Subversive posters and an epitaph for The KLF

We refused to accept the wall of silence. Clash despatched Kris Needs to hunt down the subversive Jimmy Cauty and wrestle out an epitaph for The KLF.

Twenty years since the KLF deleted their catalogue and burned a fortune, their legend shows little sign of abating, held up as anything from what one magazine then called “the most heroic act of public self destruction in the history of pop” to grand scam dwarfing anything Malcolm McLaren dreamed up. Certainly enough to inspire this publication to produce an Outsider issue.
I first met Jimmy Cauty around 1984 when I was living with Youth at The Coach House in Wandsworth, while tour managing his band Brilliant, seeking to bring NYC-style dance music innovation to London’s then-dull party, Jimmy joining around 1984. He was part of our degenerate South London artistic hotbed ricocheting between Wandsworth, Battersea and Stockwell, where he resided with ex-wife Cressida in a large, decaying squat-house (later known as Trancentral), which also included the likes of Alex Paterson and Ben Watkins.
When I left the UK for New York City in 1986, Brilliant were down to a trio with Youth, Jimmy and singer June Montana, experiencing chart success with their version of James Brown’s ‘It’s A Man’s World’, managed by Bill Drummond who, after years managing key bands in Liverpool’s post-punk dynamo, was working in WEA Records’ A&R department. Jimmy and Youth were then also in the first line-up of Manning’s ill-fated cock-psych biker outfit Zodiac Mindwarp And The Love Reaction.
When I returned in 1990, Jimmy was riding the crest of the KLF’s success and notoriety with ‘stadium house’ anthems such as ‘What Time Is Love’, ‘3AM Eternal’ and ‘Last Train To Trancentral’, accompanied by feverish press interest, cryptic advertisements, outrageous TV appearances and audacious graffiti tactics. They were the biggest-selling singles act of 1991.
That December, they struck again recording ‘Justified & Ancient’ with Tammy Wynette, then announced their retirement, bowing out by teaming up with Extreme Noise Terror to perform ‘3AM Eternal’ at the 1992 BRITs, blasting the music biz elite with blanks-blasting machine-guns before dumping a dead sheep at the aftershow party. They then deleted their entire catalogue, setting up the K Foundation to turn their mischievous gaze to the art world, creating a £40,000 worst artist award and burning a million quid on the Scottish island of Jura.
Since then, the pair have kept a lower profile, pursuing projects including Drummond’s writing and Cauty’s art. There have been the odd re-appearances, including briefly as 2K in 1997 with a campaign to Fuck The Millennium. In 1999, Cauty produced remixes as Scourge Of The Earth for the likes of Ian Brown, Marilyn Manson and the Orb. After a spell with art/music collective Blacksmoke, he started exhibiting his art at the Clerkenwell-based L-13 Light Industrial Workshop (from where he chose the posters presented here). Here, he has designed stamps for the Cautese National Postal Disservice, installed a gift shop based on the government’s Preparing For Emergencies leaflet, and staged a violence-in-cartoons exhibit entitled jCauty&Son with his teenage son. Last year’s A Riot In A Jam Jar included scale, glass-encased dioramas depicting violent confrontations between police and rioters.        
The KLF’s success gave Cauty and Drummond the means and a field to run riot in. Following his madly-creative gut rather than calculating head, Jimmy relished being caught in the tsunami of new musical possibilities opened up by samplers while finding the volcanic Drummond the perfect foil for upending the UK music biz with extreme strategies, leaving a colossal footprint after baling out at their peak.
It was not fake, or a scam. If so, the pair would have been milking their catalogue years ago. 2012 finds Jimmy comfortable as underground artist, working with Clerkenwell’s L-13 Gallery. “I’m still considered outside with the art stuff,” he says. “I mean, I’m not showing at the Tate or anything. I like to call it underground; you could call it just unsuccessful, but underground’s better!”
“A guy called Steve runs L-13 as a gallery,” he continues, “but he’s an artist as well. It’s just a handful of artists and I’ve been with them for seven years or something, so I only ever do shows through them. If I do a show somewhere else it’s normally arranged through the L-13. It’s great because Steve will just sort out all that crap which I can’t be bothered to sort out.”

