Burning a million pounds

In 1994 the art duo K Foundation burned a million pounds in cash. They did it on purpose.

The KLF was a highly successful British electronic band in the early 1990s. Its two members, Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty, excelled at spectacle and grand gestures. At the end of a performance at the BRIT Awards, for example, Drummond fired a machine gun over the audience – and then immediately afterwards the band announced they were quitting the music business:

This wasn’t just a stunt. Well, the machine gun was firing blanks, but KLF actually followed through on their promise. Within a few months it was impossible to buy any new records or singles of their earlier work. They had withdrawn everything from sale – literally “deleted” their back catalogue.

By that time, the two members of the KLF had accumulated a rather decent pile of money from years of music royalties. After expenses and taxes, they had about a million UK pounds left over. And they wanted to do something exceptional with that money.

The K Foundation was an art group set up from the ashes of the KLF, with the intent of doing something with that million pounds. They ran a “worst artist” award that offered twice as much prize money as the prestigious Turner Prize. They planned to nail the million pounds to a board and put it on display, but no galleries or insurers would cooperate. Finally, in 1994, Drummond and Cauty packed up the money and took it to a small island in the Inner Hebrides. There, in a small abandoned farmhouse, they pitched the money into a fireplace.

It took about an hour to burn it all: twenty thousand fifty pound notes went up in flames. (Well, some went up the chimney; islanders found many charred notes scattered around afterwards.) A friend of theirs filmed the destruction, and they took that film on tour a year later: K Foundation Burn a Million Quid.

After that tour they stated that they wouldn’t say anything more about the burning for twenty-three years. Sure enough they kept silent on the subject until 2017. Why did they do it? Well, hear the band give their explanation here:

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