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KMFDM @ Underground Arts – Philadelphia, PA 10/06/17

Photo by Fran Chismar

Dark times were rampant in 1984. It was the year of Orwell’s Big Brother, and Apple made sure they sold the paranoia with their Super Bowl XVIII commercial, depicting bleak interpretations of conformity – ringing strangely true to the red menace of communism that was threatening our individualism. AIDS had ended the era of free love, and crack cocaine took the pleasure out of casual drug use. White supremacists engaged in a gun battle with the FBI. There was a deadly tornado, a serial murderer, and a Miss America scandal. The Soviet Union boycotted the Summer Olympics as the Cold War raged on amid fears of nuclear annihilation. As a 14-year-old boy, I was scared. I was scared of big brother watching me. I was scared of a nuclear attack. I was scared of girls. I had plenty of questions and no answers. Would tensions with Russia lead to war? Would I get drafted? Would I ever get laid? It was a frightening time in my life, and I took solace in music. Today, there is no shortage of political unrest. North Korea continues its quest to join the nuclear arms race. White supremacists marched through Virginia. There are chemical weapons attacks, mass murder shootings, and severe hurricanes. Big Brother has turned from political commentary to a reality television show. And after many relationships, I am still afraid of women. There are still major issues in this world. I still have questions, and I still don’t have answers. Will tensions with North Korea lead to war? Will my boys get drafted? Will I ever get laid? Not much has changed. Not even KMFDM.

KMFDM was born as a response to political and social unrest in this world. Their art was brought forth as a stand against the period’s oppression. In 1984, the Berlin Wall stood tall, the U.S.S.R. and their communist beliefs challenged our freedom. The cold war teased the possibility of an ending with no winners. KMFDM’s music mirrored the cold expanse of the political landscape. Early in their career, their existence was born from performance art, using vacuums as instruments and throwing entrails at the audience. In the 90’s, their sound moved from musical samples to buzz saw guitars to electronics. They were champions of bringing industrial dance music into the mainstream along with their Wax Trax label mates. 33 years and 20 albums later their approach and message have not changed, except the hurling of entrails. That is a commitment. Even Bowie’s “Berlin” phase only lasted three albums.

Sascha Konietzko is our drug against war

The next stop for KMDFM on their current tour was Underground Arts in Philadelphia – a basement club, with a steampunk aesthetic, that feels like home for industrial dance music. The fan base that shuffled in were likely the same fans that shuffled in 20 years ago. These fans needed KMFDM more than ever. The war in the mosh pit was nothing compared to the unrest in the world. KMFDM was their home coming – a Gothic class reunion of sorts and everyone was still dressed the way they did when they were in school. There is something comforting in that sort of solidarity.

The crowd was to ready to engage after Nivek Ogre’s assault on their senses. His band, ohGr, roughed up their boyish good looks in favor of scary masks, scarier face paint, and disturbing chants of “Smells like shit.” Their offensive had left everyone in the right state of mind for what was to come. When KMFDM took the stage and launched into “D.I.Y.,” the crowd exploded. Dark-colored, flashing lights, perpetual drumbeats, and buzz saw guitars ripped through the venue cutting a swath of fresh sweat and dance moves.

Lucia Cifarelli sings her heart out at Underground Arts

The set was peppered with material from a thirty-year career – all of which flowed together as if it were from an album released today. There were no discernible differences when the songs shifted from older material like “A Drug Against War” and “War World III,” to newer offerings like “Freak Flag” and “Hell Yeah.” Relentless with their aural assault and surge of visual excess, KMFDM empowered the crowd with an infusion of energy and a message of change. We only knew KMFDM at this moment. We checked our political concerns at the door and were being injected with the cure for all that is wrong with the world. Music and KMFDM were our drugs against war. For a moment, I forgot what year it was.

After the show, a friend and I discussed our experience over a slice of pizza. This show was no different than a show we may have attended together thirty years ago. Teenage Fran was at peace. My friend said her 18-year-old self would have been jubilant. I said my 18-year-old self would have been in the pit. She countered that her 18-year-old self would have taken their lyrics to heart. There were no talks of war or politics. Just music and pizza. Much like 30 years ago. Even the soundtrack was the same.

  • Lora McQueen

    You certainly captured 1984 well! Excellent review.

    • Fran Chismar

      Thank you Lora!