ReGen Magazine Blog
Feb
28
KMFDM: "Here's to another round!"

For any musical entity to maintain a discernible level of productivity over any period of time is no easy feat. When that entity has lasted a quarter-of-a-century and successfully kept a sizeable audience during that time, the word "legend" very easily comes to mind. KMFDM is one such entity, having survived the course of the last 25 years as progenitors of a style of music that would come to be known as industrial rock - the band was among the first to combine the guitar-and-bass laden simplicity of punk and old-fashioned rock & roll with the then new territories of synthesized programming and sampling. Through the years, KMFDM would become known for exploring this combination in a variety of styles; dubbing their style "The Ultra Heavy Beat," the members of KMFDM over the years have been a mixed bag of individuals from various walks of life to create a legacy of music in constant flux given cohesion by virtue of an atmosphere and attitude that carries through each of the band's releases.

Formed in the leap year of 1984, KMFDM officially began life in Paris, France on February 29th of that year when a 22-year-old German born punk musician named Sascha Konietzko embarked on a joint effort with painter and multimedia performer Udo Sturm for the opening of an exhibition at the Grand Palais for young European artists. This first early performance was a historical moment in the annals of industrial music, not just for the introduction of KMFDM to the world, but also due to the nature of the performance as Konietzko employed a room of several vacuum cleaners as an instrumental base for the music. While Sturm had no further musical aspirations, Konietzko would carry this experimental spirit with him throughout his career. Returning to his home in Hamburg, Germany, he encountered British studio owner Raymond Watts, who himself would become a key player in not only KMFDM's history, but the development of the industrial rock style. The name Kein Mehrheit Für Die Mitleid - a name Konietzko derived from cutting newspaper headlines and shuffling the words around in a manner not dissimilar to the practices often employed in industrial music - is loosely translated to "no pity for the majority" or "no mercy for the masses;" a phrase that would inform much of the sociopolitical themes the band would come to be known for exploring. Apocryphally, the name was shortened in 1985 due to Watts' inability to correctly pronounce the German phrase, although officially, it was for the sake of simplification and design. With Watts and an enigmatic character named Ton Geist, the trio produced the debut KMFDM album, Opium, released in 1984 on 200 cassette copies (now highly sought after by fans and collectors). While the album was not widely heard, it was the starting point from which the KMFDM sound would emerge - Konietzko's bass guitar resonates throughout the album, underscoring compositions of manipulated samples, mechanical beats and loops, and discordant vocals from Konietzko and Watts. Shortly thereafter, with Geist's departure, drummer/guitarist Nicklaus Schandlmeier was added to the mix, bringing with him a unique personality that would add much to KMFDM's visual appeal.

From the 1986 release of What Do You Know, Deutschland? on, KMFDM would begin a steady ascent in the musical underground, as well as a long history of record label shifts and disputes; the album was originally released on Z Records, re-released the following year on SkySaw Records with five additional songs, one of which - "Zip" - would not find its way onto the WaxTrax! version in the US or onto any official album until more than a decade later. Still, What Do You Know, Deutschland? marked KMFDM's introduction to a wider spread audience, expanding on the abstract style set forth by Opium and carrying into the band's live performances, as well as the beginning of a 15-year-long relationship with legendary Chicago-based label WaxTrax! Records, headed by Jim Nash and Dannie Flesher and home to other luminaries of the burgeoning industrial scene like Ministry, Front 242, My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult, and Front Line Assembly for distribution in the US. Don't Blow Your Top followed in 1988, featuring a growing reliance on more traditional song-based structures, and featuring Watts in a diminished role as he began expanding his skills as a producer with Mona Mur and members of Einstürzende Neubauten and developing his own music. The fourth album, UAIOE exhibited a dramatic shift in sound for KMFDM, for awhile the industrial rock leanings of "En Esch" - a thinly veiled cover of Deep Purple's "Demon's Eye" - and "More & Faster" began to come to fruition, other songs like "Ganja Rock" and "Loving Can Be an Art" demonstrated a growing fascination with reggae that with the addition of vocalist Morgan Adjei resulted in one of the band's most experimental albums.

