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Historical use of the name "King Mob"

Jim de Liscard
This King Mob name actually dates back to the Gordon Riots in June 1780. This was a week of rioting throughout London that a sketchy history book would describe as being fomented by anti-Catholic feeling. Whilst this is true as far as it goes it's a bit simplistic. Yes, property belonging to Catholics was burnt down, but only rich Catholics not the ordinary citizens. In fact the riots can be viewed as an aborted "English Revolution" shortly before the French managed a rather better job of theirs. In London law courts were torched and prisons were opened (most of the prisoners freed were being held for non-payment of debts) before being burned. Painted on the wall of Newgate prison was the proclamation that the inmates had been freed by the authority of "His Majesty, King Mob". The riot was eventually put down by the army who killed about 300 in doing so. Another 30 (or 60) people were executed later for their part in it.

The Situationists (L'Internationale Situationiste, to be more correct) were formed from various groups from various bits of Europe in 1957 and petered out around 1970. They weren't exclusively French but probably the most influential members were, and the one thing they tend to get associated with (if anything) is the May '68 riots in Paris. To be simplistic (which I'm going to have to be) they were a continuation of the tradition of Dadaism and Surrealism but sticking more to the political side rather than doing some nice paintings that would end up in bourgeois art galleries.

In 1966 a British group called Heatwave were incorporated (or whatever) into the SI. The members of Heatwave however weren't overly keen on some of the more theoretical aspects of the SI but they did approve of the New York group Black Mask (later the wonderfully named Up Against The Wall Motherfuckers). This basically led to a split (of which the SI were quite keen on at this point) and in December 67 they were expelled. They then changed their name to King Mob. (See, got there in the end).

King Mob styled themselves as "a street gang with an analysis" and were supposed to "laud and practice active nihilism" and celebrated any delinquent and anti-social activity.

During Christmas '68 a King Mob contingent visited Selfridges (large London department store) and, with one of them dressed as Santa Claus, proceeded to give free gifts to children. The store called the police, Santa was arrested and the kids were made to give their presents back.

[Carl Muckenhoupt adds: Morrison has copied the Selfridge's incident in an issue of Doom Patrol. (Sorry, but I don't know the issue number.) Mr. Nobody and the Brotherhood of Dada spend a page or two dressed as Santa Claus, giving away free toys in an American department store.]

For the next year's Notting Hill carnival they entered a float representing "Miss Notting Hill 69" featuring a girl with a giant syringe in her arm. They were also responsible for various attacks on art galleries and Wimpy bars.

And like the Situationists they were a dab hand at graffiti and sloganeering: Two of my faves being the William Blake quote "The Road of Excess leads to the Palace of Wisdom" and the mis-quote "The Road of Excess leads to the Palace of Willesden" (though the latter won't travel well). And of course there was the ubiquitous "King Mob" graffiti itself (incidentally there's a photo of a very young Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious next to one of these from 68). I'm not sure how long King Mob actually lasted as a group but I don't think it was long. They were later described by two of their instigators as having "an hysterical over emphasis of violence, whether Futurist or contemporary hooligan outbursts..."

Still on the subject of King Mob, I thought this was interesting. It's an extract from Robert Anton Wilson's "Cosmic Trigger." It's a summary of part of "There Is No More Firmament" by Antonin Artaud, a one-act play from the early 1920s and is included in CT for its Sirius references but there's also something else...

"There Is No Firmament" begins with discordant music indicating a "far off cataclysm." The curtain rises on an ordinary street scene, with actors coming and going rapidly. There are bits of ordinary conversation ("Wines... window-glass... gold's going down"), suggestions of violence and insanity ("He's undressing me. Help, he's ripping my dress off...""I'm on fire, I'm burning, I'm going to jump") and, finally, the word "Sirius" repeated in every tone of voice and every pitch of the scale: SIRIUS ... SIRIUS ... SIRIUS ... SIRIUS ... Then a loudspeaker thunders, "THE GOVERNMENT URGES YOU TO REMAIN CALM."

Actors rush about claiming that the sun is getting bigger, the plague has broken out, there is thunder without lightning, etc. A reasonable voice tries to explain: "It was a magnetic phenomenon..." The loudspeaker tells us:


One actor claims it is the end of the world. Another says it is two worlds ramming each other.

Tom-toms beat and a chorus sings the Internationale. Communist and anarchist slogans are shouted. One actor suggests, "There, you see, it was the Revolution." There is a chant, hailing the new ruler, King Mob.

A group of scientists appear and disagree with each other vehemently about what is happening, while a revolutionary objects, "it isn't science any more, it's immoral." Another promises us, not very reassuringly, "We won't see the Anti-Christ yet." Finally, one scientist comes forth to explain to the audience, "The molecular grouping in Sirius is everything. These two forces, ours and theirs, had to be put in touch with each other."

The curtain falls and violent percussion instruments and sirens create a din as the audience leaves.