Don’t Kill Mother Fucking Depeche Mode: An Interview With Sascha Konietzko

Posted October 18, 2013 in
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KMFDM frontman Sascha Konietzko has built his electronic-instrument arsenal to produce only the most perfect vibes for a KMFDM show. Photo: Jacques Sehy

Sascha Konietzko is a music machine. For the last three decades, Konietzko’s band, KMFDM, has produced an album every other year, often with a tour to accompany its release. Originally a performance art group, KMFDM have pushed the boundaries of industrial music, sex and politics. From the sense of nihilism brought on by the formulaic nature of modern music, to the feelings of outrage over political oppression, KMFDM have been there to address the issue. SLUG Magazine got the opportunity to talk with Sascha Konietzko about his recently released album Kunst, his wife and bandmate Lucia Cifarelli, the Syria conflict and Konietzko’s perspective on the progression of industrial music over the years.

 
SLUG: The title track to your most recent album Kunst has a lot of references to KMFDM’s past and is structured in the manner of a hip hop song. KMFDM have been known for their tongue-in-check humor, but what brought about this particular song?
Konietzko: It was one of those songs that should have been written a decade or two ago. It had been sitting dormant, waiting for my head to wrap itself around it. Then one particular fateful day last summer, I was just thinking, “Shit! Why didn’t I think about this earlier?” This is the perfect follow-up song to “Sucks” in [1993]. I can swear?
 
SLUG: Yes, you can swear.
Konietzko: OK. Sometimes it just slips.
 
SLUG: For Kunst, you wrote a song called “Pussy Riot.” How did you initially hear about the Pussy Riot arrests and when did you decide to write a song about it? 
Konietzko: It went through the news here. Everything that happens in Russia, opponents of the regime and their arrest, the German media report on that very diligently. The minute we saw it, we were like, “Man this is fucked up.” We didn’t instantly have an angle on it. When the Ukrainian feminist group, Femen , went to chainsaw the downtown cross in Kiev, all of a sudden, it made sense, and it dropped itself into KMFDM’s lap in a way. I called up our illustrator, Brute! and said, “Look on Youtube—check this out. This is exactly the image you have been waiting for your entire life.” Rightfully so, I had the artwork in my inbox the next day. It was presented on a silver tray. Have it. Pick it up. It’s yours.
 
SLUG: You have an album out every other year, with a tour to accompany it, what keeps you inspired to write music? 
Konietzko: Well it’s my livelihood. Unlike people who have jobs they hate, I absolutely love my job. I feel very fortunate for my [music]. 
 
There is a fine balance between being on the road and being in the studio. [Touring] is very inspiring —mental notes, little scribblings on pieces of paper, recordings of random stuff—the building you walk into from the tour bus, and it is totally quiet, the opening band is playing and there is this pressure, this unique sound and I turn on my recorder. This becomes a piece I take home and forage through my memories, notes, recordings and whatnot, then songs just happen.
 
Being on the road is wonderful. It is the only time of the year where I am absolutely worry free—I mean, other than, “I hope it doesn’t snow in Utah on our way to Denver.” All the kind of daily stuff you deal with like invoices, administrative things, paying the bills, it is so far away. It is basically on another continent—it’s the old rock n’ roll dream. I’m starting to sound a little nostalgic. 
 
SLUG: Have you ever thought about venturing outside of digital music, like KMFDM goes acoustic?
Konietzko: No. I don’t play instruments. I can play a little guitar, a little bass, synthesizers. I’m not a traditional musician: I couldn’t grab an acoustic guitar, sit in a subway station and sing a KMFDM song—I don’t have that kind of talent. Therefore, I don’t see that as an option. There are people who could do it, but that wouldn’t be me. I could croon while some people are strumming the banjo. I don’t know. I feel like my life is more in the realm of the dark, electronic, smokey environment. 
 
SLUG: Any plans on collaborating with Raymond Watts in the future?
Konietzko: We haven’t spoken in a long time. Last I had heard, he had a family and is living a pretty normal lifestyle. I think he learned a lesson from what he was doing throughout his career that made him want to take it easy for a while. I mean, never say never. We haven’t talked in several years except for the occasional “thanks for the publishing royalties” note. That is sometimes how it goes. There was a time between ’88 and ’96 where no one had spoken in six years because everyone was doing their own stuff, and all of a sudden, we got together and made a couple records. That is the way life goes.
 
SLUG: Has being married to your bandmate changed the way you write music in KMFDM? 
Konietzko: Not at all. We’re very professional about not letting things slip. Quite the opposite: When you are this close to someone, you can say things that would offend other collaborators. I can say, “Look Lucia, this idea isn’t doing it for me, at all. This should be written for another band or something.” With a collaborator, you would say, “Oh … I don’t really know … Let’s put that on the back burner for the day.” We are very open and respectful with one another while still being critical—sometimes harshly critical, in a good way. 
 
