Published Jan 01, 2006Anarchists have feelings too. No matter how much they like to talk about smashing the state and fucking shit up, there comes a point where every anarchist, at least the ones with a conscience, is forced to step back and re-think how they promote their cause. Take Dennis Lyxzén, for example. The vocalist for politically-charged Swedish retro garage punk hipsters the (International) Noise Conspiracy has spent the better part of the last decade, first in his previous band Refused and now with (I)NC, ranting and railing against capitalism; about its inherent ills; about how institutions like the World Trade Organization and obelisks like the twin towers of the World Trade Center have come to symbolise pretty much everything that is wrong with Western civilisation. He's sang about, spoken about and protested on behalf of his beliefs and he remains true to his convictions.
But even he was forced to take a step back after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States. "For me to talk about the evils of capitalism without appearing as an insensitive bastard is really hard, because people in America are still very upset and it's still very emotional," says Lyxzén on the line from his home in Sweden just weeks before his band is to make its third trip to North America. "It makes it really tricky."
But surely not impossible for someone who is never short on things to say on almost any issue. "I think you have to put it in perspective," he continues. "What happened was horrible; tons and tons of people on their way to work got killed because people thought it was a good idea to crash planes into big buildings. My brother was in New York when it happened and stuff like that really freaks you out, but I think it's something that can be explained if you want to explain it. Right now there's no one in America that even talks about trying to explain why it did happen. They claim it's an attack on the free world, but they're censoring everyone that's saying something that even talks about the bombings in a different way. It's ironic that it's an attack on the 'free world' and now everyone that tries to explain it can't be heard. People are just putting on their cowboy hats screaming that they're going to kill people. What happened is scary and the reaction is almost equally scary."
His theory? "I would say it was an attack on capitalism, it was an attack on the institutions that people in Afghanistan or people in the Middle East get fucked over by on a daily basis," he suggests. "It was definitely an attack on the power structure of American capitalism. I'm not defending what happened in any way. My gut reaction is that it is horrible and it was tragic to see that it had to happen. But what we have to do is take a step back and analyse why it happened. It seems like America is totally forbidding itself to understand the structures behind a thing like this."
To hear him speak you'd think Dennis Lyxzén was all business. You'd never know he fronts a band that, despite its fervent devotion to the leftist politics its collective membership holds dear, is also one of the most entertaining live bands around with a passion for and dedication to rump-shakingly infectious music that's as deep seeded as it philosophical beliefs.
The (International) Noise Conspiracy formed in 1998 as Lyxzén's former band, a revered seven-year-old hardcore band called Refused, was burning out. With the ashes still smouldering, Lyxzén bolted straight to his guitar playing friend Lars Strömberg and pitched the idea of a band that would be every bit as political as his previous venture, but would also be about songs. Their inspiration was a quote from '60s protest singer Phil Ochs, who said the key to revolution in America was getting Elvis Presley to make music with the political leanings of Che Guevara.
They immediately recorded a dozen songs released as five seven-inch singles and compiled on The First Conspiracy. Their first real album was Survival Sickness, featuring the surprise "hit" single and video "Smash It Up," which received support from the most unlikely sources like MTV and some American modern rock radio stations.
Their sophomore disc, A New Morning, Changing Weather finds the band in fine form fusing radical thought and trashy Kinks-inspired guitar rock in a mod aesthetic. Often wearing matching Carnaby Street suits and looking like something out of a 1962 Ed Sullivan TV show appearance, the band, which also features bassist Inge Johansson, keyboardist Sara Almgren and drummer Ludwig Dahlberg, comes across as something of an anachronism a punk rock paradox in a world of baggy pants and mohawks.
"I don't think it's a paradox at all," Lyxzén argues. "It becomes a paradox because we live in a culture that is very good at setting roles for people to be part of. There's definitely the role of activist but we try to break that mould and show people that to be political doesn't mean you only do this or that. And it doesn't have to be boring. Political struggle should be about having a good time and being passionate and alive."
On that level, T(I)NC may be more insidiously subversive than Rage Against the Machine, Dead Kennedys and Noam Chomsky combined. "We want people to leave a show thinking, 'Oh man, socialism seems great!'" Lyxzén enthuses. "We all sort of know the world sucks and it's a fucked up place but we try to flip it. Hopefully we can do something about it and show people that there is actually a resistance and there is stuff happening and that politics can be fun and inspiring and sexy. I've been to too many shows where it hasn't been fun with politics and we want politics to be fun so we try to do some subversive entertainment.
