KMFDM: industrial art under all its forms

KMFDM, one of the founding fathers of industrial metal, is among those bands that are in part driven by indignation and anger. We could therefore surmise that the band’s leader, Sascha Konietzko, is a bitter man. Wrong: he’s just a man who asks himself questions regarding what’s happening in our society and wants to share his feelings to increase public awareness and to make people think. And yet, he confesses himself that KMFDM is also mainly a lot of fun.

Here’s the ambivalence – the band’s freedom of speech, which he refers to by calling his new album “Kunst”, meaning “art”. Art can take on many various forms. The proof of that is the variety of the album’s content, following the example of the band’s entire discography. KMFDM’s music is above all meant to be stimulating, either physically or intellectually: KMFDM want to make the listener react, bang their head to infectious industrial rhythms and think about what happening around them.

What’s obvious is that Konietzko is first and foremost a curious man who wants to understand the world. At the end of the following interview, he reversed the roles and interrogated us on French politics. Don’t consider this dialogue as an intent at politicization (we tried to be as neutral as possible), but it was interesting to see how the man reacted to our answers.

« KMDFM is for me one of these bands that are part of art circles that just made up its point being outspoken and straightforward. There’s nothing I can do about it, that’s my personality. »

Radio Metal: Last time we talked, you told me about the fact that there was going to be two KMFDM backing bands, one for Europe and one for America. You also said that both would participate to the album. How did everything worked out actually? How did you organized the band to make this album?

Sascha Konietzko: I think I was a little bit too rushed with my statement back then because a couple of days after we saw each other at Motocultor, I had to fire the whole band because they were getting a bit crazy [laughs]. Now it’s back to square one with the original line-up, and the German line-up is no longer existing.

OK, but you told me you took this decision to have two bands because the American line-up was exhausted…

The thing with the American line-up is that it’s very expensive to fly them all here just for one show here and there. I was thinking things out and started to put an European line-up together, but unfortunately it just didn’t work out.

Does that mean you will be touring less in Europe because of that?

No, actually what we will do now is that we will do tour in Europe sometimes with the electronic outfit. It’s just three of us, so not everybody has to come over all the time. We’re gonna play a totally different, completely electronic show.

About the album Kunst, the opening song – which is the title song – means “art” in German. It contains many references to old KMFDM hits like “Juke Joint Jezebel”, “A Drug Against War”, “Attak/Reload” etc. Do we have to see this as a celebration of KMFDM music?

I don’t know, it just came together that way. I don’t think too much about it. At the end I was listening to the record and I was like: “Aha, it’s a very eclectic mix of things.” I looked at my list of five titles and thought “Kunst” was good. It’s not that serious you know? KMFDM always pretend to be serious, but it’s a lot about fun.

Most of the KMFDM albums contain a song in which the name of the band itself is mentioned, for example “Krank” or “Sucks”. What is the purpose of these songs? Is it a way for the band to introduce itself or invocate itself, something like that?

It’s just a silly old tradition we started back in the 80s’. It’s just name-checking. Over the years we’ve been name-checking songs. Some people are totally annoyed by that and some people just think it’s the funniest thing [laughs]. I belong to the second camp, I think it’s funny because nobody does it anymore. It used to be a thing in old school rock music, people would call out their names so you knew who you were listening to. I guess that’s where I picked it up. It just became a tradition in KMFDM.

In the song “Kunst” there’s a line that says: “KMFDM killed mother fuckin’ Depeche Mode”… That sounds like a reference to the song “Sucks” and to one of the interpretations that have been given by fans for the name of the band. Is it still to confuse the issue or is this a revelation on the name of the band?

No, “Kill mother fuckin’ Depeche Mode” was the first translation or interpretation of the acronym KMFDM. We started using it in the United States because it was too long to explain to people: “Well, it’s kind of German but it’s grammatically incorrect in German and it means something different than what you think”. So instead of making it this whole thing we just said: “What does it means? Oh, kill Motherfuckin’ Depeche Mode”. And of course this idea for a song has been given and since then I just didn’t thought about it.