KMFDM would then reign in the '90s with the release of Naïve, considered to be one of the group's creative pinnacles. By this point, German guitarist Günter Schulz had entered into the mix, soon becoming a core member of the group through his inimitably technical playing style to create a distinctive sound on such songs as "Go to Hell," "Virus," and "Godlike," the latter song becoming a permanent staple of KMFDM's live shows and widely considered to be the band's biggest hit. The album was met with some controversy as unauthorized samples from Carl Orff's Carmina Burana had been used in "Liebeslied," sparking a lawsuit from the Orff estate and resulting in the album being recalled, not to be released again until three years later, albeit in an alternate form titled Naïve - Hell to Go, with several of the songs appearing in remixed versions, some of which differed rather dramatically from their original cuts. The original version is considered a rare gem that even in the wake of the recent rerelease/remaster on Metropolis still fetches high prices among collectors. Still, Naïve saw the band firmly planting its feet in the new decade with a sound that was still evolving but coalescing into the industrial rock powerhouse that would carry them for the remainder of their career and become the sound of a generation. If lawsuits and rereleases were not enough, during the 1990 tour with My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult, Konietzko and En Esch ceased working together. At this time in 1991, Konietzko moved to Chicago, viewing the USA as the home base for his growing audience, and enjoying the band's already fruitful collaboration with WaxTrax! Records. The following album was to be titled Apart to reflect the rift between two core songwriters, as well as the fact that the budget had been split in half for each member to write half the songs on the album. However, Esch's contributions were ultimately rejected by WaxTrax! and Konietzko was granted more money to complete the album. Several of the songs intended for the album - now titled Money - were omitted, appearing on later singles and compilations, with the remainder of the album being filled out by remixes, while Esch's contributions formed the core of his solo effort, Cheesy. Be that as it may, Money was well received by fans due to the strength of tracks like "Vogue," "Sex on the Flag," and the title track. The album also saw a greater incorporation of female vocal accompaniment as Christine Siewart and Dorona Alberti became melodic contrasts to the more distorted and guttural styles of Konietzko and En Esch. It was also during this period from 1990 to 1993 that Konietzko released two albums and corresponding singles under the Excessive Force side project, which originally began as a collaboration with Thrill Kill Kult's Buzz McCoy before McCoy's departure after the Conquer Your World album. Konietzko has in the past described the project as "a one off that turned into a two off."

In 2008, as part of the Metropolis Records reissues of KMFDM's back catalog, Extra - Volume 1 was released, documenting the band's primary singles releases during the period from the formation to Money, as well as several rarities such as the original Z Records version of "Sieg-Sieg" from What Do You Know, Deutschland? and the original 12" versions of "More & Faster" and "Rip the System."

