KMFDM was officially founded in Paris, France, on February 29, 1984, as a performance art project between Sascha Konietzko and German painter and multimedia artist Udo Sturm at the opening of an exhibition of young European artists at the Grand Palais. The first show consisted of Sturm playing an ARP 2600 synthesizer, Konietzko playing vacuum cleaners and bass guitars with their amplifiers spread throughout the building, and four Polish coal miners (whom Konietzko had met at a bordello) pounding on the foundations of the Grand Palais.
KMFDM is an initialism for the nonsensical and grammatically incorrect German phrase Kein Mehrheit Für Die Mitleid, which, keeping the same word order, literally translates as "no majority for the pity", but is typically given the loose translation of "no pity for the majority". In the original phrase, the articles preceding the nouns Mehrheit and Mitleid are inflected for the wrong gender, as the proper declension would be Keine Mehrheit für das Mitleid. Swapping the two nouns yields the grammatically correct Kein Mitleid für die Mehrheit, which translates directly as "no pity for the majority". In a 2003 interview, Konietzko explained the origins of the phrase:
"On the morning of February 29th, 1984 I woke up and went down to breakfast at a hotel in Paris. We had a show that night opening for an exhibition for young European artists. ... we needed a motto for the night so that we could make up some fliers and post them around. There was a German newspaper on the table and so I started cutting out words and threw them all into a cap. We picked a few of them out and it read "Kein Mehrheit Für Die Mitleid". It's kinda improper German in regards to its translation but in the DA-DA-esque [sic] mindset of the early morning it made perfect sense. So when I was on my way back to Hamburg I'd mentioned it to Raymond [Watts]. He liked it but he was having difficulty pronouncing it correctly. So finally he said, 'Why don't you just call it KMFDM?' So that was it. We were KMFDM."
The initialism has also jokingly been said to stand for "Kill Motherfucking Depeche Mode", coined by the band on their first U.S. tour and used as recently as Kunst.
Early years in Germany (1984–89)
Sturm left early on, but Konietzko continued performing, at one point having twenty people in his troupe, which by then was engaged in antics such as fire eating and throwing entrails at audiences. Konietzko then returned to Hamburg, where he joined up with Peter Missing in his new band Missing Foundation. Drummer Nicklaus Schandelmaier, who had recently moved to Hamburg from Frankfurt, also joined the group, and took the stage name En Esch. Although the group did some live performances, Konietzko and Esch dropped out of Missing Foundation before any recordings were made and went back to work as KMFDM, collaborating with Hamburg-based studio owner Raymond Watts.
Cassette copies of the band's first album, Opium, began circulating through the underground clubs and bars of Hamburg in 1984. KMFDM released its next album, What Do You Know, Deutschland?, in December 1986. It was recorded from 1983 to 1986, with some of the songs recorded by Konietzko and Watts before Esch was a member of the band, and indeed, before the band officially existed. Skysaw Records gave the album a second UK release in 1987 and introduced the band to visual artist Aidan Hughes, usually credited as Brute!. Hughes redesigned the album's cover, and went on to design almost every KMFDM album cover.
Watts left the group after working on just three songs on 1988's Don't Blow Your Top to start his own project, Pig. After working the Hamburg underground music scene and releasing albums on European labels, the band began its long-standing relationship with Wax Trax! Records when Don't Blow Your Top was licensed to the label for US distribution. The album was produced by Adrian Sherwood, and was described by AllMusic critic Dave Thompson as "[highlighting] the producer as much as the band".
Success in the US (1990–94)
KMFDM recorded and released its fourth album, UAIOE, in early 1989 for distribution in both the U.S. and Europe, arrived in America for the first time on December 16, and commenced touring the U.S. with Ministry. During KMFDM's first US tour, band members started using the phrase "Kill Motherfucking Depeche Mode" for the initialism to tease journalists who did not understand German. The band signed directly to Wax Trax! to distribute its fifth album, Naïve, which was recorded in Europe and featured the debut of guitarist Günter Schulz, known at the time as Svetlana Ambrosius. A remix of the album's title track was the group's first hit, reaching No. 21 on 's Dance/Club Play Songs Chart in March 1991.
