A shorter version appears in print; updated 08/11/21

What time is shove?

ONE Chris Atkins has made a film entitled Who Killed the KLF? - referring to the notorious musical duo Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty. The short answer is: they did. And they want it to stay dead [or so we thought].

The two became notorious under a number of names, for their book The Manual (How to Have a Number One the Easy Way) and for tracks such as What time is love. On 14 May 1992, the KLF announced: "For the foreseeable future there will be no further record releases from The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, The Timelords, The KLF and any other past, present and future name attached to our activities. As of now all our past releases are deleted." And on 23 August 1994 they released a film which they said showed them burning a million pounds - part of the proceeds of their fame - in a remote cottage, marking a final break with the music business.

The Boathouse, Ardfin: see caption

The Boathouse, Ardfin, Isle of Jura: it became famous on 23 August 1994 when Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty filmed themselves burning £1 million in bank notes

They did put on one performance, sometimes coyly titled ***k the Millennium, as their post-music art project The K Foundation, on 17 September 1997 at London's Barbican Arts Centre. It was... memorable.

Chris Atkins' film uses extracts of their music. He claims that this is allowed under the "exception" to copyright permitting use of extracts "for the purposes of review and criticism". The Guardian reports that the KLF's music publishers, Warner Chappell, objected to this and tried to stop a screening of the documentary in September.

The Freelance recalls previous attempts at creative use of the "review and criticism" exception, including DVDs with a brief commentary on the end. These didn't last long: they were clearly using a "substantial part" of the work "reviewed" and did not meet the test in UK law that any such use must be "fair dealing".

The irony, as everyone has noted, is that the KLF and parallel projects made very extensive use of "samples" of other people's music. Abba (Swedish popular musicians, my Lord) threatened to sue over the inclusion of so much of their work in the album What the ***k is going on? released under the name The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu - and it is reported that as a result many copies were dumped in the North Sea.[note]


08 November 2021

At the time of writing we thought that Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty wanted the KLF to stay dead. Now we read a Guardian article dated 1 January 2021 reporting that "the KLF have released their greatest hits on to streaming services and YouTube for the first time, and have hinted at further music to follow later this year." Now, if we were advising the KLF, which we are not, and we wanted to object to a film using their music, we'd suggest making some of it legitimately available to reinforce the point. We'd have to do that because UK copyright law is entirely focused on the "economic rights" in music and the "moral right" to object to music or other works appearing in harmful contexts is extremely difficult to enforce. We're approaching them for comment.

21 November 2021

Note: What the ***k is going on? was not, contrary to reports this year, released as the KLF. The cover of the following, but not final, release by The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu - entitled Who Killed the JAMs? - features an image said to be of the burning of copies of What the ***k is going on? in a field outside Gothenburg, Sweden. Others were (WikiFact™) dumped in the North Sea from a ferry on the same trip.