Jun 2024 17

KMFDM announces dates for the first leg of a 40th Anniversary Tour, with Sascha ‘Käpt’n K’ Konietzko speaking with ReGen about the band’s history, the LGBTQ+ community, WaxTrax!, and tributes for the fallen.
 

 

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

By Duke Togo (Golgo13)

40 years… four full decades… no small feat for anyone, let alone a band in an endless sea of ever shifting tastes and styles. And yet, KMFDM has navigated that sea with an almost surgical precision, blasting out an industrialized blend of electronic, metal, punk, funk, dub, and all points in between – the Ultra Heavy Beat, and after 40 years, it’s still going strong! This year has already seen the band release its 23 album, LET GO, along with a Spring tour supported by Morlocks, Cyanotic, and Sour Tongue. And what a treat it was, for not only were fans provided with a large helping of the new and the requisite hits, but also a trip down memory lane as KMFDM performed classics like “Naïve” and “Go to Hell” for the first time in… who knows how long?
Now, as it turns out, that was just a small sample of what the Ultra Heavy Beat is delivering unto us this fall as KMFDM announces the first leg of a full blown 40th Anniversary Tour! Beginning on October 16, the lineup of songwriters/vocalists Sascha “Käpt’n K” Konietzko and Lucia Cifarelli, drummer Andy Selway, and guitarist Andee Blacksugar will be taking to stages in Milwaukee, Columbus, Detroit, Buffalo, Indianapolis, New York, and more, all culminating in a pair of Halloween shows in Chicago on October 31 and 32 (November 1). On top of that, the band is taking on the unprecedented task of performing a different set list for every show of the tour… HELL YEAH!!! Tickets go on sale on Wednesday, July 19, with links and a full listing of tour dates available via KMFDM’s website.
ReGen had the chance to speak with the Käpt’n about the forthcoming celebrations, discussing the past four decades of conceptual continuity and touching on some of the more emotional aspects of the band’s history, not the least of which being KMFDM’s close association with other bands, the LGBTQ+ community, and the loving relationship with WaxTrax! Records’ Jim Nash and Dannie Flesher, plus tributes to Bill Rieflin, Frankie Sundsten, and the recently departed Blank Fontana. Shouting through the tears, and continuing to scream defiance at a world gone mad, KMFDM will never stop!

 

The Ultra Heavy Beat is 40 years old in 2024, and you’ve very recently released and toured for your 23rd studio album, LET GO. Also, when we last spoke, you said you weren’t celebrating so much as perpetuating and not resting on your laurels. How pleased are you with the response that the album and tour garnered? How would you say that the reception has helped to motivate you to ensure that ‘KMFDM will never stop’?

Konietzko: You know it! KMFDM’s unstoppable by nature and design; conceptual continuity at work. The tour went exceptionally well – nearly half of the dates were sold out venues, and I’m talking theatres with 1,000-1,250 capacity. The reception of LET GO was a nice surprise, yet again. After much thinking and talking about doing another tour this year actually focusing on older material, everything went very quickly. Getting the dates locked in took about four weeks, and now, we’re in full swing prepping the shows, and in some cases, re-learning songs that weren’t played in the last 25 years or more.

Touring is more difficult than ever, and you’ve talked about the physical and financial strains, along with reports of how it’s going to be even more of a challenge for international acts to come to the States. Yet, you’re now about to tour again for the 40th Anniversary, and unless I’m mistaken, you’re refraining from touring Europe due to increased restrictions there. Can touring be sustainable given the current economic state of the world – what do you feel would be the best courses for bands, promoters, venues, etc. to take to keep live music from becoming too costly?

Konietzko: It really depends on how you set up a tour and who you book your dates with. We’ve been working with our current agent for a long time already, and even longer with the agent that made her an agent before that. So, there’s a lot of know-how of each other’s preferences. In Europe, things are quite different. The lease of a tour bus alone is forbiddingly expensive, not solely because of the much higher gas prices here. On the other hand, the guarantees are much lower in Europe, so at the end of the day, I am looking at a budget that simply cannot work. For five-to-seven years, we’ve constantly paid money to put on shows in Europe, and that just isn’t sustainable. Plus, since Brexit, our second biggest market has literally fallen off the face of the planet. It’s become very sketchy to try and plan a tour in the U.K. nowadays. Meanwhile, LiveNation in the U.S. has stopped taking merchandise money off of bands; that really helps quite a lot. And the bottom line is that our real fanbase is in the U.S.S.A.!

On the recent tour, you performed ‘Naïve,’ and ‘Go to Hell,’ which I personally can’t recall ever hearing you play live. What made you want to brush off this old classic and perform it now after so long?

