Programming KMFDM


Think of him as a drummer in front man’s clothing. The mohawked mastermind of KMFDM, Sascha Konietzko, is more than just the singer and focal point for the outfit that pioneered dark techno. He’s also a diligent drum programmer with a distinctly rhythmic perspective on composition.

“KMFDM has always been a programming band as its source of rhythm,” Konietzko says, a dose of his German accent still intact after his move to Seattle. “The band was always driven by mechanical aspects, striving for a certain impeccable timing.”

KMFDM’s 1997 self-titled release (also known as Symbols exemplifies this philosophy; with multiple layers of supertight drum sequences, everything – guitars, vocals, keyboards – contributes a danceable element, inexorably fusing rhythm and melody.

Konietzko gets the process rolling in a “little room full of stuff,” relying on drum machines like the Roland TR 909 and 707, samplers such as the Kurzweil 2000, E-mu Emix 20 and Prophet 202, a StudioVision Pro MIDI sequencer and Pro Tools running on a Mac 9600.

His latest acquisition, a German-made Jomox XBase 09, is among his favorite pieces of gear. “It’s kind of a half-clone of the TR 909, but it has these really nifty things,” he says. “You can change the sounds in all steps of your patterns, tune your kick drum to play melodic sequences, or you can have filter sweeps on the hi-hats.

“A lot of stuff I do is by sending triggers by a MIDI sequencer – just short note on/note offs to various synthesizers, take the decay time down, put some heavy manifold modulation on the resulting sound and get these very lively percussive patterns.”

Konietzko points to the hovering, pushy sound of the song “Torture” as an example. “Sometimes there are songs where all you need is a cool sound, a very groovy little pattern,” he points out. “You don’t need many fills or variations on rhythm. Like in real life, some things live off a healthy 4/4 kind of thing.”

KMFDM’s first attempts at incorporating a live drummer into the sound were unsatisfying (“We started taking his tom toms away from him,” Konietzko recalls). But by collaborating with kit players Bill Rieflin (Ministry, Swans) in the studio and John DeSalvo while on tour, the drum machines may have finally found a balance with the human element.

Rieflin will frequently consult on KMFDM tracks, recording live drums or adding his own home-brewed loops. “The role I gravitate to (with KMFDM) is towards the developmental area,” he notes. “That involves experimentation, bringing in recordings of drumming that I’ve looped up and tweaked to the high heavens.” Rieflin employs a decidedly low-key recording setup, sending the signal from a single stereo microphone to a DAT recorder, then treated with a Zoom processor, Akai S3000 and a Dopfer MIDI analog synthesizer.

Once the music hits the stage, Konietzko plays on a homemade, six-pad electronic percussion stand, with extra care taken to keep him and DeSalvo in synch. “I didn’t really like the idea of John having a separate mix than everyone else,” Konietzko says. “So what we did was tune the entire monitor mix to John’s needs.

“There’s always also at least two or three things that are sequenced and in perfect meter. Instead of a click count we have the first couple of bars as bass synthesizer synched to hi-hats, or there will be another percussive sound through the entire verse, and through the chorus the hi-hat will come back in. There’s always something for the both of us to totally lock into.”

The end result – live or on record – is a sound rooted in motion, mixing man and the mechanical element, just so. “I always try to walk a fine line between how a real drummer would do this, and then some,” Konietzko notes. “Make the impossible possible.”