The (International) Noise Conspiracy rocks hard on stage. We hope to see the band’s crazy Swedish moves someday.
Tonight could have been the night that changed your life. The (International) Noise Conspiracy, “one of the wildest and most uncompromising live acts out there” flying in from Sweden, were to take total charge over the Yuyintang stage, but thanks to certain National Day-flavored machinations, it was cancelled.
Nevertheless, Shanghaiist caught a lengthy interview with Dennis Lyxzén, lead singer and front person, just as he was busy packing his bags for the China journey. Hear him out on why the band fell in love with China 10 years ago, why they never made it as big as The Hives, why file-sharing is different from socialism, and how growing older might change the focus of ones political conviction…
Back in the 90s, before The (International) Noise Conspiracy came to be, Dennis Lyxzén had already made a name for himself as singer in Refused, one of the leading bands in the flourishing hardcore scene of Umeå, a city in northern Sweden. When Refused broke up, Lyxzén founded The (International) Noise Conspiracy and, since 1998, the group has delivered not only a highly energetic and esthetically appealing live act, but also somewhat of a soundtrack to a whole generation of the politically active young left movement in Sweden, which saw a new rise around the turn of the millennium.
Band members are, except Lyxzén: Inge Johansson, Ludwig Dahlberg and Lars Strömberg. Apart from the music in itself, the political themes of socialism, anti capitalism, feminism, and the straight edge lifestyle in which you eat vegan food and avoid alcohol and drugs, have also been strongly associated with Dennis Lyxzén and his bandmates.
Last November, The (International) Noise Conspiracy released their fourth studio album, The Cross of My Calling, which was unique in that it was produced by Rick Rubin (producer of Red Hot Chili Peppers, Johnny Cash, Beastie Boys, Run-D.M.C, Metallica, Slayer and Linkin Park) and created in the same Sunset Sound studio where The Doors recorded most of their albums.
So, what have T(I)NC been up to lately, since the release of the album?
Actually we´ve been on tour for nearly a year now, after the release. We went around Sweden this spring and then toured throughout Europe during the summer. So our China visit is actually the final thing, the rounding up of one year of touring.
And how come you’re coming to China? Is it the first time?
No, it´s the fourth time for me, and the third time for the band. The funny thing is that we actually went to China back in the day when we started, eleven years ago. We released our first album, played back home in Umeå for a while, and then we went directly to China. So, our first real tour was in China. And it was all just shit exiting, so inspiring, and such big contrasts! I think we all just fell in love with China after that first time.
It was very special back then, because we were the first western rock band to be playing there, so people reacted in a to us in a totally different way then we were used to. All of us had been playing in bands before, we were all tired of touring, so going to China was so inspiring. Just the way the audience reacted was something totally new.
How is that, what did they do?
Oh but they were laughing, they thought we were funny, most truly cause we were jumping around, and wore funny clothes and stuff. It was so different, really a culture chock. You know, when you´ve been in the rock world for a while, in time that world becomes very safe and familiar. And then you arrive somewhere where that way of thinking just doesn´t exist. But people got inspired, later on people contacted us saying that after our concert they had started to play themselves, created their own bands.
So with all this in mind, when we got the question if we wanted to come to China again, even if it wasn´t gonna give that much money, all of us just said “Yes!” directly.
And you have four concerts on your touring plan?
Yep, four gigs in total, one in Shanghai, then in some place that I think is called..Chengdu..? And then we have two concerts in Beijing. One of the Beijing gigs is at this event called Modern Sky Festival.
How long are you planning on staying?
Me and my base player leave earlier, cause both my brothers live in Beijing so we´re visiting them. In total it´ll be ten days in China.
Are you going to have time to see and experience anything other than the stages and hotel rooms?
Yea, since it´s ten days, and only four gigs, we´ll have lots of time to just muck about and be super touristy. Unfortunately we only have one day in Shanghai, but I believe that if you have the will, it always use to work out. Even if you only have one day, in some way you still manage to do soundcheck, give interviews, play the gig, AND see the Eiffel Tower.
How was your latest album received?
Well, we got good reviews in Europe, but not in USA. And in Sweden, we never really get as big as we want to.
But still you are really extremely wellknown and appreciated within political, left wing circles.
If you’re alternative yes. But like, if you think, we produced this new album with Rick Rubin, but we still haven´t gotten the attention that one could imagine that other bands would get. I think it might be because, once you´ve had a band long enough, people stop caring after a while. Maybe it could have gone better for us. I mean, we´re friends with bands who have become “svenniga”, (“Swedy” – meaning: appealing to the average Swede), popular. Like with The Hives, I mean, The Hives used to be the opening band for us.
Yes it was quite surprising there back in 2000 when The Hives raced past you and all of a sudden became huge.
Yes it was, and I think success has so much to do with being at the right place at the right time. It´s all about the play/game of circumstances. But also, I sometimes used to say that actually, when it comes to The Hives, we didn´t have any I hate to say I told you so – song. But, I dont wanna sit here and say we have failed, not at all.
How was it to produce this new album in the same studio as The Doors once recorded their songs?
Oh it was exciting. I mean it wasn’t only the Doors, but also Stones and Led Zeppelin. Also Billy Preston, who worked with Beatles. The place smells of rock history, and its fun to be able to connect one´s own life with all the things you´ve been reading about.
How´s the album selling going for you?
