?
Because in 2017 we are desperately – desperately - in need of some musical inspiration. Something truly artistic. Something to shake the order up. Just look at the state we’re in, and yet where are the angry bands? Where are the artists demanding answers, or even asking questions? In fact, where are any new artists? The sound of 2017 polls are the most depressing they’ve ever been; a succession of niche artists – all afraid to upset the apple cart - who offer nothing that is going to upset the established order.
Moreover, everything is so bloody minimal these days. Drake and his ilk dominate the charts. It’s all restrained, it’s all introspective. And it’s all so bloody boring.
What we need isn’t minimalism, it’s maximalism. It’s stadium house, it’s rave horns, it’s 909s gurgling away uncontrollably, it’s throwing stuff at the wall, it’s just trying something, just to see what will happen. It’s mysticism. It’s craziness. It’s excitement. Not calculated, not engineered, but real – from the heart.
Part of me secretly hopes The KLF don’t actually come back. That they hype everyone up, get everyone excited and then do the opposite of what everyone expects them to do – again - and just do nothing whatsoever. That would be very KLF.
But maybe, just maybe, they’ve got something to say. And if they have, then we need to hear it. After all, when they were accused in the past of simply doing things as publicity stunts, Drummond stated, "That's just the way it was interpreted. We've always loathed the word scam. I know no-one's ever going to believe us, but we never felt we went out and did things to get reactions. Everything we've done has just been on a gut level instinct," with Cauty also saying of The KLF, "I think it worked because we really meant it".
Whatever they do – be it music, sculpture (as seems likely if you believe this), painting, a drive up the M1 and back 50 times or whatever the hell they fancy – it will be worth paying attention to.
All aboard: destination Mu Mu Land.