Speaking twenty years after KLF Communications deleted its catalogue, Jimmy reflects wryly, maybe a little proudly, about The KLF’s brief flamethrower reign, which they wilfully abdicated.
“We did it at the height of the whole thing. I think if we’d carried on another month there would have been a massive backlash against us. The press loved us and we couldn’t put a foot wrong, but those things don’t last. They would have gone, ‘Hang on a minute…Nah, don’t like this any more, you lot are idiots’. We managed to get out without having that happen to us as well, which is quite good. Getting away with it...”
In an age where the only way that Internet-besieged record companies can make money is with deluxe boxset reissues and bands reforming to rake in any reward themselves, The KLF have unsurprisingly been bombarded with offers over the years. “We do get a lot of people coming up to us, going, ‘How much do you want for the catalogue then? Do a gig and we’ll give you a million quid’. But we’re definitely not gonna do it. I know everybody says that and, in the end, cave in, but I really can’t see it. There doesn’t seem any point. We’ve got a longer term plan. I still do bits and pieces with Bill. There’s still business to do even after all this time. There’s things that have to be dealt with. It’s minimal, but there’s definitely no plan to put anything out.”
“All the people that are into us are going to be dying off soon,” he laughs. “The value of the catalogue is really going down all the time, plus the fact that there is no music business really. People keep saying, ‘You’re so broke now, you should put your catalogue out.’ But even if we did we wouldn’t actually make any money out of it. We’d probably lose money by putting it out.”    
Nostalgia running riot.
“That’s just people in the music business being silly really. They’re idiots; they just want to re-release the stuff and it’d be just horribly embarrassing. Most of it is really dated. There’s only one track we did and that’s the Tammy Wynette that’s really stood the test of time and that still gets played on Radio Two. The rest of it is of that era and it doesn’t work outside that era too well. I don’t like it.”

Jimmy agrees that, by not succumbing to boxset temptation, the KLF legacy remains of its time and untarnished; “Absolutely. That’s the plan. We’ve still got all the stuff from our office; put it all in a shipping container. It’s like a weird kind of time capsule full of costumes and bits of old equipment. Anything to do with running a record company is all in this shipping container. So everything’s in the shipping container.”
The Ford Galaxie police car?
“I smashed the police car up at one of those stock car race, demolition derby things. It got completely trashed.”
Jimmy will happily talk about The KLF but is more excited about the short film he’s scheduled to make called Believe The Magic, which Debbie Harry has agreed to appear in through her friendship with his wife Alannah Currie (formerly of The Thompson Twins). 
“I’m directing it and it’s an outsider movie because there’s no backing or anything like that. I’ve been to a couple of production companies and they’ve been going, ‘Sorry mate, we’re not going to touch this with a barge-pole. It’s not really right’. So we’re going to produce it ourselves. Debbie Harry’s agreed to be in it. It’s about this boy who’s a friend of ours who wears one of those full-size Mickey Mouse heads and goes on this twenty-four-hour mad road trip, stopping off at squat parties. The idea is he’s trying to get to LA because Debbie Harry’s asked him to be in a movie. It’s complete madness; kind of weird, but should be quite good.”
“The film is going to be funded through the gallery,” Jimmy explains. “I do one show a year and normally spend about twenty-five grand getting it together. My show this year will be the film and we’ll get the money together one way or another. It’s super modern this little thing. Debbie will look very cool in it.”

With the movie in mind, he recently tried making music again; “I set all my stuff up, which I’ve still got, sat there for a week and nothing came out. I’ve got a couple of ideas but I think I’ll just get some kid in to do it. A young person to do some young person’s music! I’m completely lost. I mean, I still love pop music but I don’t have the will to make it. I don’t care, that’s the thing. You need to really care about it and I really don’t give a shit any more. There’s no way of getting that back. You’ve got to have your finger on the pulse. I’m happy to not be doing it really.”
“It’s a short,” he concludes. “It seems that people only make shorts in order to further their career and get a proper feature, but I’m not doing it that way. It would be nice but it’s not really the main motivation. I’m not a careerist. We’re doing it just for the hell of it really. Same as The KLF.”

Words by Kris Needs

This feature appears in the new issue of Clash magazine, out 3rd May. Find out more about the issue HERE.

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