KLF: Burn a Million Quid (video) and The Manual (e-book)

BB pal Michael W. Dean recently reminded us of the work of K Foundation, the UK anarcho-prankster duo who set about to become ginormous pop stars in the 1980s, and did just that as The KLF.

In 1988, members Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty self-published a book ("The Manual") with step-by-step instructions on how anyone might do exactly the same: PDF Link to a copy of "The Manual."

Here's a snip from the Wikipedia entry for KLF:

From the outset, they adopted the philosophy espoused by esoteric novels The Illuminatus! Trilogy, gaining notoriety for various anarchic situationist manifestations, including the defacement of billboard adverts, the posting of prominent cryptic advertisements in NME magazine and the mainstream press, and highly distinctive and unusual performances on Top of the Pops. Their most notorious performance was at the February 1992 BRIT Awards, where they fired machine gun blanks into the audience and dumped a dead sheep at the aftershow party. This performance announced The KLF's departure from the music business, and in May 1992 the duo deleted their entire back catalogue.

With profits earned from KLF, Drummond and Cauty created the K Foundation, with a mission to subvert the contemporary art world.

Among the hijinks that ensued: an alternative art award for the worst artist of the year, and burning a million British pounds in cash (about $1.8 million US at the time), which represented nearly all of their pop star earnings.

The odd process leading up to that torching, and the burn itself -- which took place on a Scottish island in the summer of 1994 -- are documented in the film K Foundation Burn a Million Quid.

You can watch that on the youtubes, in five parts, starting here: Video Link. Update: Thanks to the many BB readers who pointed out that the whole film is available in a single, less crappy quality, downloadable file on Google Video: Link.


  1. Neato! Let’s burn money rather than give it to the poor. That’ll show-em. Good Job! Kick those needy bastards in the balls I say!

  2. The film is on Google Video in one piece too:


    It’s actually a BBC film titled “A Foundation Course in Art” about the leadup and aftermath of the burning rather than the film of the burning itself which is called “K Foundation Burn a Million Quid”.

    Or something.

    It’s all a little confusing, as you’d expect.

    (Pete Ashton writing…)

  3. S – Bng Bng ndrss brnng mny rthr thn gvng t t th pr. smll BLG FL!!!!

    FNSTSTC! snt n smlr nt nd t wsn’t pstd – s y mst spprt pr-bshng! XCLLNT!

    Wht SCP! Thnks gn! Fntstc!

  4. I remember this. There was a bit of a minor flurry/ersatz scandal in the papers about it, along the lines of they should have given it to charity/children starving in Africa etc etc. Of course if they had just figuratively burned the money by spending it on useless consumer crap no one would have said anything.

  5. Firstly..they were not ‘ginormous’ pop stars. The KLF records were treated as novelty dance records in the same fashion as ‘Charley says’ or any of the other ‘ironic’ take offs which were kicking around at the time (yes folks the British invented this stuff).

    Secondly the only people that though burning a million quid was a ‘cool’ statement were those who though everything these jokers did was ‘da shit’ i.e. media types who work in London. Everyone else (and I mean _everyone_) thought they were a pair of wankers.

  6. Anyone know if the PDF linked is online with the authors’ OK? The URL doesn’t seem to belong to them, and the PDF itself has the usual “All rights reserved” text rather than something like “Feel free to give this away online”.

    I’ll be happy to list it on my Online Books Page if the online edition’s cool with them, but I wanted to check. Anyone know?

    John Mark Ockerbloom (Editor, The Online Books Page)

  7. Something important to understand. These guys are situationists, not idiots. What they did was kind of comparable to their firing a machine gun -locaded with blanks – into the audience the an awards ceremony. They didn’t sacrifice a million pounds.

    Paper currency wears out. Banks collect the notes that are too ragged to re-issue and return them to the issuing bank for destruction. What the KLF did, as recorded in a story by Bill Drummond that I don’t think is online, is persuade the Bank of England to let them destroy a million pounds (face value) of old notes. This did cost money for insurance, but nothing close to a million pounds. The rest is an art project.

  8. The Charley says record referred to above was by huge pop stars The Prodigy, rather than a one hit wonder.

    I think it is quite justified to claim that the KLF were legitimate popstars…..

  9. They were not legitimate popstars. Read the book. By their account they just booked a studio, told a couple of the technicians there the basic idea for their track and then played pool for a few hours while the actual talent created the music..

