Dec 2020 07

More than three-and-a-half decades of celebrating relentlessness and waging the eternal revolution, the Ultra Heavy Beat still goes strong in the age of COVID, with Käpt’n K speaking about the current state of KMFDM.
 

 

An InterView with Sascha “Käpt’n K” Konietzko of KMFDM

By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)

One of the true pioneers of underground music, KMFDM created a sound that, although often categorized under the umbrella term of industrial/rock, truly transcended all previously defined parameters. The prevalence of dub/reggae in much of the Ultra Heavy Beat’s music over the years has been one of its strongest and most atmospheric qualities, culminating in this year’s release of IN DUB, in which some of KMFDM’s most beloved tracks were reimagined with the genre’s signature ambient grooves, chilled out beats, and funky bass lines. Although the band was to participate in the momentous Industrial Strength Tour, in which KMFDM would share the bill with fellow industrial trailblazers MINISTRY and Front Line Assembly, 2020 had other plans with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to the tour’s postponement and the future of the music industry uncertain with the closures of numerous venues around the world; all of that on top of the personal toll the crisis has wrought upon many, from financial hardship to the loss of loved ones… and all during an election year for the presidency of the United States, the ramifications of which affect the entire world. ReGen Magazine had the opportunity to speak with KMFDM founder and front man Sascha “Käpt’n K” Konietzko on a myriad of topics ranging from the effects of the global crisis on the band and live music to the creation of IN DUB and the stylistic roots of the Ultra Heavy Beat, along with a few words clarifying his political, social, and philosophical stance for those suffering in an age of super-boredom, hype, and mediocrity.

 

Just to start off, how are you and everyone in the KMFDM family and crew faring? Outside of the tour postponement, has the pandemic had a significant impact on KMFDM, or has it been business as usual?

Konietzko: All is under control here. We’re keeping ourselves occupied, our kid goes to school as usual, and we’ve all gotten totally accustomed to wearing masks in public and observing a thorough hygiene regimen. Apparently, that’s really all it takes to stay healthy and safe and show respect to everybody else one comes in contact with. I’m not sure why some people think that wearing protective gear bears issues of personal freedom – there simply is no other choice. I think it was just a matter of time until some pandemic or other would hit the entire world. What’s truly shocking, however, is that some people (hint hint) who learned about the magnitude of the dangers the virus bore early on and had an actual opportunity and the means to address this on a large scale, taking direct and decisive measures of counteraction, but instead, chose willfully to do absolutely nothing at all to protect their flocks.
Of course, we also suffered greatly from the loss of three tours that had been booked, prepped for, and then got cancelled. And I’m not talking about just financial setbacks. The German government stepped up and at least made an effort to help out musicians and entertainers who suddenly found themselves high and dry in this unprecedented situation. But first and foremost, we were looking forward to reconnecting with all of our friends and families and all of our beloved and loyal supporters on the road again.
It’s been a couple of tough years for me personally as well. In 2018, my oldest brother passed away out of the blue. In 2019 my mom died (she was elderly, so that didn’t come entirely unexpectedly), and then in 2020, my younger brother died totally unnecessarily and suddenly, and then my dear friend Bill Rieflin, then my dear Aldo Samboni, and finally my father hit the grave last month. So yeah…

We’ve spoken before about your love of dub/reggae and its significance to your musical upbringing and its impact on KMFDM’s themes of social and political dissent. Although those elements have never been far from your music, they seem to have resurfaced quite dramatically with not only the release of IN DUB, but even your remix of <PIG>’s ‘The Wages of Sin.’
We seem to live in an era of nostalgia – lots of older bands regrouping, newer bands reaching back to older influences, etc. Not that I would expect you to comment on other bands’ motivations, but have you noticed anything about the current zeitgeist that you feel is informing this reaching back to the past? At the very least, what do you feel has made you return so heavily to those dub sounds of your upbringing?

Konietzko: The idea of an IN DUB album has been floating around in my head for many years; I just never had the time to really tackle it. Around the time of 2019’s release of PARADISE, I sat down and tried a few things, which surprising to me, shaped up quite effortlessly. That’s when I dug my heels in and nailed that album between September ’19 and early March ’20; then facing the cancellation of all touring plans, we jumped right on our next project, the new Lucia Cifarelli album, which will likely be completed before the end of this year.

IN DUB is now the second KMFDM album (not counting the Live in the U.S.S.A. record) with Andee Blacksugar as he added guitars to numerous tracks on the new album. We’d spoken about his openness to experimentation and his skill and what he brings to KMFDM, so with regards to the new album, what was the approach? Was he given carte blanche to come up with his own ideas for the remixes, or were there specifics parts you had in mind? What is that dynamic like between the two of you?