Konietzko moved to Chicago in 1991, and Esch followed a year later. KMFDM quickly became a part of the Chicago industrial music scene that included Ministry, My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult, and Revolting Cocks. Konietzko later remarked, "We came from Germany and we all had to have day jobs and work our asses off to afford to be KMFDM and all of a sudden we're in the states and we're selling thousands of thousands of [sic] fucking records!"
The band's next club hit was "Split", which was released in June 1991 and reached No. 46 on Billboard's Dance/Club Play Songs Chart in July. During 1991, Konietzko collaborated with Buzz McCoy of My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult to record an album under the name Excessive Force titled Conquer Your World. Konietzko and Esch then began work on their halves of the intended sixth album, Apart, which was eventually released as two separate albums. Esch's half became his solo album, Cheesy, while the official KMFDM album used Konietzko's material and was renamed Money. This album spawned two more club hits in 1992: "Vogue", which reached No. 19 on the Billboard Dance/Club Play Songs Chart in April, and the title track, which reached No. 36 on that same chart in July.
After touring in 1992 with drummer Chris Vrenna, the then-core of KMFDM (Konietzko, Esch, Schulz, and second guitarist Mark Durante) returned to Chicago and found that Wax Trax! had filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy to begin corporate reorganization in November 1992. The band went into the studio in 1993 as a group to record its seventh album, Angst, which sold more than 100,000 copies over the next two years. Esch said after the album's release, "I like this album way more. Money was done in a hurry, and I was doing a major Pigface tour, so I didn't have much influence on the album. I really like Angst. I'm totally down with it. We've tried to involve guitar players, we tried to be like a real band, especially in the creative kind of aspect." After the release of Angst, Wax Trax!/TVT Records launched a promotion in which fans were encouraged to devise as many alternate meanings for KMFDM as possible, with more than a thousand submissions resulting.
Konietzko released a second album under the Excessive Force moniker in 1993 titled Gentle Death. KMFDM received its first exposure to the mainstream with its single "A Drug Against War". Despite the band's anti-MTV stance, the video of "A Drug Against War" received airplay on MTV and was shown on the MTV cartoon Beavis and Butt-head. The track "Light" reached No. 31 on the Billboard Dance/Club Play Songs Chart in May 1994.
The song "Liebeslied" from Naïve originally contained an unlicensed sample of "O Fortuna" from Carl Orff's Carmina Burana. Orff's publisher threatened the band with legal action, and the album was withdrawn from production in 1993. A new version of the album, titled Naïve/Hell to Go, was released the following year. It contained new mixes of several songs, including a version of "Liebeslied" with the offending sample removed.
Wax Trax! was saved from bankruptcy by an infusion of funds from TVT Records, and in March 1994 announced plans to release the compilation set Black Box – Wax Trax! Records: The First 13 Years, which includes the KMFDM songs "Virus" and "Godlike", two songs which Thompson called "defining".
Peak popularity (1994–99)
The mid-to-late 1990s were KMFDM's most successful years in terms of album sales and mainstream awareness. Konietzko moved to Seattle in 1994, while Esch moved to New Orleans. Watts rejoined the band to work on its eighth album, Nihil, which peaked at No. 16 on the Billboard Heatseekers chart and sold 209,000 copies, making it the band's best-selling album. It marked the first contributions by drummer Bill Rieflin, who worked with the band on its next five albums. Nihil featured KMFDM's most widely known song, "Juke Joint Jezebel", versions of which appeared on both the Bad Boys and Mortal Kombat soundtracks, the latter of which peaked at No. 10 on the Billboard 200 and sold over 1.8 million copies. Their song "Ultra" was used in the English version of Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie.
