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DIY – or die...

Deportees

They cross musical genres, are media savvy and emerged from a Do-It-Yourself culture. Join us on a fascinating journey through the artists, musical styles, venues and creativity of Umeå. Find out what drives them and what environment shaped them. How a city gains an identity and an atmosphere thanks to genre-busting artists.It’s about more than music.

“I spoke to mum on the phone and she said she had a little tear in her eye when she read the review..."

We meet on the steps of Scharinska Villan in Umeå. Deportees and their entourage are on their way to their release party and the press reviewers have collectively surrendered to the new single Islands & Shores, heaping every kind of praise on it.

“I spoke to mum on the phone and she said she had a little tear in her eye when she read the review...”

And without consciously trying, Peder Stenberg appears to have harnessed one of rock music’s most important but also most secret motivators: to bring a tear to your mother’s eye.
This is a deeply honest, extremely moving and – here and now – really liberating moment.

A minute later, we’re surrounded by friends, fans, journalists and colleagues. There is a warm and upbeat buzz around us. Backs are slapped, drinks downed, gossip shared and on stage Umeå artists such as Syket, Annika Norlin and Jakob Nyström take turns performing their own interpretations of Deportees songs. Annika does The Doctor In Me, causing all the guys, and at least half the girls, in the audience to instantly fall in love.

Numerous journalists make a beeline for Peder and the most common question is about the band’s political ambitions. Things were different when the previous disc came out – despite the title, Under The Pavement A Beach, being inspired by Paris during the student protests, few people understood the political dimension in the band’s music. That time around, Peder was not happy.

“We have our roots in the hardcore punk scene of the 1990s and we haven’t given up on the values we had then. I may not write in political slogans, but I think it’s perfectly clear what the lyrics are about and whose perspective we’re taking.”

And that energy from the punk era and the ever-present DIY spirit can come in useful in many different contexts. Like when, a few years ago, original bassist and childhood friend Jonas decided to quit at the same time as some dim-witted bean counter at the record company decided to slim down the product catalogue and drop the band.
“We really did have every reason to give up, but instead we decided to carry on, sinking our own money, that we really didn’t have, into recording new material. It was commercial madness, but we drew on that feeling we had from our hardcore time. We did it because we wanted to and could, not because someone else expected anything from us.”

And now there ended up being six different companies vying to release the new disc. Ironically, the old company was one of them, and it was actually to them that Deportees eventually returned.
“It maybe goes without saying that we have a much better deal this time around,” laughs Peder.

We have to appreciate the value of these bands, who are representing Umeå in Sweden and the world.”

David Sandström

I move on towards the bar in this remarkable and rather bizarre old villa with its hard-to-define architectural style, with its dark panelling, whole rooms clad in Spanish/Moorish tiling, winding staircases, surprising nooks and heavy, hand-carved doors bearing decorations that have dark tales to tell. Once a donation to the university’s embryonic students’ union, this is now a classic rock club.

Many of the people I talk to come back to the importance of the Scharinska for Umeå as a city of music. Having a professional stage to play on. A rock club to hang out at. A bar to drink in. It seems to be a must for raising music out of the student ghetto.
For several years now, the Scharinska has been run by Jonas Svedin and Fredrik Fagerlund (the latter with his roots in The Facer and guitarist with dinosaur rockers Diamond Dogs).

“Everything we do comes from our own heads, Jonas and me. We have a standout building and a perfectly good stage, and then what we have to do is stay sufficiently focused to make it all work. Initially, we ran with quite ‘pure’ acts, but now we’re noticing that the audience is happy for us to mix it up a little. It’s so cool to see the diehard soul brothers who’ve been hanging out downstairs come up and listen to a metal band and actually like them...”


Fredrik and Jonas have an extraordinary network of contacts and know to give people some leeway where necessary, allowing exciting and innovative talent the space to grow even if it doesn’t pay from the off.
“If I had to pinpoint one of the advantages of working in Umeå, it’s that people work together and help each other out. If you need help with something, all it takes is a couple of phone calls. People are always lending and borrowing stuff, and fixing things for each other.”

