His career began in a trash receptacle.
“Some guy from England with a small record label picked up a copy of our first album out of the dumpster by Mute Records in London,” Sascha Konietzko recalls with a chuckle. “He sent me a postcard saying, ‘Hey, I want to license you.’ ”
And so it began.
Said album was “Opium,” the 1984 cassette-only debut from Germany’s KMFDM, one of the first bands to combine metal guitars with techno beats, resulting in a propulsive, hard-driving sound equally suitable for busting moves on the dance floor or busting lips in the mosh pit.
Konietzko shares this from-garbage-to-glory anecdote as a means of commenting on how unlikely KMFDM’s longevity has been: The whole thing began as an art project, really, with Konietzko penning experimental soundscapes outfitted with radio-friendly titles like “Mating Sounds of Helicopters.”
No time for technology
Three decades and 20 albums later, KMFDM remains a pioneering pillar of industrial rock, influenced by the often-harsh electronics of forebears like Throbbing Gristle and Einstürzende Neubauten, but doing so in a less abstract, more aggro context.
And the lyrics follow suit.
With a deep, dry voice that he seldom raises beyond a stern intone, Konietzko has long advocated a power-to-the-people ethos, casting a skeptical eye on authoritarian governments, forces of conformity and, in numerous instances, the very technology that he embraces in song.
“When it comes to my studio, I’m pretty much at the forefront of technology, but I don’t let it enter my life,“ the 56-year-old says. “I don’t even own an iPhone. I’m using an old Nokia from 2005.”
The reason that Konietzko isn’t all that hip on the latest gadgetry: He’s not big on distractions. You hear it loud and clear in the KMFDM canon: These are songs about being fully aware of the world around you, about taking, rather than ceding, control of various aspects of one’s being.
‘Everybody’s talking politics’
Nowadays, KMFDM is essentially a two-person group, with Konietzko and singer Lucia Cifarelli, who’s also his wife, recruiting touring musicians for the road.
Their latest album, “Hell Yeah,” released in August, updates all the jackhammer beats and near-thrash guitars with ripped-from-the-headlines critiques of “Fake News” and a culture of divisiveness.
“It absolutely makes no sense / To do nothing but hope for a turn of events,” Konietzko asserts on the song in question.
On “Freak Flag,” Cifarelli gives voice to what is, perhaps, the album’s defining sentiment.
“No hate or bigotry / Will stop and victimize me,” she sings. “Life is a masterpiece / Embrace what it means to be free.”
In a way, the times have caught up to KMFDM. After 30-plus years of social commentary, now it’s on the tip of most everyone’s tongue, or so it seems to Konietzko.
“What’s palpable is the fact that when I’m standing outside with people every night after the show, taking pictures and doing that kind of stuff, now everybody’s talking politics,” he says. “That has not been the case in the past, really. Now, I’m being asked my opinion, my take on things. It seems like there’s a lot of political awareness at this time.”
An unlikely path
Seeing himself in this role, Konietzko acknowledges, would once have required a serious stretch of the imagination.
A former photographer and leather worker, he had little designs on ever becoming a serious musician when he was younger.
“I was dabbling here and there with a couple of bands, playing bass,” he recalls. “One day, something was turned on in my head when I was playing with a synthesizer. I was like, ‘Yeah, this is cool (stuff), man.’ ”
From these inauspicious origins, Konietzko would become one of the faces of industrial rock, even if he never really saw himself in that light.
“KMFDM is called industrial rock here, but there’s really not all that much industrial about it,” he says. “It was just a melange of heavy metal guitars, odd beats — we were really influenced by the On-U sound out of London at the time, like Tackhead, Mark Stewart & the Mafia.”
Since then, KMFDM has endured by tempering hellfire with hope.
Despite sometimes espousing a grim worldview, it’s all meant to be aspirational, not apocalyptic.
“In the end, there’s always a positive wink,” Konietzko says. “It’s not doomsday kind of stuff. It’s more like, ‘Hey, pull yourself out of it. You can do it.’ ”
Contact Jason Bracelin at email@example.com or 702-383-0476. Follow @JasonBracelin on Twitter.