  10. @Anonymous-es: Don’t be silly. Pointing to an item of interest on our blog doesn’t mean that we “endorse” that action, or think it’s “cool,” as you say here. That’s pretty dumb. Besides, as others have pointed out, there’s some evidence to support that the whole burning a million quid stunt was just that — a prank that involved the destruction of decommissioned bank notes.

  11. “They were not legitimate popstars” – You mean they were not legitimate ‘musicians.’ When did you need to be creatively responsible for the music to be a popstar? I missed that meeting. This of course was the point they were trying to make with that book, and they were blatantly bullshitting with the ‘we just wandered into the studio and let the engineers do it’ story.

  12. In the words of Bill Drummond “The KLF were from another era and all talk of them should be supressed.” A pity the K Foundation didn’t carry out their proposed New Year’s Eve 1999 project to “fix Stonehenge while everyone was out partying”.
    My mate Dave and his mate Kurt recently won an award from the foundation now curated by Drummond (and, I think Mark Manning aka Zodiac Mindwarp )based in Cushendall, Ireland.
    For an overview of Drummond’s current work see his – NSFW – family of websites at penkilnburn .
    I would contend that Drummond & Cauty are legitimate artists. Legitimate popstars? What’s that mean?

  13. “I would contend that Drummond & Cauty are legitimate artists. Legitimate popstars? What’s that mean?”

    Agreed. You said it better than me.

  14. Im kind of surprised so many people seem to believe the money was actually burned. They were performance artists. I doubt one quid was lost. I love the whole concept of the group though. And 3am eternal is one of my favorite songs of the early 90’s.

  15. Yeah, I’m glad someone pointed out that the “million pounds” they burned was not money in circulation and had no currency value. It really bugs me when K foundation are described as having burnt a million pounds by sources that should know better. I suppose this is just an indication that their situationist pranksterism was a roaring success.

  16. The KLF were the biggest singles selling band in europe for a 2 or 3 year period. I’d say that qualifies them for the tag of “pop stars”.

  17. i think chill out is a classic. it’s grim up north, segueing into Jerusalem? inspired. personally, i loved their music long before i knew who they were or what they were about. they may even hold fans of their output as the KLF in contempt for missing the point. but for that to stand up, they should have made shit music.

    as for the crispy money? i seem to remember watching them gather up the ashes and try to get their money back from the bank of england. (whose representative said that it would have to be tested and it was likely that a mere fraction of the value would be forthcoming). doesn’t sound like a preplanned insurance job. instead they compressed it into a brick of ash and either exhibited at a gallery and / or sold it. (ah fo’git).

    presumably that was either on tv or during a bizarre dream.

    anyway, it’s not like you can trust them to say what they mean. art is a dynamic excuse.

  18. “What the KLF did, as recorded in a story by Bill Drummond that I don’t think is online, is persuade the Bank of England to let them destroy a million pounds (face value) of old notes. This did cost money for insurance, but nothing close to a million pounds.”

    Bullshit. If you were in a pop band and approached the Bank of England and said “can we have a million pounds in decommissioned notes” they would tell tell you to take a hike. The only reason that Bill Drummond made up such a preposterous story is because of the amount of flak they got afterwards about it. Nobody thought they were cool except the people who use words like “situationists”.

  19. You can tell which people are genuine, and which are just doing stuff for publicity stunts, whilst I think KLF love the limelight i still think they really are crazy /stupid enough to burn a million pounds.

  20. The people who say the money was fake are mistaken.

    “The press reported that an islander handed £1,500 into the police; the money had not been claimed and would be returned to the finder”

    Money that flew out of the chimney that didn’t burn was found by people and was real money.

    People try to dismiss this action because they can’t stand its authenticity. They can’t accept that anyone would truly be willing to waste 1,8 million $ as a form of artwork.

    They clearly sacrificed their own lives for the sake of art. That’s what I call a true artist. They say they don’t understand why they did it: we could say they were driven by divine forces

    While you go on living your life, a slave to the dollar, wage labour, security, attached and grasping, you will always know that the KLC were one of the few who had the colossal balls to just say NO. – not to be revolutionary or anarchist, but just to see what happens. Someone had to. And I think this act won’t die in time. Its time has yet to come.

  21. Not sure if this was a prank or not, but I know for a fact that KFC deep fried 2 billion pounds of chicken breast in 1997.

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