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.
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.’
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?
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?
‘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?
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?
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?
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?
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?