"We said when we formed the band we wanted to have something that's very familiar to people and mix it with something radical that doesn't really fit into the music. Rock music is mostly about girls and cars but we wanted to have that element of surprise and let people think, 'Woah, what the fuck are they talking about?' That was definitely a plan we had when we formed; to make it the most danceable, enjoyable band but also the most radical band."
T(I)NC continues to try and fulfil that mission statement on a daily basis. During the recording of A New Morning..., the band snubbed an invitation to play the prestigious Hultsfred Festival (the Swedish equivalent of Glastonbury or Woodstock) to take part in a protest of the European Union in Gothenburg.
"That's what we do," Lyxzén states matter-of-factly. "That's what this band is all about. We play music and we are a rock band, but we're a rock band that talks about these issues and we were going to these protests whether we were playing or not. If were going to be a rock band that talks about political issues, we should try to do it in a context where people appreciate what we're talking about. There were 25,000 people there and what we wanted to let people know was that we're also here because it's hard work to protest the bad things in the world. We wanted to go there and be part of the protest and give something back and let them have a good time for a couple of hours."
When they returned to Stockholm to complete the record, the experience had an effect on what they were doing. The new record turned out even more politically charged than previous efforts from songs with names like "Capitalism Stole My Virginity," "Up For Sale," and "New Empire Blues," to the album title itself lifted from a manifesto by the Weathermen movement of the 1960s.
"I had to steal it," admits Lyxzén of the record title. "It was one of the first movements in North America to say we need to arm ourselves to be part of the radical political struggle. They were kind of crazy and they didn't really do that much good but as with anything that is that far out, it's really fascinating to read about these middle class kids giving up everything to move underground and blow up shit."
Lyxzén freely admits the title isn't the only thing about the new record that is borrowed. "We're kind of like archaeologists when it comes to music, the same way we are with politics; we just sort of dig and find the most amazing shit," he says. "And if you find the most amazing shit you want other people to be part of it and hear it so we'll just steal anything we find interesting. We're very unprejudiced about what we steal from. It's anything from weird punk bands to Sly and the Family Stone to D'Angelo and that's just how we work. Nothing is too weird to steal from."
The most glaring thing about the new record's sound is how clean the production is. With previous efforts intentionally sounding like tinny garage recordings to give them a more retro feel, the band decided the time had come to make a record that sounded more now.
"There was a serious attempt to make the record sound different," Lyxzén says. "Survival Sickness was focused a lot on '60s garage rock, whereas with this record we wanted to make a record that sounds like it was written and recorded in the year 2001 and not 1963. I wanted to go for the full wall of sound kind of production but they weren't having it."
But the similarities to old-style rock'n'roll don't end with Rickenbacker guitars, Hammond organs, high-collared suits, skinny ties, pointy shoes and shag haircuts. The band also refuses to sit idly by and wait for their albums or singles to become hits. They insist on writing all the time; whether they're at home or on the road.
In their relatively short three-year history, T(I)NC have compiled three albums worth of material; for those of you keeping track at home, that's an album a year. "We just work really well together," Lyxzén states. "We're one of those bands that every time we practice we write songs and we love to write songs. We just try to let it flow. We're more interested in creating music all the time than getting stuck. That keeps it passionate and fun for us."
Having also established themselves as one of the premier live acts on the planet sharing tours with and holding their own against such live juggernauts as At the Drive-In and Rocket From the Crypt the added complication of keeping up a seemingly endless tour schedule usually means test driving new material on unsuspecting fans.
"We tour a lot, we jam while we tour and we're not afraid to play new songs when we play live," says Lyxzén. "It's always been about having a good time and if we're not having a good time, the crowd's not going to have a good time. We don't care if people have heard all the songs we're going to play for them. We'll play new songs, we'll jam, we don't really care as long as there's a good atmosphere to it."
But with their North American tour scheduled to take place while bodies are still being pulled from the rubble of the World Trade Center and the band conveying radical themes, will it be possible for the atmosphere at their shows be "good"?
That remains to be seen but Lyxzén is optimistic and willing to do his part. "What we can hope and what might come out of it is that people will get perspective on it," he says. "Hopefully they can understand that there are reasons why this happened and there's no such thing as evil people. Maybe people do shit that's really fucked up but it's more a matter of culture and power structures than human nature."