Jan 2024 25

The Ultra Heavy Beat is going strong after 40 years, as ReGen happily presents this InterView with Käpt’n K, along with the announcement of the new single, “AIRHEAD.”
 

 

An InterView with Sascha ‘Käpt’n K’ Konietzko of KMFDM

By Duke Togo (Golgo13)

February 29, 1984 – an unusual date given the leap year, but one that stands in the annals of history as the day that KMFDM was born. In the four decades since, what was apparently supposed to be a one-off art project has grown into a veritable community that transcends the industrial/rock genre for which the band has often been identified, creating a style of music and thinking beloved by many as the Ultra Heavy Beat. Helping to mark the occasion is the group’s 23rd studio album, LET GO, which sees the core lineup of Sascha ‘Käpt’n K’ Konietzko, Lucia Cifarelli, Andy Selway, and Andee Blacksugar continuing to forge their own path – blending genres, while still addressing the social, political, and cultural zeitgeist with the same rancorous fervor that has driven KMFDM from the beginning.

Now, the band is about to embark on a tour of North America this March, rocking the ruination and ripping the system with fellow industrial acts Morlocks on the east coast, Cyanotic in the midwest, and Sour Tongue on the west coast. The tour follows the release of LET GO via Metropolis Records on February 2, which was preceded first by the opening title track, and today by the reveal of the second single, the gritty and melodic “AIRHEAD.” Driven by saccharine and sardonic lyrics and luscious voice of Lucia and the serpentine guitar leads of Blacksugar, the song is a rare balladic treat from KMFDM, one that indicates the band’s continued willingness to venture into different musical territories.
ReGen is pleased to have had the opportunity to speak with Käpt’n K, reflecting on the history of the Ultra Heavy Beat, the band’s mindset and modes of operation on the new album, the difficult realities of touring, navigating a world in turmoil, a bit of gear talk, and memories of Bill Rieflin and his cats.

 

The Ultra Heavy Beat celebrates 40 years in 2024, which is an impressive milestone. ‘No Regret’ off of PARADISE would be an obvious answer to this question, but if you’ll humor me… reflecting on KMFDM’s music and artistic development, in what ways do you feel that you’ve surpassed your original vision or intent for the band?

Konietzko: I wouldn’t say ‘celebrate’ as much as perhaps perpetuate would be more fitting. No resting on no laurels here.
First off, when I started KMFDM in 1984, I had no intent nor vision whatsoever. It was just one insignificant event in a line of insignificant other events; an industrial noise installation meant to annoy and drive off rich and artsy visitors at an opening of an exhibition of a bunch of the so-called ‘young and wild’ artists from all across (western) Europe, which comprised of painters, sculptors, and other bourgeois and flamboyant do-no-gooders with champagne flutes in their manicured fists. That was February 29, 1984 – Glass-shattering noise, cemented glass-doors, and tons of (German) potatoes blocking access to the stairs leading up to the Grand Palais. The only thing worth remembering for me was that day’s motto: ‘Kein Mehrheit Für Die Mitleid,’ a deliberately mangled German sentence translating into ‘No Majority For The Pitied.’

Fast forward five-and-a-half years. After fledgling steps into recording noises and things, more insignificant events, a bit of touring, opening for bands such as Einstürzende Neubauten, Borghesia, and The Young Gods, I received a postcard (!) from WaxTrax! Records in Chicago, transmitting a message that a certain outfit called MINISTRY wished to invite KMFDM to open for them on what seemed to be a 45+ show tour of North America. Somehow conjuring up 10,000 Deutschemark out of thin air by sweet-talking some dudette in some bank, we were sitting in the smoking section of an airplane flying from Amsterdam to Chicago. The rest is history.
45+ shows later was when I finally had a revelation… and it whispered to me that I should stay on in that promised land and do what I had come to love: raising hell night after night, show after show, record after record. There was no point for me going back to Germany, living hand-to-mouth, working night shifts in the harbor, or painting somebody’s apartment for a few bucks. A few years on, I realized what Frank Zappa had meant when he coined (or did he?) the term ‘conceptual continuity,’ and all of a sudden everything made sense. To me, it means no more and no less than that vision and intent are one thing, but the process of reality itself, the way things come together, while still transforming, the path is the goal. (No, I’m not a Buddhist.)

