Why did the KLF burn a million quid?

I am beginning writing this artice almost exactly 23 days since the talk titled ‘Why Did The K Foundation Burn a Million Quid?’ finished. It was decided by the 400 volunteers who voted with £1 coins they had been handed on the way in that panelist Anebella Pollen’s theory that ‘The K Foundation burned a million quid in a deep historical tradition of weirdness linking to the Kibbo Kift cult’. If you weren’t at the event I suggest you give these two articles a read before continuing:

KLF Khronicals #7: The K Foundation Burned A Million Quid Because…

How to solve a 23 year old riddle – the K Foundation way…

I don’t see a need to summarise events which have been more than adequately summarised by others several weeks ago, what I am looking to do is assess the decison and the way the event was held. I will say that I was not only satisfied, but entirey overwhelmed by the 3 day long situation, it will stay with me for my the duration of life; not just in terms of memories but also the amount the events have given me to think about.

This event was a farce and an intentional farce at that. The idea that two very intelligent, talented and at the time sober individuals burned £1million for an unknown reason and that the decision as to why they burned it was made 23 years later by 400 individuals who’s only voting criteria was that they could afford £100 for a ticket and could be present in Liverpool for the designated days. To give such a small, select demographic the right to make a decision, even with the large amount of information which was presented is amusing in this context at least but acts as a scary parallel to the level of influence that the bankers, media moguls and the politicians themselves hold in elections which have a real and actual impact on our lives.

The act of voting with £1 coins brought everything back to money, something The K Foundation were seemingly trying to do with burning the million. Music is money, art is money, politics is money. I decided to abstain and keep my pound as this seemed like a more worthwhile option than voting for one of 5 theories which, in my opinion failied to provide a solid enough reason as to why the million was burned. In the event that no single panelist received more than 23% of the vote, another 23 year moratorium would be held; this seemed to me a more satisfactory outcome. 23% interestingly is similar to the percentage of the UK population who actually voted for the winning party in a general election. It was 23.5% in 2005 (the last time a party won an overall majority of seats).

The choice of panelists further reflects this; individuals who has varying degrees of interests in The KLF and theories ranging from well thought out to appearing to have been made up an hour before the discussion (Clive Martin of Vice was suggesting that the money was burned by The K Foundation because money itself would be come less valuable in society –  kids stealing and smashing bottles of Grey Goose or something…it was fairly nonsensical anyway). Not only were many of the view of the panelists entirely flawed but the theories (mostly superior) presented by the witnesses (as in the people who were present for the burning/around Bill and Jimmy at the time) were merely there to build up a more full picture of the story rather than to actually be voted for. Many of the ideas presented by the witnesses fit in far more with what, to me, makes most sense as a theory. And surely those who were around at the time would know more than those who weren’t. The choice of panelists reflects the false sense of a real and fair choice we think we are given when we vote. Trump vs Hillary. What kind of choice was that really? The only positive of each is that they’re not the other and that really isn’t a solid ground to vote upon. Corbyn vs May is very different, but rare, so rare that I think it only correlates with the point Bill and Jimmy were trying to make.


My Theory

My theory has always been that The KLF viewed themselves as media manipulators who were easily able to make their way to the top of a flawed music industry. This doesn’t make the industry worthless but the way in which ‘The Manual’ is written (satirically or not) strongly implies that they felt that success in the music industry was purely down to understanding what people wanted to hear rather than producing something of excellent quality. Thereby they viewed the one and only million they had earned as not worthless itself, but symbolic of their success in an industry which was built upon falsity and temporality. Bill and Jimmy are artists, not just entertainers, The Jams and The KLF made performance art through their music and The K Foundation smashed and altered public perception of art through discordian principles. They made it clear that conceptual art needn’t be a physical object but purely a concept or a question in itself. Art has always been provocative; people got annoyed at the time with William Turner’s blurry scenes just as they do now with former pop starts burning a million; sure they’re different but they don’t have to be the same.

I feel one issue with ‘conceptual art’ is the notion of pretentiousness; the idea that joy from it can only be taken from those in the know or those who are good with language and able to make up ‘stuff’ up on the spot. Even though ‘conceptual art’ is a broad term hence my inverted commas, I to a wider extent do agree. I think Emin’s ‘Unmade Bed’ serves as the most popular example to the general public’s wider dissatisfaction with the art of today, but perhaps that’s the point. I’m glad that pieces such as ‘Unmade Bed’ exist because they annoy so many people but the idea that such pieces will strongly impact my life outside of the small amount of satisfaction I get from the bursts of outrage from others, I don’t really think it will. My issue which much of ‘conceptual art’ is the idea that I’m searching for this concept which when I find won’t really offer me that much anyway and as said by economist and panelist Ann Pettifor on the night, much of the art made today is purely made as collateral. Not only that once you make a name for yourself you can churn anything out and people will buy it, artisitic merit aside, pieces become commodities. This point brings me back on track; The K Foundation’s burning of a million pounds is nothing but interesting as a piece of ‘conceptual art’ because firstly: you get to decide the reasons why, they aren’t pre-prescribed and secondly: it’s an entirely pure act, as in they weren’t doing it for the sake of profit, quite the opposite in fact. Perhaps my favourite quote of all time is Bill Drummond’s response to being asked whether or not they wanted the money, ‘We wanted the money, we just wanted to burn it more’. The burning of the million also acts as a fingers up to the central aim of a capitalist society which they were so easily able to manipulate and profit from. This is far more powerful as an act than the likes of Russel Brand suggesting in his £10 book that we should all start a revolution; sure we probably should and I’m never keen to criticise those with money speaking for the wider population, I think JK Rowling does an excellent job for the most. But the act of disowning the core value of the side you are fighting against (they were set up as an anti-Illuminati group after all) is…I’m not even sure what it is actually but again, I think that’s the point.

The entire event was based around the phrase ‘What The Fuuk Is Going On?’ and they decided to announce the first night exactly what went on. But with everyone I spoke to at least being at least somewhat disatisfied with the decision, it felt like a perfect start. Bill and Jimmy’s response of, ‘Whatever’ to the announcement seemed appropriate; whatever was decided the idea as to ‘why’ will always live on. I know too many people who instantly get annoyed when they find out that people burned a million pounds, like they said, the could have spent it on cars and swimming pools and nobody would have cared. They could have bought and sold art to private collectors, never to be seen by members of the public. They chose to give people something interesting to think about although I think they did it mostly to give themselves something to think about. If they’d wanted to prove a point financially they’d have burned it in front of swarms of TV cameras; the fact that they chose to burn it in such a remote location with only one low quality film to ‘prove they did’ only adds to the mystery. The anti-publicity of the event only makes it more interesting and I think that’s ultimately the point: to challenege not only people’s perceptions of art and money but the entire world around them and to find joy in piecing things together even if there is no real answer.

What do you think? Answer in the comments or send me a tweet @mrcameronlee

Find out what made me want to buy a ticket in the first place HERE

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