by Mark Teppo


The entrance to Seattle's Catwalk nightclub is little more than a gash in the sidewalk. It's a wide mouth of an entrance, but the steps are very narrow and steep. The doors aren't marked and, when the club isn't open, there isn't any way to tell that one could pack a thousand bodies into a low-ceiling room underneath the street.

I'm standing on the corner of Second and Washington, about a half block from the Seattle Mission, with about 30 young people dressed in various shades of black. A heavy-set man in a baseball cap is crossing the street from the bar on the other side. "Is there a preacher in the house?" he is asking loudly, looking to make eye contact with one of the gathered mass. "Is there a preacher in the house?" he continues. "This looks like a revival."

No one answers him and he staggers through the assembly. I can't tell if he is sober enough to read the writing on the back of more than one of the dark shirts. "We are legion!" the caption reads. The shirts are worn by the Horde, the Seattle membership of the online KMFDM community, and, yes, there is a preacher in the house. His name is Sascha Konietzko and the gathering tonight is the first revival meeting of the 2003 KMFDM Tour. The topic from the pulpit? WWIII.

Two hours later, I'm squashed up against stage right, my left shoulder buried in the grill of the speakers, trying to peer around the stack and the bodies in front of me to get a glimpse of the opening video which accompanies the entrance of the band. KMFDM's 15th record, WWIII, opens with some banjo finger-picking and front-porch moonshine swilling -- an Appalachian back-country hoedown. The film is grainy and sepia-toned as if it were rescued from an ancient reel of Super-8 film, and the Deliverance music and knee slapping lures a lost cowboy to the run-down homestead.

Raymond Watts -- well known for his sleaze sex Pig persona -- is English and his voice, while soft and polite, is undeniably British. His cowboy hat is a misshapen thing which looks as if it were molded and bleached by heat, his bolo tie sports an arachnid about two inches across, and his face is wrapped by a pair of dark glasses that make him seem more insectoid than human. You would never mistake him for a real cowboy, but there is still a sense of the insouciant Wild West about him as his image on the screen draws a pair six-shooters. The report from his weapons sounds like machine gun fire and even that thunder of noise is drowned out by the twin guitar attack of Joolz Hodgson and Steve White.

[ sascha konietzko declaring war - photo by mark teppo ]
photo by mark teppo

The opening assault of the record is a double guitar bombing run. I've got my finger buried in my ear and the sound still hits me like several hundred pounds of explosives. Strobe lights turn the audience into a freakish, writhing mass as Preacher Man Sascha steps up to the front of the stage. His blonde mohawk is a badge of non-conformity and his mirrored sunglasses turn him into a nameless anti-hero. "I declare war on the world," he shouts. "War in outer space / I declare war in a nutshell / War all over the place."

Off stage -- without the glasses -- he is genial, polite, and quick to mess with an interviewer who asks a leading question. Before the show we are sitting in the restaurant upstairs and talking about the record. "WWIII" contains a sample from President Bush: "If you're not with us, you're with the terrorists." I ask Sascha about the black and white world of that quote. "WWIII is actually a pro-Bush record," he says. "We're full-on Republicans. We'd like Rush Limbaugh for President." He laughs at my expression and delivers the coup de grâce. "Especially with his drug issues."

"The problem with irony," he explains, "is that when you turn it around, it isn't funny anymore." The opener of WWIII -- the whole record, in fact -- clearly lays out the position that if the world is so black and white -- us versus them -- then every thinking human being should be counted as a terrorist. But even that distillation is a glossing over of the more critical fact that we've allowed ourselves to be deceived. And all KMFDM is asking: is this any way for thinking human beings to act?

[ kmfdm - wwiii ]
[ give a listen! ] "WWIII" MP3
96kbs/37sec/442kb

"Control the airwaves
Fuel the reactions
Use every weapon of mass distraction
Turn active people into passive consumers
Feed 'em bogus polls and hare-brained rumors."
["Stars and Stripes" from WWIII]

"Is rock and roll still a viable means of protest?" I ask.

