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A Magazine for Sheffield

Jimmy Cauty Dancing About Architecture

In Sheffield until 28 August, ESTATE is a "dystopian model village experience" with each room "painstakingly vandalised." Will Gimpertz tracked down the man behind the mystery – The KLF's Jimmy Cauty – for this exclusive interview with Now Then.

ESTATE TB1 and TB2 web

ESTATE tower blocks 1 and 2.


Over the weekend, a mysterious blue shipping container apparated outside Theatre Deli on Eyre Street.

Early eye-witness reports mention smoke, helicopters and shellshocked residents emerging from the rear. Will Gimpertz tracked down the man behind the mystery for this exclusive interview with Now Then.

Welcome back to Sheffield, Jimmy.

The last time the city hosted one of your projects was 2016, when your ADP container visited Orgreave as part of its global tour of historic riot sites. This time it’s the turn of ESTATE, four 1/24 scale concrete tower blocks, with each room lovingly vandalised. What was the inspiration for you to move from the still very popular ADP Tour to this new project?

Thanks for inviting me back to Sheffield, but first I should correct you there – it’s “painstakingly vandalised,” not lovingly vandalised. There is a difference.

The ADP was viewed from a distance through viewing ports and I wanted to make something you could actually walk around and interact with in a more direct way. The ADP was 1:87 scale and ESTATE is 1:24. The tower blocks grew organically from that.

Between the original conception and launch of ESTATE in the summer of 2018 and its unveiling to the public in Stoke-on-Trent in the autumn of 2020, we have had the Grenfell fire and a global pandemic. How much do real-life events bleed into the development of a project like ESTATE?

Real world events do have an effect on the project as it evolves. I included some extra parts on the TV news bulletins with footage lifted from the GOV.UK Covid announcements, but I have to be mindful not to make things too current otherwise the project will always be out of date.

We also adapted the viewing experience to be Covid-safe by imposing additional rules and regulations about what you can and can’t do inside a 40-foot shipping container.

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Inside Jimmy Cauty's ESTATE.


Did you manage to continue working on ESTATE through the recent lockdowns?

Because we were initially unsure if life on earth would survive the pandemic, when the first lockdown happened three of the towers were finished so we put them in large wooden shipping crates, wrapped the whole lot up in plastic wrap with a sign on the front that said something like: “If a future civilisation finds these tower blocks, please make them into a model village then tour them in a shipping container full of smoke.”

By the time the second lockdown happened, and we realised that civilisation wasn’t going to implode, I was back to work building the fourth tower. We assembled that tower in the gap between the first and second lockdowns. Also, during that time, we spent about six weeks building basically a mobile theatre inside the shipping container.

What have you learned about tower block construction that has surprised you?

I think the most surprising and annoying thing about making four tower blocks is the massive amount of repetitive work that is needed. That’s OK if you are employing 500 builders, but most of the time it was just me and a small team of mould makers and electrical engineers.

There is a direct lineage from your Riot In A Jam Jar series through the ADP Tour and onto ESTATE. Throughout your career as both an artist and a musician, trilogies and triptychs are a recurring theme. Do you see ESTATE as your final statement as a self-styled model village builder, or is there still more to come?

Ladies and gentlemen, the town planner has now left the model village… Meaning, I think my work in the small world may be coming to an end. It was fun but painful, easy but exhausting, tiny but big… I’m not sure what to do next.

ESTATE TB4 stone circle

Miniature 'stone circle', part of Jimmy Cauty's ESTATE.


Would you ever consider working at a much larger scale? What would you do with a full-size, ready-built tower block?

I’m not sure I could cope with a real-world building. I think I need to have a lie down first.

ESTATE was launched just as the government used the distraction of Covid-19 to rewrite the construction planning laws, particularly with the scrapping of section 106, which ensured that developers included affordable housing and invested in infrastructure for the surrounding area.

