Why did The KLF retire?

The official line taken at the time was that they were “worn out” after producing 6 hit singles and a LP over the previous 18 months, but there appear to be many other possible contributing reasons. These are documented in an excellent article in Select magazine in July ’92 (‘Who Killed The KLF’) which is available on the ftp archive. Mainly it seems, once you’ve reached the top, it is both boring to continue having hits and a pressure to find follow-up’s.

They wrote in ‘The Manual’ of the Golden Rules of hit pop song composition:

… after having had a run of success and your coffers are full, keeping strictly to the G.R.s is boring. It all becomes empty and meaningless…

Their publicist Mick Houghton was in daily contact with them as they worked on new material in the studio, and began to get the feeling that they just didn’t feel there was any point to it any more. An exhausted Drummond would come on the phone, one minute proposing grandiose plans, the next saying things like, “Oh God, it’s terrible”. “They were just desperate for ideas,” says Houghton. “And near the end Bill would ring up and say ‘This is not working’. I think he felt it had become too easy to be The KLF and rattle off the hits. It had ceased to mean anything.”. In a GQ interview in 1995, Bill revealed he’d almost suffered a nervous breakdown.

Also since they had worked with Tammy Wynette and Glen Hughes they had been plagued by washed-up singers pleading for a collaboration to revive their careers. “I was in the studio,” recalls engineer/producer Mark Stent, “and we had Neil Sedaka phoning up, we had Sweet phoning up, we had all kinds phoning up. I mean, that’s just when I’ve been there…”

In retrospect their attempt to shock the public at the BRIT Awards in February ’92 can be viewed as an attempt to take the decision out of their own hands. They wanted to do something so utterly disgusting that it would deliberately ruin their career. Instead the industry viewed their stunt as just another KLF prank which made it worse.

And finally there’s the theory that they had always planned to go out at the top, so that their future output would not suffer from “diminishing returns”. Kylie Said To Jason contained the line “I’m gonna leave this party now” where party has been used by Drummond as a metaphor for the music business before. The Justified and Ancient video contains the subtitle ‘The fall of the empire and the death of little Mu are at hand”. At the end of the BRIT awards came the announcement “The KLF have now left the music industry”. And Drummond wanted the announcement to be made on the 5th of May, fifteen years to the day after he entered the music industry.

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