Konietzko: First off, the tracks on IN DUB were not at all approached as remixes, but rather as entirely new interpretations of older songs, basically using only the existing vocal stems and then writing all new music for them. Andee and I work in a way that one cannot necessarily put a finger on. Rarely, if lucky, every once in a while, one connects with another musician in unspoken ways, on a basis of mutual understanding and a certain trust. It’s instinctive rather than planned. Although we regularly speak on the phone, we mostly talk about things other than music.

 

 

Dub has been a part of the KMFDM sound since the beginning. What sort of challenges do you encounter in translating hard rocking thrashers like ‘Hau Ruck’ or ‘A Drug Against War’ into that style?
Doubtless there must have been a song or a few that you’d also like to have done a dub mix for. Were there any that didn’t make the cut for IN DUB?

Konietzko: There are quite a few dubby tracks on the earlier releases, notably ‘Rip the System,’ ‘Ganja Rock,’ ‘Die Now-Live Later,’ ‘Death by Bongo-Bongo,’ ‘Oh Look,’ ‘Oh Shit,’ ‘King Kong Dub Rubber’ (at least, that started as a dub track before Sherwood got his hands on it).
A couple of tracks that had lost their way during the making of IN DUB went into purposeful use as remix starters for FTANNG! and <PIG>.
I found that some songs were harder to dub out than others, it had mostly to do with tempos that don’t work well in half-time; for instance, 150 BPM Is quite too fast for dub stuff and in half-time (75 BPM) is too slow.

You’d mentioned that the idea for IN DUB has been floating around for some time until you finally had the opportunity to pursue it. Of course, the Ultra Heavy Beat has been an amalgam of all sorts of styles, including dub, and you are often credited as among the first (if not the first) to create these mixes of industrial, rock, techno, funk, etc. Do you have any interest in doing something similar in another style? For instance, a pure punk rock album or (gasp) an acoustic record?

Konietzko: That’s an interesting thought, it had not crossed my mind. Thinking about it… time goes by… it’s very early in the morning… coffee and a cigarette.
Punk was interesting in so far as it was an equalizer. It enabled people to dare doing things they thought they weren’t allowed to, not good enough to, not prepared enough for. But I was never too much into the music; sure, there were some cool bands, but in the end, it’s all a bit dumbed down for my taste. During that time, I had developed a strong liking for the music of Frank Zappa, which I thought was more punk than punk, by the way. But that was not the most important point that Zappa brought into my view. One thing I really like about his stuff is that it’s nothing you can tag with a genre. One moment it’s super evolved musicality, the next it’s a raunchy blues with annoying lyrics, all at the same time performed by a bunch of crazily talented musicians. And I mean talented, not necessarily ‘educated.’
So, punk rock… no thanks. Acoustic… hmm. The problem I’d run into when trying to make an acoustic recording is exactly that: recording. Although I am dabbling with many an instrument, I am not a player in that sense. Back to the Zappa topic, in his heyday, all the music recorded was only as good as it was performed by each player individually, and ultimately, by the ensemble altogether. There were hardly any programmable machines, synthesizers and such, and if so, they were astronomically expensive. But I really like machines and the sounds I am capable of tickling out of them. And I have collected a few of them over time. And they all eat VOLTAGE!
So, acoustic… no thanks.

Let’s talk about the tour, which has been postponed and is now tentatively scheduled to be taking place in ’21. Prior to its announcement, you’d hinted at it when I asked about your statements about not touring while the current president was in office. As KMFDM is not a political movement but does often lyrically address the sociopolitical status quo (same with MINISTRY, and to an extent Front Line Assembly), was there any sort of deliberation with the original Industrial Strength Tour taking place during the summer prior to the next election?

Konietzko: Not that I was aware of. KMFDM was invited and we thought why the heck not do it, for fun. And you are correct sir, we’re not a political movement, but we do take a stand and make our point, when necessary.

Obviously, the postponement was one of many such delays and cancellations due to COVID-19, and many clubs and venues in the U.S. have been forced to close indefinitely and perhaps permanently, etc. What possibilities do you foresee for live music to survive or evolve in the wake of the current situation?

Konietzko: I believe that there will be no touring at least until ’22. It will take a while before things became ‘normal’ again, and I don’t think anything will ever be quite like before. In the words of the great orange gibbon, ‘Let’s see what happens.’

KMFDM is not a political movement, but as you’ve said does make its own stance known. I personally have noticed in the age of social media that there is an even greater propensity than ever for people to latch onto certain ideas without any consideration for context or nuance – for example, people who take ‘Rip the System’ and some of the tenets of punk rock as a promotion of anarchy, ‘resist all systems,’ and then criticizing you for encouraging people to participate in the system by voting. I know it likely doesn’t affect you very much, but what are your thoughts on this consumption of ‘information’ today?

Konietzko: Well, your question pokes at a vast topic, and asks the question of what written interviews can (and cannot) get across to the reader, as opposed to a listener that hears loads of words, points being made, who follows a discussion unraveling.
 