It’s hard to say where this attitude comes from, but Fredrik has an idea.
“I think it’s about socialisation. Young people today have, in many cases, grown up with parents who are positive towards culture in its widest sense. There’s a cultural liberalism in Umeå that has to do with the university. Sport is big everywhere – including here – but in Umeå culture is just as big.”

Kicki Fagerlund

“I’m an incomer, like so many others. It’s true of around half the city’s population and that creates a special kind of openness.”

Fredrik’s sister Kicki Fagerlund is a prime example. The spark was lit for her when Umeå became national radio station P3’s pop capital of the year in 1997 and it was awash with musicians. She was too young to go to the gala itself, but she hung around in the foyer for days, watching everyone setting up before the performances.
“I knew there and then that this was something I wanted to do too.”


And she has, with rockhard queer darlings The Koo-Koos, the solo project Brita Kristina, the music organisation She’s Got The Beat, Popkollo and a myriad events, club nights and projects. Activism and entrepreneurship are closely intertwined in her life. As is her love of music.

Tomas Wennström is a Social Democrat and chairs Umeå Cultural Administration. He has been a speech writer for former party leader Mona Sahlin and leader writer for local newspaper Västerbottens Folkblad. Among other things. We meet one autumn morning at Café Schmäck. Tomas wants his usual latte, but the espresso machine is broken, so we make do with filter coffee and ordinary milk. We sit at the table nearest the window, looking out onto the street. Umeå Fashion Week is in full swing, but there is little evidence this morning.

Umeå’s practical all-weather jackets, on a colour scale from dark grey to black, rule on the pavement outside. Not exactly daring. Not exactly fashion.
Tomas waves to people passing by. I fill the cups and get ready to ask a really pretentious question. But it is actually something I’ve been giving some thought to: What is it that makes Umeå Umeå?
It seems that Tomas has considered it too.

“I think a couple of things are key. For one thing there has long been a kind of strong citizens’ movement with its roots in the popular movements of the last century. Look at Ordenshuset just next-door, for example. It was built so that ordinary people, who had no place in the soirées of the bourgeoisie, had somewhere to gather. And the platform was shared by the temperance movement, the Free Church and the labour movement. A kind of radical, boundaryless liberalism was established here and it lives on in Umeå.”

Tomas himself came to Umeå from Kiruna in the 1970s because “it was the place to be”. Looking back, it can be hard to understand exactly what it was like at that time. At first glance, Umeå was just a small, sparsely populated town, strewn along the riverbank, plonked down on the Västerbottland tundra. Low wooden buildings, a large and desolate gravel square as a bus station and a nightlife that comprised a Chinese restaurant with wall-to-wall carpet on the main street and a frost-damaged dive for drunks up by the train station.

“If I had to pinpoint one of the advantages of working in Umeå, it’s that people work together and help each other out.”

Frida Selander

However, things started happening away from the centre. The university in Umeå had been built according to the American model with its own campus, where small theatre groups, political groups, pubs and street parties started popping up here and there. Then came the demonstrations, sit-ins and, yes, riots.

When the little grove of trees in the student housing area of Ålidhem was set to be felled to make way for a school for the growing population, people rose up in opposition and, in a rather northern Swedish kind of intifada, threw snowballs at the police, who had been mobilised to protect the men with chainsaws.


The disturbances echoed through the national media and for anyone who was young and radical in 1977 Umeå was where it was at. It was the place to be. It was where things were happening.

 “I’m an incomer, like so many others. It’s true of around half the city’s population and that creates a special kind of openness.”

There’s no long-standing majority around to say ‘this is how we’ve always done things’. People are free to create their own context, their own agenda and their own solutions. There is a relatively unfettered attitude towards traditions and social codes. A cultural radicalism, if you will. And Tomas will.

