The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu have a book coming out on August, 23 and Getintothis’ Gary Aster hasn’t read it but he reviews it anyway.
2023: A Trilogy by The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu – A review of a book no one has read in 2023 words.
In less than two months the artists formerly known as The KLF (also known as The Jams, furthermore known as The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu) arrive in Liverpool for 5 days of still largely unspecified activities. After months of speculation regarding a series of typically cryptic announcements from the duo of Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty (in their guises as K2 Plant Hire or The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu) at last, a few details have emerged. We’ll will turn to these in a moment, but first some background detail is necessary for those unfamiliar with their work.
Operating under numerous aliases during the late 80s and early 90s, Drummond and Cauty were responsible for a series of remarkable, unique and ground-breaking records, achieving their greatest fame and success as The KLF – the biggest selling singles-band in the world in 1991.
Yet in early 1992 after a shocking, unforgettable performance at the Brit Awards as The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, (their original name) they quit the music industry and deleted their entire back catalogue. Their music is still officially unavailable to this day.
Time may have been called on the musical activities of The KLF, but Drummond and Cauty continued to work together, declaring themselves to be The K Foundation. Under this new guise they collaborated with the Russian Red Army Choir to produce a new recording, ‘K Cera Cera’, which was a bizarre mash-up of ‘Que Cera Cera’ and John Lennon’s ‘War is Over (if you want it)’. The pair placed full page ads announcing it, but refused to release it until world peace had been achieved.
Then in 1994 they hijacked the Turner Prize, an arts award organised by the Tate Gallery and awarded to a different British artist annually. Offering double the prize money awarded by the Tate, they produced a shortlist of artists for the K Foundation’s ‘worst artist of the year’ award. Naturally their shortlist was identical to the Turner Prize shortlist and was to be awarded on the same night.
The eventual winner of both the Turner Prize and the K Foundation award was the artist Rachel Whiteread. Understandably reluctant to accept her prize from Drummond and Cauty, she was told that if she didn’t collect her £40,000 prize it would be burnt there and then outside Tate Britain. Having hurriedly sent someone outside to check that the money (which had been crudely nailed to a picture frame) was real (which it was), it was spared the flames and Whiteread donated her winnings to young, struggling artists.
With hindsight, these events can be seen as setting the pair on the path towards their most notorious and mysterious act – the burning of a million quid of their own money. This they did away from public glare in an abandoned boat-house on the Isle of Jura (amongst the Western Isles of Scotland) in front of only two witnesses on August 23, 1994. The burning was filmed by one of these witnesses, Alan ‘Gimpo’ Goodrick, an associate of the pair.
The following year they toured the UK with the film of their money burning, having taken out full page adverts in the press asking ‘Why did the K Foundation Burn a Million Quid?’ A question and answer session with Drummond and Cauty followed each screening in which the pair were unable to articulate why they did it.
They were inviting responses from their audiences, looking for explanations, but none seemed satisfactory. Soon they tired of the tour having been challenged and persuaded to abandon it.
At Cape Wrath, they daubed a self-penned contract onto a hire car and signed it. Under the terms of this contract Drummond and Cauty were compelled to remain silent on the matter, announcing a 23 year long moratorium to allow sufficient time to consider what they had done and the reasons for it. The hire car was then shoved unceremoniously off a cliff edge. Since then Drummond and Cauty have remained true to their word, refusing to be drawn any further on the matter.
On August 23 this year the Cape Wrath contract expires. It can hardly be a coincidence that this is the date on which their new book, ‘2023; A Trilogy’, is due to be launched here in Liverpool by Drummond and Cauty over a period of five days. Few details have emerged so far but it has also been revealed that a new, hour-long film to accompany the book will form part of their plans.
A few days ago, we here at Getintothis received a preview copy of ‘2023: A Trilogy’ for review purposes along with a covering letter from publishers Faber and Faber. However, as is often the case when Drummond and Cauty are concerned, things are not so straightforward.
Most of the book’s several hundred pages are blank. In total, the paperback copy we received contains only 16 pages of text – the preface and appendix. The publisher’s covering letter explains that this is intentional. “The rest of the book”, it states, “will not be available until the lifting of the embargo”, a reference to the pair’s self-imposed 23 year moratorium.
This understandably presents reviewers with a novel and interesting task – to review a book that remains unread and is as yet unavailable, save for a few spare pages. As a responsible reviewer there is also, of course, the need to avoid spoilers.
Issuing largely blank preview copies seems somehow of-a-piece with much of the pair’s prior activities. We’re tempted to say that it’s a typical KLF-style prank but for the fact that they have long resisted describing their work in such terms, and undoubtedly, they are for real. Whatever their motives, they are unlikely to include practical jokes and trolling reviewers. Possibly they hope to generate some sense of mystery, intrigue and anticipation. If that is the case then, for this reviewer at least, they have succeeded.
The publisher’s covering letter mainly refers to the anniversary of the money burning and hints the book “may or may not answer some of the questions raised 23 years previously.” Well, if forced to speculate, our guess would be that it is unlikely to answer any of those questions. We think much of the power of that act lies in its mystery.
It is also worth keeping in mind Drummond and Cauty’s established reluctance ever to spell out exactly what their work all adds up to. Furthermore, potential answers to those questions have already been published elsewhere.