The arrival of ESTATE in Sheffield seems to have heralded an explosion of culture and creativity, not just through Sheffield Arts Lab who have organised the residency, but throughout the city. It is already starting to take on the resonance of the monolith from 2001.

Is one of your hopes for ESTATE that it temporarily reinstates the obligations of section 106 and acts as a springboard for local creatives as we move into a new normal?

I was walking past a large building site the other day. They have dug a massive hole for the foundations of a skyscraper. I was thinking the towers would look great down in that hole, like they have been unearthed, and yes, like the monolith from 2001.

I wouldn’t say that section 106 wasn’t on my radar when we were making the towers, but it’s possible to overlay any concept you want onto ESTATE. For me it’s more about the joy of pure, unadulterated vandalism.

Staying with politics briefly, another strong theme through your work is the act of protest, peaceful or otherwise. With the right to protest under threat, do you think protests will adapt and evolve to overcome the legislation, or are we heading into a future of water cannons and riot shields?

I guess if water cannons and tear gas are on the GOV.UK shopping list then I have plenty of smiley riot shields in stock, so no worries.

ESTATE TB4 Stay Alert web

Inside Jimmy Cauty's ESTATE.


ESTATE seems to invite both participation and collaboration from its visitors. In the initial stages of its construction, you offered investment opportunities for people interested in buying a flat in tower block 1, aka Iceni Heights, or becoming a shareholder in tower block 2, the multi-story Child Correction Facility. There are rumours of a pirate radio station operating out of TB1, featuring homegrown Sheffield talent, and you have offered ‘Chinook’, your soundscape that accompanies a visit to ESTATE, up for remix by one and all.

Are these happy accidents of inspiration or are you always looking for artistic reactions to your work?

Everything is an accident, some happier than others. On a project like this that takes many months or years to complete, it’s good to have some kind of interaction with the audience and feedback as you go along. Selling the flats was a great way to keep the momentum going. Momentum is very important. Without it projects just fall over and if a project falls over before its finished then it’s hard to get it started up again.

I didn’t know that Chinook was up for remix by one and all, but that’s actually quite a good idea… It’s on the SHUNT RESISTOR Soundcloud.

If you were instigating ESTATE now, would Priti Patel and her combat jackets be beyond parody, in a way that the previous Home Secretary Amber Rudd wasn’t?

I know what you mean about Priti Patel. She tends to amp things up, but I could easily swap her out for Amber Rudd. I’ve noticed she likes to describe everything as “totally unacceptable,” when Amber Rudd would just be happy with “unacceptable”.

The original plans for ESTATE called for a total of 23 tower blocks to be installed on an acre of wasteland and left to fend for themselves. Is that still the long-term goal, maybe in its retirement?

Well, the 23 towers thing was more a product of my number dyslexia. Someone pointed out that it would take me 12 years to make them all, so a more reasonable 4 was decided upon.

Yes, the towers will eventually live outside. If anyone knows of a suitable long-term location for a model village then please do get in touch with L-13.

You have collaborated recently with Jamie Reid on the Boudica Is Coming project and Sheffield’s own Kid Acne on the prints for ESTATE’s residency to the Steel City. How do you approach these artistic collaborations – a carefully curated compromise or a scrap to have the last word?

These things are usually orchestrated by the brains at L-13, us artists just do what we are told. It’s a much better approach than having endless free will to do whatever we want.

I like to work within very strict parameters, i.e. spend £250k building a model village housing estate then tour the world in a shipping container.

As one of the volunteers at the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu Present Welcome To The Dark Ages event in Liverpool in 2017, I’m of the firm opinion that day three of the situation was the greatest artistic achievement of the 21st century. The K Foundation Burn A Million Quid in 1994 may have a similar claim for the previous century. Are you ever worried that your work will be shortlisted for the Turner Prize or coveted by Charles Saatchi?