“I’d say it’s when the old ideals of the popular movements meet these new cultural radicals that things happen. In the spaces in between. In these little gaps where nothing is really defined or set in stone, that’s where the small cultural and social leaps forward are made.”
They are often invisible at the time, but so obvious looking back.
“For me, the Korsväg ’95 project was a clear example of this.”

Korsväg was actually a collaboration between Umeå’s highly active local theatre company and the national theatre of Sweden, Riksteatern. A number of performances brought artists from around the world to the local audience. A series of talks and workshops ran in parallel and I have heard others apart from Tomas refer to Korsväg as raising the mental bar for the city’s culture-loving public.

As leader writer on Västerbottens Folkblad, he wrote in 1997 that “Umeå became P3 Pop Capital DESPITE the politics...”. Today he is the politics.
“We have to appreciate the value of these bands, who are representing Umeå in Sweden and the world. And we also have to appreciate the value of a guy like Stefan at Burmans record store, who has such an in-depth knowledge of the music scene that he can always pick out what you didn’t even know you wanted. That’s what Umeå’s pop life is all about – openness and quality.”

"She´s gorgeous, she´s pop perfection and she´s Swedish"

The question of quality is one that Dennis Lyxzén also brings up.
“I’m not sure I agree that people in small towns play in bands just because there’s nothing else to do. However, I do agree that people in small towns probably rehearse more, as there are fewer distractions. That must be why we sound so bloody good, hahaha...”

The warmth of late summer is still lingering over the capital and we find a table outside. People stroll by and occasionally turn their heads as they pass. There are few music fans under the age of 50 who do not have some sort of connection with Dennis Lyxzén. He was once a permanent fixture of the Swedish hardcore scene with Step Forward, Refused and Final Exit, and then there was The (International) Noise Conspiracy, The Lost Patrol and Invasionen.
Not to mention a thousand part-time and side projects.

We talk about how it all started in the 1990s, when little Umeå was in the blaze of the rock world’s spotlight for a few years. When the global names appeared. When schools served vegan lunches, Scan’s livestock trucks burned and the council thought we should lock up those who graffitied McDonald’s. And throw away the key.
“Never underestimate Galaxen.”

To the uninitiated, that might sound like some weird quote from an episode of Star Trek. For those who were there, however, it is a simple truth. Galaxen was a youth centre in the heart of Umeå – an old wooden community centre, sandwiched between two busy main roads. The tired rooms and halls were where young people went to play table tennis, cards and pool, drink coffee, laugh and make out. Outside was the place to practise love bites and sneak a weak beer. So far so normal. But for a few years Galaxen was also something else.

“It crops up when you least expect it – the old DIY spirit. Being able to decide for yourself and create your own arena and form of expression.”

It might just be that the right people met each other at the right time, because when those first kids burst into the office of the recreation leaders with an idea of organising a hardcore concert, they immediately got the green light.

Initially, they were overseen with the gentle supervision and pride of a loving mother. Look how clever they are, organising a proper gig with almost no help!

Musiken

But the hardcore gigs at Galaxen would morph into something no-one had expected. Over a few crazy years, the hardcore scene exploded around the world. And for the most committed of the genre’s genres – the Straight Edge movement – Umeå and Galaxen were the place of choice, as bands from across Sweden, Europe and the US held concerts practically every weekend. Audiences travelled from far and wide and a large, vibrant domestic scene also emerged, with local bands making a name for themselves further afield. As such, the Galaxen years took on an almost mythical status for those who were there. Few artists or bands in Umeå have been able to ignore the influence of the hardcore years and the Straight Edge movement.

The success of the hardcore scene spurred on others. Record company NONS, with pop acts such as Komeda and Ray Wonder, always had an international focus and they found themselves dispatching consignments of records to Japan, faxing the US and negotiating with German club owners, all from their little office in the district of Öst på Stan. At the annual NONS parties, you could mingle around the vegan buffet with Japanese TV crews, top British producers and genuine popstars. Umeå felt truly international on those nights, and it is hardly surprising that invitations were chased with vulgar zeal.