The two witnesses to events on Jura 23 years ago, journalist Chris Brook and avant garde film-maker (amongst other things) Alan ‘Gimpo’ Goodrick, are also co-authors of the book ‘K Foundation Burn a Million Quid’. This now long out-of-print and highly collectable volume contains lengthy discussion and conjecture regarding the money burning as well as selected quotations from Drummond and Cauty taken from their interactions with the often quite hostile audiences who came to see them on their tour.
The cult author and practitioner of magic Alan Moore offers perhaps the most persuasive answer in his essay included in Brook and Goodrick’s book. Moore’s home in Northampton had been one of the venues chosen for a screening of the film ‘Watch the K Foundation Burn a Million Quid’. He saw the burning as an act of elemental magic – a ritual or symbolic gesture against the symbol of money.
More recently the writer and biographer John Higgs turned his attention towards Drummond and Cauty. His book, ‘The KLF: Chaos, Magic and the Band Who Burned a Million Pounds’ contains arguably the most detailed and prolonged answers to the questions raised by the money burning. The preface to ‘2023: A Trilogy’ appears to make coded reference to Higgs’ conclusions, but these are shifted into an alternative reality.
Given Drummond and Cauty’s admirable reluctance, bordering on obsession, to avoid repeating themselves or other people, and despite what publisher Faber and Faber’s covering letter states, we think it highly unlikely that the blank pages of ‘2023: A Trilogy’ will be filled with explanations detailing the reasons behind their incendiary activities of 23 years ago. To do so now, it seems, would rob it of one of its most appealing qualities – its mystery – and goes against the grain of Cauty and Drummond’s closely guarded myth-making.
But what clues are to be found in the few pages of text the preview copy does contain? Based on their contents, it seems we’re in for a confusing, difficult and challenging, yet doubtless also rewarding, amusing and enlightening read. It appears to be set in an alternative reality in which Cauty and Drummond are undertakers.
They make a cameo appearance on the wrap-around image of the book’s cover, deliberately rendered in a manner reminiscent of the two mysterious figures in the background of Norwegian expressionist painter Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’.
The preface outlines the conceit of the book. The bulk of the text (i.e. those pages not included here) purports to be a translation from the original Ukrainian of a book, which “the undertakers to the underworld”, Cauty and Drummond chanced upon on the Isle of Jura whilst looking for a likely location to build their proposed ‘People’s Pyramid’.
Upon finding the book, Cauty and Drummond’s plans are put on hold. In translation, the book they find is entitled ‘2023: A Trilogy’ and is said to be the work of one Roberta Antonia Wilson writing under the pseudonym George Orwell. This book is an epic and dystopian science fiction costume drama set in the near future.
There is much here that requires elaboration. George Orwell is an interesting reference point since there are several synchronicities to be observed here. The real George Orwell (actually the pen name of Eric Blair), of course, is also the author of a celebrated work of dystopian science fiction which, for its title, simply uses the year in which it is set – ‘1984’. Orwell wrote 1984 on the Isle of Jura, where he had moved partly for health reasons and partly because he feared a nuclear war and felt that the island might be sufficiently remote for him to survive such a conflict.
The name Roberta Antonia Wilson is also worth considering. It is clearly a feminised version of Robert Anton Wilson. He was the author of ‘The Illuminatus Trilogy’, a cult sci-fi conspiracy novel which influenced the real Drummond and Cauty in numerous ways, not least by giving them their name. In Wilson’s trilogy, the Justified Ancients of Mummu is the name of a secret terrorist group, locked in age-long struggle against the Illuminati. Their stated aim is the destruction of usury – banking and charging interest on loans – which, strictly speaking, is prohibited by all the world’s major religions and was forbidden for most of human history (until relatively recently of course).
The KLF appear in the preface too, but again they are feminised as Tat’jana and Kristina, a Russian duo who undertook “a haphazard slalom ride through the underbelly of Soviet music and high art.” Together, they operated under many aliases including The KLF and The ICMs (The Ice Cream Men) and were greatly influenced by Roberta Antonia Wilson’s book, the same book that the fictional Cauty and Drummond found and translated from Ukrainian and which is purportedly to be published this coming August.
The preview copy also contains a brief appendix which outlines how, in another fictional universe in which The Beatles never existed and whose place was taken by The KLF, Tat’jana and Kristina made a film in response to ‘2023: A Trilogy’ entitled ‘2023: What the Fuck Is Going On?’ Unannounced, Tat’jana and Kristina would turn up at various locations with a sound system and projector and stage guerrilla screenings.
Cauty and Drummond (the fictional undertakers that is) also obtained this film and plan to launch their book with a 23 hour screening “in a boarded up Victorian terraced house in the ________ area of Liverpool.”
Just wait until August 23.
UPDATE: This cryptic release landed on the desk of Getintothis today, make of it what you will…
Liverpool: Welcome To The Dark Ages.
The three days are the 23rd, 24th and 25th of August 2017.
The titles of each of these three days are:
Day One – Why Did The K Foundation Burn A Million Quid?
Day Two – 2023: What The Fuuk Is Going On?
Day Three – The Rites of MuMufication.
There will only be 400 tickets available.
There are no guest lists.
There are no press passes.
Every one of the 400 ticket holders will be expected to be Volunteers.
WARNING: The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu in any of their various past, present or future guises will not be performing music.
Tickets go on sale at 11.23am on July 23rd 2017.