Achtung, Baby!

The guiterrorists in Germany's KMFDM "rip the system" with gallows humor and high-tech aggression

The members of KMFDM think they're funny guys--despite the leather and the Hamburg accents so guttural they make Schwarzenegger sound like a girlie man.

In fact, group founder and keyboardist Sascha Konietzko says KMFDM's sense of humor is spread all over Nihil, the German quintet's latest blend of techno, industrial and hard rock. Take the lyrics to "Terror": "Icannot keep my hate inside/I'm gonna set myself on fire," wails Konietzko.

"I think that's funny," he insists.
Heh, heh. Right.
Even funnier are the various interpretations of the band's cryptic name--a German acronym that translates "no pity for the majority." KMFDM fans have christened their noisy idols with literally hundreds of imaginative monikers, including: Karl Marx Found Dead, Masturbating; Keep Moving Fractions--Divide, Multiply; Killing Madonna Frees Desperate Minds; and Kill Mother Fucking Depeche Mode.

KMFDM's strident, anthemic lyrics and sonic meld of synthesizer with thick layers of metallic guitar--on record, up to 20 six-strings simultaneously attack the same chord--create a sound Konietzko calls "ultraheavy beat."

"Distorted guitars are one of those subliminal sounds that go straight through the brain to the emotions," he says. "It has an ultrabrutal violence that is a very good basis to start a song."

KMFDM's shotgun marriage of guitar and synth has raised the hackles of industrial purists, who urged the band to ditch the metal influence in favor of more glitzy electronics. Konietzko's response: "Go buy Depeche Mode."

However, the bandleader is quick to emphasize the difference between KMFDM's use of heavy-metal guitar and that of, say, Poison. "Our guitarists aren't presenting themselves like blowjob poseur types," he explains. "Here we have something very different, a little cocktail of all kinds of things."

A Molotov cocktail, that is.
The liner notes to Nihil exhort the listener to "Rip the System!" KMFDM vocalist/guitarist En Esch elaborates: "'Rip the system' means be disobedient," he says. "No dogma. Anarchy is a kind of freedom everyone has or could have, but I wouldn't quite endorse empty chaos.

"'Rip the system' can start in your family, you know what I'm saying? It can start by a lot of people ripping on other people to get their shit together and reverse the wrong they're doing."

Esch cites a strategic example from his personal campaign of subversion: "I rip the system by wearing a skirt or dress onstage. People ask themselves what I'm up to. I want to show a sort of female desire I have to dress female, but I'm rocking real hard at the same time, so I'm masculine also.

"I don't wear a dress to shock people; it's just my outfit onstage, what I think will look good on me, a little unserious part of myself."

The cornerstone act of the Chicago-based WaxTrax! label, KMFDM has existed in various incarnations for more than 11 years and seven albums. Konietzko and Esch have been with the band from the start, and recallKMFDM's debut performance at a 1983 Paris art exhibit. Basically, the band brought three construction workers onstage and had them smash a glass door. End of gig.

KMFDM was spawned in the cradle of industrial music--the yet-to-be-labeled European scene of the early '80s that was led by Germany's EinstYrzende Neubauten. Bands would beg, borrow and steal an accumulation of industrial detritus--oil drums, heavy equipment shock springs and engine blocks--then saw, blowtorch and hammer the hell out of the items at underground warehouse concerts on both sides of the Berlin Wall.

True to form, early KMFDM performances featured five squealing guitars complemented by exploding pillows and furniture. The shows were equal parts rock 'n' roll andperformance art (granted, some would debate any such distinction). "We did all that stuff," Konietzko says. "Covering yourself in flour and blood, shooting at TV sets, setting fire to stages--it all got really boring."

As industrial music evolved, the "found object" approach of the form's spearhead bands was widely replaced by more typical rock instrumentation: guitars, synthesizers, drum kits. The jackhammer rhythms and painfully high volume of the first industrialconcerts, however, are echoed in the livemusic of prominent modern industrial bandssuch as Ministry and Kill Switch...Klick.

Esch says that while KMFDM has matured since the days of flour and blood, "we are not a family band." Nor is it a typically grim industrial act. "We take ourselves seriously, but only up to a certain point," says the guitarist. "We used to listen to a lot of Frank Zappa. He's the best example of being high-tech and a serious musician, but being humorous at the same time."

Aside from Zappa, Konietzko says, no band has had a positive influence on KMFDM. "Iwas never inspired by other people's music," he says. "I was always more disgusted by it."

Specifically, the keyboardist was "pretty repelled" by Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire because of their tendency to create"structureless, depressive" moods. KMFDM, Konietzko says, sought out a counterpoint to that kind of vibe.

"We wanted to do dance music with intros, bridges, verses, choruses. More of a poppy approach. We happen to be song-structure fanatics."

With the crossover success of Nihil's cyber-goth single "Juke Joint Jezebel," KMFDM is finally enjoying a taste of the mass recognition enjoyed by relative newcomers Nine Inch Nails. "Of course we're a bit annoyed," admits Esch when asked of NIN's megapopularity. "We have been around two times longer than them."

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