“It’s no exaggeration to say that Umeå fosters many rock bands. I’ve been rehearsing in the same place since 96. We worked out recently that seven bands who rehearsed here have also toured in the US. That’s just from one rehearsal studio! I myself have issued over 30 records with various bands through my little home business. That’s just the way we are. Don’t wait – go for it...”

There is no question that Dennis is Umeå’s biggest international pop star, no matter how much he wants to distance himself from such banal epithets. As long as he remains good-looking, rockstar thin and dressed in black, always out touring with one of his bands and being cheered on the streets of Los Angeles, Berlin and London, he will just have to accept it. So why does he live in Umeå? Has life as an exile never appealed?

 “It really hasn’t. I think it’s a matter of pride. It’s about showing that the provincial has something to offer. Of course, there’s also the social side of things, this is where my real friends are.”
The fact is that not even Umeå is provincial enough. Like Frida Hyvönen, David Sandström and others, Dennis has moved out into the Västerbotten countryside.

 “It’s partly a question of money. As a freelancer, I have a ridiculously inconsistent income so it’s good to have low fixed outgoings. Out in the country I can have a home, a studio and a guest house for the same money as a small apartment in town.”
Also, the fact that he is out on tour 100-150 days a year may well fulfil any desire for urban life, crowds and intensive social contact. And there are other advantages to living in a small place.

Tove Styrke

“Ring, ring!...”
“Hello?”
“Hi, it’s Tove.”
“Hi Tove. So good to get hold of you.”

To get this conversation to happen, there’s been a whole lot of to-ing and fro-ing of emails and phone calls, at least one annoying and – eventually – one good press officer. After Sweden’s TV talent show Idol, Tove stepped back a bit and caught her breathe, but since then it’s been full on, and The Big Record Company is shielding and protecting its star with a level of responsibility that is bordering on paranoia. However, when she does call, it’s all cool and she has plenty of time, with no diva behaviour at all.

“Haha, well you don’t get many divas from Umeå.”
Says the one who went, if not from a hairbrush in front of the mirror, then at least from the school hall at Midgårdsskolan to a million viewers on TV4, international credibility and huge tours.

“It’s no exaggeration to say that Umeå fosters many rock bands. I’ve been rehearsing in the same place since 96. We worked out recently that seven bands who rehearsed here have also toured in the US.”

We chatted a little about what inspired her to take up music. With a dancer for a mother and a musician father, there is clearly something in her genes, and she says how dad Anders always had instruments at home and she started working her way through the songbooks. But she also danced, acted in amateur dramatics and sang in a gospel choir. A classic Swedish education then, with performing arts classes and clubs after school. And then there were the inspirational figures along the way.

“We had Birgit Lindberg as our music teacher. I was full of respect for her, she was so great and so cool.”
That she was. The Birgit Lindberg she is talking about was once house pianist at renowned Stockholm venue Nalen, played with Gunnar “Siljablue”, Sture Nordin, Monica Nielsen and Svante Turesson, and on her website she sits at the piano with a cigarette in her mouth being exactly that: inspiringly cool.

We talk about the Idol competition and I can hear Tove trying to mobilise all her new training in diplomacy. The symbiosis between the TV4 competition and the entertainment pages of the tabloids has an unpleasant side-effect: everything gets blown out of proportion and a careless word can generate weeks of hysterical headlines. Tove has succeeded in the difficult task of erasing the Idol prefix and becoming just Tove Styrke, with a following beyond the Idol audience.
“She’s gorgeous, she’s pop perfection and she’s Swedish,” as the New York Post wrote in its piece on the ones to watch.