KMFDM has had brief moments of hiatus and dissolution, but has ultimately kept true to the declaration that ‘KMFDM will never stop!’ What do you see in KMFDM’s future?

Konietzko: For KMFDM, I’m not looking at hiatuses and dissolutions; it was more like a costume change. ‘Ever push ahead – Never looking back!’ is what’s the future. I can tell you one thing though – there’ll never ever be a ‘reunion tour’ or anything to that extent. Or to quote the cheesy-man, ‘The past is beyond recovery.’ Who knows what lies around the next bend of the road? I want to be surprised. Lately, I found a rekindled interest in creating objets d’art again, as I had back throughout the early-mid ’80s. But time is the tricky thing. How to make record after record, tour after tour, drive on and on with no reprieve, and still find solitude and inspiration for something that needs wide open mental space as a pre-requisite?

Much ado is made among fans and press (guilty as charged) about the various contributors, not just within the band’s ranks, but outside guests – LET GO notably is absent of any, which obviously means there was no need. How different is that feeling of satisfaction when you can complete a song purely as KMFDM vs. when you bring in someone new?

Konietzko: I hadn’t thought about that until now that you’re asking. I don’t think of it as an achievement to not ‘need’ any outside contributions in order to complete something I am working on. On the other hand, it is very rewarding when a collaboration produces a stunning result. And that’s all that counts for me; a good outcome is a good outcome, no less, no more.

Since HELL YEAH, you’ve been working with Benjamin Lawrenz to mix and master your albums, which reminds me of the kind of partnership you had with Chris Shepard in the ’90s. What about Benjamin’s ears and working methods do you feel has strengthened the sound of KMFDM on these recent albums?

Konietzko: Benny comes from a totally different background than I. He approaches things methodically and has a wide range of experience in a plethora of musical styles. He’s very intuitive and I always feel that he ‘gets it,’ whatever it is I drop on his plate.
My ears are beginning to get tired after decades of inhumane decibel bombardment, yet his are still young and energized. We make a good team and yeah, I love working with him as much as I used to with Chris Shepard back in the day.

 

 

From a production/performance standpoint, what sorts of enhancements have you made in the studio on your most recent albums – any new(er) pieces of gear that you’ve particularly enjoyed working with?

Konietzko: I finally upgraded my studio computer from a 2013 Mac Pro to a 2023 Mac Studio and am amazed how much faster the many tedious things one has to do all the time, such as committing plugins or bouncing out stems for example, has become with these superfast new M2 chips. It’s a real timesaver and it runs very stable.

I adore the vocoders on ‘Next Move,’ and you’ve used different vocoder and vocal effects over the years – anything noteworthy about this one?

Konietzko: I always use the same vocoder. It only sounds different because the source material varies and, of course, the carrier signal can be endlessly tweaked. And I finally read the manual… oh wait, joking!

What do you see as a necessary next step in the development of technologies geared toward the experience of music – both live and in the studio? What would you like to see happen?

Konietzko: Technology per se is an exciting thing, but it still takes human capabilities to handle it and I think that there’s a lot of stuff being thrown at people every day that they jump on and then just end up using presets. I like to work with gear that I know and understand how to operate instead of hunting for cheap thrills while spending a ton of money on shit that ends up in a pile of unused crap that builds up inevitably over time. It was a revelation to start with a fresh slate on a new machine, migrating over only the things I’ve come to love over time and getting rid of useless stuff.
In all truth, I wouldn’t mind a brief abeyance on technological advances, but of course, dream on Käpt’n! The fact is in order to keep up with just constantly having to update, upgrade, and reinstall bits and pieces just to be able to continue to work often gets so frustrating and time consuming that it breaks the workflow, and I get frustrated and turned off thinking about digging out the old analog sequencer with the trigger and CV cables and letting go of all the hassle with so called progress. I mean, thinking about how much time one had before the advent of home computing!
Ha, most of the people that read this won’t even know what the fuck I’m talking about, but of course, I come from the times when phones had a handset attached to a cable and you couldn’t move away from the actual phone any further than the length of that cable would let you.

