Features Music Refused (are fucking alive)

Music: Refused (are fucking alive)

Refused are fucking alive, but they’re still fucking mysterious. I’ll never forget that late Sunday night in winter 1999 when I saw the premiere of “New Noise” on MTV’s 120 Minutes. (Back then that show was the way to find out about cool bands before everyone else.) My father, who was a musician and always watched the show with me, had the reaction of “What the hell did we just watch? Where is this band from?” My reaction was similar, “Who on earth are these guys? Are they punk, hardcore, electronic?” Only after the video’s airing did we learn that the band had called it quits. I wasn’t even sure if I loved or hated the music then, but each week when I saw the video, I kept thinking how could something this earth shattering, so up-and-coming just die as quickly as it arrived?

Flash forward to the mid-2000s. Refused were namedropped as reference by too many bands to list, and it wasn’t until 2006 with the documentary Refused Are Fucking Dead that fans got a taste of the band along with the kind of tensions that ripped them a part. Honestly, the short film presented no real closure. It left many wishing we all hadn’t missed out. Growing up with punk and hardcore, and having spoken with various bands over the years, one thing I’d always hear was how somebody would give various limbs to see this band live. After years of dreaming, a much publicized reunion took place in 2012. By the end of the year, however, they were gone again.

The original idea for this story was to interview Refused. I wanted to discuss with them what to expect with the new album, what made them decide now was the time to do music again, and how they felt about moving forward. Unfortunately, they don’t do interviews. I respect that, but it’s weird considering how easy it was to meet them on their reunion tour. So the next idea was to write fans’ reactions about Refused and how they were suddenly back again. Prior to the band’s show at Washington, DC’s Rock & Roll Hotel, I attempted to speak to various folks in the crowd about their love for the band and their feelings towards the fact Freedom will be the first Refused album released in over 16 years. This simple assignment became a challenge since the venue didn’t have a photo pit for anyone covering the show. I attempted to quickly speak with whoever I could find before and between opening acts while also trying to find a decent place to take photos.

As for the opening bands, both Creepoid and Puff Pieces were really great. Not typical choices for opening for Refused, but I loved that. Creepoid, from Philadelphia, were a harder edged shoegaze band that messed with drone noises quite nicely. Puff Pieces, from DC, were quirky art punk. They reminded me of bands I would hear from Dischord Records in the late 1990s/early 2000s. It was refreshing to see underground music this vibrant and that parts of the crowd responded great to it.

With my original mission, what I discovered was either older fans had no clue about the new album or really young fans (as in they were four-years-old when The Shape of Punk to Come was released) were eager to say the band was cashing-in. What impressed me the most about everyone I talked to was the diversity of backgrounds, yet I only met two fans who were genuinely excited about Freedom.

“I already pre-ordered the album. It’s great they’re doing something more than just resting on their legacy,” this really cool brunette said to me. We quickly agreed how punk rock it is for the band to screw with everyone’s notion of what Refused is or isn’t. Unfortunately, I didn’t get her name because I had to quickly stake my claim on a decent spot for photographs. She didn’t want to get up too close to the stage which, looking back now, I don’t blame her. I had a feeling early in the evening that the absence of a photo pit was asking for trouble.

After speaking to that one fan, it took much convincing from this tall 19-year-old boy from Bowie, MD to let me stand near the stage. After I promised to put him in my story, he was like “Okay, you can be up here just for a few songs.” I thought “Thank God. I hope I get some decent shots.” I was nervous. I got right up against the stage and then realized I was the only woman in that entire row.

Standing next to me was Sawyer from Greensboro, NC. He mentioned where he was from, because it was in his town where Refused played their second to last show in 1998. Harrisonburg, VA, where they played their infamous last show in ‘98, is not too far from Washington, DC. We discussed how the band is probably well aware of that. We also wondered if maybe they wouldn’t have destructed had they been playing more than just basement shows and had better networking. It’s easy to forget how difficult touring was before things like social networking sites.

Sawyer drove to DC just for this show, which is serious dedication. He told me how he was excited for the new album and that, like me, he was about to turn 30 this summer. We were able to relate to each other just how much this one band meant to us, both in the past and present. Noticing how anxious I felt about the crowd, he said his strategy to avoid any violence was to get up as close as possible. We both agreed it was surreal how small the venue was. The idea of an intimate show is quite exciting, but I don’t think anyone was sure just how intense everything would get in a matter of seconds.

