They set fire to £1m and they're still not happy- Library of Mu
- Library of Mu record:
- Title: They set fire to £1m and they're still not happy
- Date: 26 October, 1997
- Journal: Observer
- Author: Miranda Sawyer
- Type of resource: Interviews
- Status: text
- No. views: 4721
- Description: Excellent article taking a good look at the post pop K events, with juicy comments from Bill n Jimi about their exploits.
They set fire to £1m and they're still not happy
By Miranda Sawyer (26 October, 1997, Observer)The K Foundation can't wait for the Millennium Dome to go up. They've got their demolition plans ready.
By Miranda Sawyer
In a titchy veggie cafe in the East End of London, pop monsters and big blokes Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty have got some explaining to do. Trouble is, they're not very good at it. After all, they're out of practice. This is the first time they've agreed to an interview in five years. 'Pop pranksters, art terrorists' Bill. 'Everything they come up with to describe us is wrong. It's a bit sad and pedantic of us, but we always go, “We're not like that.”’
Well, how would you describe yourselves, then? There's a pause. Bill and Jimmy glance at each other. Jimmy smiles and looks away. 'Failures?' he offers. 'Poor people?'
Bill: 'No, no. We're multi-disciplined.'
Bill: 'That's good! Multi-undisciplined ... er ...if we were brave enough we'd say artists. But! We're not actually saying that.'
Jimmy: 'No. Because we've done pop, we can't be artists. We're not allowed to be. So we're in this hole in the middle, this trench, and we operate in that. We once tried to register as a charity - we got all the forms - but you have to state what your aims are and we couldn't get it down on a bit of paper.'
Bill: 'But we do know that what we do is a job. It's more than nine to five. We work very hard at it. We can't stop ourselves from doing it. We have responsibilities.'
ANYBODY STILL with us? It's been five years since responsible breadwinners and dedicated trench-soldiers Bill and Jimmy (variously entitled the JAMS, the Timelords and the KLF) abandoned a frankly bamboozled music business. Phenomenally successful singles artists (in 1991, they sold more singles in the world than any other British act), pretty rubbish LP ones, the KLF took their leave at the 1992 Brit awards ceremony which nominated them best British group. The swansong involved a mogul-spraying machine gun, the thrash metal group Extreme Noise Terror, and a freshly slaughtered sheep left outside the after-awards party venue, with attached note: 'I died for ewe. Bon Appetit.' Soon afterwards, the KLF deleted all their releases.
Since then, the K Foundation, their art project, has enjoyed varied success. Their high-profile 1993 K Foundation Award (£40,000) for the worst art in Britain was won by Rachel Whiteread on the day she won the Turner Prize (£20,000) for being the year's best artist. A year later, Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty set fire to £1 million of their own pop-earned money. This was filmed and, in 1995, the film (very boring) toured the country, provoking debate, small riots and outbreaks of intense tedium. At the end of 1995, the K Foundation banned themselves from talking about why they burnt the money for 23 years.
There's been other stuff, including a track on the Help LP, some fantastic newspaper adverts (ABANDON ALL ART NOW. AWAIT FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS) and ambitious graffiti (1997 WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON sprayed on the National Theatre a couple of weeks ago), but Bill and Jimmy have been out of the news for a good two years. Until 25 August this year when two full-page adverts in Time Out heralded their new work.
The first announced: 'They're Back. The Creators of Trance. The Lords of Ambient. The Kings of Stadium House. The Godfathers of Techno Metal. The Greatest Rave Band In The World. Ever. For 23 Minutes Only. 'The second: 'Jeremy Deller Presents - 1997 What The Fuck's Going On.' What these adverts were actually promoting was a 23-minute performance in the Barbican. It included: a mob of sacked Liverpool dockers shouting 'Fuck The Millennium!' , a brass band playing' K Sera Sera', Bill and Jimmy dressed as wheel-chair-bound old duffers with horns on their heads, and a dead swan. The Times commented: 'As a musical / theatrical presentation, the strongest point in its favour was its brevity.'
Jimmy: 'It was a bit confusing, I suppose.', As a musical/theatrical presentation, it was pretty typical for Bill and Jimmy. They did what they always do: too many things at the same time. Their points are lost along with the plot. So, just to explain: there's a single out right now called 'Fuck The Millennium' by 2K, which is an edited version of the Barbican performance. Bill and Jimmy were dressed as old men as a comment on elderly pop groups making a comeback. The brass band playing house music tunes was organised by Jeremy Deller as a comment on class culture (working-class band playing working-class music). The dockers were asked along because their cause is important. The dead swan? 1 forgot to ask, but let's presume it's a comment on our beloved Royals. And - 'Fuck The Millennium'?
'It's different for everybody,' muses Jimmy, rolling a fag. "For me, it's the dome, mostly. 'Jimmy is soft-spoken, nice-looking, with long, scraggy hair.
