KMFDM - 05/17/1995

KMFDM 1995

In the fall of 1994, I had a long argument with one of the guys who worked at WVFS in Tallahassee over the kind of music the station chose to program. I worked there in the production department off and on, cutting together promos, station ids, and occasionally helping someone put music under a sports or news program. It was a good way to meet people involved with the station which was at the time (and probably still is) the hub for good music in Tallahassee. My chief complaint was that the station was over-run with indie rock, and that other styles weren't given much play. With the limited scope of my interests in those days, I was chiefly complaining that there wasn't enough industrial on the V89 airwaves, but the argument went a little deeper than that.

I often found myself getting irritated at the kind of music that would easily make it into rotation when stuff that sounded to me like it was taking chances and breaking ground was just being ignored. When I saw Karl outside of Vinyl Fever (probably the other hub for good music in that town,) I figured it was worth a shot to air my grievance. Eventually, the argument more or less boiled down to the fact that the new KMFDM record was garbage.

Of course at the time, any KMFDM record was a high point for me and I found their unabashedly formulaic, pop music take on guitar-riffing industrial dance music to be a lot of fun. I never really took the time to figure out if I took the music SERIOUSLY or not, I just knew that I liked it. Karl wasn't backing down off of this; he agreed that bands like Skinny Puppy had been relevant at one time, but that most of that scene was stuck in a juvenile stasis that was holding it back (I'm paraphrasing.) I left that discussion outside of Vinyl Fever not really feeling like I'd been taken seriously in my attempt to get the Die Warzaus of the world heard on Tallahassee radio, and it made me bitter about the station.

The next summer, a group of us made the trek from Tallahassee down to Tampa to see KMFDM live. ANGST was the album that finally won some of my other friends who didn't care much for electronic music over to the idea of hard disco beats with guys chanting over them. Now the first time I'd seen KMFDM, my band GOG was actually the opening act! I enjoyed their set then, and I'd always liked the fact that they had a really well-established brand. The logos, the designs, the consistency of the t-shirts and album covers--it all made the band something you could easily bond with, identify, and then reflect back on the world. I'd not really thought about the music in any real depth, but KMFDM the concept was one of pop cultural brilliance written for dudes in combat boots and dreadlocks.

If there was a single event or turning point that made me realize just what it was Karl had been trying to tell me that fall, it was watching KMFDM play their entire album live, in the same order that the songs appeared on the CD, with almost no noticeable indication that anything was in fact live. For all I know, KMFDM were playing to a CD on this tour. They could have been lip syncing, and they certainly seemed to be miming the musical performance. Electronic bands always have some element of their show that is not really happening live by way of the performers' hands, but this was like watching a band on autopilot. It finally struck me: KMFDM was basically New Kids on the Block for goths!

I spent most of that show getting more and more frustrated that I'd fallen into this and that I had no hope of ever enjoying it ever again. I loved Nihil when it came out, but when I realized just how calculated, formulaic, and soul-less the music really was, it all lost its shine. KMFDM wasn't even fun anymore--it was like a machine to sell t-shirts and stickers. If Hot Topic had carved out a counter-cultural niche in American malls in 1995, there might have been En Esch action figures. The whole thing was just a farce.

I went back to school finally understanding what Karl was on about. Sure, a lot of the sappy indie rock wasn't really that interesting, but it was at least coming from what seemed like a more honest perspective. Karl was right. Industrial music was running out of things to say, and it was being held back by people who wanted to hear the same old anthems and who clung to new acts only if they closely resembled things that were already accepted. Luckily for me, my world was opening up to Portishead, Massive Attack, and Autechre and after that ill-fated trip to see KMFDM, I didn't really miss that scene all that much.