July saw the release of tenth anniversary edition of John Higgs’ book on the KLF, Chaos, Magic and the Band who Burned a Million Pounds. I’ve read this several times now, and used it as the reading for a couple of university seminars that I’ve run. It tells the story of the KLF from their early 90s imperial phase through to the strange aftermath. But it’s not just a band biography, and some chapters barely feature the KLF. Instead, Cauty and Drummond’s work is the starting point for a far stranger journey, taking in Robert Anton Wilson, discordianism, Doctor Who, Alan Moore’s ideaspace and more. While there were bits of the book I knew well, a few of the digressions took me by surprise. I’d forgotten about the discussion of the Wicker Man, and a delightful section about rabbit gods.
As John has pointed out, the KLF book has had its life in reverse. It started as a self-published e-book, was then picked up as a paperback by a larger publisher, and is now published in hardback. I first heard of the book on twitter, where it was promoted via b3ta readers. The book continues to be loved, and John’s recent interview on the We Can Be Weirdos podcast shows how deep this love goes.
The footnotes are mostly about the text, but there is some good commentary on how Higgs approached this book. There are also tantalising hints of a coming book about “an elegy for the twilight of the analogue world”. The countercultures which inspired many of the book’s subjects – independent music, magic, comic books, science fictions – functioned in a very different way before the Internet. Bookshops provided portals to other worlds, with their limited space trying to appeal to as many people as possible. This also meant a strange cross-contamination of undrground interests. The Internet is incredible, but we have also sacrificed some of the joys of physical culture.
In 2017, a few year after the book’s publication, the KLF returned – not as musicians, but as undertakers. The new edition does not talk about the strange things that have happened since then. One reason for this might be that this book itself is so tangled in those events, helping to inspire a new wave of British discordianism and related strangeness. In the 90s, there were certain books that could provide a portal to a whole new life. These are rarer nowadays, but The KLF: Chaos, Magic and the Band who burned a million pounds is one of those books that could change lives.If you want to follow what I'm up to, sign up to my mailing list