Wednesday, 26 October 2022

MuMufication and the People’s Pyramid

Yesterday I completed foundation training as a Death Doula (or "Soul Midwife"), somebody who helps members of their community to come to terms with and approach death in as comfortable a way as possible. As part of my training, I had to give a presentation on a particular community's practices surrounding death. Rather than tackle the practices of a traditional religion or long-established community, I chose to focus on a more contemporary issue: what happens to old ravers and punks when they die? If you too are interested in knowing the answer to the above question, or to questions such as "how does one build a pyramid out of 35,000 dead people?" or "whatever happened to that rave band The KLF?", here is my presentation: 

“MuMufication” is a process whereby 23g of a dead person’s ashes are placed inside a hole in a specially designed brick (a “Brick of Mu”) which is then fired for a second time in such a way that the person’s ashes become sealed into the brick. These bricks are then laid as part of a pyramid, “The People’s Pyramid”. This bricklaying ceremony happens once per year, on 23rd November, during “Toxteth Day of the Dead”.

The bricks themselves can be purchased during a person’s lifetime, along with a “Certificate of MuMufication”, at a cost of £99 (which includes the cost of the firing and ritual bricklaying once the person is dead), although there have been special offers allowing the very very young, the very very old, and residents of the Liverpool L8 postcode to participate for as little as 99p.

However, the brick does not need to be purchased during a person’s lifetime; if the deceased’s loved ones wish them to be MuMufied, as long as 23g of ashes are available then it can be done at any time following death. It should be added that the nature of the ritual means that the dead may also be celebrated in more traditional ways by their direct family and loved ones, for example a person could have a "normal" funeral and cremation before later being MuMufied.

This is a very new ritual: the first brick was cemented in place in 2018, and there are currently 35 bricks in the pyramid (22 of which were laid last year). The complete 23-foot high pyramid will require 34,592 bricks, which means that it will not be finished during the lifespan of anyone currently living. This is intentional. Modern life lacks both meaningful ritual and long-term thinking. MuMufication is a secular ritual, one which allows for contemplation of what it means for us to become ancestors. The MuMufied are literally laying foundations for our descendents 1,000 years in the future.

The origins of MuMufication are both serious and playful, and central to them are the artists and situationists Jimmy Cauty and Bill Drummond. This duo were best known as the pop group The KLF during the late 1980s and early 1990s, but have also operated under many other labels including The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, The JAMS,  the Timelords, the K Foundation and K2 Plant Hire Ltd. In order to understand where MuMufication came from, it is useful to understand something of the pair's history.

It also helps to know something about The Illuminatus Trilogy: three sci-fi novels written in the 1970s by Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea which, with their storyline packed with conspiracy theories, were intended to demonstrate how ridiculous such theories were, but which ended up having the opposite effect by re-igniting interest in an obscure 18th Century sect called the Bavarian Illuminati. In the trilogy, The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu were the sworn enemies of the Illuminati. The books (and Drummond & Cauty) also draw heavily upon the symbolism and ideas of Discordianism, a spoof religion which highlights some of the cognitive biases involved in mainstream religions, and which places special significance upon the number 23.

The KLF were the biggest singles band in the world in 1991. Tracks such as What Time Is Love and Last Train to Trancentral were the soundtrack to the rave movement of those years, and for their follow-up single Justified and Ancient they famously persuaded country music star Tammy Wynette to appear on a rave single, singing about a group of mysterious “ancients of Mu Mu” who roamed the land in an ice-cream van. However, The KLF are remembered far more for the way in which they left the music industry than for any of the music they left behind. At the height of their fame, they were invited to open the 1992 Brit Awards. For this, their only ever live performance, they played an unrecognisable thrash metal version of their trance hit 3AM Eternal , backed by the band Extreme Noise Terror, before firing a machine-gun full of blanks at the music-industry audience, and leaving the stage as an announcement declared that: “The KLF have left the music industry”.