In 1993, the world saw the release of one of industrial rock's watershed albums: Angst. Widely regarded as the ultimate KMFDM album, Angst saw the core lineup of Sascha Konietzko, En Esch, and Günter Schulz (in his last credit under the pseudonym of Svetlana Ambrosius - or Svet Am), with Chicago guitarist Mark Durante, vocalist Dorona Alberti, and engineer Chris Shepard contributing significantly. While past songs like "More & Faster" and "Money" demonstrated the band's penchant for self reference and humor, shifting between aggrandizing and deprecating, all the while turning their own name into an anthemic shout for their audience, tracks like "Sucks," "Light," and especially "A Drug Against War" became unabashed hits for the band, the latter two songs being consistently performed at live shows even to this day. With three guitarists on hand, Angst was also KMFDM's most guitar-heavy and aggressive album up to that point. However, it would also be the first to be released following TVT Records' acquisition of WaxTrax! in 1992 after the label had filed for bankruptcy, beginning a tumultuous period for the band, the label, and the industrial music scene as a whole. By this time, Konietzko had relocated to Seattle, Washington and former collaborator Raymond Watts had come into his own with his PIG project, drawing comparisons to KMFDM with his equally aggressive guitar-and-sample laden sound, although his style was arguably more perverted lyrically and more orchestral in scope. In 1994, Watts, Konietzko, and Schulz began work on an EP that would be released as KMFDM vs. PIG under the title of Sin, Sex, & Salvation; featuring backing vocals by Jennifer Ginsberg, the EP served as a precursor for what was to come on the upcoming album. Released in April of 1995, Nihil was as widely acclaimed as its predecessor; as guitar-heavy as Angst, but with the inclusion of Watts made for a harsher and nastier album, sonically and lyrically. Opening track "Ultra" became a live staple anytime Watts would join the band onstage, while "Juke Joint Jezebel," "Dis-O-bedience," "Trust," and "Brute" would become among the most revered songs in KMFDM's history. Ironically, while the album includes the song "Brute," Nihil was among the few KMFDM albums not to feature the artwork of artist Brute! - a.k.a. Aidan Hughes - whose sometimes violent, sometimes satirical, sometimes politically propagandist comic book visuals had come to be virtually inseparable from the band's music. The distinct cover for Nihil instead featured a painting by Francesca Sundsten, wife of drummer Bill Rieflin, formerly of Ministry, Revolting Cocks, and Pigface, and subsequently a regular contributor to KMFDM's music for the next several years.

Hot off the heels of the Beat by Beat tour, KMFDM went right back into the studio to produce what could arguably be regarded as the most diverse lineup of guest musicians yet featured on a KMFDM album. While regulars like Bill Rieflin, Dorona Alberti, Jennifer Ginsberg, and Mark Durante were present on Xtort, Chris Connelly of Ministry and Revolting Cocks appeared on four tracks, with "Rules" becoming the album's most notable hit, released later as a single. F.M Einheit, who had recently departed from Einstürzende Neubauten and had previously produced the More & Faster single, brought in his unique brand of noise to tracks like "Ikons" and "Dogma," the latter coming to be known as one of the most lyrically abrasive tracks ever recorded thanks to a vocal performance from poet and author Nicole Blackman (the words adapted from her piece "Indictment"), who had opened for KMFDM during the Beat by Beat tour. Another blast from the past on Xtort came from Jr. Blackmail, who had appeared on What Do You Know, Deutschland?, with a rather pornographic bit of narration in a hidden track titled "Fairy." The following album in 1997, *Symbols* (so named due to the actual title being a series of symbols often used to censor profanity in comic books in yet another example of KMFDM's sense of humor) featured an even more diverse and high profile lineup of guests with dark pop vocalist/bassist Abby Travis appearing on all but two of the album's tracks while Skinny Puppy's Nivek Ogre makes a notable vocal appearance on "Torture." Opening track "Megalomaniac" - or "Light Part 2" as this writer often affectionately refers to it - was an instant classic among KMFDM audiences, while "Anarchy" marked the first appearance of Tim Skold, who would later become a polarizing figure in the band's history for the next five years. While Xtort featured En Esch in a dramatically diminished capacity, having only appeared on two tracks and performing little more than backup vocals and some percussion, *Symbols* featured the core lineup of Konietzko, En Esch, and Günter Schulz at their most cooperative since Angst. The following tour with PIG and Rammstein also proved to be one of the most successful in KMFDM's history, with Skold, Ogre, and Travis joining the ranks.

