In August 1994, The KLF‘s Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty, then calling themselves the K Foundation, undertook one of the most infamous performance art pieces of all time, as they burnt one million pounds sterling on the Scottish island of Jura.
The occasion was filmed by their friend Gimpo and developed into the film K Foundation Burn a Million Quid, while the ashes from the fire would eventually be turned into a brick, which itself was the subject of a later art installation.
The only interview the duo did on the back of the incident, however, was with RTÉ’s The Late Late Show, a long-running panel show, hosted by Irish institution Gay Byrne. Organised by then-show researcher (and club promoter) Donal Scannell, the interview was broadcast in October 1995, and is probably one of the most interesting in the Late Late Show’s history.
“Is there a philosophy behind this – is this sort of a denial of the material world?” Byrne asks at one point, as a video of the infamous event takes place on a video screen in the studio.
“No, some days it is that, but it’s not really that,” Drummond answers. “We could have done with the money, we wanted the money… but we wanted to burn it more.”
Inevitably the conversation turns to whether the decision was misguided – could charities not have done with a donation such as this?, the host asks – leading to a curt response from Drummond.
“If we had gone and spent the money on swimming pools and Rolls Royces, I don’t think people would be upset,” he says. “It’s because we’ve burnt it, that they’re upset.”
The audience reaction, as you might expect, is a combination of horror, bemusement and anger – particularly at the 19.29 mark – while there’s also a guest appearance from Gimpo, filming the audience reaction for posterity.
This was a period, lest we forget, a few years on from hits like 3AM Eternal and Justified & Ancient, that the KLF had ‘turned their back’ on the music industry, although Cauty hinted that the group’s sonic endeavours may not be entirely behind them.
“There’s always a possibility that we could if we wanted to, because it’s something we know how to do,” he said.
“We stopped before our records became useless records,” Drummond adds. “Most people can only make good records for a short period of time. It’s better to get out while you’re ahead.”
For some reason, Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott is among those also on the Late Late Show panel – dubbing the pair “a few sandwiches short of a picnic”, and asking whether they would have been better off helping people rather than making an artistic statement.
“We have helped people… by burning that money,” says Drummond. “It brings something into people’s heads.
“Us burning that money doesn’t mean that there’s any less bread in the world, or any less apples. The only thing that’s less is a pile of paper.”