Even three months after the fact, it still seems strange that KMFDM, of all possible darkside bands out there, was the only one quoted on the Web site of one of the Littleton boys: “What I don’t say I don’t do. What I don’t do I don’t like. What I don’t like I waste.” Harsh and hard? Yes, that’s them. But for any kind of profound message or even useful slogan to fuel the apocalypse in Colorado, you might better string together Primus’s “My Name Is Mud,” Filter’s “Hey Man Nice Shot,” Marilyn Manson chanting “we’re all freaks in the dope show,” and Rage Against the Machine screaming “bullet in your head!!!”—doom-monster songs rising (and justly!) from the smoke-free, riskless substitutes for real life imposed on kids by the overprotective parents of U.S. suburbia.
Perhaps it’s KMFDM’s single-thrust verse, their grunted hooks and shove-it basslines, that give the dirt in their hearts a punch lacking in the work of more verbally correct bands. Or perhaps it’s another attribute of their repertoire: that their music dances far more smoothly, and more often, than it spits. It glides its sonic directly toward the listener, uninsulated, hard. And does so again and again, new music all the time. The group led by En Esch and Sascha Konietzko has seemingly filled the last 15 years with more CDs and EPs than any musical act since John Lee Hooker.
Their hardness has had unforeseen consequences. Much was made of the fact that Adios (TVT), their latest and supposedly farewell CD, was released on Hitler’s birthday—which was also the day of Littleton, a date that tragically seems to have meant carnage to the boys who picked it. For a German band to release a goodbye album on Hitler’s birthday is hardly a message to kids to blacken their trench coats—what else but goodbye could Hitler’s birthday mean to a German? To an American kid, however, who’s never seen hate at work except in a thrill-kill movie, and who thinks the Nazis were cool because they offed everybody they hated, Hitler’s birthday may seem pretty fucking great: the more destructive the action, the kewler, right? Enter KMFDM, with their bursts of sloganeering and blowtorch beats, their slugfest dance-songs.
And now there’s more KMFDM than ever (more teenage firefights too, it seems), because two recent compilations, 1996’s Retro and 1998’s Agogo, bring 24 tracks of the band’s 1985–1993 repertoire back to the attention of those who wonder just how Adios can really be Esch and Konietzko’s bye-bye, when the surge of KMFDM-ology says just the opposite. This band has always had a sweet side—if they weren’t reggaeing through songs like “Rip the System” they were doing one of their industrial dances, sexy stuff like “Ooh La
La,” “Agogo,” “Juke-Joint Jezebel,” and “Zip.” Disco kings from day one, they have remixes by Trent Reznor, Chicago’s Die Warzau, even Giorgio Moroder. Slithering to life, hootchieing itself, Adios shifts style from a decade-plus of gravelly techno-rock to the smooth, almost melodic midnight pitch of today’s trance and Eurobeat. From the electronica of its title song to the syrup rhythm of “Sycophant,” from “Today”‘s Brit-pop to the Enigmatic ‘Worm Garden” and Italian-style Eurodance of “Witness,” the music confirms the actual words of “D.I.Y.,” the session‘s third cut: “KMFDM is back for more, twice the mayhem, triple the force, 10 times the action.” And after a lifetime of clique-sized mohawk-cult status, they now at last enjoy (suffer from?) notoriety.
KMFDM loved the taste of spice. Unlike fellow Deutsch bands, deeply hypothetical or intricately loopy, they lick your skin pickle. If you want bottomless Armageddon, go to Einstürzende Neubauten; if absurdity, Kraftwerk; if laughs in a rubber mask, Rammstein. KMFDM simply play music—for its own sake. They had the nine-inch headbang before Trent Reznor, they were early attuned to the Flemish bands who created techno, they wrote a ton of fuck-the-system blasts-of-funk and voodoo howls not too long after George Clinton did ’em. At a KMFDM club show one swivels briskly, wears drama clothes. (Hell, in one recent En Esch interview, the topic that took up the most space was his love of wearing fishnets and high heels!) One sings and shouts at their shows—just as that ultimate attitude diva, Liz Torres, sang on a 1990 KMFDM single, and just as the band’s new divas, the torrid Cheryl Wilson and the ever clownish Nina Hagen, camp and lisp on Adios itself. Pose is still their purpose.
Unfortunately, creating an impression of controversy where none actually exists seems the group’s only verbal essential. Titles like “Godlike-Doglike,” “Search and Destroy,” “Disobedience,” and “Nihil”—and the mashboot crunch-buzz they ride on—portend mucho alienation, but that is not how they groove. Their brutal beat and cryptic crypt-kicker vocals feel like indulgent costuming compared to the love-starved ways of a band like Joy Division. As for the Pet Shoppable choruses and dreamscape cloudtops that blossom on Adios, they simply confirm that KMFDM’s music always swims rather than sinks. Adios feels glad to be here, with its bear-hug vocals and wolf-smile riffs. So Esch and Konietzko can say they’re doing a goodbye if they like; their songs are still singing us an awfully fond hello.