As part of the Metropolis Records reissues, Extra - Volume 2 and Volume 3 featured the single releases from the period from Angst onto *Symbols*. The long out-of-print Light single is still considered among the best releases in the band's discography, featuring remixes from Die Warzau and then rising star Nine Inch Nails, while the three versions of "A Drug Against War" don't differ too dramatically from each other, but are still mainstays in any DJs set list for the industrial dance floor today. Other notable remixes like the Chemlab remix of "Lust" and Konietzko's own Never mix of "Trust," both released on the Glory single just prior to Nihil, Death metal producer Scott Burns also put his own distinct touch on "Move On," demonstrating the extreme metal community's acceptance of KMFDM despite a renowned scorn for any style of music that involves synthesizers or programming of any sort. Of course, this might be expected considering the strength of Durante's and Schulz's guitar riffs and solos over the years, as well as a prominent sampling of Slayer's "Angel of Death" in "Godlike." The Juke Joint Jezebel single is also a noteworthy entry in KMFDM's release history and the Extras set, the song being a fan favorite as well as being perhaps the most widely heard KMFDM song in the mainstream having appeared on numerous film and television soundtracks. The single featured numerous remixes by three-time Oscar-winning and three-time Grammy-winning producer Giorgio Moroder, one of which appeared during a fight sequence in the film adaptation of Mortal Kombat. The Overhauled version of "Son of a Gun" also became a fan favorite as the band's first noticeable incorporation of then burgeoning styles of drum & bass and breakbeat, while the MDFMK single was the last to be released on WaxTrax!/TVT.

In spite of the great fortunes 1997 brought with the *Symbols* album and tour, that year also saw a dramatic shift in the industrial music scene as a whole. WaxTrax! founder Jim Nash had died of AIDS in 1995, and TVT Records takeover of the label had become more and more dominant, leading to the departure of most of the WaxTrax! roster. Tensions between Konietzko, En Esch, and Schulz were also on high as differing opinions on the stylistic direction of the band's music had led to the three all but dissolving the band. With a contractual obligation to release one more album, Konietzko began writing with Tim Skold to produce the aptly titled Adios, released on April 20, 1999. While "Full Worm Garden" and "That's All" featured Nivek Ogre yet again and were well received, Adios is considered by most audiences to be a creative low point for the band, with many directly - and rather incorrectly - blaming Skold for alienating En Esch and Schulz and seeing his contributions as a stylistic mismatch with that of KMFDM. Eccentric singer Nina Hagen also appeared on the album, with her perverted tale of alien abduction proving to be perhaps the most reviled and universally panned songs the band had released. Not helping matters was the album's release date corresponding with the Columbine High School massacre, in which Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the two perpetrators of the attack were avid KMFDM fans, the song "Stray Bullet" from previous album *Symbols* receiving the fair share of the controversy, with the media quick to brand the band as a Nazi organization due to their German roots and the attack occurring on the birth date of Adolf Hitler. Konietzko immediately released a statement of remorse and regret to the victims and their families as well as to dismiss any allegations of Nazism, stating that "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." While the media would subsequently shift its attentions to higher profile acts like Rammstein and Marilyn Manson, KMFDM would come under media scrutiny again a decade later as the same song - "Stray Bullet" - would be in the background of a YouTube video posted by Pekka-Eric Auvinen prior to the Jokela High School shooting in Finland.

By the end of 1999, KMFDM was all but over, having enjoyed a 15-year-long period of productivity and earning its place in the annals of music history as purveyors of the industrial rock genre, perhaps more so than any other band. The long association with WaxTrax! Records during this time is also among the most renowned cooperatives in the music industry, KMFDM outlasting most of the label's other notable acts. As the histories of these two musical entities concurrently exemplify a significant segment of the history of the industrial music scene as a whole, it is to the benefit and fortune of today's generation that KMFDM has entered into an equally fruitful cooperation with Metropolis Records to not only release the band's current albums - having reconvened in 2002 - but to also rerelease the entire back catalog. Ever the autonomous musical collective, KMFDM initiated its own label imprint at the beginning of the 21st century, reacquiring the rights to their past albums and singles, and rereleasing them from 2006 through 2009 with distribution from Metropolis Records and via their own web-based store. Every reissue - the three Extra collections compile the singles from this period, while each album is available individually - was thoroughly remastered from the original sources by Sascha Konietzko and Chris Shepard, ensuring the best possible sound quality and giving fans the ultimate document of KMFDM's history, now back in print for the first time since the dissolution of the WaxTrax! brand in 1999.