Konietzko: It was spur of the moment, I guess; wasn’t thinking too much about the why and how. It was the same with ‘Go to Hell,’ as it’s been ages since we performed that one. Now, think about all of the goodies we still have in the backhand.

You’ve stated that the 40th Anniversary tour would see a different set list in every city. Obviously, that would require a lot of prep and rehearsal for the band (especially if performing songs this lineup hasn’t played live yet), but what other logistical issues come into play?
At the risk of asking you to spoil a bit of surprise, are there any particular songs that you feel fans will be especially gratified to hear played live again?

Konietzko: Yes, the set list will be mixed up every night; some songs will be performed at one show, but maybe not at the next one. For the final two shows in Chicago, we aim to perform two completely separate sets each night. Let’s hope we can pull it off!

 

 

On the most recent tour, you brought Morlocks to play seven shows with you in the States, who appeared on your KUNST album in 2013 on ‘The Mess Your Made.’ Tell us about how you first encountered the band and how that relationship has grown over the last decade?

Konietzko: I vaguely remember someone throwing a CD at my feet at some show or other in Europe. It somehow ended up in a road case and was unearthed quite some time later. Liking what I heard, I contacted Morlocks and our friendship began. They really are a cool band and super great people on top of that. It looks very likely that they will join us again this fall. Ever since the kindness MINISTRY showed to me by taking out KMFDM on our very first foray into the U.S. and my subsequently being signed by WaxTrax! Records, I’ve tried to give back that kindness to other bands and musicians – whether it was Sister Machine Gun, who I managed to get signed to WaxTrax! way back in 1991(?), or more recently, Morlocks and Sour Tongue getting signed to Metropolis Records. I believe in lending a hand and furthering abilities, using what little influence I may have for a good purpose.

You also appeared on Morlocks’ Praise the Iconoclast on ‘Mean World Syndrome,’ with some rather potent lyrics like ‘Nobody but you can authorize opinions / Everybody’s evil but you and your minions.’ or ‘Remain in your echo chamber / Preach to the choir.’ I’d say the song is a pretty good indication of your thoughts on the state of social and political discourse in the modern age, but with the need to ask a question… would you please elaborate on this?

Konietzko: I did not write these lyrics, but you’re damn right! I couldn’t have said it better and made them mine, so to speak.

The tour also had you sharing the stage with Cyanotic (longtime friends of ReGen) in the Midwest and Sour Tongue in the Pacific Northwest; any special memories to share about your time with them? What did you enjoy most about their performances?

Konietzko: Sour Tongue is the project of a young woman whom I happen to have known since she was born, the daughter of one of my dearest friends, who has recently passed away after a very long and very painful bout of cancer. As it became shockingly clear to me about a year ago that there wouldn’t be any way left to halt the inevitable, I decided to take her incredibly talented and gifted daughter Satori and put her on our stages, opening for KMFDM in larger venues than where Sour Tongue usually performs. They are wonderfully refreshing and punk rock in the best possible of ways – great musicianship coupled with a wicked sense of everything.
Cyanotic, on the other hand, were also as great in a completely different way – hard-hitting guys and gal from Chi-town. Gotta love ‘em! We had a really nice time with them as well. And thank you, Bradley (CHANT) for recommending them to us as our support act!

Funnily enough, there are still people who seem to think KMFDM actually does stand for ‘Kill Mother Fucking Depeche Mode.’ What would you say have been the biggest misconceptions about you and KMFDM that you’ve had to endure over the last 40 years, and how deeply would you say they’ve affected you?

Konietzko: The fact that may people do believe that that’s what it stands for is actually funny! I don’t deem it a misconception per se. KMFDM can stand for whatever you want it to stand for; there’s enough headroom here.
Obviously, there’s a horrible memory still very much palpable in my mind about the Columbine School shooting and the abuse I and KMFDM have suffered from it. Even worse, the copycats that also killed kids and teachers at other school shootings, making our songs ‘Stray Bullet’ and ‘Son of a Gun’ their anthems for murderous violence. The latter is about a superhero saving the world from nuclear disaster, while the other about the ‘illegitimate son of god.’ ‘Stray Bullet – from the barrel of love. Stray Bullet from the heavens above.’ Hard to miss the drift here…

KMFDM has had a long supportive history with the LGBTQ+ community, not the least of which being your long tenure with WaxTrax! and your close friendship with founders Jim Nash and Dannie Flesher. Would you elaborate on your personal connection with LGBTQ+? Perhaps some fond memories of Jim and Dannie?