And do you actually have anything against Depeche Mode or?…

No, not at all! It’s just funny. People were just like “What does mean KMFDM?” “Oh, kill mother fuckin’ Depeche Mode!” “Oh really? Cool!”

Don’t you think that the guys from Depeche Mode can take this the wrong way?

Oh I don’t know, I don’t care [laughs].

« The greatest part about being creative: hit a dead end and then just turn around and try something completely different, radical. »

The album cover shows a woman with her breasts out cutting up a Christian cross with a chainsaw. This and the song “Ave Maria” look like a big provocation against Christianity. Why?

It isn’t meant as a provocation against Christians, it is really a piece of real life. Have you heard about that band Pussy Riot from Moscow that have been put in jail a couple of months back? Do you remember that?


There’s a Ukrainian feminist group called Femen. And Femen did exactly that: there was this chick that had no shirt and a chainsaw sawing this gigantic cross, you can see it on YouTube all over the place. It was just an homage to Pussy Riot [laughs].

Aren’t you afraid to be a victim of censorship, especially with pressures from Christian associations? I know that Facebook censored this cover for example…

I’m not afraid of any censorship. I don’t care about that stuff. I mean, it really has happened. This is not something that someone thought up in order to piss someone off, this has happened. This has been documented, this is a piece of real life. For instance, if you guys, if you French, it’s a really bad comparison but if you see a picture of Adolf Hitler under the Arc de Triomphe, does it put you off? It happened, there’s nothing you can do about it! If Christians feel put off this image, I can’t help them.

I know you’re against organized religions in general, but it looks like you’re generally focused on Christianity. Would you criticize Islam in the same proportions or do you feel this would be more difficult?

Islam is a culture that I have no idea how it works. I haven’t been exposed to any of it so I can’t really criticize it because I don’t know it. Christianity, I grew up in it and I’ve seen the excess that have been celebrated in the tradition of Christianity. Someone have to make this out, if people wanna be fanatically sticking to their religion, that’s one thing. But the so-called western world is the world where people made progresses and came up with the scientific break-through and so on, and within the time you stop thinking about God, the word is in the hands of mankind. If people are just sticking to religious things and ideologies, I can’t help them. I’m calling my fellows, people in my realm of culture to open their eyes and start thinking for themselves. I’m not a missionary, you know what I mean?

We were referring to Islam because in France, humorists and other artists have more difficulties to either make fun of or criticize Islam rather than Christianity…

Well I’m not making fun of Islam! [laughs]

Like you said the cover art refers to Pussy Riot and there’s a song called “Pussy Riot”. Do you feel particularly concerned with their action and what happened to them?

Well, I think that’s horrible that in a society like Russia that considers itself a modern and open country by now, a couple of chicks can’t just jump on and off and do a little punk career, that’s just horrifying. It just shows what the field of liberties is in Russia these days. They became icons and what I most admire about them is that they’re not just people that are in their apartments and complain about things. They’re people that actually take stuff in the opens, that do start some actions and then face the consequences and take it like a man, if you know what I mean.

Actually, in France we hear a lot of Pussy Riot for one reason: one of our most famous actors, Gérard Depardieu, has kind of exiled in Russia and many people in France disagree with that partly because of what happened to Pussy Riot. He doesn’t condemned what happened to them…

It just shows you what a useless fat old fuck is Gérard Depardieu. What a waste anyway. I used to like him, then when I saw him in Astérix and Obélix I was like: “Oh my God, that guy has fallen through the tracks by now”. You know what I’m talking about?

Do you think supporting Pussy Riot might bring you problems in Russia or even prevents you from touring there?

Russia isn’t my favorite place to go on tour because anytime we went there we’ve been fucked with by someone, so I don’t really need to get there. If it means I don’t get to get to Russia anymore then be it.