Caotico och Tove Styrke

“After Idol, I went home to Umeå and did nothing for a bit. It felt like that’s what I physically needed at that time. I’m really not complaining, because my time on Idol was so much fun and I learned so much, but it was about performing, playing new roles every week, and in the end it gets a bit hard to remember who you are. Particularly if, like me, you’ve always tried to trust your feelings.”

And what about today, with records and tours under her belt and an international launch in full swing, how much of that is corporate strategy and how much is “feeling”?

One example of “feeling” is the web format A Thousand Copies – short documentaries where we get to follow Tove in various situations off stage, without commentary and, as far as anyone can tell, really authentic and unscripted. Nikeisha Andersson, super-gifted young photographer and friend of Tove’s, was actually on the tour to sell merchandise, but they started experimenting by putting together little spontaneous videos and suddenly found they had a format that would come to be copied by many others.

“It’s been so great because I’ve got a direct channel to those who like my music that I never had before. That’s just between us.”
It crops up when you least expect it – the old DIY spirit. Being able to decide for yourself and create your own arena and form of expression.

“And for the most committed of the genre’s genres – the Straight Edge movement – Umeå and Galaxen were the place of choice.”

Caotico

“I know there are many people who have problems with the major record companies, not least fellow Idol contestants, but I think things are going really well with Sony. They know I take many of my own initiatives and they support me when necessary and stay in the background at other times. At the moment, we’re in a slightly calmer period and we’re working just about in parallel.”
“You choose your battles?”
“And win my wars, haha...”

There is some kind of evening marketing party for the glasses brand E&E upstairs in the otherwise closed shopping centre.


Before 7 pm it is lunches, lattes and a sea of pimped-up baby buggies and yummy mummies that rule here, but now the lights are low and the counter is full of the sponsor’s beer and people are in more of an evening mode – there is perhaps even a hint of a club feel.

On the decks, three young men mix 90s music. Effortlessly cool, dressed in black, adorned with necklaces and sunglasses. This is Caotico, who are doing a DJ set, and it is so typical that I should find them here. Our paths cross at a party for industrial designers (DJ) a couple of days later and in the weeks before at a Södermalm club (live act) where half of the Stockholm it-girls swarmed around them, along with media folk, record company representatives and all sorts of rumours – as always happens when the denizens of central Stockholm catch a scent. Caotico is the talk of the town and everyone seems to want a piece of Erik and Joel Dunkels and Alexander Juneblad.

Although they’re navigating their way smoothly around all the attention, it’s hard not to notice that they’re fighting to keep their feet on the ground.
“Sorry I was so slow emailing back, but there are so many people who want things from us at the moment.”
It is Joel who starts by apologising for a bone of contention: I want a separate photo session and they want me to use the official press photos. No biggy. We find some sofas where we can talk relatively undisturbed.

“In Umeå people shared their notes with everyone, in Lund people tear pages out of the books in the university library so that no-one else can read them...”

Joel Dunkels

In many ways, Caotico’s is the typical rock band story of old. Joel and Erik were in a glam punk band called Industri Royal together. It was a competent and homogeneous band that got some attention but hardly blew people away. Some of their self-penned songs didn’t feel right for the band’s concept so they contacted producer and hip hop beat master Alexander “Academics” Juneblad, to see whether he could dress the songs in the right outfit. “No problem,” said Alexander, “but I want to be part of the band.”

There wasn’t originally supposed to be a band, but once the songs were recorded they sent them around a few record companies and most of them said they wanted to sign the new band...
“We were taken by surprise a bit and didn’t really know what to do, but a friend, Micke who plays in Syket, recommended Baseline, a Sony label, and that’s who we went with.”

First single Back of My Head immediately went onto the P3 radio playlist and the recent duet with Tove Styrke, Brains Out, has had masses of views on YouTube.
“There was someone at Tove’s label who played it to her and she loved it, that’s how it came about. She came back to Umeå and we recorded the song. But she was such a perfectionist that we had time for loads of coffee and long walks with my dog...”

