The KLF / K Foundation Radio Interview – Why They Burnt One Million Pounds

Back in the mid 90s, I edited a zine in Glasgow called Thee Data Base.  In 1996, my co-editor Alan and I managed to procure what was, at the time, a tabloid-bating exclusive: we published an exclusive interview with former-KLF creators, Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty – only a short while after they had flown by themselves to the Scottish island of Jura and, in an abandoned cottage, systematically burnt one million pounds, note by note. The interview was carried out by John Dower, transcribed from a live radio interview he conducted on Glasgow’s Sub City Radio.  14 years later, John is now a somewhat renowned director with a string of excellent documentaries to his name.

Bill & Jimmy filmed the entire action of burning the money, and then proceeded to screen the footage, “Watch The K Foundation Burn A Million Quid”, at various locations across the UK. It remains today as one of the most confounding and confronting artistic statements ever made. The rationale? There were many given, but none were satisfactory – even to the artists themselves.

You can read the full story on Wikipedia, or hunt down their 1997 book, “K Foundation Burn A Million Quid”.

Last  month, Glasgow’s Sub City Radio contacted me to see if I had a copy of John’s original radio interview.  Somewhere in a box in my garage, buried under some old industrial music mixtapes, I found a Scotch C90 with (almost) the entire hour-long interview intact.  And in the spirit of free broadcasting, I’ve posted the audio below.

There’s some key moments here: journalist Jack McLean attempting to hold Drummond & Cauty to task for effectively mocking the poor, the embarrassing episode where the duo turn down a BBC executive’s offer a free hour of their own content on Radio One, the chastising of a local artist who is ‘just not trying hard enough’ and the admission that, sadly, even though a million pounds went up in smoke, “God didn’t show up”.

You can also read an introduction by John Dower and a full transcript at The Library of Mu.

Drummond gave an interview in 2004 where he finally went on record to say that he regretted the decision: “Of course I regret it. My children especially regret it, but I don’t regret it all the time. A long time ago, we realised that everybody wanted us to have the smart answer, and we felt we owed it to people, especially our families, to have this. After a while, we realised that whatever answer we came up with would not be good enough. It was more for other people to take from it whatever they wanted, whether it be ‘they obviously didn’t do it’ or ‘it’s a terrible thing’ or whatever. It’s for other people to explore.”

Alan and I later turned the entire global art world on its head by staging our own public ritual, entitled ‘Watch Thee Data Collectiv Burn One Pound’. I recall signing a burnt pound note and selling it to my mate Jerry for $3.30.