Million Dollar Bash- Library of Mu

Library of Mu record:
Title: Million Dollar Bash
Date: February 1994
Journal: Q Magazine
Author: Danny Kelly
Type of resource: Articles
Status: original
No. views: 5292
Description: Good article by Art Award witness. He chats to the security guards.

Million Dollar Bash

By Danny Kelly (February 1994, Q Magazine)

In 1992, The KLF "left the music business". But who really expected the arch disco scamsters to lie down? Re-born as The K Foundation, they recently pulled off their grandest coup yet. Danny Kelly was one of the lucky witnesses.

IT WAS advertised at great expense, generating huge incredulity. It was billed as "the amending of art history". The Observer called it "a joke"; The Times said it was "silly but effective"; the other papers - and it made them all - spouted bemusedly. What they all failed to point out was that The K Foundation's recent 'alternative Turner Prize", whatever its higher motivations, turned out to be the biggest, most original and exciting event of the rock year. A truly memorable scam. A return to the Happenings of the '60s. The kind of fun - Pearl Jam, slouch on down! - pop seemed to have forgotten the recipe for.

For those still getting their heads round the fact that apparently The Beatles aren't getting on too well, here's the get-up-to-speed-quick version of events leading up. Two years ago, Bill Drummond (speccy beanpole ex-manager of Echo And The Bunnymen and post-McLaren pop biz mover and shaker) and Jimmy Cauty (hairy Athena-published illustrator and art theorist) were at that point on pop's Everest where they were having to squint to see Sherpa Tensing below them. Their marvellous rock/rave/rant group, The KLF, was selling so many records worldwide that hot cake mongers were moaning about sluggish comparative turnover. Self-managed, promoted and distributed, their trousers groaned from the strain of pocketed readies. The BPI voted them Top British Group.

Most groups at this point would've been busy checking the arrival times of air traffic from Peru and plumping up the cushions for a good long luxuriate on the sofa of pop stardom. Not The KLF. They chose the BRITS award ceremony to self-destruct in an orgy of punk rock (their turbo version of 3AM Eternal with Extreme Noise Terror), mock outrage (Drummond "machine-gunned" the assembled black ties) and real bad taste (the carcass of a dead sheep being dumped in the foyer of the posh venue of the post-awards knees up). Next day they threw their assortment of sou'westers, tusks and weaponry in the bin, deleted their entire catalogue and announced their permanent withdrawal from the pop business.

No-one believed them - a recurring theme in Drummond's career - but as the months went by it became increasingly obvious that they meant it, maaan. A single was recorded (a version of Que Sera Sera- now re-christened K Sera Sera, of course - made with the Soviet Army Chorale, whom Drummond had seen at his local concert hall) but that, they expensively advertised, would only be released when "world peace was established". Inspired, Donald Fagen is believed to have immediately had a "global harmony" clause inserted into his hectic release schedule. But no The KLF really had packed it in

Then, about four months ago, a series of costly advertisements began to show up in the quality press, their bold typefaces and Stalin-on-E slogans familiar to seasoned observers of matters K. The ads trumpeted that something called The K Foundation would, on the very night of the Turner Prize jamboree, be giving its own award (UKP40,000! Twice the amount bestowed by the "real" prize!) for the worst body of work produced this year. And their shortlist was identical to that of the real Turner. Why were they doing it? Would they really come up with the cash? What did it all mean? What were they hoping to promote? The questions danced; the answer stayed at the bar. All we knew was that Drummond and Cauty were back.

IN THE days running up to the twin prize-givings, the excitement grows. A duvet of secrecy has descended on things. Mysterious messages tell us only that Q will be the sole music publication to witness "the amending of art history" (good) and that the K Foundation are "planning something special" (good-ish, given Drummond's history of, erm, physical challenges for journalists) and that we'd require "a warm coat and stout walking boots" (bad). Finally, on the day itself - a wintry two-scarfer - we're told, at the very last minute, to report to a West London hotel. Once there, the three-man Q team joins an assembly of the good and the great-coated. Tony Wilson, Brent Hansen of MTV, assorted art journal- ists, Sunday supplement hacks, and K Foundation "operatives", about 20 expectant souls in all. The operatives play soft cop/hard cop with fraying nerves; one (cigarettes/sympathy) hands round dainty sandwiches, the other (bar of soap in sock, applied at speed to private parts) distributes fluorescent jackets, laminates that bear either the legend "Witness" or "Documentor" and, gulp, orange hard hats. "Right," they suddenly announce, "everyone outside!" In front of the hotel stands a line of gleaming stretch limousines. The lead one is gold, the rest are white; none is as long as the royal yacht. We in the Q contingent nab one - designed for 12 people, all adopting the Roman lounging position - for ourselves. The carpet is ankle deep, the walls and ceiling are even shaggier, the reception on the TV is only so-so; there's enough room to open a decent-sized tennis club. Engines hum; without a clue as to our eventual destination or the nature of forthcoming events, we're off.

