15th October 2019. The British government passes a ban on all protests for the current Extinction Rebellion movement. Over 1,641 arrests are made, human rights groups such as Amnesty International and International Liberty have condemned the brutality used by the Metropolitan Police, and the streets of London are once more alight with both an intensity and activism.
In many ways it couldn’t be a better time to be talking to Denis Lyxzén, the vocalist of the politically charged punk band, Refused, of who’s own homeland of Sweden is arguably one of the most important countries in the lead for current political and social change. So can lines of comparison be drawn between the new record, War Music and fellow Swede Greta Thuneberg.
“Any time you go in and disrupt the structure of capitalism there will always be a backfire from those who feel threatened.”
“Of course.” Analyses Denis. “Any time you go in and disrupt the structure of capitalism there will always be a backfire from those who feel threatened. There is a huge threat to the white rich man. The kind of music we try to create it is an attack and even though we are men ourselves, and older white men, we too are fighting to make these marginalized structures go away . We can find new innovative ways to bring the people together so we don’t end up feeling limited by these structures.”
In 1998 after having disbanded, the definitive record, The Shape Of Punk To Come was released, a record that would become the gateway of how punk music was to expand in the 21st century. This record would become noted by the thousands as a point of influence for punk in the new century. Their influence has echoed across all genres, the fluctuating time signatures resonating in the likes of La Dispute, Paramore singing Liberation Frequency’s tag line, ‘we want our airwaves back’ on the 2007 album, Riot, and other punk powerhouse AFI citing the variation of this record allowing them to transcend from Black Sails In The Sunset into the enigmatic, The Art Of Drowning. Even after the disbanding of Refuse, Tom Morello reached out to producer Rick Ruben to see if Denis would continue to deliver their manifesto by fronting Rage Against The Machine.
Alongside the release was a detailed 2000-word manifesto, which if read now is still just as haunting and as relevant than ever before. “From the first until the last, from the taste of longing freedom to the shackles of oppression, the weapon of the artist has always been used.” Reflected a young and revolutionist Denis. But how, decades later has this transpired from the collection of 45 people crammed together in a West Virginia basement to now thousands gathering for their coming tour and shows?
“I do think at the same time the reason we have things like women’s rights is because of the violence that took place…”
“We were not a big band.” Reflects Denis. “We were still a small DIY hardcore band. One of the challenges in that growth is how do you put these ideas across to a much bigger room?” And while the crowds now gathered are vaster than those before, the sense of liberation theology is still there, something that many fellow political artists have lost over the years.
“Well it’s about what the songs are about and how you balance the performance.” Continues Denis. “We want to be a rock spectacle, and we want people to go ‘holy shit this is amazing!’ and at the same time we want to be political, and we take a lot of time to talk about feminism and politics, and through this we become something where everyone in that room feels connected.”
As we sit and conduct our interview in London a series of police cars pass and the phone line begins to crackle as our discussion turns to the current affairs taking place only a few miles away. The newspaper rack across the street boldly prints photographs of protestors being dragged from the streets, or in some cases violent clashes between the police and activists.
“I’m not a violent man,” Sighs Denis. “But I do think at the same time the reason we have things like women’s rights is because of the violence that took place when women went out into the streets, because they fought in the streets.”
Much like the manifestos of the past, upon announcing their new record, Refused once more made sure that War Music was more than just releasing yet another well coincidentally timed record, but an action that would encapsulate where we currently are both within politics and society itself. However sadly Refused are a rarity when it comes to a new wave of political inspired marketing that seems to be setting both the music and entertainment industry alight.
“Politics is a horrible marketing tool. I feel my musical career has actually suffered because of my political ideas.”
“From having been a band it is a horrible marketing tool.” Laughs Denis. “It’s one of those things where it gives you some gratification within the sub culture world. But when you become a big rock band, no one is interesting in your Marxism views.”
And while Refused may be at the helm on political punk, both of the past and the present, Denis is quick to note that his other projects, AC4, and the “Che Guevera meets Elvis Presley,” Noise Conspiracy did not gain traction due to their political strive, but rather the opposite.
“Fans don’t want anyone to bombard them. I never felt it was never a marketing tool for us, I felt my musical career has actually suffered because of my political ideas, but at the end of the day those ideas define me as a human, I didn’t care about the success.”
So why did one of the most powerfully activist and defining bands in punk decide to return now? Was it a conscious decision caused by creative frustration? Something all musicians suffer? Or was it Denis Lyxzén and his band mates deciding that their own activism and protest could be achieved through what they do best, music.
“One of the basic ideas of a band like this is that we want equal rights, and to be treated equally and we feel that this the most basic human right that you have. When you see that being trampled on again and again and the white man in power infringing on the people in power you have to say something about it.”
So with all of this action, and all of this talk of standing against capitalism, married with his homeland of Sweden being a newly active and important political landscape, could we expect another manifesto, or even more action from the band?
“We are our own band, and we are our own people and we break a lot of rules for punk music and attitude, it is the ability to create and do what you wanna do.”
“When we were young we had this idea of becoming a revolutionary movement, and then people were miserable with this idea of self-sacrifice.” Reminisces Denis. “Music is about the ideas, I wish I could write and had the patience to sit down and right a book, but music to me has always been, a tool, music is what I love to do, I love to perform music.”
The world may seem like a very different place now, both within the genre of punk, and within our society, and whilst Refused have once more returned to fly the black flag of anti-capitalism, there is also something else that remains integral about a once unsuccessful Swedish DIY hardcore band that had willingly allowed the police to shut down their basement show.
“I fell in love with punk because I fell in love with all of these ideas of what punk can be. It’s a language of communication which resonates with a certain type of people and there are these subculture markers you can have.” Concludes Denis. “We are our own band, and we are our own people and we break a lot of rules for punk music and attitude, it is the ability to create and do what you wanna do.”
Every revolution needs a soundtrack, and War Music is the new activist’s manifesto.
WAR MUSIC IS OUT NOW VIA SPINEFARM RECORDS