That is exactly the question that John Higgs starts with in his 2012 book exploring the story of the musical career of Bill Drummond (King Boy D) and Jimmy Cauty (Rockman Rock) between the mid 1980s and mid 1990s.
What he chooses to do is something rather akin to what the pair did in their careers and ignore any past conventions of their chosen form to create a narrative representative of them and their inspirations while also, it seems, getting to the heart of the matter far more than a basic list of facts might.
The band are intentionally shrouded in mystery and, through an exploration of their work that touches on everything from magic thinking to Discordianism to straight forward journalism, Higgs at once tells the story from their early theatrical and musical endeavours to the titular act of ‘burning a million quid’ via being a chart topping dance act.
While the basic story is fascinating and engrossing, where the book really succeeded for me was in its revealing of things i hadn’t previously been aware of, but now am quite fascinated to explore.
For a start there’s the somewhat confusing back catalogue of The KLF (and their various alter egos). While officially deleted by the band themselves, a lot of it is on YouTube and the like, though even there navigating it feels at best randomly chaotic and you’ll likely find a few songs far more easily than the rest – particularly their unlikely team up with country legend Tammy Wynette.
Then there is Illuminatus! the book that inspired, or was it inspired by, the Discordian movement that itself grew out of the counter-culture movements of the American west coast in a way that, going by accounts here, is fabulously impenetrable to almost the point of not being worth bothering with – which just makes it all the more interesting.
As well as that it asks far bigger questions about the state of our place in the universe than any other band biography I’ve read before, with a real focus on the act of destroying money and the relationship that has to everything that has happened since and then there’s the introduction of magical thinking…
So, while this book is full of wilful contradiction and what feel like flights of fancy that one suspects are closer to the truth than one might think possible, it also feels like a great evocation of The KLF both in terms of their literal story but also their philosophical outlook.
Or maybe it really isn’t…
Either way it’s a great read mixing pop philosophy with the tone of an extended article from the NME in a way I’ve never previously encountered and if you’ve any interest in either the band or pop music on any level, I’d heartily recommend diving in and seeing where you end up.