The music industry, however, refused to believe that any band this successful would simply quit at the height of their success. To reinforce their message, and burn all bridges forever, the duo deleted all of their releases, meaning that their songs could no longer be purchased, or played on the radio. Then they burned the remaining £1 million that they had made from their time as a band. Hounded for doing so, they wrote a contract saying that they would not speak any more about this act for 23 years. The contract was written on a car, which was then pushed off a cliff.

The two were good to their word. The ashes of the £1 million were made into a brick (the beginning of an obsession with bricks), and for the next 23 years they each worked on assorted art projects, and had no further dealings with the music industry.

At the beginning of 2017 rumours about the band began to circulate. The 23-year contract was due to expire on 23 August, and the sudden appearance of strange posters, graffiti, and YouTube videos at the beginning of the year sparked rumours that the KLF would be reforming and releasing new music. This was never going to happen. In the event, The JAMS’ return was far stranger than most had imagined, stranger than many could imagine. The 23rd anniversary kicked off an event called “Welcome to the Dark Ages” during which 400 people each paid £100 to spend 3 days doing a series of increasingly bizarre tasks.

Welcome to the Dark Ages started fairly normally with a book-signing and a debate about why the pair had burned the £1 million (little clarity was achieved and perhaps the most illuminating answer to this question was “to get to the other side”). Things got weirder though, as the 400 were given mysterious duties to perform which included collecting shopping trolleys and traffic cones, forming a band “Badger Kull”, worshipping a statue of John Lennon, and performing pranks inside branches of Starbucks. But the culmination of the three days was an announcement that Cauty and Drummond had gone into business with undertakers Rupert Callender and Claire Phillips, and were launching a literal pyramid scheme whereby punters could pay to be baked into bricks and then piled into a pyramid. The pyramid was to be built in Toxteth, Liverpool - one of the country’s most deprived areas and a breeding ground for creativity, and somewhere with which the pair had previous ties. 

Given the nature of the event, and of so much else that Cauty and Drummond had done during their lives, it’s tempting to think that this was and is just a big joke, with anyone foolish enough to buy a brick as its butt. However the pair are not pranksters like Jeremy Beadle, they are tricksters like the god Loki: their intention is not to make fools of other people, but to point out the foolishness of the reality in which we all live, and so bring real magic into people’s lives. The playful solemnity of the People’s Pyramid was made painfully real when, the following year, it was revealed that the first brick in the pyramid was to be Jimmy Cauty’s younger brother Simon, who had tragically died in 2016 at the age of 57. Jimmy wrote a beautiful eulogy to his brother, and why this death drove him to establish the building of the pyramid.

The pyramid continues to grow, and Toxteth Day of the Dead continues to evolve. In 2020 it had to be postponed due to COVID, and in 2021, for the first time, it was held outside Liverpool (in Buxton, Derbyshire) as it was declared that “Toxteth is a state of mind”.

One of the most exciting things about this entirely new form of memorialisation is that nobody, including Cauty and Drummond, yet knows quite what it is. The form and nature of the thing evolves from year to year, as attendees who are unsure of what the “proper form” is for this death-ritual soon come to realise that this is entirely up to them. Everything is up for grabs. There are still 34,557 bricks to be added. A permanent site for the pyramid is still to be found. In the meantime, like the ark of the covenant, the foundation stone and its growing stack of bricks moves from place to place, accruing legends and souls. 

Further details of MuMufication can be found at The MuMufication website where there is also a list of those MuMufied to date, with photographs and short biographies

There is also a Radio 4 documentary “The People’s Pyramid” available on BBC Sounds; and Paul Duane’s 2019 documentary of Welcome to the Dark Ages, “What Time Is Death?” includes some details of MuMufication. John Higgs’ excellent book “The KLF: chaos, magic, and the band that burned a million pounds” gives a detailed and enjoyable tour of the history and philosophy behind many of Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty’s activities, as well as a novel explanation as to why the 21st Century has turned out to be such a shitshow so far.

Thank you for reading. I shall soon be publishing a book King Arthur vs. Devil Kitteh, and it would help me enormously if you could sign up on the Kickstarter page to be notified once I launch it.

 

1 comment:

  1. I've talked with you about this before but it's cool to get all of these details, so much more to it than I was aware. I didn't know all that stuff about KLF, that's super interesting!

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