Not as good as before, it´s totally different to be in the music business nowadays compared to just 10-15 years ago.
Yes, what is your opinion on file-sharing, really?
Well, this is of course a question one could talk about for four hours, but ok, I´m gonna do a quick resumé: In the beginning, I saw a political idea in file-sharing, the act of sharing with one another, like a grass root idea that could challenge the dominating record industry. But in reality, when it comes to Pirate Bay, thats mere new liberalism. It´s not at all socialism. The people behind PB is just a pack of geezers in goat beards who want to get things for free. Socialism is about solidarity, womans rights, union rights – but the Pirate Party, promoting themselves with the slogan “We like internet”…no thats just really being a bunch of buffoons. They have no political base, no substance.
Me saying this as a musician is not about being greedy. But there are artists that make ridicuolus amounts, several millions for one concert. Sure, I would like to be able to give away my music, but it also has to do with how you treat cultural workers, and that´s a thing the Pirate Party doesn´t care about. As an artist this situation is tricky, you´re squeezed in between an egoistic record industry and an egoistic Pirate Bay. The only way of handling it, is to make sure you stay afloat. People are saying “You get most money by playing live”.
The problem is that leads to a situation where every band in the world is out playing live all the time, meaning, less people come to the concerts, meaning, less money. But, now, since Pirate Bay got shut down in Sweden, we see interesting alternatives popping up, like Spotify and such. It benefits both the artist and the people. Since the new IP-law came, people have actually started buying music again.
But, well, since I live out on the countryside with a crappy internet connection, I guess it´s a bit of a non-issue for me.
Do you know anything about your audience here in China?
I don´t know. We don´t have any fanbase in China. The thing we can refer to is our earlier concerts, when we heard afterwords that people got inspired to start their own bands. And, in contrast, most often when we play the audience have seen a million rock bands before, standing with their arms crossed. But Chinese people are like: “Yes! Yes!” But of course, the time we played the audience was all Chinese. China has changed so much just during these ten years. I guess now there´s lots of rich Americans who´s only there to earn lots of money.
For someone who has never heard you guys play, how would you describe The (International) Noise Conspiracy, both in terms of sound and the concept surrounding the band?
I would say, “A groovy, souly, messy, 70´s-rock with its roots in punk, both musicwise and when it comes to the attitude. An explosive, socialistic rockband”.
Do you keep up your political spark?
Yes. It´s never been an image, we came from the left movement when we started. But as you grow older you see more of the economical patterns. You´re not 21 and live off noodles anymore, now you have a car, a house – you understand more how the economy is affecting your life.
Sometimes T(I)NC is known only as the political band, and that can be a little tiresome. But the latest album is very political, in every way possible. I was talking to a friend the other day, who said, that, when you´re young it´s more about punching outwards, as you get older you punch inwards. You look at yourself thinking “how am I living my life”. It might be releasing but also a burden. On the one hand, without the politics I wouldn´t be where I am, but it has also made things hard. You look back and see: “is this how thing´s are looking”. I´m 37 years old now, and I can´t just write songs saying “The police is stupid”.
How does this show on the album? The song “Assasination of Myself” is about this tendency of “looking inward”, right? And about picking apart the male identity?
Yes, as a thinking, intellectual being, you´re uncomfortable with the whole male role. But, the album also has also songs about war politics and such.
Speaking of which, what are your feelings about China’s politics?
Well, of course it feels kind of weird to go as a socialist to a country that calls itself socialistic… going to China… I mean, you´re like “it´s not quuiiite what we signed onto, was it?”. We wouldn´t really be able to wear a red star during the concert, and we might not play Under a communist moon.
If you were living as a musician in China, how would do you think you would go about if you wanted to make openly government critical music?
Well, we have a lot of friends in China who makes music like that and copes ok. Chinese is also a different song language. You have to use humor and rewritings. In all times there have always been ways to go around it. And besides, government officials aren’t that smart that they understand art and culture anyway. It´s not like you´re gonna scream “Mao, you´re stupid!”.
Before a concert, do you set the play list in advance, or are you flexible?
We´re very flexible. We decide just before.
And what about the clothes? Can you reveal what you are planning to wear this time?
If this was the tabloid press describing us, they would say we look like a gang of bikers. It´s a very masculine outfit. But then again, earlier we had purple ruffled shirts, so, I guess it evens out.
When it comes to that, does the very aggressive, masculine and status filled role that you guys have on stage match up with in the same time being a feminist?
When we go up on stage, it´s like acting, it´s a show. It´s the whole package, how we move, what we sing. It´s one hour of entertainment. That´s one of the things in being a creative being.
You always do crazy stage moves, do you ever test them out in advance?
No, they come by themselves. And then, we´ve had a lot of time to train cause we´ve been playing so much. But sure, sometimes you see other bands doing cool stuff, and you´re like “hm, that´s maybe something i should try..?”
Do you hurt yourself?
No. Sometimes. Well, of course you´re not 20 anymore.
One last question, are you all still straight edge?
Nej. Not anymore. Back, then ten years ago, all of us were vegans. That´s just how it was. Now, two in the band are eating fish, so they are some sort of half vegetarians. Me and Inge are still vegans. And hey, that´s one of the best things with China: there´s so much awesome food! So, yea, over there, I´m gonna buy myself something tailored-made, and enjoy the great food.