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Founding members include Sascha Konietzko (born c. 1961 in Hamburg, Germany), En Esch, and Raymond Watts; later members include William Reifman, drums; Chris Connelly, vocals; Guenter Schulz, guitar; Mark Durante, guitar; Svet Am, guitar; Dorona Alberti, vocals; and F. M. Einheit, percussion. Addresses: Home--Chicago, IL. Record company--Wax Trax Records, 1657 N. Damen Ave., Chicago, IL 60647.
Despite any rumors to the contrary, KMFDM is an acronym for the German phrase, kein Mitleid fuer die Mehrheit, or "no pity for the majority." It was shortened to an acronym after one of the group's founding members, English musician Raymond Watts, had trouble pronouncing the German words. The sentiment behind their name reflects KMFDM's beginnings as an eighties art-terrorist group with links to fellow German band Einsturzende Neubauten, who used actual machinery such as jackhammers in their music, giving rise to the term "industrial" music; KMFDM became one of the first such European ensembles to find success on American shores. Even after several albums and the co-opting of the industrial-noise ethos by numerous imitators, KMFDM's output manages to remain, according to Rolling Stone critic Sandy Masuo, "insidiously arty and intellectually sassy."
KMFDM has boasted an impressive roster of musicians since its inception, but has always been centered around Sascha Konietzko. Born in 1961, he grew up in the German port city of Hamburg and often worked odd jobs to help support his family after his parents' divorce. As a teenager, Konietzko verged on juvenile delinquency until he saw a 1976 Sex Pistols concert that literally changed his life. "The next day I shaved off my hair and became a punk," he told Rolling Stone's Jon Wiederhorn. He played in a series of bands before winding up in Paris in early 1984 collaborating with a multimedia German artist named Udosturm. Inside an avant-garde art exhibition in the city's Grand Palais, the duo blasted synthesizer- generated noise with rumbles from several bass guitars; it also included demonstrations of machinery by four Polish coal miners Konietzko and Udosturm had met in a Paris whorehouse.
Konietzko eventually moved back to Hamburg and began working with an American musician, Peter Missing, and a German drummer, En Esch. Eventually Konietzko and Esch officially formed KMFDM with Raymond ("Pig") Watts around 1985. Their first release came at the end of 1986, What Do You Know, Deutschland? Early the next year a second work appeared, Kickin' Ass, which was picked up by a British distributor. The sound was at the forefront of a new wave of northern European music that was assaultive and brutal in spirit, with leaden guitars competing against rapid, headache-inducing beats emanating from computer-programmed synthesizers; vocals were screamed above the chaotic musical backdrop. KMFDM soon began performing in clubs throughout Europe, where their live shows included tossing animal guts at the audience, exploding television sets, and fire-eaters onstage.
By 1988 their reputation had attracted the attention of Chicago's Wax Trax label, who picked up the record Don't Blow Your Top for distribution. UAIOE followed in 1989, a record that marked the end of the joint collaboration between Konietzko and Esch, though the two would remain friends and continue to work together on KMFDM releases. Konietzko described Esch as being defined by doctors as "mad," and in an interview with Simon Reynolds for Melody Maker, Esch said little to counteract that. "I destroy myself. I'm fighting every minute. Fighting with myself. My mind is out of control. Your body should control your mind. That's healthy, that's cool. But my mind went weird somewhere along the way." UAIOE also marked the beginning of a studio relationship with famed producer Adrian Sherwood. "Digitally mutated voices rise out of hollow bass and ooze through walls of sampled guitar and computer blips," noted a Melody Maker review. "It's a slow, mean, vicious thing."
Yet by 1989, lighter-weight industrial bands broke into the German charts; Meat Beat Manifesto and Front 242 became wildly popular; it was also the year that the Berlin Wall fell and the process of reunification began, a historical event that seemed to bring out the worst in the West Germans. An aborted tour with Chicago band My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult also made them increasingly dissatisfied with the European music scene. Konietzko called Wax Trax for rescue; the label gave them the opening slot for a series of Ministry concert dates in the United States.