‘Erlkönig’ is adapted from Goethe’s poem, which I understand is about a child’s death at the hands of a supernatural creature. The poem has famously been adapted into music by Schubert and others; what was the motivation behind this track?

Konietzko: ‘Der Erlkönig,’ the poem by Goethe is the first poem I ever remember hearing and it impressed the fuck out of me; I still get goosebumps just thinking of it. My grandmother on my father’s side was born in 1901 and was a very spiritual person. She was a painter and an astrologist, as well as a world-traveler and explorer. She traversed the Sudanese desert by herself in a Volkswagen Beetle in the early ’50s in pursuance of the mythical first ruler of the Shilluk tribe, Nyikang, who was supposedly half-crocodile and half-man, and he possessed power over the rain. She had also traveled to the Peruvian highlands where those incredible Nazca lines can be found. As a very young boy, I spent a lot of time with her, sitting in her atelier, drawing and drinking Coca-Cola (a novelty item still at that time in Germany), and my brain was addled, tested, and tortured by whatever stories, poems, and ruses she came up with in order to keep me half-fascinated and half-scared shitless so I wouldn’t get too unruly. But ‘Der Erlkönig’ was always my favorite, and I definitely had to have it coming at some point, I was always certain of that.

What in Azathoth’s name is ‘Totem E. Eggs’ about?

Konietzko: I always love me some H.P. Lovecraft, nicely interwoven here! Totem E. Eggs was one of Bill Rieflin’s cats’ names; the other one was Pimmy. He was so amazingly fond of ‘The Egg’ that he forbade Lucia and I to enter the kitchen in order to make coffee for as long as the cats hadn’t finished their hand-cooked breakfast when we stayed for a long weekend with him and his wife Frankie (Francesca Sundsten, the painter who did the NIHIL cover artwork) at their cabin on Hood Canal on the Olympic peninsula west of Seattle may moons ago.
I’ve had a couple of recurring dreams featuring Bill and ‘The Egg’ awhile back and decided to compose an ode to Totem E. Eggs. I regret never having inquired with Bill what in Nyarlathotep’s name possessed him to call that cat that name and especially, what the ‘E.’ stood for. By the cosmic pimple of Yog-Sothoth!

 

 

The first single was the opening title track, and now you’ve released ‘AIRHEAD’ as the second, which is a particularly melodic track with some excellent vocals/lyrics from Lucia and great guitar lines from Andee. Of course, one need only read/listen to the lyrics, but can you tell us more about this song – any specific inspirations or thoughts behind it, anything about its recording/production that makes it special for you?

Konietzko: Strangely enough and different than my usual being lured into a composition, first I came up with that catchy guitar melody, followed by the loops and the droning beats. At that point, I didn’t know how to proceed. I liked the melodiousness and the simplicity, but somehow it felt stunted. That’s when Lucia walked into the studio and immediately got quite excited about what she heard. And then everything suddenly made complete sense. Besides loving everything about this song, it’s also unlike anything KMFDM has ever done before.

You first worked with Morlocks 11 years ago on KUNST on ‘The Mess You Made,’ and you recently appeared on their Praise the Iconoclast on ‘Mean World Syndrome.’ Now, the band is opening for you on the east coast dates of the tour. Would you tell us about how you first encountered the band and forged this friendship and working relationship?

Konietzko: It might have been at Wave Gotik Treffen in 2009/10 that some tall goth looking dude tossed a CD onstage right in front of me. For some reason, I picked it up and put it on my lectern. A few years later, I found it in some road-case and was intrigued by the artwork, vaguely remembering how it had ended up there. I popped it into the player in my car, where it stayed for something like next three months. Annabella and I listened to it every morning on the way to kindergarten, and we both loved it so much. I don’t remember whether I reached out to Morlocks or if our paths crossed again somehow; regardless, here we are now.

