The Music Lounge

Money to Burn

The KLF’s burning of a million quid…

klfIt is a little over twenty one years ago that the British art duo, The K Foundation performed one of the most bizarre stunts in popular music history. They set fire to a million pounds in cash. The K Foundation was Jimmy Cauty and Bill Drummond, better known as the founders of KLF, one of the biggest selling musical acts of the early nineties and the biggest selling singles band in the world in 1991.

As The KLF they created a unique sound and stage persona. They were known for their pranks and unusual performance style, it was labelled as cutting edge art but whatever it was it sold and they, if they are to be believed, made virtually nothing from the music. The royalties received were, according to Drummond, ploughed back into the next project and production and in a later interview they stated that out of some six million pounds earned in sales their net worth was one million. So they burnt it.

The K Foundation took the one million pounds in cash to the Scottish island of Jura with independent journalist Jim Reid and videographer and former collaborator, Gimpo. Having being rejected from burning the money at several art galleries the decision was taken to burn the money without publicity and to then take the filming of the event on tour across the UK. The reality of the ‘stunt’ was that it took longer to burn it than first thought whilst some £100,000 of it went, quite literally, straight up the chimney. Two days later, as the legend goes, Cauty decided to destroy the film only for Gimpo to later reveal he had made a copy which became the film Watch The K Foundation Burn a Million Quid.

To all intents and purposes it was a pretty disastrous affair. Planned screenings failed, they attracted praise and abuse in unequal measure, not least by Julian Cope who told the press that they should have paid off their creditors (Cope being one, according to Cope) before doing it. The general consensus did not favour the ‘artistic merit’ but rather the waste of money made off the back of fans with none to burn. I remember it as a bizarre episode that whilst shocking, failed to make me, or anyone I discussed it with, see a point in it all. It was, as they were, part of a musical subculture of the period that I could find no common ground with. I was still young enough to ‘get’ the pranks but mature enough to see and distinctly not ‘get’ their particular brand of art and I do not believe any of us, including perhaps, themselves really understood what they were trying to achieve.

My one abiding memory of it all was that here was a band who, despite their success would not be talked about for their music in ten years time. I was right.

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