Commenting on the rotating cast of musicians shortly after Nihil's release, Konietzko said, "It's as if En and I are the suns and the other musicians at the time come and revolve around us." Regarding the duo's dynamic, Konietzko said, "En Esch and myself have always been the cornerstone of KMFDM's existence. And we are diametrically opposed as writers. The angsty stuff generally comes from him. The poppy, hard stuff comes from me." Esch commented in 1994, "Sascha and myself are different, of course. But that's why we can still make things happen. Our best and worst qualities are contrary. To put it simply, he's more organized and stable, I'm more complicated and abstract."
In late 1995, close friend and president of Chicago's Wax Trax! Jim Nash died of an illness complicated by AIDS, and Seattle became the official headquarters of KMFDM. Watts toured with KMFDM throughout 1995 in support of Nihil, but then left the group to return to recording under the Pig moniker. Esch also separated from the group, and Xtort was created in 1996 almost entirely without his input. Konietzko instead brought in a number of other industrial artists such as Chris Connelly to assist with the album. Xtort was the first KMFDM album to chart on the Billboard 200 and the highest-charting album in the band's history, reaching No. 92 and selling more than 200,000 copies. "Power", the album's first single, was the most heavily promoted song in the band's history, with almost 100,000 copies included in a free Wax Trax! sampler album in mid-1996. Konietzko later said Xtort was his favorite album of the 1990s.
Esch returned for the Symbols album, which was released in 1997 and featured Abby Travis and Skinny Puppy's Nivek Ogre. Symbols reached No. 137 on the Billboard 200. Its first track, "Megalomaniac", was featured in the film Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, and was the first song from its soundtrack to receive radio airplay. Tim Skold, formerly of the band Shotgun Messiah, made his first appearance as a band member, writing lyrics and performing vocals on "Anarchy". Looking back on Symbols in 2002, Konietzko said, "I listened to the Symbols album and heard exactly why KMFDM broke up in the first place. It told me the story of what went wrong. There were maybe two (good) songs on that album and the others were just a bunch of compromising tug-of-wars. That was something I was not going to do again."
The band released a pair of compilation albums in 1998. The first, Retro, was a greatest hits compilation which included most of the singles released up until Xtort. The second, Agogo, was a collection of rarities and previously unreleased tracks, including a cover of U2's "Mysterious Ways".
The album Adios was written and performed almost exclusively by Konietzko and Skold. Ogre again provided vocals, as did German musician Nina Hagen. Originally the fulfillment of the band's ten record contract with Wax Trax!/TVT, Adios later signaled the breakup of the band itself, which Esch's and Schulz's limited participation foreshadowed.
KMFDM disbanded, albeit temporarily, on January 22, 1999, with only Konietzko and Skold remaining together. Konietzko said the split was due to "lots of stress and pressure, as well as differences in vision and drive". Esch said "There was a lot of negative energy between Sascha and Günter Schulz and myself and we all decided on the phone to call the band quits." Adios was released three months later, and reached No. 189 on the Billboard 200. Its title track was called "a bitter goodbye".
In the wake of the Columbine High School massacre, it was revealed that lyrics to KMFDM songs ("Son of a Gun", "Stray Bullet", "Waste") were posted on the website of shooter Eric Harris, and that the date of the massacre, April 20, coincided with both the release date of the album Adios and the birthday of Adolf Hitler. Some journalists were quick to jump on the possibility that the actions of Harris and the other shooter, Dylan Klebold, were inspired by the violent entertainment and Nazism, though one wrote, "Lyrically, the band has written some songs that could easily be misconstrued by anyone lacking an ear for irony and looking for an excuse to commit violence." In response, Konietzko issued a statement:
- "First and foremost, KMFDM would like to express their deep and heartfelt sympathy for the parents, families and friends of the murdered and injured children in Littleton. We are sick and appalled, as is the rest of the nation, by what took place in Colorado yesterday.
