Love them or loathe them, when a KMFDM song starts playing, you know exactly whom you’re listening to. Thanks to its pounding, high-energy mix of industrial, metal and rapid-fire electronic beats coupled with political commentary and self-deprecating, tongue-in-cheek lyrics, the band rode a wave of success in the late ’80s and throughout the ’90s when fellow mainstream-industrial innovators Nine Inch Nails and Ministry introduced the genre to the masses, even dabbling in crossover success in 1995 with the catchy “Juke Joint Jezebel.”
Some 20 years later, KMFDM — led by German founder and multi-instrumentalist Sascha Konietzko and American singer Lucia Cifarelli (who have been married since 2005 and live in Hamburg) — continues its aural assault with its signature sound on the just-released Rocks: Milestones Reloaded retrospective remix album and accompanying DVD, We Are KMFDM (arriving Sept. 9 on earMUSIC), that commemorates the band’s 30-plus-year career.
During a July visit to the States to both see family and promote Rocks: Milestones Reloaded, the couple stayed at Trump SoHo hotel in New York. But despite the band’s liberal political leanings and lyrics — and eye-catching album art that often evokes Soviet-era propaganda posters — there was nothing political about its choice to stay at the Republican presidential nominee’s establishment.
“Sascha was super-upset about it,” admits Cifarelli of the booking. “We of all people don’t want to be associated with Trump. But our daughter is with us and all she wants to do is swim, and we wanted to be downtown, and this was the most cost-effective place with a pool. I guess nobody wants to stay here because of the Trump name, so we got a good deal and our daughter gets a pool. So that’s why we’re here, and I can live with that.”
After cracking a few jokes at Trump’s expense, Konietzko gets an idea: “A lot of KMFDM albums have five-letter titles — Money, Angst, Nihil — so if he wins, maybe we’ll call our next album Trump!”
But before a new studio album comes down the pipeline in 2017, KMFDM has Rocks on the brain. The 14-song collection — touted as a “personal best-of” that was hand-curated by the couple, who has worked together since 2000 — features remixed songs spanning the band’s career. But if you’re looking for its biggest hits — “Juke Joint Jezebel,” “Godlike” or the My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult collaboration “Naive,” among others — you’ll have to look elsewhere.
“I am so sick of ‘Juke Joint Jezebel,’ ” says Konietzko, who wrote the song a few years before Cifarelli joined the band and has not performed it live since 2003. “When we were in the studio mixing that song, I thought, ‘This is god awful.’ I didn’t want to put it on Nihil, but everybody at TVT, our label at the time, wanted it on the album. ‘It’s going to be a hit,’ they said. And I said, ‘I don’t want no hits!’ But it pays the rent, to this day.”
While Konietzko doesn’t feel the same way about “Godlike,” “Vogue” or any of the other well-known songs that were excluded, they were left out for a reason. “The selection of songs is pretty close to our ideal set list,” he says. “If we were to play a concert that showcased 30 years of KMFDM, the songs on Rocks would be our top choices.” So when the band tours in 2017, expect to hear “Light, ” “A Drug Against War,” “Son of a Gun” and others that were lucky enough to make the final cut.
The tracks Konietzko remixed on the album — “Sucks,” “WWIII” and “Professional Killer” — are personal favorites, but he also brought in Bradley Bills from Chant and producers Victor Love and Marco Trentacoste to add a new touch.
“I’ve remixed a lot of KMFDM songs over the years for various albums and I’ve gotten tired of it, so I needed a fresh approach,” says Konietzko. “Working with Marco was interesting. He was in Italy, we were in Hamburg, and every day, all day long, stuff was flowing back and forth between us. That kept it fresh and energetic. Plus, this album is remixed; it’s not just remixes. Everything was mixed fresh because we didn’t want to have a patchwork record with this song being mixed in 1993 while that song was mixed in 2014. We wanted everything to sound like one solid event.”