Yes, it is a constant worry that one day the art authorities (GOV.UK/ART) will decide we are worthy artists and not just pop stars messing about with our art hobbies. Welcome To The Dark Ages was definitely a monumental 21st-century logistics achievement. As for the money burning and as I keep saying to Bill [Drummond]: what happened in the 20th century stays in the 20th century.

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ESTATE in Stoke-on-Trent.


You have begun to reflect on your creative career to date with the launch of The KLF Re-enactment Society and the first of your Jimmy Cauty’s Cookbook series sheds some light on your adventures with advanced acoustic armaments. Are they any more volumes heading our way soon?

Yes, there are more volumes in the pipeline. The next one is the Stonehenge Cookbook, which talks about Brit awards, The Beatles, The A303, The K Foundation and other such things.

The Return of The KLF, at least digitally on streaming services, in January of this year took everyone by surprise. Was it born out of a year of lockdowns or always part of the masterplan?

I don’t think we ever had a master plan, but what we do have is a mountain of multitrack tapes, half-inch masters, Umatic EQ masters, floppy disk, optical disks and studio DAT tapes that contain everything we ever made. This mountain of tapes has been cared for, neglected, forgotten, found and transported to various locations over the last 30 years.

It spent the first 15 years in the KLF shipping container that was dumped in a field somewhere in the home counties, but because of a door closing error a family of owls also lived in this container, thus everything inside was covered in a thick layerof owl shit.

The now-cleaned mountain of tapes is currently located in my workshop. Usually if you are in a band you would have a record company to do all the boring stuff like closing the container door properly or looking after the tapes, but because me and Bill have our own record company we also have to do all the boring stuff.

So the feeling was that if we should both be run over by a bus and killed, who would be in charge of cataloguing and organising the mountain of tapes? The answer was our children would have to do it, but nothing is labelled properly and it could easily turn into a nightmare.

We figured it would be better if we did this before the bus arrives, thus now all the critical stuff is safely remastered and stored on the internet on Spotify and other platforms. Now we can put the mountain of tapes back in the shipping container, close the door and forget about it and get on with the fun stuff.

[Note: we don’t usually do fun, but in this case we will make an exception.]

[Note: In a thousand years,when me and Bill are long gone and the internet is forgotten about, there will still be the mountain of tapes in the owl-proof shipping container somewhere in the home counties.]

Last question. The quote, ‘Writing about music is like dancing about architecture’ has been attributed to everyone from Brian Eno to Frank Zappa, although the most common source is thought to be American musical comedian Martin Mull. What dance would be the best review of ESTATE?

I’m glad you asked that question because it has given me an idea about a new ESTATE trailer. Watch the TowerBlock1 Instagram for updates.

Thank you for your time and best of luck for ESTATE’s stay in Sheffield.

Thanks. I hope it all makes sense.

Learn more

ESTATE will be outside Theatre Deli, St Mary’s Gate Retail Park, Sheffield until 28 August 2021. Visits inside ESTATE are currently sold out but a waiting list is available. ESTATE can still be viewed externally through conveniently-placed eye holes.

The ESTATE launch party is at Sidney & Matilda on 4 August and includes a performance by Band Of Holy Joy.

Jimmy Cauty is dividing his time between the mdzESTATEtour, The KLF Re-enactment Society and the building of The People’s Pyramid which, when completed, will be made out of the cremated remains of 34,592 people. ("It's interesting," Cauty said in a 2020 interview, "to be in a band that doesn't make records but only makes pyramids of dead people.")

Iceni Heights Community Radio will be broadcasting the very best new talent from Sheffield from a 1:24 scale pirate radio station inside Tower Block 1 for the month of August.

Sheffield Arts Lab continue to promote art, humour and magic in the Steel City crucible. There next public outing will be on 30 August at the Blame Blake Day hosted by Airy Fairy, London Road.

Will Gimpertz continues to flicker in and out of reality at the behest of his creator.

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