So why exactly did the KLF set £1m on fire? It’s been a burning question for 23 years, as pop’s greatest provocateurs chose to let rumour, conjecture and myth around the publicity stunt – held on the Scottish island of Jura and ending their career on 23 August 1994 – swirl about unanswered for two decades. Until now.
The project formed by Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty in 1987, which has lain dormant in a self-imposed moratorium of 23 years, returned at 00.23am on the morning of Wednesday 23 August. As Drummond and Cauty drove into a backstreet of Liverpool in an ice-cream van to begin three days of events, their first new work – a trilogy of dystopian fiction, an “end of days story”, called 2023: A Trilogy – simultaneously dropped online.
Yet this is not a book for those looking for straightforward answers, and is as obtuse as the KLF themselves, who have published it under their other moniker, the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu. It is a multi-layered, self-referential meta tale, starting with two undertakers, Cauty and Drummond, who discover a life-changing book called 2023: A Trilogy on a hotel bookshelf. It was written by “George Orwell”, the pseudonym for one Roberta Antonia Wilson, 33 years ago. “What you are about to read is what they read – well almost,” reads the preface, adding that it has been translated from Ukrainian.
It is a tale which switches between the diary of the author, Roberta, in April 1984, and her fictional novel set in 2023, in the tax haven of Fernando Po, which is the last nation state on earth (on a small island off the coast of Africa). “It was once part of Equatorial Guinea, before Equatorial Guinea did their lucrative deal with Wikitube,” notes the book.
It is littered with bastardised references to 2017 culture in a nod to the grim future that could befall us all – the Big Five who rule the world are GoogleByte, Wikitube, Amazaba, FaceLife and AppleTree. Winnie, the main protagonist, has had an affair with Julian Assange in her younger years, and now uses an iPhone23; Michelle Obama has been the first female president of the US in 2020 but now models for Damien Hirst; Putin was crowned (ceremonial) czar of Russia; Simon Cowell was murdered by a former contestant live on China’s Got Talent in 2017. An alternative history for the Beatles and their role in world peace is also offered. Yet for all the technological progress, today’s social flaws, particularly the degradation of women, remain unchanged in 2023.
KLF’s re-entrance into the world on Wednesday night in their battered ice-cream truck also almost exactly mirrors a passage of the book, which points to a note scrawled on a warehouse wall in Liverpool. “I found myself in a dusty, sooty city. It was night and winter and dark and rainy. Then I saw an ice-cream van pull around a corner and pull up beside a derelict building.”
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