By Kat Bein
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"Day after day, innocent people are being deported, interrogated, and tortured," Sascha Konietzko yells through a bullhorn in KMFDM's "Terror," a track on their most recent album, Nihil. "Fundamentalist forces are undermining the integrity of liberal and democratic political structures/Radical anarchists, fascists, and terrorists are responsible for the violence."
Not to undercut the song's powerful political message or anything, but Konietzko wants you to know that on some level he's trying to be funny. "It's got this comical, propagandist aspect that may not seem comical if you don't see the band," muses KMFDM's bandleader. "But it's like a book; you have to read between the lines to really get the gist of it. Sometimes there's a huge misunderstanding about what we actually mean and where we stand politically. But we're artists, after all, and we don't need to be politicized. This is all about entertainment. Nothing is so serious that you cannot crack a joke."
And then there are the practical concerns of song composition. "I like to use bullhorns," Konietzko continues, "and what are you gonna do, stand with a microphone and a bullhorn and shout about how much you love someone? It's better to say something like our societies are saturated with blood lust, sensationalism, and violence."
Despite this question of seriousness, it would seem that lately the members of the Chicago-based industrial outfit KMFDM does have much to laugh about. Emerging from the Hamburg underground in the mid-1980s to become one of the preeminent acts on the American independent Wax Trax! label, KMFDM (an acronym for Kein Mitleid fr die Mehrheit, which means "no pity for the majority" in German) was one of the first bands to legitimize the combined use of heavy guitars, synthesized samples, and disco rhythms. Setting a standard for creativity in the studio and high energy on-stage, KMFDM is considered a pioneer in the genre that later made U.S. industrial bands such as nine inch nails and Ministry famous. Now, eleven years and seven albums into their career, KMFDM is finally attaining wider recognition with their best-selling disc to date, Nihil (Latin for "nothing").
But Konietzko denies that his band is gaining popularity. He also denies that KMFDM creates industrial music. He even denies being in a band (he calls it a "project"). "I wouldn't call it a sudden popularity at all," he contends in a phone interview from Rochester. "We've always progressed and developed at our own pace. It's been a continuous growth based on a loyal fan base."
As for industrial music as a genre, Konietzko says he doesn't see a major leap in popularity there either. "It's not really that industrial has become more popular," he notes. "It's more like nine inch nails has become more popular and shed light on what's going on in the genre. The music that's selling by the millions is grunge rock -- these bands trying to copy that Seattle sound -- and, of course, the pop stuff like Michael Jackson and Madonna. I think nine inch nails just made a really good record at a time when it hit a nerve, and that created a little bit of attention for what's going on in the underground camp."
Nihil itself is a good record that hits a nerve. Its mechanically precise dance rhythms, distorted and swirling metal guitar loops, and searing vocals create an ultraheavy marriage of industrial and techno staples. The melange is nothing new, either for this band or for countless others, but KMFDM blends these elements in a way that is more accessible than many of their fellow industrialists. While endlessly compared to NIN and former Wax Trax! label mates Ministry, KMFDM's use of techno rhythms, gospel-diva choruses, and horns on Nihil is more reminiscent of My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult (a band KMFDM has toured with and with whom they've become good friends). Some songs on Nihil, such as the sexy "Juke Joint Jezebel" and strangely optimistic "Trust," are dance-oriented ditties; others, such as the potent "Search & Destroy" and the darkly twisted "Flesh" ("Inside this noise is a weak and godless soul/There's a rusty halo on my head/Fill this hole/Suck this soul/I'm the thing I can't control"), offer fast-paced industrial fodder. Lead vocals alternate between singer-guitarist Raymond Watts's deep, hoarse groan, singer-guitarist En Esch's commanding caterwaul, and producer-keyboardist Konietzko's bullhorn blast. The messages also alternate, depending on which vocalist-lyricist takes the mike.
"We all have our topics," Konietzko points out. "Raymond's are more dark, more about himself. En Esch is the more twisted and bleak. I don't want to write about myself, about emotional bullshit A I write about what I see on TV and read in the news. You know, yeah, the world is fucked up, but let's have a good time."
Keep in mind that, at least according to Konietzko, KMFDM isn't exactly a band. He and Esch are the cornerstone of a project that has had a constantly changing lineup over the past decade. "His role has changed over the years, as has mine, in terms of the songwriting and execution," explains Konietzko. "He's a very valuable part of it, but he chose not to participate so much this time in the actual writing. I guess the humorous side and political side is my influence -- it's the way I see things."