Review: “The KLF: Chaos, Magic and the Band Who Burned A Million Pounds”

In 1990/91 I was ten years old and a Michael Jackson fanatic. Beyond that I was aware of pop music, but not really interested in much beyond The King of Pop. A few years later hip-hop would steal my heart and keep it exclusively for over a decade before it would allow me to talk to other people. But I remember even then being aware that the British dance/pop/art duo the KLF were something different. They had catchy tunes, and more strikingly videos which were really memorable. Hooded people, armoured cars, and men with massive horns coming out of their foreheads. Oh, and Tammy Wynette on a throne singing about ‘Justified Ancients from Mu Mu’.

A few years later a friend in school had a copy of “The White Room” on tape and we used to listen to it along side N.W.A. and Ice-T. (I still have that copy. A long time borrow turned into ownership at some stage :) )

The KLF's "The White Room" on cassette tape

I didn’t really think much about the KLF for a long time after until a few years ago I suddenly remembered how great they were and began rediscovering their music. I also remembered and fully appreciated now their infamous final act where they burned the one million pound profits the hugely successful group had earned.

John Higgs has released a new book about the KLF. But it’s not like any musical bio you have ever read. It’s about much more than the KLF, it’s about synchronicity, coincidence, chaos, magic and rationalism. It’s a pretty good history of the group, but by it’s own admission, it’s not as thorough as it could be, because at any opportunity it uses the KLF as a platform to discuss a wider issue.

It devotes time to:
Robert Anton Wilson
The JFK Assassination
The Demise of Doctor Who
Carl Jung
Alan Moore
Magical Thinking vs Rationalism
The Value of Money

and much more…

It’s a hugely entertaining and thought provoking read. Even if you are only vaguely interested in the KLF I would recommend it. At it’s heart this book is really about how we view reality. It constantly refers to how we make mental models to make sense of the world and how we mistake our mental models for reality, a topic Wilson was hugely interested in, as was Alan Watts. The book makes the case (in a very powerful final chapter), as did Wilson and Watts, that a major cause of our ‘problems’ is mistaking our ‘models’ of reality for reality itself. In a way the KLF is used as a case-study to show this and the final chapter is almost like a thought-experiment using the KLF to force you to consider how you view the world. It’s also a great yarn about one of the truly original music groups of all time.

This book has given me a new found love for the KLF, Robert Anton Wilson and ‘the map is not the territory’.

I’ll be thinking about it for some time.

The Meaning of Life

There is no meaning in life. The meaning is in sentences, meaning is in symbols that symbolize life. Life itself does not have a meaning because that’s what meaning refers too, meaning refers to life. To look for meaning in life is like looking for trees on a map. You can find squiggles that represent trees but you won’t find the trees there. The squiggles only represent the trees or the rivers. You can’t wash in a river on a map, you gotta find a real river

Robert Anton Wilson

Arriving Somewhere

When I talk to my friends or clients about this, there’s always this feeling of wishing or hoping that you’ll eventually arrive somewhere. But, I don’t know anybody who’s ever arrived anywhere. Everybody I know with half a brain is always a little bit nervous about how long they’re going to be okay doing what they’re doing.

How many people out there say, “Gosh, I wish I could own a house”? Everybody I know who owns houses are losing their minds trying to make their mortgage payment or they’re scared to death about having to replace the roof. Anybody who wants more money, a better job, or a bigger house is ultimately just wishing for a new set of anxieties.

Merlin Mann saying something similar to what Alan Watts did in ‘Music and Life’

Anarchy in the IE: Love/Hate, Chaos and Coincidence

I am currently reading John Higg’s excellent “The KLF: Chaos, Magic and the Band Who Burned A Million Pounds”. It’s far from your standard music biography, as it spins off into discussions of philosophy, magic, neuroscience, Carl Jung and Doctor Who (amongst many other things). One of the main themes throughout the book is that reality is composed of a series of coincidences, and that we attempt to prescribe meaning or order to these chaotic happenings in order to make sense of them. It uses the example of the JFK assassination to make this point. By sifting through the tonnes of data and information surrounding the killing, conspiracy theorists have been able to find connections that help them build a series of events that explain what happened. But Biggs stresses that for the most part these are simply coincidences, nothing more.

