Bill Drummond and The Justified Ancients Of MU MU
1987: What The Fuck Is Going On?
Good question. If you can spare the forty to fifty smackers needed to win a boot of this on eBay, you?re welcome to try and decipher what the fuck was going on in Bill Drummond?s head when he re-entered the music business with this album. I would personally claim any waking minute of the man?s life worthy of dissection, but that’s just me.
I have no desire to be the last kid on the block waving the “THIS THING THAT I’M INTO…THIS THING IS GENIUS!!!” flag. This review does not afford me the time, space, or context in which to accurately describe what Bill Drummond has done for (and TO) both the entertainment industry and the art community. For the moment, a condensed history is the only alternative:
The story starts on May 5, 1977, when Drummond was around 24 or 25. This marks the formation of Big In Japan, Liverpool?s token post-punk entry and the virgin soil for not only Drummond, but also Ian Broudie (Lightning Seeds) and Holly Johnson (Frankie Goes To Hollywood). Drummond is said to refer to this exact date as ?when I entered the music business.? When Big In Japan collapsed a second or two later, Drummond formed Zoo Records with fellow Liverpudlian Dave Balfe (1). Together, they co-managed and creatively fashioned The Teardrop Explodes and Echo and The Bunnymen into very popular bands. Drummond severed his ties with ?th? Droppies? in 1981, but continued to manage the Bunnymen until he was offered a three-year A&R contract with WEA in 1983, this courtesy of his buddy Rob Dickens. Though it would be humorous if he did indeed sit behind a desk for three years without signing anyone, those claims are not true (2). When he left the corporate world in 1986, he was despondent and announced his retirement from the industry with The Man ? a solo LP (3) released by Alan McGhee’s Creation Records.
The retirement would last six months. A restless Drummond put together the pieces for a musical entity that seemingly served two sole purposes: Get sued, and get loads of publicity while getting sued. He succeeded. Hip Hop was starting to break worldwide, so Drummond crammed tongue deep into cheek and grabbed a piece of the movement. Roping in Brilliant?s guitarist Jimmy Cauty (4), who would go on to be a long time collaborator with Drummond in music and literature, Drummond formed The Justified Ancients Of MU MU, or ?The Jams? for short.
How do you get sued in 1987, before sample laws were fully realized, especially in Great Britain? Easy, give the album an incendiary title and make sure that everyone notices what you have done?and what they did was remarkable. Under the B-Boy pseudonyms King Boy D (Drummond) and Rockman Rock (Cauty), the Jams constructed an album entirely out of illegal samples and laughably thick-accented rapping. Acceptably burned from a file-sharing rip (Drummond would approve), 1987: What The Fuck Is Going On? clearly stands as one of the more out-to-lunch items in my possession, and I own a fair amount of audio malarkey. It?s as if 3rd Bass made a Negativland record while impersonating Roger Moore.
It?s to be noted what Drummond and Cauty unknowingly predicted with this album, meaning, the nasty ?89 ? ?90 groundswell of sampling lawsuits. Real quick: John Oswald might have been farting around with his willfully obscure ?plunderphonics? since 1969, but it would take until 1989 for him to reach copyright infringement stardom. Negativland formed in 1980 and spent ten years honing their sonic ur-bait before Island Records nearly sued them out of existence for fucking with U2. The Turtles can be thanked for momentarily halting hip-hop?s progress when they sued De La Soul in 1989 for samples used in the Three Feet High and Rising track, ?Transmitting Live From Mars.? (5)
The first single from 1987? was ?All You Need Is Love,? which, as you may surmise, enjoys some liberties at the expense of The Beatles (not to mention the MC5). As with most of the cuts, the beat and cacophony of the samples lurches all over the place and is disorienting when listened to through headphones. Other song titles proudly point out the Drummond/Cauty mindset, as shown by ?Hey Hey We?re Not The Monkees? and ?Don?t Take Five, Take What You Want.? It turned out to be ABBA samples that set the desired wheels in motion. The Copyright Protection Society, as per the objections of the Swedish foursome, demanded that all copies of the album be destroyed. Soon to be a perpetual, prickly middle finger up the music business? arse, Drummond and Cauty reacted with a pinch of obtrusive behavior. They drove all the way to ABBA?s Stockholm studio, loaded down with 1,000 copies of the LP and the hopes of reaching some kind of agreement with the band. What they got was promptly locked out of the studio. On the way out of town, they spotted a scrawny blonde prostitute shakin? it down the motorway. Claiming that they mistook her for Agnetha Faltskog, they quickly unloaded 500 copies of 1987: What The Fuck Is Going On? at her feet. The remaining 500 were burned in a field. Another five copies were advertised in the back of The Face for a thousand quid a pop. The Jams then re-released 1987? in a legal, edited form (I don?t see how this is possible, unless it?s four minutes long) later that year, complete with detailed instructions on how to reproduce the original LP in the safety of your own home.
This fascinating album and the incidents surrounding it are overshadowed by the massive success and attention Drummond and Cauty would soon attract under the dual monikers The Timelords and The KLF. The Timelords would record one of the most popular sports anthems ever, the number one hit ?Doctorin? The Tardis?, – a mishmash of Gary Glitter samples and the Dr. Who theme. The KLF would, of course, go acid-house huge with The White Room album, but not after they single-handedly invented a genre with 1989?s Chill Out LP. In 1992, The KLF were invited to perform the number five smash ?3 AM Eternal? at the Brit Awards, as they were voted Best British Group. What they performed might be considered the most incendiary prank to ever grace live television. Bringing the Earache Records band Extreme Noise Terror as backup, Drummond and Cauty belted out a grindcore version of the hit single. Drummond then opened fire on the audience with a blank-loaded machine gun, announced that ?the KLF are officially leaving the music business,? and later tossed a bloodied sheep carcass on the steps of the after party hotel. Over the next month, The KLF had their entire back catalog removed from store shelves.
1987: What The Fuck Is Going On is a forgotten corner of the ultimate Guts and Genius saga, a saga that Drummond still unwinds in various fashions (bird-watching, believe it or not, is one of them) and that will hopefully be documented in full one day.
1 Balfe would form and run Food Records after selling Zoo. He would then sign Blur and make millions of dollars.
2 He signed The Strawberry Switchblade and Brilliant – a band that led to a valuable learning experience via working with notorious production trio Stock, Aitken, and Waterman.
3 The Man is a collection of countrified folk tunes sung in the affected accent of Drummond?s Scottish heritage. It?s not half bad and can be found lounging in the nearest dollar bin.
4 Also a co-founder of The Orb with ?Dr.? Alex Patterson.
5. Without harsh incident, The Beastie Boys spent ’86 – ’89 filching heavily from BIG acts (Led Zep, The Eagles).