Since the name of the album means art, do you think this is the role of an artist to provoke and raise awareness on some subjects?

I don’t think the role of an artist is completely confined to just provoke awareness, some artists feel more comfortable with painting little countryside images… I don’t know. There is all kind of art. I chose the title “Kunst” because there’s a wide range of connotations. For one during the Nazi regime in Germany there was a term, “Entartete Kunst”, which means “degenerate art”. Everyone who was not German, not Aryan, was defined as being degenerate, a degenerate artist. Art is something you can’t really grasp. It’s a concept that can manifest itself in thousands of ways. I like it, it’s ambivalent. I like to say a lot of things without saying them directly, and a lot of stuff I say I’ve actually put in between lines. To answer the question, KMDFM is for me one of these bands that are part of art circles that just made up its point being outspoken and straightforward. There’s nothing I can do about it, that’s my personality, so why not do it? Art can be a mirror, in a way. In the course of the 20th century, many artists have become a mirror of society and stood up for what they felt and what they wanted to say, and sort of manifest it through their art. That’s a great tradition.

There are some parts in the album that sound the most violent since a lot long time for KMFDM. Did you felt angry while making this album?

What sounds violent?

I’m not talking about entire songs but there are some parts where there are more screamings and…

You’re talking about the song “Pseudoside” maybe?

I don’t remember the name, let my check the set-list… There are parts that are more guitar-oriented, with more speedy guitars, I don’t know…

I think that’s an old thing, I don’t know if that exists in French but in German we say: “A full stomach doesn’t like to study”, meaning that if you have all what you possibly could want, then there’s no motivation for you to do things. I think at the end of the day that’s a good thing being critical and sort of up-to-date. It’s a source of inspiration for what I’m doing. If I were just sitting and looking at the sky I probably wouldn’t feel creative, in a way. It seems like I need things to be that way to create some output.

We can also hear on this album the kind of artistic freedom – and by freedom I mean a little bit of craziness sometimes – we found on some other albums. Were these other albums kind of references while making Kunst?

I think that artistic freedom is a great thing to have because imagine if the record label were telling me how everything should be done; that would be terrible. For KMFDM we can do whatever we want, really, as long as KMFDM does any of that, you know? [laughs] And about being crazy, I don’t know, it’s just the way it’s… I’ve already spent a year or fourteen month in the studio and you expect somehow to come up with something that in the end is the final, finished product. At the same time, you know, you’ve reached some limitations and you’ve hit your own borders and you’re like: “Shit, this is not really going anywhere, I gotta try something completely different.” That’s the greatest part about being creative: hit a dead end and then just turn around and try something completely different, radical.

« Al Jourgensen invited me to come to the States in 1989 and had KMFDM open for Ministry. It was the starting point for KMFDM’s career in the US, and without that, we would probably be in a very different place. »

William Wilson appears again on the album. He also toured with KMFDM. Do you feel close to him?

Once this relationship’s kind of established, it is something that oftentimes goes over the course of several records. I’ve been set in the past with several collaborators and you know, one record we did together and then the next time we keep on doing it because we enjoyed working with them. William worked for us for the opening of our US tour in March, and I don’t know, there’s even chances that he comes back to Europe this time.

Do you consider him as a member of the band or at least a member of the KMFDM family? Because this is how it feels when we see you live with him coming on some songs…

He’s definitely a member of the extended KMFDM family. I wouldn’t go so far as considering him a permanent line-up member, but we’re definitely close, we’re good friends, we like to work with one another and that’s good.

There’s also the Swedish band Morlocks who participated to the album. What is the extent of their participation?

Morlocks is one of these band I have discovered for myself and really liked. I got in touch with them and last time we were in Sweden, we met up with those guys, we hang out and we were saying: “Next time we do something we should have a collaboration!” That’s what we did, we wrote a song together and the result is “The Mess You Made”.

There are often collaborations on your albums. Is it important for you to have some other people coming on your music?

