For the Record

MDFMK's Sascha Konietzko on controversy, scapegoating and Columbine

No one's ever accused Sascha Konietzko, the man behind the now-dead KMFDM and the very much alive MDFMK, of suffering from incurable optimism. Since the '80s, he's made hard-as-nails electro/industrial music whose lyrics focus on topics such as inhumanity and anguish, not true love and thongs. But last year's massacre at Columbine High School made him feel even worse about the state of the world than he had previously. There was the crime itself, of course. But that was followed by what Konietzko describes as "a really hellish combination of factors that made the media machine basically sink their teeth into us." As it turned out, Eric Harris, one of the Columbine killers, wasn't a fan of Marilyn Manson, as was originally reported, but a booster of KMFDM; indeed, his Web site was sprinkled with lethal-sounding quotes from the act's oeuvre such as "I am your apocalypse" and "What I don't like I waste." Predictably, this caused simplistic cultural commentators desperately looking for someone or something to blame to turn to the group -- and they immediately found grist for their mill. They discovered, for example, that assorted members of KMFDM, including Konietzko, hailed from Germany, a country whose dark past allegedly held an allure for Harris and his co-conspirator, Dylan Klebold; students who came forward after the shootings remembered the pair giving each other Nazi salutes during bowling classes. This led many guardians of taste to assume that KMFDM was cut from the same cloth; they pointed out that its latest album had been issued on April 20, which was both the day of the bloodbath at Columbine and the anniversary of Adolf Hitler's birth. And the name of that recording? Adios.

In truth, each of these connections was entirely coincidental. As part of a statement that appeared on KMFDM's Web site after the attack, Konietzko denied that KMFDM was a "political party," but he noted, "From the beginning, our music has been a statement against war, oppression, fascism and violence against others." (He made this point even more explicitly in a New Times profile published in 1995. "It's pretty obvious that KMFDM is a very left-wing band," he said.) Furthermore, April 20 hadn't been the disc's original release date -- according to Konietzko, it was pushed back because of problems at a pressing plant -- and none of the performers had the foggiest idea that the day had anything to do with Hitler. Finally, Adios wasn't a reference to leaving the planet in a blaze of gunfire but a farewell from KMFDM: The combo had actually broken up earlier in the year.

Konietzko did his best to disseminate this information, but most of it was lost in the hysteria that followed the incident, leaving him with an overwhelming feeling of impotence.

(From left) Tim Skold, Lucia Cifarelli and Sascha Konietzko of MDFMK think inside the box.
(From left) Tim Skold, Lucia Cifarelli and Sascha Konietzko of MDFMK think inside the box.

"It was very strange," he says in an accent lightened by a decade on American soil, "because until that day, KMFDM was completely unknown in the mainstream, and we had been officially waved goodbye for about three months or so. And then all of a sudden, there was this posthumous roar from absolutely left field. We were like, "Wow, what is going on?' We were just sitting there looking at the TV screen and getting a little more frazzled minute by minute thinking, "Jesus -- what's going to be next?'"

This question needed answering from a musical perspective as well. Konietzko, who'd founded KMFDM, had grown bored with his creation: "It started feeling a little bit stale. There was no juice in it, no chemistry between a lot of the members. It was strangling, stifling. So I just wanted to cover new ground and really start something that would put the fun back into what I was doing."

To that end, Konietzko got together with Tim Skold, who'd been a part of KMFDM since 1997. Skold relocated to Seattle, where Konietzko was living at the time, and before long, the two of them had cranked out half an album's worth of material. To sing it, they recruited Lucia Cifarelli, who'd fronted the noisy New York combo Drill until its 1998 dissolution. Konietzko sees the name the trio settled on for their new project -- MDFMK, or KMFDM in reverse order -- as a pleasingly intellectual, "very KMFDM-ish" way of showing that the group is a fresh twist on its predecessor, not a repudiation of it. As an added bonus, Konietzko no longer has to explain that KMFDM stands for "Kein Mehrheit Für Die Mitleid" (a loose translation of the German phrase "No pity for the majority"), not "Kill Mother Fucking Depeche Mode," a joke by a roadie that took on a life of its own. (For the record, Konietzko insists that he actually likes Depeche Mode.)

MDFMK, as represented by its self-titled debut, put out in March by Republic/Universal, differs from KMFDM "in a few important respects," Konietzko says. "One is that there are no instruments used. There's a few guitar things that are heavily butchered and electronically manipulated, but mainly it's completely electronically devised sound.

"We weren't really rehashing the kind of KMFDM cliché type of thing," he continues. "KMFDM at the end was really a conglomerate of people who were pulling in different directions. The majority of them saw that there was a recipe to moderate success by recooking the same dish over and over. But I wanted to make purely electronic music. That was always pretty much my part in KMFDM. So this record is the complete hybrid of not man versus machine, but man and machine."

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