- "KMFDM are an art form—not a political party. From the beginning, our music has been a statement against war, oppression, fascism and violence against others. While some of the former band members are German as reported in the media, none of us condone any Nazi beliefs whatsoever."
MDFMK, Slick Idiot, and reformation (2000–02)
After the group disbanded, Schulz and Esch formed the band Slick Idiot, while Konietzko and Skold regrouped as MDFMK, adding singer Lucia Cifarelli to form a trio. MDFMK released one self-titled album with Republic/Universal Records, and toured North America. After being released from his contract with Universal due to a disagreement over who would produce the next album, Konietzko said he called Metropolis Records and asked if they'd be interested in signing KMFDM. The label agreed, although at the time only Konietzko himself was certain to participate.
Konietzko announced the return of KMFDM in early 2001, due to "public demand", with Skold, Cifarelli, and former collaborators Watts and Rieflin joining him in the studio; he said at the time, "I talked with the usual KMFDM suspects to see if they were interested, and what we came up with was something better than what we had before." Recalled Esch in 2009, "I was happy about my new creative freedom at that time and so I refused the concept of a fast reunion of the original KMFDM." Konietzko said of the reformed band, "Not only is it fun again, but it's devoid of all the personal confrontations due to egos and fractions that were once a part of the band," but said, "I really miss En Esch," in 2003. KMFDM released its first album in three years, Attak, in March 2002. The album was on the Billboard Independent Albums Chart for four weeks, peaking at No. 11.
New line-up (2003–07)
Skold left after Attak to join Marilyn Manson. Over the next few years, Watts' bandmates from Pig joined KMFDM one by one. Jules Hodgson had already done guitar work for 2002's Attak. Andy Selway first played drums for KMFDM on WWIII in 2003, and Steve White contributed to 2005's Hau Ruck after touring with the band. All three, along with Watts and Cifarelli, were mentioned as band members on "Intro", the final track on WWIII, although that was to be the last album on which Watts performed. WWIII was on Billboard's Dance/Electronic Albums Chart for seven weeks, and peaked at No. 3.
Opium was re-released in 2002 as KMFDM001 on the band's new label, KMFDM Records, and a collection of songs recorded between 1984 and 1986 was released in 2004. Shortly after the release of WWIII, Konietzko began work on the soundtrack for 2004's Spider-Man 2 video game. Hau Ruck performed about as well as WWIII, appearing on Billboard's Dance/Electronic Albums Chart for eight weeks but only hitting No. 5. Unlike WWIII, Hau Ruck showed up on the Billboard Independent Albums chart for a single week at No. 48. A companion EP, Ruck Zuck, was released in 2006.
Konietzko took a new approach for Tohuvabohu, released in 2007. "Principally in the past, there used to be 2 people that would start songs: me and Jules. On this record I said to the other 2 guys, Andy (Selway) and Steve (White), 'Why don't you guys come up with something?'" Tohuvabohu was on Billboard's Dance/Electronic Albums Chart for just three weeks and peaked at No. 4. It appeared on the Independent Albums Chart for one week at No. 29. Tohuvabohu also had a companion, Brimborium, a full length remix album released in 2008 that barely made it onto Billboard's Dance/Electronic Albums Chart, hitting No. 20 for a single week.
Metropolis Records announced in mid-2006 it would reissue KMFDM's entire Wax Trax!-era studio album back catalog, which had been out of print since the early 2000s. The albums were released in chronological order in groups of two or three from September 2006 to May 2007. Konietzko said the remastering was done over concerns about losing the rights to the back catalog after TVT defaulted on a loan, explaining, "The original agreement was that the catalog would have reverted back to me in 2008, anyway, but TVT and Rykodisc were thinking of just making a KMFDM compilation, which would have eliminated my catalog, and I didn't want that." Konietzko commented in 2006 that the current line-up was the best he had worked with, and said in a separate interview that his former bandmates were "looking at me for handouts". Konietzko announced in October 2007 that he was packing up and moving back to Germany in the next three months.