Things are moving quickly for Caotico. Many are surprised that the old glam punks can make such slickly produced pop.
“But we like pop! And we like really going for it, and Caotico is a bit like... a bit like an old porn club, maybe: wallpaper, overstuffed furniture, proper rugs and paintings...”
“And stuffed animals,” adds Alexander.

What to an outsider may seem like some sort of musical schizophrenia is actually a typical phenomenon in smaller cities. Lots of bands and few musicians. And in Umeå, where the genre boundaries are not particularly sacrosanct, it is not at all surprising that Alexander is talking about dancy club pop and stuffed porn animals this evening, while at the same time being the producer behind the grimy underground hip hoppers Trainspotters, who are playing later.
“We’re all very different as band members,” says Joel.

“In bigger cities it may be easier to gain a following, but as we see it – if we can set up club nights, so can others, if we can print a T-shirt, so can others. We just want the scene to grow and grow.”

While he wants to push on and is restless and impulsive, Alexander is the one who can sit in the studio all night, tinkering with a bridge. And Erik is the one who will tell his brother to calm down and Alexander to go home and get some sleep.
“Joel and I had a guitar-playing dad who always said that you can do anything with just three chords,” comments Erik.
“And I had a piano-playing mother, which is why I want a thousand chords,” laughs Alexander.

It is hard to be left alone in the club, with people coming up and saying hello, giving their congratulations and asking what’s next. Erik is least comfortable with the attention, while Alexander happily leans back in his armchair and Joel pulls his Ray Bans down his nose and chats with all and sundry.
I follow them backstage to the dressing room where Invasionen, who are going on before them, are hanging out.

Invasionen

The talk naturally gets onto journalists, and then onto the best questions they’ve ever been asked. Of course, Dennis Lyxzén has had the most and suggests that the journalist who started the interview with the slightly odd question: “Just how drunk do you think I am right now?” takes the prize. Someone else reminds him that he was asked whether he would eat a burger for SEK 3 billion, and Dennis admits that he would.

“What about for 30 million?” proposes Joel.
“That’s a bit of a leap from 3 billion to 30 million, isn’t it?”
“Yes, but I read somewhere that 30 million is enough to fit out a private army and instigate a state coup...”
The revolutionary smiles. Backstage humour in Umeå.

Hannes Sigrell staggers into the club on crutches, but in a good mood. The great gig in Oslo is the cause of both the crutches and the grin. Opinions differ on just how it happened, but for a longstanding skateboarder they are just an everyday accessory.

Oslo has been Hannes’ home town for a while and IKEA is paying the rent. But he frequently returns to Umeå, where partner in crime Erik Hörstedt still lives and works. Together they are Trainspotters – an established name among the abundant figures who make up underground Swedish hip hop. To an outsider, this scene can seem like an almost impenetrable mass of mix tapes, aliases, tees, club nights, collaborations and mutual references. And to some extent, that is the intention.

“There wasn’t originally supposed to be a band, but once the songs were recorded they sent them around a few record companies and most of them said they wanted to sign the new band.”

Trainspotters

Erik and Hannes (alias Rewind/ERK and George Kaplan), together with DJ and producer Academics, aka Alexander Juneblad, form part of the loose collective Random Bastards, which also runs club nights, makes RB-TV, films skateboard and snowboard videos, acts as management and basically does whatever comes up, and lots of it.
When we meet in September they have already produced over 60 club nights since the beginning of the year.
“In bigger cities it may be easier to gain a following, but as we see it – if we can set up club nights, so can others, if we can print a T-shirt, so can others. We just want the scene to grow and grow,” says Erik.

I don’t know whether it has anything to do with the size of the city, but the attitude is recognisable. On the train, I got talking to a girl who studied in Umeå, but moved home to Skåne and Lund.

“In Umeå people shared their notes with everyone, in Lund people tear pages out of the books in the university library so that no-one else can read them...”
She may have been generalising just a touch.

