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Line-ups that make (or break) the band

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Sometimes it’s not just one member that makes or breaks a band. KMFDM – for whom Chris Vrenna played drums in 1992 – started out as a performance art project for Sascha Konietzko in 1984. He recruited Nick ‘En Esch’ Schandelmaier and Raymond Watts, though the latter left to form Pig after the third album in 1988.

KMFDM toured America in the early 1990s as part of the burgeoning industrial rock scene, playing with the likes of Ministry and My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult. Though they were successful on an indie level, it was only when Watts rejoined the band that things really took off.

Watts brought to the band a sleazy, heavy rock touch along with his own distinctive vocal style. En Esch’s interests lay in old p-funk, and he too had an unmistakeable, intimidating Teutonic intonation to balance Konietzko’s poppier offerings. Put together with core member Günter Schulz, KMFDM had its classic line-up.

The albums they recorded together formed the high points commercially and creatively for KMFDM. Nihil in 1994 spawned ‘Juke Joint Jezebel’, which appeared on both the Bad Boys and Mortal Kombat soundtracks, together selling over three million copies. The next album, Xtort, was the first to make the US charts. 1997’s Symbols was nearly as popular and also touched the lower end of the Billboard charts.

In 1999, KMFDM returned with their ‘final’ album, Adios, written almost exclusively by Konietzko with Tim Skold, who’d featured on Symbols. The lack of involvement by Esch and Schulz could explain its comparative weakness to the preceding albums. Internal conflicts persuaded the band to split up – a decision compounded by the horrifically misguided attempts by the media to blame the vociferously anti-fascist pacifist band for the Columbine massacre because the young killers happened to be fans.

Though the band eventually reformed, Esch and Schulz declined their invitations and that ‘classic line-up’ has never been repeated. The current incarnation, featuring erstwhile members of Watts’ project Pig, continues to perform and record, but has never matched the acclaim or popularity of the band when Konietzko, Esch, Watts and Schultz were writing together.

Sometimes every member makes (or breaks) the band.

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