Yeah, I think this is a very integrate part of KMFDM. This has always been a very integrate part of KMFDM because when you are working with a line-up that is like two people or three or five, there’s always a point close by where something fresh is missing. A collaboration brings back some of this freshness. You know, there are collaborations where that doesn’t work out so well and after you’re like: “Well, that doesn’t work out so we might as well just cut it out”, but for others, I find working with other people refreshing and inspiring.

I know you often have other projects. Do you have some right now or coming up?

No, I’ve been working on Kunst until mid-November 2012 and ever since then I’ve been preparing the upcoming tours. As you might know we’ll be doing a one month-run in the US and then we’ll be doing about two weeks of shows in Europe, and sometimes, just organizing that stuff is taking a lot of time: organizing everything like booking a bus, see how many people, who’s gonna sleep where, what everybody wants to eat, what everybody wants to drink… At the end, I know every aspect of touring and I can arrange this myself, it just takes up a lot of my time. Frankly I don’t miss being in the studio after working for such a long time on Kunst. Fourteen months is a long time. In fact now I’m in the studio working on the set-list for the live shows.

Actually, KMFDM is one of the four fathers of industrial metal and industrial music. What do you think about the new generation of bands like Combichrist becoming quite popular right now?

Combichrist is one of the things that we believe in, we’re on the same record label in the States and I like their stuff. They opened for KMFDM back in 2006 and I’m very happy of the fact that that grounded their career in a way. Obviously we’re good friends – well, I don’t know if that’s obvious but we’re good friends, anytime we run one into the other it’s like we have a piece of past together, that’s great. I love to give bands an opportunity to use KMFDM as jumping board to set up their own career. And having done it repeatedly in the past, basically, the same thing happened for KMFDM: Al Jourgensen invited me to come to the States in 1989 and had KMFDM open for Ministry. It was the starting point for KMFDM’s career in the US, and without that, we would probably be in a very different place and we wouldn’t be talking on the phone right now. We pay the favor back, in a way.

How do you see the future of industrial music, an already futuristic genre?

I don’t know and I don’t care because I don’t see myself as a part of any genre. People say that KMFDM is a pioneer in this and that and that’s maybe true and I’m fine with that, but at the time it definitely didn’t feel like we were pioneering. We were just doing the stuff that we liked, and doing it the best as we could. Now it’s like we did all that stuff and that’s fine but I don’t remember doing all that stuff really purposely. It was just me doing music then go on the road and support my music. Over the time we became more popular and now KMFDM – I hate to say it – is almost legendary because for many reasons there aren’t much bands around that have had a similar career in this kind of genre. And it’s kind of weird because industrial hasn’t really changed all that much since the late 70s’/early 80s’. It’s still around, it’s still popular but it hasn’t undergone really much evolution, in a way. This is very strange, because for most part music comes and goes; we had wave years, techno, trance, house, and all just lasted a few years and then were gone. Now it’s something else, dubstep for instance and I’m pretty sure it’s gonna be gone in a couple of years as well. Industrial isn’t as widely spread as these, but it’s still here strangely. But I couldn’t tell you what the future is gonna be for industrial, I don’t know.

« Maybe I’m older than most people that listen to dubstep but to me it doesn’t sounds very new. »

What do you think about dubstep, which is seen as the next generation of electronic music?

Maybe I’m older than most people that listen to dubstep but to me it doesn’t sounds very new. It sounds like something I’ve heard before, particularly coming out of London in the mid-80s’, that’s what it reminds me of. I doesn’t seems original. I’m not saying I don’t like it, I’m just saying I’m not feeling the way that most people seem to feel about it, like “it is the newest sound”. It just sounds a little bit like “OK”… It sounds just a bit like reggae and drum’n’bass slowed down massively [laughs].