Random thoughts:

  1. A statement such as ‘Rip (or R.I.P.) the System’ can only publicly be made in a system (i.e. under a form of government) that allows for free speech, independent media, etc., let’s call it a ‘democracy,’ where everybody has an opportunity and a duty to partake in running said system, if for nothing else but to keep it ‘democratic.’ In a totalitarian state, you’d go to Siberia for saying that.
  2. Ripping the system does not mean opposing it, rather to renew structures that have become crusty and antiquated.
    Voting for somebody in a public office, and by that act, determining who runs the show (and who does not) is a democratic duty. Nowadays more than ever, people have become careless – on one hand, they complain, and on the other, they don’t get involved in order to right what they feel is wrong.
  3. Although it’s quite obvious that your government gives a shit about you, you still believe that you have certain rights. As you watch them being taken away from you, right by right, you sit still, you think ‘it can’t happen here.’ But it can and it does. Ripping the system may be a cry to arms in a not necessarily militant way.
  4. Things being taken out of context and thus presented in a different light is a common weapon of totalitarianism. Things swallowed out of context, and then regurgitated is the scourge of the ones lacking intelligence and or the ability of ‘seeing the big picture.’ Information is power, disinformation is powerful.
  5. And here we are at the core of what I’ve been expressing with what I am doing for decades by now: think for yourself, inform yourself, look at more than a single aspect of any subject matter, don’t believe the hype, form your own opinion, live your life meaningfully. Whatever that may be for you.

 

What are your thoughts on the recent U.S. election and its effect on the rest of the world?

Konietzko: I am relieved that Biden won, even if by not too big a margin. It was becoming (and still is) unbearable to see the daily destruction the current administration is wrecking upon your country, which I truly love. I’d lived in the U.S. for nearly 20 years, am a taxpayer still.
What we witnessed over the past four years is, in the words of the mighty Mark Stewart, ‘As the veneer of democracy starts to fade.’
I am hopeful that the new administration will come around and help this planet. I have especially high hopes in Kamala Harris; it is high time that a woman, and one of color, plays a lead-role in U.S. politics.

Lucia might like to weigh in on this question as well, for although you’re also rather active on Instagram, she has been sharing numerous posts and videos about the progress of her solo album, communicating with fans, and keeping people engaged. Many bands and artists are performing via livestreams and virtual events, which obviously don’t hold the same power as a live show, but as it’s become part of how people are adapting to the situation; with the future of live music somewhat uncertain at this time, what sort of possibilities do you see for bands, particularly KMFDM, to use new and online technologies to keep music alive and maintain the excitement of audiences?

Cifarelli: The idea of performing online is obviously something that’s on our mind as we navigate the new landscape due to the pandemic; however, before KMFDM commits to any kind of online concert, we have to consider how we’d do it so that it’s done in a meaningful way and reflects, as much as possible, the energy we project live. Since we’re not an acoustic band who can do this in a Zoom environment and we’re not all in the same country, it’s tricky. Moving forward with my solo album, I plan to make some videos to support and promote the release. Perhaps I’ll do a live online concert in the future. I just can’t say for sure yet because again, atmosphere is everything.

On the subject of Lucia’s solo album, you and she collaborate very closely in KMFDM, but in what ways would you say the dynamic is different working on her solo album?

Konietzko: With KMFDM, I am the starting point of everything. On the Lucia album, she first came up with all of the musical ideas, the songwriting, and the lyrics. Then she brought me in to flesh things out with her.

Same for OK•ZTEIN•OK, which you’d said before is ‘slowly maturing, ever mutating, getting freakier.’ Is there anything more you can tell us on how close they are to release?

Konietzko: OK•ZTEIN•OK is currently still in the process of maturation, but there’ll be a time for it, I am certain.

When you’re writing music, at what point do you decide if a track will be for KMFDM or OK•ZTEIN•OK or perhaps another project? Is there a specific process to songwriting for each of these different outlets, or does that happen after the fact?

Konietzko: It depends. There’s no formula by which I can determine what goes where, but typically, the more ambient or the very ‘muso’ stuff always goes in a folder named ‘Holding Tank’ for further evaluation.

 

 

You’d also mentioned before some other work-for-hire projects keeping you busy in 2020… are there any that you’d like to share with us at this time?

Konietzko: Nothing that’d be of interest to anyone; just using my skills, no creative process involved.

FTANNG! hails from Essen, and your remix of ‘King of My World’ is the first track on that band’s new EP. How did FTANNG! first come to your attention? Are there any plans or ideas to collaborate with them further in any capacity?
Are there any other bands or artists that you’ve encountered recently that you’d have any interest in collaborating with?

Konietzko: One half of FTANNG! did many interviews with me for various music media outlets over the years, the other half was the front man of JESUS ON EXTASY, who I became acquainted with when I did a remix for them some 10 or so years ago. We’re friends, we meet every once-in-a-while, and we talk over the phone frequently.

 

 

 

KMFDM
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Metropolis Records
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Live photography by Tabetha Patton (MizTabby)

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