Hannes and Erik frequently talk over each other. Alexander is a little more reserved, but as the conversation turns to all the city’s hip hop fans, he jumps back in.
 “We’re not just typical hip hoppers, we skateboard, snowboard, make films, club nights, tees. If we have an idea for a tee, we can get it made in an afternoon with Gröna Tryck.”
 “It’s possible to do so much, and it doesn’t have to cost that much. You can do things on your own terms, and I think that’s the biggest thing about Umeå,” says Erik.

“What to an outsider may seem like some sort of musical schizophrenia is actually a typical phenomenon in smaller cities. Lots of bands and few musicians.”

And Hannes chips in too:  “The really good thing about coming from a small city is that you’re surrounded by friends – not fans. Everyone is welcome up on stage!” This is a message that appears to have got through if you look at the carpet-bomb of Trainspotter clips online. In many ways, they represent the first generation who have the same punky relationship with all kinds of new media that their parents’ generation had towards music.

 “It sounds a little clichéd but we do whatever we want. Yes, Sony are welcome to call at any time, but it will have to be on our terms,” says Hannes, as he clears his plate and offers me a patented Kaplan smile that hints at just how tricky that would be... for Sony. He goes on to talk about the new project: “It’s a bit like a radio theatre in the form of a hip hop album. It’s loosely based on my own life, sort of, from my early ears in Lund and growing up in Umeå, to what’s happening now. And we’re issuing it in the form of a specially designed Zippo lighter with a USB memory stick.”

Scharinska

The message is clear: “Light a fat one, sit back and listen...” And how is the albeit culturally radical, but still fairly controlled and healthy, city of Umeå reacting to such a keen interest in botany?  “Haha, I think most people are smart enough to see the difference between my alter ego George Kaplan and myself. George Kaplan is extreme and in your face and he’s all about forbidden herbs, but equally about forbidden texts, thoughts and behaviours. George questions things...”

A few hours later: Kaplan and Erk have delivered northern Swedish underground to an audience that is equal parts enthusiastic and perplexed; just like it usually is at genre-busting gigs where bands with different audiences meet and collide.

But the night is not over, Random Bastards and Linus Andersson from Lampray, who has documented the whole evening, have still to première their latest skateboarding film. While the indie kids slink away to the ironic table tennis table at the other end of the venue, the film is screened to the diehard fans. Trainspotters’ DJ, Jonas, leans over and shouts in my ear: “You really should meet Marc!”

Marc Strömberg

I know, I should meet Marc. It’s not the first time I’ve heard that and we’ve set up a meeting despite his extremely busy schedule. Marc Strömberg is a musician of sorts, specifically a drummer. But his fame has come from elsewhere, as a graphic designer, fanzine editor, project instigator, filmmaker... a kind of Renaissance man in punk clothing. Quick and bold and single-minded and ridiculously productive, in the way that only people who aren’t nursing children or a hangover can be. Marc is one of the old Straight guys who stick to an entirely drug-free and vegetarian lifestyle.

“I find it hard to be away from here for long periods.”

“98 per cent of what I do comes from there,” he explains when we finally meet up. And the “there” he is talking about is the rather unique scene for hardcore, punk and straight edge that dominated Umeå during Marc’s formative years. It’s early on a Friday evening and the rest of the city is enjoying an end-of-week beer or gearing up for a relaxing evening at home. I meet Marc at the now deserted events office where he hires a desk.

In 2009 Marc made his sudden and unexpected foray into the global media spotlight (see the New York Times and Newsweek) when he launched the third issue of his constantly reinvented fanzine Tare Lungt. Having published the first issue as a classic magazine and number two as a poster, he decided that issue three would be tattooed on his own leg...

