19 February, 1992
The videos flashed onto the screen in quick succession at London’s Hammersmith Odeon. The winner of the Best British Band award was about to be announced at the 11th BRITS ceremony. The outfront crowd cheered as images of Dire Straits, Queen, James, Pet Shop Boys, Simply Red and The KLF were paraded before them. Who could the winner be? Guest presenter Martika was onstage to hail the successful band. “For the first time ever at the BRITS, we have an exact tie and two winners,” she announced. “Congratulations, Simply Red and The KLF.” Mick Hucknall wasn’t present to accept his award, causing Martika to continue, “Mick has asked me to say he would accept second place… and Long Live Queen, maaan!” Disconcertingly, the KLF also failed to appear. They had long gone, leaving Hammersmith in their taillights.
The story had begun unfolding much earlier in the day. Not long after dawn, a van pulled up outside a Northampton slaughterhouse, and a dead sheep was loaded aboard to be driven to London. So began a plan to be staged by Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty, who, as The KLF, were the biggest-selling band in the world in 1991.
They would dismember a dead sheep onstage and throw blood into the audience...
Their plan was to totally disrupt the industry’s showcase awards ceremony with an act that would stain its name for all eternity. They would dismember the dead sheep onstage and throw buckets of blood into the stuffed-shirted audience. Not since Terry Southern devised his vat-full of cash and bodily fluids for The Magic Christian movie had anyone come up with such a bumper wheeze. Or so the conspirators thought.
Thankfully, wiser heads prevailed. When the KLF joined grindcore metallists Extreme Noise Terror to rehearse their version of 3 AM Eternal for the show, BBC lawyers hastily curtailed the bucket of blood plan, claiming that it would undoubtedly lead to serious legal problems. And Extreme Noise Terror proved unhappy about the sheep being disembowelled. Avowed vegetarians, they could hardly be expected to approve the KLF plan of action and threatened to pull out of the performance.
The KLF called them “weeds” and duly opted for an alternative plan. Come the night, Bill Drummond appeared onstage, wearing a kilt and supported by crutches. A bizarre but strangely threatening figure, he snarled, “The Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu versus Extreme Noise Terror: this is television freedom,” as the joint conspirators launched into the torrent of noise that was 3.AM Eternal. As the audience reeled, Drummond somehow emerged from the onstage riot of movement and sound, chomping a cigar and firing what appeared to be an automatic weapon. As the noise riot terminated and the band headed offstage: the voice of publicist Scott Piering announced, “The KLF have now left the music industry.”
Some of the audience were shocked. Sir Georg Solti, the Hungarian composer who was to present the best classical award, attempted to leave the auditorium and had to be persuaded to return to his seat. Later KLF dubbed him “a scaredy cat.”
"We frightened the audience because they thought the machine gun we fired was loaded with bullets. It was only blanks!"
Soon after, in Smash Hits, Drummond and Cauty explained: “We frightened the audience because they thought the machine gun we fired was loaded with bullets. It was only blanks, ha, ha! We left after our bit, and arranged for a motorbike messenger to pick up our award for Best British Group. The Brit's producers, however, wouldn't let him pick it up for us. Pah, foiled!“
But their vengeance wasn’t complete. Later that evening, a dead sheep was unceremoniously dumped outside the Royal Lancaster Hotel, where a post-BRITS party was taking place. Tied to the carcass was a message: “I died for ewe - bon appetit.”
The next morning’s Sun came emblazoned with the headline, ‘KLF's Sick Gun Stunt Fails To Hit The Target’, round about the time the band were making plans to dump their BRITS award somewhere near Stonehenge. Three months later on 14 May 1992, The KLF announced their retirement from the music industry and the deletion of their back catalogue with the message: “We are at a point where the path is about to take a sharp turn from these sunny uplands down into a netherworld of we know not what.”
In 1993 the two founded the K Foundation, whose most famous act was burning one million pounds on the island of Jura on August 23, 1994. They declared they would not speak about the burning for 23 years. The moratorium runs out next year.