SLUG: Electronic instruments have changed dramatically over the last three decades, from being strictly analog to midi programming to complete studios and limitless digital instruments, filters and effects. How has your studio changed over the years? How about your performance instruments?
Konietzko: I never really had a studio until the early to mid nineties, because I was as poor as a church mouse. I used to work day jobs to afford [renting] a professional studio to record KMFDM stuff, and when I started buying my own instruments, I was really picky. I needed to be very mobile and I wanted a setup I could take wherever I go. So, I built a “best of” kind of world and at some point, I did have a big studio in Seattle with tape machines, hundreds of input channels, tons of stuff, but I got divorced. My ex did away with all that stuff and I then really started pin-pointedly purchasing equipment that I only really wanted. I’m sitting, right now, in a place that has a computer-based hardware recorder and a couple of very, very, very old analogue machines and some pretty high-end output gear. I’m not a laptop musician in that sense, because when I look at a laptop, I need to wear some glasses, and I hate wearing glasses. I just use my hands and use a very tactile approach. Most of my machines have to go to the doctor because they are older than the band. 
 
SLUG: From your perspective, how has the industrial scene changed over the last three decades?
Konietzko: The most important thing is the amount of bands has easily quintupled because technology allows everyone to sit a home or in a basement studio and come up with stuff that has some meaningful sound to begin with. To sound like a total dilettante, you have to be a real dilettante when handling your computer. There are programs and presets that cater to a variety of musical styles, so that everyone can pat themselves on the shoulder and go, “Wow, I did good. I sound like a techno band.” What that means in terms of the quality, the vast amount of output is a whole different story. Back in the old days, you would talk to some A&R guy from some record company and say, “Hey, what is new and exciting?” then they would point me in a direction that I might like. All that is gone. Foraging for music online gets cumbersome. You find a lot of stuff, but little of it is appealing after the first minute or so. I think there has been a process of dilution. I mean, imagine if some genius comes up with a program that lets you write novels of a certain standard, the world would be flooded with reading material. 
 
One thing that has really changed was how younger generations consume music. It used to be that you would have a vinyl record, and deciding to listen to the A side or the B side, you’d manage to get the needle on and sit through one side and turn it over. Then we had cassettes then CDs and now records in terms of albums don’t make sense anymore. Everybody hones in on one track and that becomes “that track” of the release. So the whole headache of “Which song should be first, which song should be the last and how should the middle sound?” becomes an exercise in futility. People are now like “’Kunst,’ man, the title track, it’s fucking cool.”
“Have you heard the rest of the album?”
“Nope.”
The way music is being listened to will change the way it is being made.  Artists are always pretty slow to catch on because artists are not in the market of marketing themselves. With the decline of record companies worldwide, [this] created this micro-market, this hot-steam cloud of nothing. I used to come home from the record store, my hands shaking, unable to wait to put this on the turntable, and I don’t think people have that anymore. I’m just an old, sentimental geezer.
 
SLUG: How do you feel about the EDM scene?
Konietzko: I don’t know too much about their scene in general, I am mostly working in-studio. What is interesting is, since the late ’80s [and] early ’90s music hasn’t really changed all that much. It seems like musical styles came and stayed for a couple years, then went away. The schemes, the patterns of music haven’t seen much of a change, whether it has been more house-y, more techno-y or industrial, it all sounds astonishingly similar to what music sounded in 1987 or 1992. Not even dubstep is really that new—it’s just a technologically beefed-up version of dub-reggae. Maybe there are limitations in our musical system, the 12 notes that we have and the rhythms that are understandable to our feet. Even KMFDM sounds a little bit like the same thing in that sense. 
 
SLUG: KMFDM have never been afraid to make political statements in the past. What are your thoughts on the tensions between the U.S. and Russia surrounding Syria?
Konietzko: Obviously, there is the fact that no nation in this world should be able to use chemical, biological, nuclear weapons, or any weapons for that matter, against each other. I think that Obama’s statement that there should be consequences for [the attack] is the right way. The problem is that everyone is getting tired of fighting wars, especially in the U.S. Russia saw a chance to put the U.S. into their place. [That being said], Russia is no longer as much as a threat to the world as it was in the ’60s—the tables have turned a little bit. [The overall problem internationally is] if China and Russia say no to something in the UN, it doesn’t happen, which is a regrettable fact. I mean, just reading the German headlines now, Germany sold chemical compounds to Syria as late as 2011. Compounds that can be used to make fertilizer or sarin gas. We all have bloody hands here. 
 
 
KMFDM will be performing at Park City Live on Oct. 22, and be sure to find their new album, Kunst, on iTunes and Amazon, and for more information about the band, go to kmfdm.net.
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