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by Kurt Conley
KMFDM and Pig
Ogden Street Music Club (652 S Ogden St)
It only seems right that this new series is propelled by my memory of music. During a recent cleaning spell in our new condo, I came across an old photo album filled with the concert tickets stubs I’d kept over the years. They span an era starting in the late '90s, when I first started going to shows in earnest, all the way up to the mid 2000s.
The only reason I don’t have more parallels the advent of online, print-at-home, and now mobile tickets, which lack that tactile quality. No waiting for them to come in the mail, putting them in a safe location until the show. As convenient as it is to have your tickets on one’s phone, I’m still nostalgic for that time.
Lately my creative output has shifted to the personal: my childhood, my family, my life experiences. Over the past year, I’ve come across a treasure trove of ephemera. My family didn’t keep a lot of memorabilia. The things that happened to survive—old photos, my baby book—I had to rescue. The rest, for all that I know, are in a landfill somewhere. So when I find something that reflects back on my life—say, a collection of ticket stubs—I cherish it.
I first heard KMFDM on the Mortal Kombat soundtrack (a remix of their ubiquitous “Juke Joint Jezebel”). Although the movie itself was lousy, the album that accompanied it was groundbreaking for me. It featured a veritable who’s-who of '90s industrial and techno music: Sister Machine Gun, Utah Saints, Type O Negative, and Orbital, et al. The soundtrack opened the door to genres of music I never knew existed. TVT and Wax Trax became my go-to record labels.
KMFDM’s music in particular spoke to my angsty teenaged brain. After hearing them on that soundtrack, I searched out their recent albums, Xtort and Symbols, and devoured them. Their songs were all about revolution, being an outsider, fighting the power, never submitting. To a queer and confused kid living in small town Pennsylvania, the songs were a revelation.
Around the same time, I struck up a friendship with one of my dearest friends, Kellea (she’ll be a semi-regular fixture in this series). For years, we rode the same bus without saying anything past a hello. Not sure what prompted us to start up a conversation one random morning. But after that, and for the rest of our days in high school, we were inseparable.
We had our clique of outsiders—the punks, the goths, the nerds—and had a small but strong circle of friends. And at that school, all us weirdos had to stick together. Our school was in a blink-and-miss town in Erie county, not exactly a bastion for inclusivity—some students proudly displayed the confederate flag on their rusted out pickup trucks, for example. But no one really knew what to make of me and Kellea and our strange group, and that got us through.
My dad was a driving force in my cultural upbringing as much as Kellea. Not only was he just as into KMFDM as I was, he was equally excited to see them live. This didn't come as a surprise; he was the one who introduced me to two of my earliest idols, the eternal David Bowie and the incomparable Debbie Harry of Blondie. I found I loved introducing him to my favorite music and films, too.
KMFDM is one band we stumbled onto together. And although this show wasn’t the first concert he and Kellea and I would see together, it is the first and foremost concert in my memory. My first “real” concert.
The Ogden Street Music Club was slightly larger than a hole in the wall. I remember garish carpeting and walls, neither of which you could see when the show started, thankfully. There was a bar just past the entrance, a general standing floor area in the middle, flanked by two raised side areas.
Kellea and I got black “x”s on our hands because we were underage; I thought it looked totally punk rock. The crowd packed in after Pig finished their set, and Kellea and I were lost in the throng. I’d never been to a show where people moshed.
And when KMFDM took the stage, the crowd erupted. Kellea and I found a spot in the crowd just outside the pit, and my dad opted to watch from the safer side area. But as crazy as it was, I felt oddly safe. Maybe it was having Kellea there—she was, and continues to be, a complete badass. Every so often I’d glance over at the side area to see my dad, wriggly and wiry, bouncing around, cigarette in hand—back when smoking in a venue was commonplace.
The energy in that space was electric. Powerful. People crowdsurfed, moshed, surged and jumped. A man twice my size and just as drunk asked me to lift him up to join the surfing. I tried. It did not go well.
At one point, I remember Kellea ducking out to smoke pot with a cute goth girl in the women’s bathroom. Afterwards, I remember being sweaty, exhausted and exhilarated; my ears were buzzing for days. Not a good thing, as we all know, but to me it served as a fuzzy reminder of the night.
I was a little disappointed that none of the female musicians were present on this tour. One of the things I loved about KMFDM was their inclusion of artists such as Nicole Blackman, Abby Travis, and Dorona Alberti, et al. But Tim Skold was touring with them, and I had a big crush on him at the time, so that helped. They even performed one of his songs from his solo album, Skold.
I’ve gone to see KMFDM a handful of times over the years, but none of those could compare to the thrilling chaos of that first show. Plus, I have to face facts that my swiftly-approaching-40-year-old body just doesn’t have the wherewithal to go to those kinds of shows anymore.
I still listen to their albums, although not as much as when I was eighteen. They are one of the few bands that have consistently maintained their aesthetic and I will always respect them for that. Their latest, 2017’s Hell Yeah, is as solid an album as any, and their lyrics about waging revolution and empowering the minority are ever-present and sadly still relevant to the age we live in.
As for the venue itself, the Ogden Street Music Club closed its doors in 1998. The address is now home to a Big Lots and a Family Dollar.
Recommended KMFDM listening:
fom Nihil: “Juke Joint Jezebel”, “Ultra”, “Brute”
fomr Xtort: “Power”, “Dogma”, “Son of a Gun”
from Symbols: “Megalomaniac”, “Anarchy”, “Leid Und Elend”
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