Various venues, Liverpool
23 - 26 August
It’s 7.45 p.m. on a Friday evening at a Toxteth housing estate. A girl is taking a shopping bag out of the boot of the family car when she sees a crowd of 400 unannounced and unspecified beings walking towards her. She calls to her dad, who is now also wondering why a beaten up ice-cream van, daubed in Ukrainian slogans and host to wooden coffins in the back, two middle-aged men in the front, is being towed through their streets.
The answer is simple: we are here because of The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, that is to say, The KLF. And we have paid £100 each for the pleasure. To the uninitiated, what took place between 12.23 a.m. on 23 August and 11.23 a.m. on 26 August will never make any sense. To the initiated – that’s us, the eager disciples of two of the art and music world’s most confounding and brilliant provocateurs – the fact that it barely made any sense made total, reassuring sense. To explain, Welcome to the Dark Ages was a three-day happening in Liverpool that served to reawaken the debate over why the KLF burned a million pounds on the 23 August 1994. An act of glorious self-sabotage? Disgusting self-indulgence? The greatest artistic statement ever offered to us mere Mu mortals? It’s all dependent on what side of the moral compass you twitch. Whatever it was, we’re here because the self-enforced 23-year silence on the matter has elapsed, a moratorium painted on the bonnet of a hire car which was subsequently pushed off a Scottish cliff all those years ago.
We are also here to commemorate the release of their new book 2023, a terrifying vision of a not-so-distant future. At 12.23 a.m. on a Wednesday morning, we are assembled outside the News from Nowhere book shop awaiting the first public JAM-ing of Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty for 23 years. A wave of giddiness erupts from the queue of middle-aged men and some women as the mangled chimes of an ice-cream van can be heard around the corner – and here they are. A group of schoolchildren have also spilled out onto the street hoping for a midnight Feast, but all they get is a man walking past holding his newly stamped copy of 2023 aloft.
To add to the strangeness of the event, the 400 ticket holders are also volunteers. I was selected as a member of the ‘Pop Up and Burn Down Book Club’, but on learning that the rest of my group were not interested in actually burning anything I decided to carve my own path. A band had been formed to play the closing event, Badger Kull. Roles were given as band members, manager, social media manager, fan club, etc. I set up a fake Twitter account for Badger Kull so I could accuse the official one of being fake. After a confusing half hour of me hurling abuse at what turned out to be the official fan club, I realised I had actually set up the fake account before a real one existed. Later, the rightful social media manager of the fake band contacted me to say I had made his role untenable and I could bloody well have it. I was to report to Bill and Jimmy midday Thursday. At 8.23 p.m. (yes, 20:23) on Thursday I uploaded a song by obscure noise terrors Grim Brides pretending it was Badger Kull (The KLF to the believers). Frenzy ensued. An album title TB Or Not TB is offered to the fans. It is approved and Brian May is notified.
“Badger, badger, badger. KULL KULL KULL! One, two, three, four: WHAT THE FUUK IS GOING ON?” We continue our march through traffic and police perplexity, a three-mile walk toward a 32-foot high wooden pyramid on some riverside wasteland. We encircle and watch The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu kickstart their new business venture; offering people the chance of MuMufication. That is, the chance to have their ashes sealed up in bricks and made part of the People’s Pyramid that will take 34,592 deaths to complete. For just £99 you yourself can be a brick and remain forever in Toxteth.
We move inside and Badger Kull take to the stage to perform their one and only anthem Toxteth Day Of The Dead. It seems many of the crowd have dropped their first pill for 23 years and the atmosphere is one of unabashed joy and satisfied exhaustion. Outside, the Justified Jarvis Cocker pushes a trolley full of traffic cones past the flaming pyramid into the night as we ponder how the many burning questions were left stoked rather than answered. The JAMs have taken us all for a delirious ride through their minds of endless imagination and unorthodox commercial enterprise to only leave us wondering just What The Fuuk Is Going On.