From 1999 to 2002, the members of KMFDM embarked on other projects, several of which continue to this day. While they had already been working together extensively since before the dissolution of KMFDM, En Esch and Günter Schulz formed Slick Idiot and Itchy Records in 2000, recently releasing the band's third album, Sucksess. Schulz released an album under his own moniker in 2006, featuring vocalist Jeff Borden and a more stripped down rock approach, while Esch continued performing and/or producing with Pigface, MMTM, The Fragile Path, Harshrealm, and most recently Mona Mur, releasing 120 Tage - The Fine Art of Beauty and Violence in 2009 to much acclaim. Sascha Konietzko continued to work with Tim Skold and former Drill vocalist Lucia Cifarelli in MDFMK, adopting a much more modern cyber-electronic sound than KMFDM, although the similarities in songwriting style were somewhat apparent. In 2001, he once again worked with Raymond Watts and members of J-Rock band Buck-Tick Atsushi Sakurai and Hisashi Imai in Schwein, an international industrial rock amalgam that was highly acclaimed, but little heard outside of Japan. In 2002, he reformed KMFDM, releasing Attak on Metropolis Records that year. While Tim Skold was heavily involved on the album, he would not join them on the Sturm & Drang tour, moving on to begin work on a new solo album, playing bass for ohGr and then becoming a key player in Marilyn Manson for more than five years. Lucia Cifarelli became the new female voice for KMFDM, alternating between a melodic approach exemplified by past collaborators and a more abrasive "riot grrl" style that continues in the band to this day. She would also release a solo album entitled From the Land of Volcanoes, showcasing her more melodic songwriting and vocal abilities, and with some tracks featuring her KMFDM cohorts. The Sturm & Drang tour also saw the incorporation of guitarists Jules Hodgson and Steve White and drummer Andy Selway, all formerly of PIG's live lineup, with Watts himself joining the band for the tour and the succeeding album and tour for WWIII. Eight years since the reformation, KMFDM has maintained a steady lineup with Konietzko, Cifarelli, Hodgson, White, and Selway, releasing three live DVDs, the Hau Ruck album in 2005 and its corresponding remix EP Ruck Zuck in 2006, Tohuvabohu in 2007 and the Brimborium remix album in 2008.

Konietzko and Cifarelli relocated to Germany in 2007, barely a year after producing the KGC album with Curve's Dean Garcia, releasing the Dirty Bomb album via KMFDM Records, with a second currently in production. Konietzko has also lent his production skills to Seattle gothic rock band Legion Within, releasing the band's two most recent albums and featuring vocalist William Wilson on the Day of Light single. Jules Hodgson and Andy Selway formed Seattle based rock group The Spittin' Cobras, while Steve White has joined 16volt on the band's two most recent albums, FullBlackHabit and AmericanPornSongs, touring with the band in 2008 and now in 2010 with the upcoming MIDI Ghetto tour with Chemlab and Left Spine Down. WaxTrax! co-founder Dannie Flesher died of pneumonia on January 10, 2010, of which Konietzko had stated in his blog, "KMFDM would not still exist nowadays were it not for Dannie and Jim Nash. It was the two of them who got me out of a miserable existence and gave me my one chance in life." Tim Skold is currently at work on new material, Slick Idiot will embark on a tour of the US in summer of 2010 with Mona Mur, and Raymond Watts is rumored to be working on a new PIG album. In 2009, KMFDM celebrated its 25th Anniversary with a bang, releasing the band's 16th album Blitz in March of that year, the Skold vs. KMFDM album one month earlier, and embarking on the 25th Anniversary Kein Mitleid tour with Angelspit, the band's first tour of the US in three years. A quarter of a century in existence, and KMFDM is showing absolutely no signs of slowing down; at the close of its 25th year, the band has released Krieg, the remix companion to Blitz, as well as new 7" Day of Light, the last in the 24/7 vinyl singles series. While it might be presumptuous to say that KMFDM have the strength to continue for another 25 years, what the band has achieved up to now is unquestionably one of the most powerful musical displays the world has ever seen. As Konietzko and Skold proudly proclaim in "Alkohol," "Here's to another round!"

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