Billboard has an exclusive stream of a remix of “Light” by Andy Selway. Listen to it below:
The result is the unmistakable sound KMFDM has forged for three decades. But, depending on where listeners stand, that unwavering commitment to consistency could be good or bad.
“There seem to be two different sides to our fan base,” observes Konietzko. “One always wants to hear the same sound. If there’s a little deviation here or there, it’s too much for them. They see it as straying. Meanwhile, the other half is like, ‘You always make the same album! Do something different!’ And since you can’t make it right for everyone, you have to make it right for yourself and follow your instincts. And so far that has worked for us for all these years.”
Cifarelli takes a harder line when defending the band’s music. “When people ask, ‘Why are you holding on to the same sound?,’ I always think, ‘God, Mariah Carey sounds like she makes the same record over and over!’ It’s the same with The Rolling Stones, the Beastie Boys, the Foo Fighters — everybody has their ‘sound!’ But people are always like, ‘KMFDM always sounds like KMFDM,’ as if it’s a bad thing. On every record, Sascha is exploring all these new and out-there things musically. But no matter what, people are always like, ‘Sounds like KMFDM.’ ”
That distinct sound helped propel the goth-industrial scene into the mainstream in the 1990s, when KMFDM was riding highest. Its two biggest albums — 1995’s Nihil, its best-selling project with 209,000 copies (according to Nielsen Music), and 1996’s Xtort, its highest-charting (No. 92 on the Billboard 200) — bookended its most widely known song: the begrudgingly aforementioned “Juke Joint Jezebel.” The track appeared on the soundtracks to Mortal Kombat and the Will Smith/Martin Lawrence vehicle Bad Boys; was available as a downloadable song for the video game Rock Band; and was even remixed by legendary DJ Giorgio Moroder and played in an episode of Beverly Hills, 90210.
Since that peak of success, KMFDM has charted nine albums on Billboard’s Top Dance/Electronic Albums chart, which launched in 2001. And with 20 studio LPs under the band’s belt (that number doubles when live sets, remix albums, greatest-hits compilations and collaborations are included), Konietzko and Cifarelli’s music still attracts new fans.
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“Some people look at us as old-school,” admits Cifarelli. “But teen angst is timeless — and they always seek out and discover bands that express what they’re feeling. Plus, when we’re out onstage, we’re not like a bunch of old farts — we throw down!” she says, laughing. “And they like it!”
To Konietzko, the only original member left, KMFDM’s longevity comes as a surprise. “In terms of our music still being relevant, I don’t think I ever really thought about it. In fact, I never thought my life would have anything to do with music. It just kind of happened with a lot of luck and being at the right place at the right time.” Konietzko turned what was originally a performance-art project that included him playing vacuum cleaners and throwing potatoes at people into a legitimate band when he pressed his first vinyl records and distributed them throughout Hamburg and London. After someone from a label picked a copy out of a dumpster, KMFDM got signed and then licensed to Wax Trax in the United States.
“All of a sudden, we were a band with a following in the U.S., so I just went with it,” says Konietzko, who lived in the States for nearly 20 years to support his career. “I never thought much about what I was going to do. I always just thought, ‘Does this feel right or does it not feel right?’ And if it felt right, I would do it. If I had thought too much about it, we probably wouldn’t be sitting here at Trump’s place. Then again, I could have done a lot of things differently and made shitloads of money. But it just didn’t feel right at the time.”
One thing that still doesn’t feel quite right to Konietzko is a reunion with past members, particularly co-founder En Esch (also of Pigface, who left in 1999) and more recent collaborator Tim Skold (Shotgun Messiah, Marilyn Manson). “I don’t think a reunion with En Esch is going to happen,” he says. “We have ripped ourselves very far apart, and he’s difficult to work with and I don’t want to subject myself to that. I am quite comfortable with the way things are right now — Lucia and I are an excellent team, and I’m not a fan of reunions. We don’t owe anyone anything. We can do whatever we want. If people keep liking it, great. If they don’t, tough shit. That’s life. But never say never, I guess.”