We will not hear any dubstep in KMFDM in the future then? I say this because many metal and rock bands tend to now include dubstep in their music, like Korn or Muse…

I wonder if it’s out of genuine interest for a new trend, or if it’s just a way to make oneself sound a bit more modern, and I think it’s probably that. When I heard about that Korn album with dubstep elements in it, I was like: “Oh man, didn’t they have any idea anymore?” I’ve got nothing against Korn really, but that was corny [laughs].

Well, that’s kind of the end. I think there’s one date in Paris coming up, right?

Yes, it’s April 16th, at the Divan du Monde.

It’s gonna be an electronic concert?

No actually, that’s gonna be the first night with the full band. They’re all gonna fly from Seattle to Paris and that’s gonna be our first show with the full band.

OK, and this is gonna be the only concert in France?

I’m not saying this is the only one but this is the first concert this year in France, yeah.

But there might others coming up?

I hope so! And I’m definitely working on securing more shows. Anyway by that time it’ll be one and a half year since the last time we’ve been in Paris which was I believe in October 2011. Time flies!

Yeah, we saw you in Lyon.

We had a new album back then and now we have another new album. So, how do you French feel about the military thing in Mali?

I’m not sure what to think about this…

Is it a bad thing or a good thing? How do the media react to all of this?

They’re telling us this is a good thing because we’re supposed to be fighting terrorists. I guess fighting terrorists is a good thing, but then we’re not really sure about the truth…

Right. It always depends on who makes the terrorists to begin with [laughs]. I mean, maybe KMFDM will be a terrorist in a little while, who knows.

Because you’re against it, actually?

No, I’m not against it. Just before you called I was just reading an article in a big German magazine here and they said that the French military was actually very efficient and they only took ten days to take these “terrorists” groups out of the country. Which is good, there’s a whole population in the countryside that would have been terrorized by these people if they’d came around and chop people’s hands off and all this bullshit they do.

But this thing is better for our president because it gives him a presidential stature which he didn’t really have before…

Yeah, he’s caught between Treirweiler and Royal… What do you guys think about these two mistresses? The Germans cannot stop laughing about how he has two girlfriends but can’t really put his foot down.

We also laugh a lot about that… On TV and so on…

Do you like him better than Sarkozy?

Well I’d tend to say yes actually, but that’s personal. Nicolas Sarkozy maybe didn’t do anything great, it’s hard to be president but we need a real president, you know, someone we can take difficult decision. That’s something Sarkozy could do, but I’m not sure about Hollande…

I’m not sure either. We’ll see!

And Sarkozy had a better relationship with Angela Merkel!

Oh man, she’s got to go that woman, she’s horrible.

I don’t know [laughs]. Every German person tells me that, so I guess it’s true.

She’s like the Margaret Thatcher of Germany. Just horrible. I can only pray that we’ll make her go.

But you know, in France, everybody says we have to take example on Germany, everything’s great over there, the economy’s great, the people are happy…

[Laughs] Oh man, I don’t know. This whole politic shit have gone completely nuts these days. I guess it’s because we get more informations. Back then with the newspaper it was different, but nowadays every tiny bit of information goes right into our living room. We’re on computers everyday long, flickering the news, sending emails and so on. We just can’t escape it.

It’s kind of difficult in France to get informations without them being kinda modified by the political orientation of the journalist…

When it’s not an editorial it’s just information, right. Unfiltered information, yeah. That’s crazy shit, but that’s the world we made ourselves, and now we get to live in it. Will I see you guys at the Paris show?

I’m not sure we’ll be there actually because we’re based in Lyon. If you come in Lyon we’ll be there! Do you plan to do any festival this summer? The Hellfest for instance?

We haven’t been invited yet, we’ve been there a couple of years ago.

I’m surprised.

It’s good fun, but the Motocultor was a lot of fun too [laughs]. That was a legendary day for sure.

Interview conducted by phone on February 2013
Transcription: Chloé

KMFDM’s official website: www.kmfdm.net

Album Kunst, out since February 26th 2013 via KMFDM Records

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