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.
"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."
This amalgam is no less aggressive than was KMFDM. Tracks such as "Gasoline" are fueled by pounding beats, serrating riffs, screeching electronics and plenty of hooks. The words, meanwhile, represent "a not-too-analytical mirror of things that obsess us," Konietzko says. "They're things that maybe pertain to a broad majority of people: consumerism, the lies, the shit that's being sold to you." But the closing salvo, pointedly called "Witch Hunt," is the platter's most personal offering -- an angry sonic grenade thrown back in the faces of those who dragged KMFDM into the Columbine mess. The words don't take much interpretation: "Guilty by association/Systematic defamation/Process of elimination -- /This is your life/Fifteen minutes of fame."
The bravado with which this message is delivered in song isn't always evident when Konietzko's talking about it. He notes that KMFDM received "shitloads of death threats," and when he's asked if he feels trepidation over an upcoming show in the Denver area (as part of a radio-sponsored festival that will benefit some Columbine-related charities), he replies, "Well, what is trepidation? One person who really doesn't see what's going on and wants some kind of vengeance is enough to fuck everyone's lives up, you know. But," he adds, "I'm basically not a scared person."
Neither is he a guy prone to making conservative statements. But while he decries attempts to turn music or musicians into "Beelzebub," his take on the deeper meanings of Columbine wouldn't have sounded out of place at the recent Million Mom March in Washington, D.C.
"I've lived in the States 10 years now, and I'm not really surprised by much -- and certainly not by the things that come from the combination of children and guns," he points out. "I don't think this country has really made any effort to get a grip on the gun problem here. And that's what it is. I mean, it's not music that kills people; it's guns that do. And this is about a whole generation of parents who have succumbed to babysitting by a TV and that kind of shit. I'm the wrong person to say this, but if there's no family values in your upbringing, that's what turns up -- and this is what happens."
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Fortunately for Konietzko, most of those who tried to make KMFDM culpable for Columbine have crawled back into their holes, and he's actually proud that his old band didn't profit from slaying-related publicity, as many predicted. "There was a lot of speculation about what this would do to record sales for Adios, and I'm happy to say it didn't do anything. It didn't boost them, it didn't destroy them. We sold as many records as we usually did. That tells me that most people out there are pretty levelheaded and don't give a shit about what the media has to say, really."
At the same time, he's still stinging from having been ostracized in the first place. After bringing up the fact that Greg Barnes, a star basketball player at Columbine, recently hanged himself while playing "Adam's Song," a tune that includes lines such as "I'm too depressed to go on/You'll be sorry when I'm gone," he asks if pundits went after Blink 182, the combo that performs it. When he's told they haven't, he reacts not with relief that cooler heads prevailed this time, but with the suggestion that "there might be a little bit of a double standard, because Blink 182 sells millions of records, and obviously they're good boys; everybody knows them and everybody loves them. Whereas Marilyn Manson is someone who everybody loves to hate."
Still, what he's mainly interested in is moving on. "I hope if we ever get that kind of attention in MDFMK," he says, "we get it in a good way."
MDFMK is scheduled to perform on Wednesday, June 21, at the Nile Theater in Mesa. Showtime is 7:30 p.m.