"I'm having a bad day from hell," says Sascha Konietzko of KMFDM. "It's technical stuff--my modem blew up this morning. I'm gonna grab me a cigarette."
Clearly, this man does not need any more responsibilities. He's become an in-demand producer thanks to his work with cutting-edge acts such as Front 242, White Zombie, Sister Machine Gun and Die Warzau. In addition, there are the duties required of him by his role in KMFDM, which also features vocalist/guitarist/percussionist En Esch, guitarist/bassist Gunter Schulz, vocalist/bassist Raymond Watts and guitarist Mark Durante. On the group's latest release on Wax Trax!, NIHIL, Konietzko receives credits for singing, songwriting, sequencing, sampling, programming, mixing and editing. In short, he's largely responsible for the outfit's sound, its attitude--even its name. While many listeners maintain the moniker is an acronym for "Kill Mother Fucking Depeche Mode," Konietzko, a native of Germany, says the initials "meant `Kein Mehrheit Fur Die Mitleid.' Or, loosely translated from German, `No pity for the majority.'"
Although Konietzko isn't heavily involved with politics affecting either Germany or Chicago, which the band has called home for the past six years, he adds, "It's pretty obvious that KMFDM is a very left-wing band. Most people don't get the sarcasm or the humor or the irony in things. Our real fans seem to get a lot out of it, but reviewers and writers and interviewers hardly ever get the gist unless they're followers for a long time."
Then again, KMFDM hasn't made it easy on those trying to keep up with new developments. "We're not really a band at all," he admits. "It was more like I was doing something that was called Kein Mehrheit Fur Die Mitleid, and then I started another project called Missing Foundations, with Peter Missing from New York. When looking for a drummer, we found En Esch. Then En Esch and I started recording with Raymond Watts. After two and a half years we had enough songs that we wanted to put out an album. So we called it KMFDM again, because we didn't have a better name. Over the years we met everyone else that is in the current lineup. No one is welded into this project, though. Everybody goes and comes and does other things."
As a result of this shifting membership, there are notable differences between KMFDM's debut, 1986's What Do You Know Deutschland?, and its followup, 1988's Don't Blow Your Top. However, the albums that followed were consistent in at least one sense; all their titles have been five letters in length. The trend began in 1989, with UAIOE. "It was a kind of dada idea, like the name `KMFDM' itself," Konietzko notes. "And the next one was called NAIVE, because `naive' was one of my favorite words at the time. And then I realized, `We have two albums with five letters in them, so let's go with that.'"
Hence 1992's MONEY, 1993's ANGST and NIHIL, whose appellations "are part of the overall conceptual continuity in KMFDM," Konietzko suggests. "We do it to have people try to figure it out. It's intentional, but it doesn't intend more than just to portray or depict our ongoing silliness and our humor. Apparently, we like words, and we twist our little words and come out with strange lyrics. But it's not much more than intellectual, philosophizing crap."
Actually, the lyrics on NIHIL are a varied lot. For instance, both the opening cut, "Ultra," and the much-hyped "Juke Joint Jezebel" reveal an obsession with fire and annihilation. ("It's coincidental, but I notice it, too," Konietzko confesses, before adding, "I'm not a pyromaniac, though.") Other cuts are in the Consolidated tradition; they consist of equal parts angry pessimism and apocalyptic rallying.
As for NIHIL's music, it alternately recalls Nitzer Ebb and Helmet, with a few surprises thrown in for good measure. An example is the interesting vocal effect that distinguishes "Disobedience." "We put a microphone in front of an intercom in one room of our studio," Konietzko says. "And I was way back in the other room screaming into the phone. My voice sounded totally like a TV evangelist--not like me, that's for sure. It was strange, flat and squeaky."
Konietzko claims that KMFDM will do anything to achieve off-kilter sounds, "from finding that two heavy-bottomed whiskey glasses make a good sound when you pick them up from the sink with two fingers, to making contraptions to blow up or throw down an iron staircase or freight-elevator shaft. When we do those things, we get a sample of a sound. We put those samples on the pad and then trigger them with drumsticks. We're deliberately not a band like Einsturzende Neubauten, that brings jackhammers on stage. It's entertaining, but one band like that is enough."
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Although not as extreme as Neubauten, KMFDM has certainly exhibited a penchant for experimentation outside the mainstream. It's something of a surprise, then, to discover KMFDM on the soundtracks of two big-budget films: "Juke Joint Jezebel" is featured in the Will Smith/Martin Lawrence vehicle, Bad Boys, while "Virus" will pop up in the upcoming Keanu Reeves sci-fi project, Johnny Mnemonic. But you won't catch Konietzko enthusing about KMFDM's association with the flicks. "I'm not really thrilled about those movies," he moans. "But we're being approached by those companies. Most of the stuff that Hollywood makes is crap, anyway, but if they pay enough money, we may go, `Mmm, okay, let's do it.' Stuff like that just pays the rent."
Still, don't expect KMFDM to change its approach to suit movie studios--or major labels, for that matter.
"If we were out to sell a million records, then we would do different music," Konietzko says. "We're certainly capable of doing that."
KMFDM, with Dink. 8 p.m. Wednesday, May 10, Ogden Theatre, 935 East Colfax, $14, 830-2525.