I put the book down on Sunday evening to watch the series finale of “Love/Hate”. “Love/Hate” has grown from being a relatively unknown show, more watched out of morbid curiosity due to its earlier ‘cringe’ factor, to being a genuine cultural phenomenon. This maturation happened during the third series, where the show came into its own. I should stress: I enjoy watching “Love/Hate”, I think it’s well made, and excellently acted. But all along something has been nagging me about it, and the series finale cemented it for me. “Love/Hate” is completely chaotic.

Continue reading “Anarchy in the IE: Love/Hate, Chaos and Coincidence”


EMMA by is an online experience that “that fetches online data and semi-randomly generates something out of it.”. Specifically it:

  • goes to Google Street View, and downloads a random picture
  • applies effects to the picture
  • picks a random text sample from the database
  • displays text and pictures

I really like this. Reminds me of The Man Who Fell Asleep‘s last book.
via notational

Two quotes

“When we’re genuinely engaged in working with others we’re automatically working with ourselves as well.”

Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche #buddhism

“Someone said to me ‘Do you believe in God?’ and I said ‘I’m a faithful agnostic’ so I just don’t have a fucking clue. I feel that like you can live a good life if you think about it. It’s just a matter of being considerate of what’s going on. If that’s not spiritual then I don’t know what is”

Ian Mackaye

Richard Stallman @ Trinity College Dublin

Richard Stallman speaking

I saw Richard Stallman speak in Trinity College Dublin tonight. I’ve always been interested in Stallman’s ideas on software and copyright, and I admire his stance and activism. The topic for the night was “A Free Digital Society” and was billed as being “non-technical” and the public were “encouraged to attend”. I don’t know “non-technical” it was – a fellow attendee said she thought most of it was “acronyms above my head”, but for the most part it was a well delivered talk on the various threats to our liberty posed by using digital communication technology – ranging from state surveillance to anti-sharing. The bit on Free software, which is Stallman’s primary interest, was where it veered most towards the technical, but he had interesting insights on how our digital systems are hindering our rights. He is a passionate man who’s sole motivation seems to be to inform people as to how trapped they are by their digital products, and how we can change this.

One of the most interesting parts were his thoughts on how to reward artists. He is against the demonisation of ‘pirates’, and doesn’t believe in Digital Rights Management, but does believe artists should be rewarded for their efforts. One suggestion is the use of public funds to pay them, which is a bit far-fetched, but he also hit the nail on the head when describing how a lot of people want to and will contribute to the arts but find it either too dear or too hard to do. He suggests a quick, easy anonymous way to transfer money to your favourite artists when ever you please. Seemed reasonable.

Some other points:

  1. There were 4 women to about 40 men
  2. Stallman exclusively used the female pronoun when describing programmers and artists.
  3. He is very careful about language, he used words quite specifically, and you can tell he thinks a lot about the words he uses.
  4. Some of his phrases were quite playfully mischievous, like “Facebook used” (instead of ‘user’), “Amazon Swindle” (Kindle) and he referred to internet users as “Internauts”
  5. I found him quite amiable, but he seemed a bit prickly during the Q&A but I suspect this is a defence mechanism he has built up following hostility. To him this was a Q&A, not a debate. He invited some bullish, hostile questions (delivered as such) and he shut them down quite quickly and thus he came across as defensive and rude. Maybe its the nature of “computer science” folk but some of the questions were delivered in an overly hostile manner, in my opinion.
  6. After he specifically forbade us from putting his image on Facebook or Instagram, I asked him what he thought of Twitter. He seemed fine with it as it can be accessed via Free software and that it was a publishing platform so you were willingly publishing your thoughts on it.

All in all and interesting evening.