Tare lugnt issue 3

The media presented it as a cool PR stunt, but nothing could be further from the truth. For those who follow Marc’s work, putting the magazine on his body was simply a logical artistic act. Music, his own creativity, his relationship with his own body and what can be stuffed into it and how it can be decorated – these are things that occupy a lot of Marc’s time. He is producing all the time, working with intense focus.

“I find it hard to be away from here for long periods. I don’t know what it would be like if I had to move the whole studio and all my materials somewhere else, but as long as it’s all in Umeå I always have to come back home.” He talks about attempts to go travelling that have ended with him returning home early, his notepad filled with thoughts, driven by a need to turn them into something that was too great a burden to carry in his rucksack. “But I don’t have some diagnosable condition, honest. I’ve checked,” he laughs.

We go through some of his recent work: The music project he’s doing with his father that’s a kind of progressive music perfect for listening to on the treadmill, a few works of art, the great fanzine where he asked his hardcore heroes around the world to philosophise on a word he gave them – a kind of ABC book, if you will.

“No-one has actually questioned the fact that I’m doing this. No-one has said I should get a ‘proper job’.”

In his home town it is also impossible to miss his output. Countless variations on the UÅ shirt (based on the classic logo of the Dodgers baseball club) have been produced and are hot property in Swedish hip hop circles. A set of fake tattoos with Umeå-based designs have also been created. “I haven’t lived in many other places. There was an idea that I might move to Los Angeles a couple of years ago, but there were issues over the work permit, so I had to think again. And I worked at an agency in Oslo for a few months, but being cooped up in an advertising agency was not for me...”

Better to have a finger in many pies. I’m sure he would kick me out if I said so, but in many ways Marc is the archetypal entrepreneur: creative, focused and hard-working. And entirely blind to what is considered the right and proper way to do things.

On the way home, I have a couple of hours to sit around at Bromma Airport, so I flick through my notes and the photos on my camera – and am struck by the picture of Marc curled up in an armchair, with his tattooed arms, his beanie hat and his newly printed punk anthology on the arm of the chair. This man has no intention of being pigeonholed.

Two White Horses

There are many who raise their eyebrows over this transgression of genres. Like when comedy team Klungan – who do Mammas Nya Kille on the radio – shared the bill at Cirkus in Stockholm with Annika Norlin’s band Säkert!. But in fact there is nothing odd about it at all, if you look at it from the inside. Lovisa Nyström, who plays with Säkert! when she’s not busy with her joint project with brother Jakob, Two White Horses, has done it before.   “I’d mostly been involved in classical music, but when Klungan did their first shows in Umeå they wanted a house band and David (hardcore legend Sandström) and Jennie (Asplund, Sahara Hotnights) asked if I wanted to come and sing and... Well, that’s how it all started for me.”

“In many ways Marc is the archetypal entrepreneur: creative, focused and hard-working. And entirely blind to what is considered the right and proper way to do things.”

Two White Horses have played as part of Record Store Day, a global event that in many small cities has developed into the artists’ love song to the cultural institution that the local record shop has been over the years. In Umeå that store is called Burmans and for several generations it has been a permanent fixture of both weekend shopping and the pop culture landscape. Naturally, the little store was packed to the rafters. The next artist to take to the stage – just one square metre at the back by “soul/funk 70s” and the cash register – was Frida Selander. She has been doing this for a while now.

”I did have all those pop star dreams once upon a time and sent demos round the record companies, hoping to be ‘discovered’,” she laughs. And it soon becomes clear that this business of discovery is something you do for yourself in Frida Selander’s world. She has released around 10 records and covered many many miles on tour. She has a loyal fanbase but there are no limousines. What drives her?

“No-one has actually questioned the fact that I’m doing this. No-one has said I should get a ‘proper job’. It’s just as acceptable to be involved in culture as anything else in this city so there’s no problem being an organiser one day, an artist the next and running a little record company on the side.”

Being slightly out on a limb, you have to create your own scene. Do it well and you might even bring a tear to your mother’s eye.


BY: BERTIL BJÖRK

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