The KLF – did they know what they were doing?

This was the start of Drummond and Cauty’s reputation as being masters of the publicity stunt. It is worth noting the gulf between this reputation and how they actually behaved. The traditional role of media manipulator is a scheming, cynical one, where intricate plans are mapped out in advance and followed to the letter. The archetype of the manipulative producer is perhaps best embodied in the Sex Pistols film The great rock ‘n’ roll swindle. This presents the story of the Sex Pistols as a grand scheme by their manager, Malcolm McLaren, who is shown manipulating the band like a sinister puppet master for his own financial gain.

In contrast, The JAMs, on adventures such as the Swedish trip and others, are simply winging it. The impetus here was that they had to destroy their stock of the album and they wanted to make that act a thing in itself, something symbolic and intersting. Beyond that, they were scrabbling around for ideas and just trying to make something happen. Hindsight may fix these events into a narrative that makes them appear symbolic oralmost pre-ordained, such as the way the bonfire of their debut album mirrors the later bonfire of their money. But when they are being enacted, they are chaotic. They lack aim and purpose. To quote one of their press releases: “The plot has been mislaid”.


Perhaps more than anything they did, The Manual led to the pair being perceived as cynical media manipulators rather than random followers of chaos. In a sense, this was always inevitable when they became successful because the public narrative believes that success comes from knowing what you are doing. The equally common phenomenon of stumbling upwards is rarely recognised. /…/
The fact that Drummond and Cauty were becoming successful was a clear sign that they knew what they were doing, or so the public narrative went. How, then, should they explain the strangeness of their behaviour? Clearly, it is all part of their plan. It was calculated media manipulation, “scams” or “pranks” aimed at generating publicity.
With that narrative in place, Drummond and Cauty were in a unique position where they could follow and enact strong occult currents in full public view without comment.

excerpt from John Higgs, The KLF: Chaos, magic and the band who burned a million pounds (2013)


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