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By Robert Sandall (12 September, 1993, The Times)
Most successful pop groups outstay their welcome. Smart ones, such as the KLF, split while they are still ahead. "We have been following a wild and wounded, glum and glorious, sht but shining path these five years," the duo announced in April 1992, shortly after being voted Best British Band at the record industry's Brit awards. "We are at a point now where the path is about to take a sharp turn into a netherworld of we know not what."
More than a year later, and two months into their bizarre reinvention as the K Foundation, Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty are still not letting on where on earth, or in the netherworld, their latest japes are leading. They have not even formally acknowledged their new alias: only the telltale letter K, and their history of satirical game-playing, betray them.
This, for the uninitiated, is the pair who enlivened the 1992 Brit awards by dumping a dead sheep in the foyer of the hotel where the ceremony took place and then, during their star turn, pretending to machinegun the assembled guests. After their first big hit, they wrote a book called How To Have A Number 1 The Easy Way, and blew the proceeds of the record (Pounds 250,000) on a film that never got finished. Among the many other scrapes on their CV are a legal run-in with Abba, after they sampled the whole of Dancing Queen for a track called The Queen And I, and a graffiti campaign supporting the single It's Grim Up North, which attracted comment from a Labour MP.
In the past, you could see roughly what these pop provocateurs were driving at: taking their cues from Malcolm McLaren and the punk ethos, they were skilled media manipulators, DIY subversives updating the rock'n'roll swindle for a generation raised on acid house. But the series of full-page advertisements that began in the weekly music papers in July, then moved last month into the national press, have served no obvious purpose so far other than to fritter away about Pounds 70,000 of their own money.
An ad in The Sunday Times two weeks ago promised the lunatic disbursement of a further Pounds 40,000 in cash the "1994 K Foundation award". This sum will apparently enrich one of the four artists shortlisted for the Turner Prize, as long as he or she is prepared to be honoured for producing "the worst body of work in the preceding 12 months". Solicitors for the K Foundation have confirmed the prize money does exist and has been lodged in a separate bank account.
If this is all just a silly publicity stunt, what exactly is it publicising? Not the KLF back catalogue, which the duo deleted when they called a halt to the hit-making process last year. There is no new product from the K Foundation to replace it, either. The initial ads did herald a recording, K Cera Cera, a version of Que Sera Sera, made with the Red Army Choir. But as the small print explained, the track was unavailable and would remain so until "world peace has been firmly established". That is, presumably, never.
Aside from poking fun at pop stars who affect a political conscience to flog their records, Drummond and Cauty's intention at this stage was to get the song aired at events such as the Glastonbury Festival and the Charity Shield football match at Wembley. When the organisers of these events refused to comply, they switched tack: from pop to art, and from the music press to national newspapers. The ads got weirder, bawling inscrutable slogans "Divide And Kreate", "Time Is Running In" and "Abandon All Art Now". Next came the announcement of the mock Turner "mutha of all awards", a sequel to which runs in today's Independent On Sunday. According to Ian Rowan of Pawson Media, the agency administering the campaign, it will run at least until the winner of the Turner Prize is announced in November, and probably again in The Sunday Times. Rowan, who is paying between Pounds 5,000 and Pounds 15,000 for each ad placed, has been given no budget limits.
With Drummond and Cauty incommunicado, the future moves and motives of the K Foundation are as clear as mud. Quite possibly to themselves, too, a friend said last week, although he thought the K Foundation award would carry on in some form after this year.
Money isn't what they're after. They've made, lost and walked away from piles of that already; and boredom with the successful marketing of pop music was what drove them out of the pop ghetto in the first place. It's our minds, particularly where the consumption of culture is concerned, that interest Drummond and Cauty. Perhaps this childish but effective commando strike into the citadel of high culture is designed to expose complacency and greed. Perhaps it merely exercises their impish sense of mischief. Either way, this year's Turner prize is guaranteed to attract a far wider audience than usual which fulfils one of the KLF's old maxims: making the unthinkable happen.
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