Sweden has long been on the socio-political edge. Yes, from it’s humble beginnings as a second rate European powe, throughout the twentieth century, Sweden has bombarded foreign shores with revisionist fervor, diffusing controversial innovations in the form of funny accents, socialized healthcare, porno-house muzak and Volvos. As we march further into the 2K, Stockholm, despite its gradual concession to free-market economics, is once again coming at y’all with a socially conscious smack in ‘dat ass in the form of The (International) Noise Conspiracy.
A bit of explanation is in order. From the ashes of Refused (ex-hardcore political punk of INC’s Dennis Lyxzen), and several other groundbreaking projects, come the sounds of The (International) Noise Conspiracy. Oh, and you guessed it, they’re all Swedish. Aforementioned front man of Refused, Dennis Lyxzen, is arguably one of the most influential icons in the political punk/hardcore scene, and was to Sweden what Jello Biafra was to America. Without launching into a tirade on the success of Refused, know this: These guys would’ve had “badass” tattooed 2Pac style if they weren’t straightedge vegans. Not only did they write their own manifestos in the liner notes of their second to last release (The Shape of Punk to Come), but they also got arrested on suspicion of involvement in the bombing of a meat truck.
But as time would have it, Refused parted ways, not because they couldn’t take the fame, but, as stated in their final manifesto, The Refused are Fucking Dead, “A division into five new directions means in practice five new projects that can challenge and fight the boredom and death that sneaks into our everyday life.” The (International) Noise Conspiracy was formed soon afterward in late 1998 and continues to subversively indoctrinate their audience with the same capitalism-smashing impulse.
At this point you may, like us, begin to feel skeptical. After all, everyone from the Sex Pistols to Rage Against the Machine has played the anti-establishment angle. Who could blame them? The image sells, particularly to style-conscious coffee-shop types and angry suburban white kids. Unfortunately, the revolutionary fervor only goes as far as poor fashion sensibility and the occasional murmuring of “anarchy in the U.K., man.” Naturally, when another band comes along proclaiming the end is nigh for the capitalist dogs, it’s hard to be excited.
With this attitude in mind we entered the INC show last week at the Black Cat, only to be proven wrong by the amicable Swedes. Throughout the course of our pre-show basement interview, it became abundantly clear that the Conspiracy means business. In particular, the band, which demonstrates an outward disdain for traditional rock interview music chat, knows their politics and their audience. Far from being the pop-culture conscious self-promoters, the group acts definitively towards societal change first through endorsing and raising awareness of labor and class issues and secondly through local action. This local action, in the Marxist tradition, takes aim at any way in which the revolutionary can disseminate and affect change within their context. In this case, for Inge and Dennis, it was talking to us, and playing for a room full of punk kids. This type of ideological programming is made evident in virtually all their interviews, and they come prepared with a clear understanding of their worldview, and their place within it:
VOICE: You address so many Marxist issues, but the things that you’re so critical of are imbedded in American and global culture, especially in the music industry. Do you feel any contradiction or tension in your participation in that consumption? At the same time, do you ever feel like the system just might’ve won? As if there isn’t any way to affect global change?
INGE: I think that’s bullshit because that’s the whole theme behind the neo-liberal agenda … that this is the end of history, the end of ideology, and, like, that is just bullshit. That’s their way because they have no defense for a system that makes 40,000 kids die each day out of starvation in the third world … But at the same time we’re a part of it, because we sell records, and T-shirts, and we see ourselves as workers, and the record label knows that, too. The record company needs us to make profit and we need them to use the channels of the commercial music industry to spread our message. We’re kind of living in symbo … Consumerism is everywhere, especially when you come to America. You’re pretty good at exporting your culture everywhere.
Where does the INC fit into this picture? Having done their homework, the Conspiracy acknowledges the fundamental importance of praxis in affecting change. In effect, discussing revolutionary ideas is ineffectual if they are not transmitted and animated by real world action. In this case, the method is music. Each INC show is a mini-Marxist revolution, and one more step in the ideal and material diffusion of their anti-consumerist message through phenomenal stage presence and pop sensibility:
VOICE: Besides listening to your records, how would you get out the message to kids to be more politically involved??sometimes we sing along to lyrics and forget that there is a message behind them.
INGE: Everybody can relate to that, and if people just want to come to our shows and dance, that’s okay, but they don’t know that in every drum beat and every bassline and guitar riff, there’s Marxist theory, and they’re just standing there and all of a sudden we have them in a headlock [making chokehold gesture]. And we kind of sneak into them that way. They come to dance, but they’re just being fooled [laughs].
VOICE: In your ideal vision of the future, beyond having more choices than Pepsi or Coke, what needs to be done? Because a lot has changed historically since Marx wrote, even since Lenin wrote. What needs to happen in 2000, what can happen?
INGE: I think you just have to start in your own neighborhood or maybe in your school or on your job. Start over again with those ideas, and if you’re political, if you’re radical, let people know, talk to people, in a way they can relate to. Talk about everyday issues and try to infiltrate your political ideas and raise questions to people, because people are smart. It’s possible; we certainly need to start from a ground level of organizing. That’s the best answer I can give you because the international organization of workers has been watered down.
DENNIS: But I would say in the last two years, there’s been a huge resurgence.
And the INC may very well be contributing to that resurgence. In addition to being deemed “politically dangerous” in their native Sweden, the INC live experience is a persuasive one. What makes their shows truly effective is the groups’ disarming passion and approachability. Off-stage, the band freely intermingles with their following and take other perspectives, as well as accusations of being “pinkos,” with a gracious smile and a thoughtful response.
With this approach, the INC is able to resuscitate the glory and romanticism of being “a young, beautiful revolutionary.” The notion that the younger generations are, and must be, a political and cultural force is implicit in every performance and adds a new-found appeal to pulling out your little red book.
The INC’s first album, Survival Sickness, released almost a year ago, met with some harsh criticism mostly because so many were expecting the sounds of Lyxzen’s old hardcore outfit. Instead, the Conspiracy gets you dancing to some straight-up ‘60s garage rock infused with ‘70s punk stylings, along the lines of MC5. Strangely enough, for a group of old school political punks, they pull it off surprisingly well. But they don’t just pull it off; they nail it. Between the matching denim jacket ensemble, Lyxzen’s acrobatic stage antics and assorted DIY socialist banners hanging from the keyboard, the Conspiracy manages to rock the audience into their own little socialist world while continuing to pound out catchy political rock ‘n’ roll. From the mantra chorus of “Smash it up!” to the command to take resistance to the streets in “Ready Steady Go!” the Conspiracy has got it, and you, under control.
What does the Conspiracy want from you? They want you to listen, they want you to rock and they want to organize your ass into their underground assault. Whether or not you will is a different story. Ultimately, however, they want to connect with you through music. Perhaps the closest thing to truly informed intellectuals in the modern rock world, the INC manage to fluidly and articulately inculcate the attentive audience with a socially conscious humanitarian agenda. And for the rest of us? Even the band, though noting that an American, consumerist way of life is “never a good thing,” acknowledges that fundamentally “you’ve got to take music for what it is; music is entertainment, music is emotion.” In practice, the INC’s brilliant musical sense gives them universal appeal and, therefore, a unique and promising position in our cultural landscape. Marxism, sonic ingenuity and funny accents: Sweden hasn’t sounded this good since Abba.