Regally reclining on a acre or so each of upholstered leather and velvet, some of the hardship is taken out the journey - Southward, then on to the M25, in stately convoy - by the discovery that the fridge is full of top quality champagne. Plans for each car to be equipped with something even more stimulating have sensibly been shelved; this is not a procession unlikely to attract the attention of the constabulary. By the time the caravan pulls into a fog-shrouded Heston Service Station, the world's supply of bubbles has been significantly reduced. Heston was to have been the place, we later learn, where we'd have been transferred, for the remainder of our journey, into helicopters. The clinging fog has put paid to that. Another setback; now we'll have to continue in the wretched limos. Before that, though, there occurs the first of the series of incidents that cause our chins to take permanent residence on our top buttons.

"THEY'VE GIVEN you how much?" gasps our driver. In each of the envelopes we've been handed are great wodges of cash, UKP1,600 in genuine UKP50 notes. As we drive ever further South, we wonder what the cash is for. A bribe? A "You're-all-in-on-this-now" humiliation? An art statement? Our favourite is "a Christmas present".

Mile after bubbly mile we drive, off the motorway now and into the A-roads depths of Surrey. The ever-growing sense of anticipation is momentarily turned into fear as the motorcade slows on the edge of a wood. Through the mist-hugged trees, we catch flashes of bright light and loud music. Oh no, not the world's first sub-Arctic rave. We needn't, we soon realise, have worried - it's nothing as workaday as that. The cars glide ghostily through the trees before halting. Those about to witness the amending of art history tumble out, eyes blinking.

A large clearing is turned into Close Encounters by massive floodlights. As we walk to the centre of the lit circle, two Saracen armoured cars circle the perimeter. Not ordinary military personnel carriers, naturally; these are painted the bright orange of our hats and jackets and bear a large daubed "K" on their sides. Through pairs of loud-speakers they are blaring out the speaking clock, Abba's Money, Money, Money and the aforementioned K Sera Sera. Inside, it transpires, are Messrs Drummond and Cauty. It is the nearest most of the Witnesses and Documentors get to them all night.

Now things start to get really strange. In the centre of the clearing, three heavies in formal evening wear stand guard over what appears to be a large framed painting. Closer inspection - we are being loudhailer-herded towards it by another dinner-jacketed K Operative, known only as Mr Ball - reveals that it is bundles and bundles and bundles of crisp UKP50 notes six-inch-nailed to a wooden pallet. To be strictly accurate, it's ONE MILLION POUNDS nailed to a wooden panel. This, our press packs inform us, is the first of a series of K Foundation art installations that will also include one million pounds in a skip, one million pounds on a table and several variants on the theme of Tremendous Amounts Of Folding.

Post-event enquiries reveal that the money - forget all those '60s shyster films, the National Westminster say it was the biggest cash withdrawal they've ever authorised - was collected in person that morning by Cauty and prepared for exhibition (that is, in layman's terms, nailed to a lump of board) that afternoon by Jimmy and Bill. The Bank Of England later threw a fit about what they saw as the deliberate defacing of the notes The insurance for the few minutes that The K Foundation, rather than the security firm, were actually responsible for the money, came, according to Harish Shah of their financial advisors, Martin Green Ravden, to UKP7,000. Finding someone to guard and transport the money from London proved something of a headache too. The big names of the moolah-watching world refused to have any part of it, so the job eventually fell to the firm of Ratedale Ltd. Attempts to telephonically glean their side of the story proved unfruitful: Q: How much did your services cost? Ratedale: I can't tell you that. Q: How much was the insurance? R: I can't tell you that. Q: Was it the most extraordinary thing your firm's ever done? R: No Q: What was? R: I can't tell you that.

That's the security business for you. We continue to stare at the dough - one fellow, a sculptor, attempts to touch it but catches his hand on a nail and splashes the wads with blood - until our bemused reverie is broken by Mr Ball howling more instructions. Now, he says, we are to take out our UKPl,600 and nail it into a smaller frame that lies on the ground. This will constitute the 40 grand prize for the winner of the K Foundation award. It has gone, like the real Turner, to Rachel Whiteread, the lady who makes plaster casts of water beds. And houses.

