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Refused are a legendary band in the true sense of the word. Nearly 20 years after The Shape Of Punk To Come tore hardcore a new one, the Swedes released Freedom, a bold experimental LP showing they’re more than a legacy act. Frontman Dennis Lyxzén spoke to Hysteria’s Sophie Benjamin about politics, the internet and the shape of punk present.
HYS: Not only is it a time of a lot of political unrest, but it’s also roughly 40 years since punk broke. Punk itself is getting a bit middle-aged—it’s no longer an angry young man.
Dennis Lyxzén: It’s definitely not. Now it’s a lot of semi-angry middle aged men! [Laughs]. I think punk’s problem was and is that it defines itself by punk alone. To me, when I discovered punk I felt that here was an idea that allowed me to do whatever I want, to blow the fucking roof off everything. In the early 80s, that is kind of what punk was, just a free-for-all anything goes kind of deal. Then it became formulaic and people applying an identity to themselves that is neither rebellious or revolutionary or exciting.
HYS: Rules of what is punk and what is not punk came up. Like, punk has to be music in 4/4 with distorted guitars and yelling. It closes off other musical avenues.
Lyxzén: We’re so brainwashed that we need rules to dictate the terms of our lives that even in something like punk, people feel like they need rules to define themselves. That’s part of a problem with how we structure the world. You look at what is happening in America now with Donald Trump … America in the way that they are used to referring to one another means they are ripe for facism. They are so used to taking orders and wanting to follow a strong leader. You can apply that to punk as well, I think.
HYS: I think people at their core just want to know what is expected of them and it takes so much emotional energy to push outside the boundaries and define your own life. It is easier to have someone telling you what to do and why you should be doing it and when you should be doing it.
Lyxzén: It is, but that is why the world is in the shape it is in today. People are so lazy! It’s another thing I think about punk – people are not ambitious. Music is such a powerful tool. You can do whatever you want with it, but people choose the easy option and go “oh I have a mohawk so it has to be radical” and it’s like … well, you’re not that radical. If you look at America and the election. If someone offers you two sticks and says we’re going to beat you with one of these two sticks, and then people get upset that the Hillary stick didn’t win instead of thinking “why are we content with a system where these are our only options?”. We’re just lazy.
We’re so brainwashed that we need rules to dictate the terms of our lives that even in something like punk, people feel like they need rules to define themselves. That’s part of a problem with how we structure the world.
[ Dennis Lyxzén ]
HYS: And a large percentage of Americans didn’t even turn up to choose which stick they were going to get hit with!
Lyxzén: The sad part about that is that I believe that those people who didn’t vote, they are fed up with the options they are given. It’s so hard to break out of the mindset that this is the system that we have, so people just go “fuck it, I’m not going to do anything”. Of course Hillary would’ve been better than Trump, that’s obvious. It is sad that our imagination is so blocked by the propaganda of how the system works. I think a lot of people voted for Trump because they’re fed up with that, and they don’t know what else to do about it. It’s a good time for radical thoughts and ideas I guess, and music could be something that could charge people’s imagination.
HYS: Definitely. I think you guys coming back with a new album as well, after a more than a decade of hiatus, it means that you are coming back up against all these preconceived ideas of who you are as a band by your old bands and people who have discovered your older stuff during your time off. Freedom is an album that is very multi-instrumental, very groovy and very experimental. Was that a conscious choice to push back against those pre-conceived ideas?
Lyxzén: The Shape Of Punk To Come was a conscious break from what we used to be—how we perceived ourselves in relation to a certain scene. We just continued on that same path. We wanted to sound like Refused, and we wanted to work with that and see what the most exciting music we could create was and the result was Freedom. We knew what we were up against. People have been living with The Shape Of Punk To Come for like, 17 years. It had a chance to grow and become its own beast. I think if anything, we wanted to challenge our ideas of what Refused is, more than other people’s ideas.
HYS: You can’t please everyone and you certainly can’t read other people’s minds.
Lyxzén: I’ve put out a lot of records. I’ve been doing this for a long time. There comes a time where you realise you’re not interested in impressing other people. I don’t create music for other people. I love when people get it and are excited about what we do, but at the end of the day I have to live with myself and live with the choices I make, and my life is an art project from start to finish. It’s not something to do to please people. There”s something amazing about how you can’t choose what people like about your band or how they perceive your band. It can be frustrating but it is amazing that people have their own agenda of what the music represents to them. You just put out the best music you can and sometimes people love it, sometimes people are like, “fuck these guys”. There are never any guarantees.
HYS: When The Shape Of Punk To Come came out, social media wasn’t a thing. The rise of social media has sped up the whole process of connection.
Lyxzén: We live in such an opinionated culture. You put out a song and 30 seconds later, someone posts on Facebook, “your song sucks”. It’s like, have you listened to it? You know what I do when I hear an album I don’t like? I move on with my life and hope the next one is better. [Laughed].
REFUSED AUSTRALIAN TOUR WITH SPECIAL GUESTS SICK OF IT ALL AND HIGH TENSION STARTS THIS FRIDAY.
Tickets available here.
Friday 20 January – The Tivoli, Brisbane
Saturday 21 January – Enmore Theatre, Sydney
Sunday 22 January – HQ, Adelaide
Tuesday 24 January – Prince Bandroom, Melbourne
Thursday 26 January – Metropolis, Fremantle