The following year they officially signed with the Chicago-based label, and Konietzko relocated there. A series of KMFDM records ensued, including 1990's Naive and Money, released in 1992. The latter included samples from television and radio broadcasts, "all mangled guitar noise, sampled classical bursts and rhythms programmed by sadists," declared Melody Maker critic Paul Lester. Konietzko explained his motivations to Billboard writer Carrie Borzillo in 1996. "Every album is like a photograph...," he said. "A lot of people tend to think of albums as something written in stone and are really thoughtful about it. I'm not very thoughtful about it. The main incentive behind the band and probably always will be, is that as long as it's fun, it's good."
In 1993 KMFDM released Angst, and continued to tour intermittently, though they no longer threw animal entrails at audiences. Konietzko remained the mastermind behind KMFDM, with contributions from Esch and a host of others throughout the decade. Despite the studio wizardry needed to create the band's recorded aura, Esch loves performing live. "It's unbelievable, the feeling that you get when you have contact with the crowd," he told Melody Maker's Simon Reynolds. "Prostituting yourself. But in a positive way."
Various other KMFDM members have included guitarists Svet Am, Guenter Schulz, and Mark Durante while William Reifman and F.M. Einheit, a member of Einsturzende Neubauten, have numbered among the percussionists. Almost all of the album covers since 1988 have been executed by Brute, an artist Konietzko has said he considers a virtual member of the band; the 18 different covers are a cohesive narrative that tie in with KMFDM's own visions.
Surprisingly, Konietzko seems at home in Chicago. When Wax Trax label ran into financial problems, KMFDM stayed aboard--even though most of the other original Wax Trax bands such as Front Line Assembly went on to larger labels. The 1995 release Nihil became the first KMFDM record to chart, and within the year Konietzko was remixing KMFDM tracks for inclusion on movie soundtracks such as Mortal Kombat. Like the previous records, 1996's Xtort was done in Chicago; Konietzko assembles the collaborators and demands that they be available for recording for 13 hours of the day. This release featured vocals by Dorona Alberti as well as horns and a Hammond organ on certain tracks. Rolling Stone's Wiederhorn described Xtort as essentially Konietzko's "most cohesive diatribes to date. Combining computerized beats and samples with blazing metallic riffs, soaring female background vocals and even a horn section on one track, KMFDM have assembled a collection of songs that range from the ecstatic dance-floor surge of 'Power' to the apocalyptic, spoken-word electrolysis of 'Dogma.'"
Technology remains an integral element of KMFDM's music. Konietzko uses various Macintosh computers to compose and record music, and personally maintains the KMFDM internet site on the World Wide Web. Surprisingly, the band's music seems to be gaining new adherents after a decade in existence. Konietzko talked with Keyboard writer Robert L. Doerschuk about some recent encounters. "People are turning to us and saying, 'Oh, you're the new hot band.' And we're like, 'No, we're an old and untrendy band.' A lot of people are trying to jump on this bandwagon. So I don't know. Maybe it's time to go, because we've made our mark."
by Carol Brennan
Band formed in Hamburg, Germany, c. 1985, with Konietzko, Watts, and En Esch; released first LP, What Do You Know, Deutschland?, in December of 1986; signed with Chicago's Wax Trax record label, 1990.
- Selective Works
- What Do You Know, Deutschland?, Z Records, 1986, Skysaw Records, 1987.
- Don't Blow Your Top, Wax Trax, 1988.
- UAIOE, Wax Trax, 1989.
- Naive, Wax Trax, 1990.
- Money, Wax Trax, 1992.
- Angst, Wax Trax/TVT, 1993.
- Nihil, Wax Trax/TVT, 1995.
- Xtort, Wax Trax/TVT, 1996.
- Billboard, June 22, 1996, pp. 1, 97.
- Details, July 1996, p. 159.
- Keyboard, August 1995, p. 12.
- Melody Maker, August 26, 1989, p. 12; October 20, 1990, pp. 50-51; February 8, 1992, p. 32; August 6, 1994, p. 32.
- Rolling Stone, July 11, 1996, p. 90; August 8, 1996, p, 24.
- Additional information for this profile was obtained from the KMFDM site on the World Wide Web.
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