Konietzko: KMFDM and the LGBTQ+ community are inseparable. I’d say that a large part of our audiences, as well as many of my personal friends, dead or alive, are and were gay, queer, lesbian, bi-, trans… in short, from all walks of life.
I grew up at a time when ‘coming out’ was still very difficult and more than one or two of my friends confided in me because they knew they’d be safe, that I’d not judge them by their sexual preferences and identities. The best parties and nights out in Hamburg, at least back in the days, were always at the gay clubs.
Jim and Dannie, the founders and owners of the WaxTrax! Records store and label were very dear to me. Not only did they nearly suffocate me with their generosity and kindness; they made me feel like I was their ‘long lost son’ in a way. Returning back to Chicago from our first headlining tour in the summer of 1991 with Braindead Sound Machine (another WaxTrax! band) as our support, I had no place to go and stay after the tour bus dropped me on a Sunday morning at the closed label offices and left. Jim and Dannie immediately offered for me to move into one-half of the second floor of their building, directly above the label offices and directly below their third story apartment. I lived there for almost two years and had the time of our life there, all the rooftop BBQs, shows at Metro and everywhere around Chicago, wild nights of substance abuse and crazy adventures. Not a day went by without them offering to me to use their laundry facilities, home-cooked dinners, weed and beers at the end of office hours with everyone working there! When Jim and Dannie had to file for bankruptcy and were forced to give up ownership and control of the label, I extended our mutual artist recording agreement by five more albums in order for them to have some assets in their hands and be in a better position to negotiate. By that time, almost all other bands had already quit the sinking ship and found themselves new homes. Eventually, I moved out west to Seattle and spent a year there.
Then, Jim got very sick. I immediately moved from Seattle back to Chicago to be there for my friends. One of the saddest days of my life was when Jim died. I was on tour then and we interrupted the tour in order for me to be there for his funeral. I stayed in touch with Dannie over the ensuing years, but after Jim’s death, he wasn’t really ‘there’ anymore; the loss had somehow crippled him, and he was slowly withering away… like a wilted flower.
They were so important in my life and my career, that it is fair to say. Without Jim and Dannie, I wouldn’t be where I am now, typing these lines.

Every year is filled with loss, and the last few have been rather brutal (not just due to the pandemic, though that didn’t help). Very recently, En Esch had shared that we’d lost Blank Fontana, who you worked with on Don’t Blow Your Top, UAIOE, NAÏVE, MONEY, and ANGST. Are there any fond memories of him or any special stories about his contributions to KMFDM during those formative years that you’d like to share?

Konietzko: I wasn’t sure whether or not his family wanted an announcement to be made so soon, but now that the cat’s out of the bag, R.I.P. another dear friend of mine. Blank Fontana was his alias as the bassist in Bush Band, but I knew him by the name of Hobbi (Horst Siewert). When I began working as a handyman at Freibank Music Publishing here in Hamburg, I made the acquaintance of Hobbi, who was running a little modest recording studio on the same floor as our offices. He made his studio available to us at a decent hourly rate, and we overstayed our allotment of time frequently, sneaking out of the building hurriedly before he’d start his work shift in the mornings after having aired out and vacuum cleaned the rooms. Over the years, we became close friends, and he sat at our table for many a scrumptious dinner whenever he was in Hamburg. He owned a farm in the Abbruzzo mountain region of Italy were he cultivated wine and olive oil.

Many people have come and gone in the ranks of KMFDM over 40 years, and there is a contingent of ‘fans’ that seem to focus on specific people who haven’t been in the band for 25 years (longer than the time any of them were actually in the band). On the other hand, you’d once posted an Instagram picture of you and Rudolf Naomi. Are there any past collaborators that you’ve kept in touch with that, perhaps under the right circumstances, you might work with again?

Konietzko: Rudi, Lucia, and I just had Japanese dinner a week ago. We’re good old friends and stay in touch frequently. Except for the ones that have passed away, I am in touch with all of my friends. But as a matter of fact, not all collaborators were actual friends. Here’s missing Bill Rieflin and Frankie Sundsten!

What are the chances that we’ll see another IN DUB or some KMFDM remixes soon?

Konietzko: Who knows? Times are often full of surprises, good or bad.

 

KMFDM
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Metropolis Records
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Photography by Estevan Oriol of Estevan Oriol Photography – provided courtesy of KMFDM
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1 Comment

  1. Daniel Tase Hayden says:

    Wow, how have I never heard of Braindead Sound Machine until now?

    Great interview and thanks Käpt’n K for showing me a new/old band.

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