Bill: 'I was in the car listening to the Today programme and someone was going on about something that wound me up and I switched over to Radio One and I just screaming along with the radio: "FUCK THE MILLENNIUM." It wasn't more focused than that.' Bill is soft-spoken, nice-looking, with short, neat hair.
Jimmy and Bill aren't an art foundation any more. 'We're K2 Plant Hire,' announces Jimmy. 'We have been for two three years. We're a limited company.' They have one other registered title, The Liberation Loophole, but 'that's just a spare name'. Anyhow, K2 are awaiting the mandate of the British people. A fortnight ago, an advert in the Guardian invited us to F- THE MILLENNIUM: YES/NO and gave a number to call. 'If you want to fuck millennium, press one. If not, press two, 'said the voice cheerily. 'We did think of having a press three,' says Bill. 'For: if you want to spoil your paper.'
The advert was funded by the Ks' record company Mute, who, reasonably enough, pleaded for it to at least mention that 2K had a single out (they can't get any airplay: 26 'fucks' in four and a half minutes). The Ks refused. (Jimmy: 'This single is an annoying diversion from what we're really doing.' Bill: 'In my head, my excuse the record is: it's a starter's whistle.'). K2 now have the results of the vote - about 90 per cent (18,500 people) voted in favour of 'fucking the millennium'. With the mandate of the British people they have to decide what form their work will take. Essentially, they're working their way up to something dramatic involving plant machinery, the Millennium Dome and the end of the twentieth century. The first stage of the plan, they say, will be divulged on Friday.
After that, they have two years. Two years which they'll probably fill much as they fill their time now. They both have families; they both have 'toy farms': Bill's is in Hertfordshire, Jimmy's in Devon. Bill likes bird-watching, walking and cooking, especially cakes. He wears corduroy slippers to annoy his girlfriend and is a terrible driver (he once deliberately drove into another car to see what it would feel like). Jimmy is an artist, who sells paintings, sometimes does the washing-up and takes the kids to school, but usually just spends all day with his diggers: 'I drive around in a convoy. It does annoy my wife, yes.'
Do your kids ever say, Daddy, what is it that you actually do?
Jimmy: 'Well, mine still think I'm a pop star. They're only four years old, they don't know the full horror. I'll have to take them aside one day and explain.'.
How are you going to explain the fact that you used to have a million quid but you burnt it? That they could have been rich?
Bill: 'Yes, but this is the correct investment of the money.'
Jimmy: 'It's an artistic investment.'.
Bill: 'Jimmy always says that we're investing in the great bank in the sky.'
Whether anyone going, through those tricky teenage years would take that answer without at least a tantrum is debatable. What isn't is that the Ks' burning of £lm is by far the most outrageous thing they've done, an untoppable event. They know this, really -'it's definitely our most successful piece of work' - but it's not as though they can do it again. They haven't the money, for a start; but also they haven't the emotional energy. Jimmy fled the country for six months; they both felt incredibly depressed. Not, they insist, because of financial loss, but because 'it was so final'.
'It was a big thing,' comments Bill. 'But you're never going to get
applauded for it, people aren't even going to know about it, really.'
You might think, then, that K2 would be interested only in media-mugging events, in mass publicity, in sensationalist attention-seeking. But they insist that's not so. Bill points out that if they'd really just wanted front pages, they'd have sprayed Fuck The Millennium on the Myra Hindley picture in the Sensation exhibition: 'And we did think of it.'
Actually, Bill's got quite a lot to say about Sensation.
'Those artists were supposed to be outsiders and they've been accepted, in such a quick time. The whole thing has been amassed and embraced really quickly, so it completely cuts the bollocks off whatever those individual works are about and just turns it into PR for the country. It's the same with rock music. There is something frightening about the embracing of it, the invites to No 10. It's all come in, come in, until the only thing that's actually left is," he spits, "'Swinging London".'
Bill and Jimmy insist that you cannot subvert from within: 'It's safer with us on the outside,' grins Jimmy. Still, they're not very scary, Bill and Jimmy. They're clever, and slyly funny, and quietly angry; older than most artists, much older than most pop stars. But the weirdest thing about them is they're entirely, unusually, bafflingly genuine. They do what they do because they think it needs doing, buzzing about, causing ordered chaos within their own chosen parameters: operating somewhere between humour and gravity, art and pop. They don't have a plan of action. They do something when it feels right.
Bill: 'I know it sounds pretentious, but maybe, deeper inside your head, there is actually a plan. But anything we've ever done ... we've never know what the end is, and sometimes things just fizzle out, but more times than not things work their way through and get to the point.'
Jimmy: 'But we never knew what that point was.'
Bill: 'No. We weren't even aware of the point.'
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