ÅLIDHEM – Even as hardcore bands go, Refused has pretty much seen everything. Vice magazine once wrote that there are two versions of this Umeå born-and-bred group, which has been shaping hardcore worldwide for almost three decades. Version one is “the punk prophets of Umeå who took a dead genre and breathed new life into its festering, bloated corpse.” Version two, according to Vice, is the Refused that took “a half-million dollar offer to play at Coachella”. Refused, in 2013, won (and sort of refused) the Swedish government’s highest prize for spreading music abroad — one year after ABBA won it. Linkin Park, Blink-182, and Guns N’ Roses have all cited Refused as an influence. And once, in 1998, police shut down a Refused concert, as the crowd screamed “rather be alive“, leading the band famously to declare, “REFUSED ARE [expletive] DEAD”. (And then they re-formed, in 2012.)
One thing, however, Refused has not yet seen, is a worldwide pandemic. Lead vocalist Dennis Lyxzén, often Refused’s public face — and one which was voted Sweden’s sexiest in 2004 by Elle Magazine — has been indoors these days, like most of the rest of us, riding out the crisis like a long guitar jam in a minor key. I got a chance to ask Lyxzén briefly how he is handling life inside his home studio.
KATI KNOX What are some actions you’re taking — or not taking — to stay connected to music and fans right now during this coronavirus crisis?
DENNIS LYXZÉN It is a weird time, because the connection that you have with people that are into what you are doing is mostly geared towards touring, and new music being put out. And since touring is not at all happening right now, it’s pretty hard.
I wish that we in Refused had a better social media game, because this would be a good opportunity to explore that — and in all honesty it’s not too late to explore that — and use that as a platform. I’ve done a live-streamed interview with Anti-Matter Fanzine, but apart from that, I’ve mostly focused on myself and my creativity to get through this. I’ve been using the time to finish up the new [Lyxzén’s post-punk band] INVSN record. We are working on a new Refused extended play record and some other stuff to keep me creative.
KNOX Is Refused thinking of live streaming shows, or interacting with fans somehow?
LYXZÉN Yes, we’ve been asked, and I really thought about it. I am sure that it would be really appreciated. However, the difficulty of being five people in four different cities makes it hard, especially at a time when traveling is not recommended. If we were all in the same place, it would be easier to do.
KNOX I’ve noticed you’ve been a little more active on your dennisrecords instagram page. That feels like a creative way to connect with people musically. Can you talk a little bit about that?
LYXZÉN I think that it’s a way for me to stay a bit busy, and also to highlight the absurdity of the situation. I am planning on posting a record a day for as long as this madness goes on, and that might be a lot of posts. Also, it’s a great excuse to brag about my record collection!
KNOX What are your thoughts and feelings about the way this is affecting musicians in Umeå, and how it might affect the future of live music?
LYXZÉN Well, it’s massive, of course. In general, it is insanely hard to be a musician and make that work. In times like these, it’s almost impossible. Most people that play music, and try to make it their livelihoods, live pretty much hand-to-mouth. You play some shows. You dee-jay. You do some other stuff, and at the end of the month you make ends meet.
But now, pretty much all possibilities to do that are gone. Even if you are just a “hobby-musician” it is also really hard when you are essentially in some sort of lockdown.
Umeå is a small city and usually just a club closing down can have a massive effect on the scene with people moving, bands breaking up and so on and so forth. I can’t even imagine what the city will look like after all of this. Maybe hopefully people will be starved for live-music, and tons of great music will come out of isolation. One can only hope.
KNOX How can we keep a thriving music scene during a time like this, is it possible?
LYXZÉN I think the most important thing for people who are not musicians is to ask themselves what music, and art in general, mean to them! How do you spend your time in these times?! I am sure that art is pretty high on the list of things that you do to pass your time. Imagine this situation, without music and books and movies and such!
It is not just Lyxzén and Refused which have evolved and stayed flexible during these circumstances. Other Umeå artists are finding creative ways to stay connected and to share their art.
Sápmi-American-influenced singer-songwriter artist Natalie Carrion, for example, has been offering “music grams”, in which she records a song and sends it via e-mail or through social media, or performs it for listeners — with the correct amount of social/physical distancing (!) Each option costs a fee.
Ida Boija, whose mix of “pop, progressive, and a little devil’s embrace” swirls around her debut EP, i rörelse (“in movement”), was scheduled to have a show at Alva kultur, a venue inside — of all places — Umeå University Hospital, the city’s axis of rotation of pandemic health care. Alva kultur is closed, of course, and the show has been cancelled. I reached out to Ida, who told me she has been writing new songs and poetry, and is preparing to record new material in the studio.
Perhaps music and art will flourish from this time of hardcore introspection.
Virginia Langum and Erik Campano contributed to the writing of this article.