Industrial Strength

After more than twenty years, KMFDM still gets the last laugh.

KMFDM is not that different today," says Sascha Konietzko. "We're still not serious. There's still a lot of cheeky stuff going on."

These are not exactly words you expect to hear from one of industrial music's most uncompromising and outrageous trailblazers. Even those with a passing familiarity with KMFDM might be baffled by its frontman's insistence that his band isn't all that serious.

"We're like a traveling gypsy family," Konietzko jokes. "A big hippie family."

Still angsty after all these years: KMFDM.
Still angsty after all these years: KMFDM.

Has the German-born iconoclast finally gone soft? Will KMFDM's next record be a collection of songs about free love and patchouli instead of the usual sardonic screeds against capitalism, materialism and stupidity? Not likely -- not as long as things keep happening in the world to rile and annoy Konietzko and his crew.

"We're intelligent, awake people that go through our lives with open eyes and ears," Konietzko explains. "There's never a shortage of stuff that creates drive, anger and energy."

Turning indignation and frustration into witty lampooning of conventional wisdom has been one of the act's trademarks since the beginning. When KMFDM released its debut album, 1984's Opium, the outfit's cynical wit was already fully formed. With longtime partners En Esch, Günter Schulz and Raymond Watts and multimedia artist Udo Sturm, Konietzko set the bar with such tongue-in-cheek tracks as "Mating Sounds of Helicopters" and "Cunt-Boy." But relentless industrial beats, agitprop-inspired artwork and subsequent album titles like Angst and Nihil make it easy to see why KMFDM's irreverence might not be immediately apparent.

Since Opium, Konietzko has released thirteen proper albums under the KMFDM moniker. And while each effort has its own topical bent -- 2002's WWIIItakes the War on Terror as its inspiration with tracks like "Bullets, Bombs & Bigotry" and the Dubya-spearing "Moron" -- little has changed about the band's overall formula. As with most industrial music, the brutal rhythms are front and center, enhanced by various synthetic keyboards and samplers, all anchored by guttural, angst-ridden vocals. Even the presence of such industrial titans as Fini Tribe vocalist Chris Connelly and Skinny Puppy's Nivek Ogre, who each lent their unusual talents to various KMFDM efforts over the years, didn't change the sound significantly. Don't Blow Your Top, for example, released in 1988, sounded pretty much like 1989's UAIOEand 1990's Naíve.Even 1989's controversial, politically incorrect "Virus" single -- with its rap-influenced vocals, hip-hop beats and rock-guitar solos -- operated within parameters that had already become very familiar. Rather than alienating or disappointing fans, however, the consistency of KMFDM's output has only served to strengthen the band's cross-generational appeal.

"Our audience is constantly expanding," Konietzko points out. "Kids come to shows with their parents. Without them, we have nothing to do. They pay our mortgage and put food on our table."

KMFDM's growing popularity was also an important component of the success of Wax Trax! Records throughout the '90s. During that time, the label's roster comprised an A-list of industrial artists, all of whom helped the Chicago-based imprint become the Sub Pop of the genre. While the acts -- Ministry, Revolting Cocks, Front 242, Coil and Laibach, among many others -- varied greatly, the Wax Trax! sound was defined by a mechanical uniformity that criticized an increasingly dehumanized and homogenized society. And despite various obstacles -- the purchase of Wax Trax! by giant TVT Records and the death of founder Jim Nash in 1995 -- KMFDM continued to release albums on the label. Toward the end of the decade, though, irreconcilable differences among the group's members caused KMFDM to call it quits. As a result, Konietzko, Esch, Schulz and Tim Skold released one last album -- the aptly titled Adios-- and the band name was officially retired in 1999.

Later that same year, KMFDM was cited alongside Marilyn Manson as an inspiration behind the Columbine High School massacre. The media seized on the band's German roots and suggested ties to Nazism, a ridiculous claim about an act that had declared itself "A Drug Against War" on a 1994 single. In a press release posted the day after Columbine, Konietzko emphatically stated, "KMFDM are an art form -- not a political party. From the beginning, our music has been a statement against war, oppression, fascism and violence against others."

The following year, Konietzko and Skold joined forces with dramatic Drill vocalist Lucia Cifarelli to form MDFMK, an ensemble with a name different enough to break with the past but familiar enough to grab the attention of longtime fans. The trio released just one album in 2000 on Universal and completed a North American tour. Two years later, Konietzko decided to revive the KMFDM brand and released Attakon Metropolis Records. With a core lineup solidified, the band sounded re-energized, and fans were thrilled to have new music from their favorite five-letter acronym back in the record bins.

"I wouldn't have done it if it weren't for the fans," Konietzko explains, "But it felt really good. It felt like it never ended. Only the best parts were resurrected. The negativity and stalemate had completely taken care of themselves."

Taking advantage of its new lease on life, KMFDM released a new record, WWIII, and two live albums. Concurrently, the KMFDM Store and its associated label were established, giving the act more control over its products and cash flow, which, according to Konietzko, is shared equitably among KMFDM's members.

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