Portrait of a Real Rock Rebel: Bill Drummond

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It’s frustrating how the media, hungry to fill their 24-hour schedule for thousands of television and online outlets, so easily present the hissy-fits and staged faux dissention of music celebrities as acts of rebellion.

I’d like to highlight some of the exploits of a real revolutionary: Bill Drummond. Sure, much – if not all – of what he did and does is for the same self-serving publicity purposes, but at least he does it with style and originality. And above all, he takes risks – the real mark of a rebel.

Sources for the following information include Wikipedia, The Independent, The Telegraph, KLF.de and Drummond’s Penkiln Burn website.

  • 1977: Recording debut as guitar player with Big in Japan, alongside members Holly Johnson (Frankie Goes to Hollywood) and Ian Broudie (The Lightning Seeds). Later sets up Zoo Records, before becoming an A&R executive for Warners.
  • Late 1970s: As manager for Echo & The Bunnymen (EATB), Drummond books tour venues based on the shape they make, “If you look at a map of the world,

    the whole tour’s in the shape of a rabbit’s ears.

  • 1980s: Ian Curtis, of Joy Division, commits suicide, sending their sales rocketing. Noticing this, Drummond tries to convince the EATB singer to kill himself (Note: another source relays this same story with Julian Cope, rather than EATB, possibly via Drummond’s solo song “Julian Cope is Dead”).
  • 1980s: Drummond believes there’s a line of cosmic energy that bounced off Iceland, was channelled down a manhole in Merseyside (England), and exited the other side in Papua New Guinea. He tests this theory by getting EATB to play in Reykjavik while he stands on the manhole cover.
  • 1986: Resigns from Warners via a press release, which states that he is nearly 33⅓ years old (33⅓ RPM being the speed at which vinyl albums revolve).
  • 1987: Forms the group The Justified Ancients of Mu-Mu with Jimmy Cauty (later, of The Orb), whose first single All You Need Is Love is recorded in a week. The song, and later album (1987), makes blatant use of copyrighted samples, taking “plagiarism to its absurd conclusion”.
  • 1987: After a legal conflict with ABBA regarding samples, the 1987 album is forcibly withdrawn from sale. Drummond and Cauty travel to Sweden hoping to talk to ABBA. Unable to get in contact with ABBA, they present the gold disc of the album to a prostitute, who they pretend is Agnetha “fallen on hard times”.
  • 1987: Re-releases the 1987 album as “1987: The JAMs 45 Edits”, with all unauthorised samples removed, leaving long periods of protracted silence, and less than 25 minutes of music.
  • 1988: Achieves a number one novelty hit, “Doctorin’ the Tardis” under the name The Timelords (with Cauty). It sells over a million copies.
  • 1988: Co-writes the book, “The Manual (How to Have a Number One The Easy Way)” with Cauty, detailing instructions on how to create a novelty number one record. This later gets translated into a German stage musical.
  • 1988: Drummond and Cauty form The KLF, who go on to pioneer ambient and trance electronic music.
  • 1991: The KLF become the biggest-selling singles act of the year.
  • 1992: Having received the Best British Group award, KLF perform at the Brit Awards with hardcore metal band Extreme Noise Terror, fire machine gun blanks into the industry-executive-filled audience, and dump a dead sheep at the aftershow party.
  • 1992: At their peak, The KLF announce their retirement from the music industry and proceed to delete their entire back catalogue, ensuring no future revenue could be earned from it.
  • 1993: Establishes the art foundation, “The K Foundation”, which awards a “worst artist of the year” award to Rachel Whiteread, the same winner of that year’s Turner Prize. Whiteread refuses to collect the £40,000 award – double that of the Turner Prize – until Drummond threatens to set fire to it outside the Tate.
  • 1994: The K Foundation withdraws £1 million in cash, the remaining earnings from KLF. After failing to sell it (nailed to a board) to the Tate Gallery for £750,000, they burn it. Drummond later comments, “Our accountant couldn’t write it off as an artistic statement. We had to pay £330,000 extra. Which was unexpected”.
  • 1995: Drummond buys A Smell of Sulphur in the Wind by his favourite artist, Richard Long, for $20,000. Six years later, he cuts it into 20,000 pieces (4mm x 11mm each) and sells each for $1.
  • 1995: Drives around London on Christmas Eve, distributing over 6,000 cans of lager to the homeless and street-drinkers.
  • 1999: Plans to destroy Stonehenge (but doesn’t).
  • 2002: Puts up 100 posters in Liverpool, offering to have sex with anyone for £10,000, with a signed testimonial.
  • 2003: Launches mydeath.net – a website where you can make preparations for your own death – with the tagline, “Prepare To Die”.
  • 2003: Launches youwhores.com, a site for you to “advertise what you are willing to do and the price you are willing to do it for”.
  • 2004: Devises an imaginary line from Belfast to Nottingham called “The Soup Line”. If anyone who lives in a town on the line asks him, he will visit and make a hearty vegetable broth.

For more information about Bill Drummond’s latest activities (including The17 Choir), see the Penkiln Burn website.

Photograph of Bill Drummond’s Twinned With Your Darkest Thought sign by Flickr User Squirmelia, under a Creative Commons license.

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