Return to Germany (2007–2016)
Following the Finnish school shootings of 2007 and 2008, media reports again attempted to draw a connection between the shooters and KMFDM, and noted that both listed the band among their favorites. In an interview with Norwegian broadcaster NRK shortly after the 2008 incident, Konietzko responded to these claims by saying the recent shootings were a by-product of the copycat mentality and the Finnish shooters' desire to emulate the lifestyles and actions of the Columbine shooters. "One of my biggest concerns immediately following this incident [the Columbine shooting] was that there would be copycats repeating such things in the future, as there often are when people commit heinous crimes and acts of violence. I was, unfortunately, right."
KMFDM re-released all of its old singles and hard-to-find tracks from before the 1999 breakup in a series of three double albums called Extra—, , and —in mid-2008. KMFDM Records released Skold vs. KMFDM in early 2009, which was a collaboration that Skold and Konietzko conducted over the Internet while on separate continents from June to October 2008. A follow-up is planned, but is not a high priority.
KMFDM's sixteenth studio album, Blitz, released in March 2009, showcased further collaboration with Skold, but less input from the band members not living in Germany. It reached No. 4 on Billboard's Dance/Electronic Albums Chart, and was on the chart for four weeks. Its companion remix album, Krieg, was released in early 2010. Two compilation albums, Würst and Greatest Shit, were released in September that same year.
On December 14, 2010, the official KMFDM website was changed to include a single image with the text "All Systems Have Been Ripped. The Internet Has Been Shut Down." A new song titled "Rebels in Control" became available for listening and download on the site, posted in support of Julian Assange with regards to the controversy over WikiLeaks.
Former band members Durante, Esch, Schulz, and Watts appeared with Mona Mur at the April 2011 Wax Trax! Retrospectacle in Chicago, a charity event celebrating the industrial music label. The group performed KMFDM songs from the Wax Trax! era, including "Juke Joint Jezebel", "Godlike, "Brute", and "Don't Blow Your Top". Konietzko expressed a desire to perform with the current band line-up, but was turned down by event organizers.
KMFDM released WTF?! in April 2011, featuring what Konietzko called "a slew of guest musicians" including Rieflin, Koichi Fukuda, Free Dominguez, and William Wilson. The album's first single, "Krank", charted in both Germany and the United States. WTF?! was on Billboard's Dance/Electronic Albums Chart for one week at No. 8.
Work on KMFDM's eighteenth album began in February 2012. Titled Kunst, it was released on February 26, 2013. The band toured the United States in March and Europe in April 2013. KMFDM reissued Opium and WWIII in October 2013.
On May 24, 2014, Konietzko announced on the band's Facebook page that a new album, titled Our Time Will Come, would be released on October 14, 2014. A new live album titled We Are KMFDM and a single called "Genau (The German in You)" were also announced. Our Time Will Come was released on October 14, 2014, on both CD and vinyl. The "Genau" single was not released, with a single for "Salvation" from the same album coming out instead in 2015.
Another line-up shift (2017–present)
In April 2017, KMFDM revealed a new EP titled Yeah!; an album called Hell Yeah was released in August, with a U.S. tour planned in support of the releases for October. On June 23, Yeah! was released, followed by the release of Hell Yeah on August 18. Guitarists White and Hodgson were unavailable, so Konietzko recruited Chris Harms from Lord of the Lost to record the guitar parts. Harms, along with Lord of the Lost bandmates Pi (guitar) and Gared Dirge (keyboards), had been slated to perform as the live band for KMFDM's late 2017 tour. Lord of the Lost were unable to secure work visas to enter the U.S., so Andee Blacksugar was tapped to handle guitar tasks instead. The new quartet of Konietzko, Cifarelli, Selway, and Blacksugar announced their latest album, Paradise, for release on September 27, 2019. The band features a variety of guest appearances, including KMFDM co-founder Raymond Watts for the first time since 2003.