As the armoured cars continue to make their noisesome circuits, there ensues a furious scrum of orange jackets, hard hats and hammering, as everyone nails their cash to the frame. Or not quite everyone, actually. As people start to drift back to the cars, Mr Ball's voice can be heard pleading for the four people who've decided that they have a far better use for UKPl,600 to please come and do the decent thing. They don't, leaving the prize, in theory, UKP6,400 light. It later turns out that, in practice, some nine grand has gone missing/been liberated, meaning that while four people trousered the lot, many others sneakily skimmed off a little Christmas shopping money. In the papers overthe next few days, accusations fly about the missing money, particular vehemence being reserved for those who nailed down none. Drummond and Cauty are said to be amazed that people didn't follow their instructions to the letter. It was the one element of this whole amazing shebang over which they lost control, and a valuable lesson for them too: even they don't have, a copyright on art terrorism.

THE GOLD limo is loaded with a frame and UKP31,000. The others are loaded with Witnesses, Documentors and UKP9,000. We race through the night (and the champagne), back to London, the Tate Gallery and the final presentation of the evening. Outside the gallery, the art world's glitterati are departing the Turner prize banquet as the 31 grand is chained to the ancient iron railings. A policeman laughs at the heaving throng awaiting Ms Whiteread's arrival: "You lot don't look the sort to cause any trouble; trouble-makers seldom wear high visibility vests."

Finally, the artist of the year descends the steps. It's a tricky moment for her. In the previous fortnight, she's first agreed to accept the K Foundation rhino, then refused, calling it an "absurd joke and publicity stunt"; now she's informed, by another K operative in a ski mask, that if she doesn't accept the prize, it'll have to be burned. She smiles wanly, says it's "a great honour", then walks away with a frame, a chain, UKP31,000 (later topped up to the promised UKP40,000) and her Turner prize. Not a bad return for filling a semi up with plaster.

The limos then take those still standing on one last drive, to a hostelry in darkest Islington where the perpetrators of the evening's bizarre business are known to water. Four hours of K-free investigative drinking later suggests that Messrs Drummond and Cauty are not up for a press conference or, indeed, comment of any kind; a chance, early-hours-of the morning meeting between Q and Mr D (apparently hiding upstairs), that ends with the latter running from the Gents, finger to lip and head shaking wildly, confirms the suspicion. Time to go home.

FOR DAYS later, the papers are filled with speculation as to just what these ancient enfants terribles are up to. It's estimated that the scam has left them some quarter of a million less well off, yet they've actually nothing to promote. Does it mean that all art is equally valuable, or that all art is equally useless? Does it mean that all art is corrupted by money? Does it simply mean that Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty have got money, literally, to burn?

One thing that people seem to forget, or never knew, is that this isn't the first fortune these two have seemingly wasted. In the late'80s they blew a cool million on a film, The White, Room, that was only ever shown once. In Munich. Whatever their reasons, machinations or derangement, this extraordinary evening proved at least one thing beyond reasonable dispute: Drummond and Cauty are, in their own mad yet organised, instinctive yet manipulative, way, far greater artists than anyone feted at the Tate on this frozen London evening.

Which just leaves one question: what did happen to all that money?


Photos and Captions:

Main pic: Bill and Jimi nailing £1m to the board. Caption: Cash on the nail: Jimmy and Bill prepare the artwork
Pic: 5 white streched limos. Caption: Heston Services, 8pm: Gentlemen, your elongated cars await.
Pic: Flourescent Jacket, Hard hat and ID tags. Caption: The journalists' souvenir pack (not pictured, the £1,600).
Pic: 1 orange Saracen, APV. Caption: Security at the event erred on the side of the over-zealous.
Pic: A guarded, framed, million pounds. Caption: We don't know much about art, but we know what we like.
Pic: £40,000 being pinned up. Caption: "Fifty for you, and £1,500 for me.." The nailing ceremony begins.
Pic: £40,000 being chained up, outside Tate. Caption: Later the same night, outside the Pimlico...the K clan chain the booty to the Tate Gallery, where.....
Pic: Rachel Whiteread accepting said cash. Caption: Rachel Whiteread declares it "a great honour".
Pic: Authorisation letter from Drummond to bank.
Pic: Instructions presented to the journalists.



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