"Well, I mean, for the hippies that we are, it doesn't really matter." Sascha laughs. "It's the only thing we can do. If we wouldn't do this kind of stuff, it wouldn't be KMFDM. I'm not saying we're pigeonholed or we've painted ourselves into a corner, but we are working on it to see how far it can go. There was never a serious root to making KMFDM, to being KMFDM. It was always like, 'if it ends today, we had a great time.' We're all qualified enough to do something else. I could scrub some toilets somewhere. Joolz could help with the Kenny G band somewhere. Andy's a good drummer, he'll get a job somewhere."

The line-up over the 20-year history of the band has gone through several iterations with Sascha -- El Kommandante -- being the only constant member of the organization. Formed in Paris in the early 1980s, KMFDM came to America during the industrial Wax Trax-era heyday and the band quickly become part of the incestuous recording making machinery of that Chicago nexus. KMFDM -- the name is actually an acronym for a pidgen Germany phrase that means "no pity for the majority" -- made their mark by setting their "ultra heavy beat" to aggressive lyrics decrying the false gods of commercial idolization and the continued tyranny of the human spirit by governmental thugs in jackboots.

During the late 1990s, conflicts within the organization led to a few lackluster records and the sense that things weren't working. KMFDM appeared to go on hiatus; in fact a press release from early 1999 summed up the state of the group in three words: "KMFDM is dead." Meanwhile, Sascha worked with Tim Skold on the Universal Records-backed MDFMK project. Lucia Cifarelli joined the duo and, while the resultant record was leaned on heavily by the corporate machine which had sought it out in the first place, the trio rediscovered the joy of the old-school KMFDM ethic from the experience. KMFDM roared back with Attak in 2001 and followed the record with the Sturm und Drang tour of 2002.

[ joolz, lucia, sascha, raymond, andy - kmfdm 2003 ]

The members of KMFDM on the tour were Raymond Watts, Lucia, Sascha and Raymond's Pig band: Jules "Joolz" Hodgson and Steve White on guitar with Andy Selway on drums. "It was a scenario where people got hired that I assumed could perform," Sascha says of the group. The mix of characters apparently worked. The five letter title -- WWIII -- was conceived during that tour and shortly after its wrap, the six of them started working on the new record. "Our record label at that time -- Metropolis -- told us that they were basically insolvent and that we had to look for a new label," recalls Sascha. "And we said, 'Fuck that,' and started recording. We would compile some material and then shop it when it was done or half done. We had a title and started recording tracks in a classical sense."

"It wasn't so much that we had to adhere to this title [WWIII], that we had to find material that would fit. The idea was to make a hard record. To see how hard we can make it, to see how far we could take it. So we started writing like a conventional band would and brought in the machiney bits later on in the production. In the past, KMFDM albums were always machine stuff first. I would spend months and months compiling all sorts of material, putting together loops and bits of stuff, and the human element would fit in later on. This was just a huge noisy mess and we just sort of chopped it down."

"The physical situation was that Andy, Joolz and myself wrote all the music on the album. For vocals duties, we had myself, Raymond and Lucia. Lucia, living here in Seattle while Raymond lives in London, had the run of the studio and basically had first pick. Whatever she wanted to work on, she got. We sent Raymond the rest of the stuff and said, 'Take your pick.' There were a couple of songs that I wanted to work on -- 'WWIII,' 'Moron,' and 'Intro.' I reserved those, and then Raymond had some ideas for some things, no ideas for other things. We didn't want him to think that he had to work under some umbrella. I thought it was a good idea for Raymond to do exactly his stuff and it would fit in well." Sascha smiles. "Raymond doesn't need any guidance."

[ lucia and sascha - photo by craig young ]
photo by craig young
[ give a listen! ] "Stars and Stripes" MP3
96kbs/37sec/440kb

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