 

 

The Ultra Heavy Beat, as well as the electro/industrial scene that you’ve often been associated with, has championed voices of the marginalized (women, POC, LGBTQ+, kink/fetish, progressive, etc.), and yet, work still needs to be done (‘When dictatorship is a fact, revolution is a duty’). Over the 40 years that KMFDM has operated, have you ever felt a sense that we as a humanity can actually attain these positive changes? Where do you find the greatest sense of hope?

Konietzko: I am at heart of a positive mindset. Call me an idealist if you wish, but for me, the glass is always half-full. In the face of war, brutalities, and turmoil, mostly bad shit going on overall, there are still always unexpected, fleeting moments of human interaction that make my heart sing and propel me with their rare and unexpected beauty. Hope dies last, right?

You’re no stranger to touring, and it seems to be becoming more difficult. What have you found to be the most effective practices in keeping fit and energetic for live performance?

Konietzko: ‘Do or die trying’ is the word here. Touring is very taxing on all levels. Firstly, it’s a huge undertaking involving almost overwhelming financial and other risks. You never know if you’ll make it until you’re safely back home. There are many factors involved in touring that one has no control over – busses breaking down, foul weather, acts of God, and what have you.
Personally, the most exhausting element of touring is the wait. I wait and wait and wait. All day. Every day. To get to the venue. To find a bathroom. To get some food. To do soundcheck. For doors to open. To go onstage. To wait until bus departure. To wind down after the show and get tired enough to sleep. Repeat. 20+ days, the same thing. Hardly a day off. Long drives on a moving tour bus. Panicky moments in the middle of the night wondering if the driver is okay. Asking myself why in Cthulhu’s name am I doing this???

On a similar note, both you and Lucia are still hitting those raspy and gravelly yells and screams when you need to, but also ‘singing’ with a more melodic and robust tone (I feel like you both have been doing that more and more with each album). What do you do to keep your voice strong, both live and in the studio?

Konietzko: In the studio, it’s easy. Do another take tomorrow. On tour, not so. On occasion, we have to resort to seeing a ‘rock-doc’ if all else fails. After a hearty infusion with steroids and antibiotics, you somehow live to live another day, play another show, and somehow come out okay… more or less. It can be scary. In the fall of ’22, I had Covid while on the road. It wasn’t half-bad, but still weird.

Aside from the financial side of things, what are the primary considerations for KMFDM when scheduling a tour?

Konietzko: The financial aspect is of the utmost importance. It’s not like some third party floats the tour and is taking on the risk factors – it’s me and me only. Therefore, when I and my agent plan any tour, the aspects that everything revolves around are: Feasible distances to drive in order to avoid DOT (Department of Transportation) problems. Venues/promoters that are trustworthy and that we have longstanding relationships with. Plausible guarantees instead of shaky door deals. Time of year and climatic circumstances – i.e. one shouldn’t be touring Florida during hurricane season or plan to cross the Rockies between mid-October and early April. Avoid the bible belt… no, wait… joking!

Any chance of a second edition or a new volume of cookbook?

Konietzko: Book stuff definitely occupies part of my thinking, but yet again, time is of the essence. With no sign of ‘settling down’ anywhere near, these thoughts are like phantoms.

How’s that new OK•ZTEIN•OK record coming along?

Konietzko: OK•ZTEIN•OK is going to come, and it’ll be worth the wait… no idea when though. There’s been a bit of pilfering the material going on – i.e. the ‘AIRHEAD’ loops and some other bits that went into ‘When the Bell Tolls.’ But yeah, hope dies last, right?

 

 
Tour Poster

 

KMFDM
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Metropolis Records
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Photography Tabetha Patton (MizTabby) and Owahay Studios, Ltd. – provided courtesy of KMFDM
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