The room went dark while a weird mixture of music and radio static started playing. Refused came out to the tiny stage and ripped right into “Elektra,” the first single from the new album. It was explosive. Shit got wild fast. Both Sawyer and I were being pushed down into the stage just maybe a foot or two in front of the band. I attempted to get shots but each time I thought I was going to take a photo, I got pushed down head first and had to put my arms out to brace for impact. The monitors were just inches away from my head as I was bent over. By the time they went into the second song of the night, “The Shape of Punk to Come,” I thought maybe things would get better.

I was wrong, except now I was soaked in sweat and too cramped-in to move my feet. The force of the crowd pushing towards the stage made me lose feeling in both of my legs. I’m very used to hardcore shows being fierce and fast. I don’t even mind the bruises, but this was just miserable. In trying to keep my spirits high in this every-person-for-themselves-atmosphere, I screamed along with the song. I also hoped that maybe between songs, Dennis Lyxzen or somebody would tell the crowd to take it easy, but nothing like that was said. (Ian MacKaye would’ve done that!) In all fairness though, when Dennis took a swig from a bottle of water between songs, he then handed the water to some thirsty guy in the crowd. That simple moment at least gave me faith the brother/sisterhood of hardcore wasn’t forgotten.

Right as “Rather Be Dead” started playing, the kid who stood behind me wanted his spot back. He saw that I got thrashed around and almost smashed, but didn’t care. Instead of fighting to stay or pleading with him for one more song, I just tried to get the hell out of there as fast as possible. More guys had started stage diving (most venues in DC have banned this at shows for safety reasons) and like hell was I going to get seriously hurt or break my camera. I know it was just a show, but as I was trying to get out of the pit, I felt this extreme sadness. How could a band this vocal against issues of oppression leave me feeling like there was no place for women in the front? I tried to convince myself that maybe the madness of the crowd is what’s sucking the joy out of the moment. The band was busy playing and all the guys around me were having fun, so maybe there’s something wrong with me?

While having these thoughts rush in my head, the drummer from Puff Pieces came to my aid as I was trying to get out of there. She pulled me backstage and offered water. She and one of her bandmates were the only people who seemed concerned about my safety. Security was nowhere up front. I felt disappointed that here I was on my first assignment in years, covering one of my favorite bands, with fear that I was failing horribly.

After sipping water and catching my breath, I went to the side of the stage in hopes of getting decent shots. I noticed this female photographer leaning over amps, taking photos. When I stood beside her, She was like “You can’t stand there, I’m doing my work.” I was trying to do my work too. It’s my duty as a music journalist to bring photos and stories that will give fans something to remember. I’m suppose to take photos that are better than what anyone can do with their Smartphone, yet I had no access to decent views. I would find out later after the show that this woman who told me to buzz off was with the band.

It’s heartbreaking that the venue wasn’t prepared for such a savage crowd (my best friend Eric Matthews described the crowd in those exact words), and for a band about revolution, Refused didn’t do much to keep the show enjoyable for all fans. It was like only a select few got to enjoy it all up close. The message I got from this select few was if you aren’t willing to be brutal, then you’re going to get brutalized.

The band’s performance, despite my miserable experience, was fantastic. They were just as amazing and tight as when I saw them in 2012 at the Fillmore in Silver Spring, MD. (Full disclosure: at that show, I did willingly get in the pit and had a blast. Maybe the size of the venue had something to do with it?) I was reminded how brilliant and powerful David Sandström is on drums. The man has skill beyond words. Bassist Magnus Flagge and guitarist Kristofer Steen along with new touring guitarist Mattias Bärjed brought a heavy, yet intricate sound. There’s a reason why this band is your favorite band’s favorite band – the musicianship is glorious with a sharp, abrasive energy that transcends genres. And then there’s the always impressive lead singer Dennis Lyxzen. His performance style is unique. The man knows how to sing crazy passion into songs and he’s a hell of a dancer. During various songs, he would tease the crowd by not jumping off the stage; instead, he would stand towards the very edge. This could be viewed as a metaphor for Refused as a band: always on the edge, leaving people wondering what’s going to happen next.

“What we are in need of is…an air conditioning revolution,” Dennis jokingly said to the crowd during the first half of the set. Both audience and band members chuckled at the steamy, sweaty truth. Another amusing moment was when he introduced “Refused are Fucking Dead” by saying, “This next song is a bitter, bitter lie.” Sarcasm or not, I love this lie, because it means they’re contributing new music about today’s world, which is just as important as the ground they broke all those years ago.

As for the new songs, they definitely sounded better live than on the internet. “Elektra” was heavier, more metallic. “Francafrique” had an energetic punk fizz that was fun and catchy with great urgency. Easily better than the slickly recorded cut you can hear on YouTube. Another new song they played was the in-your-face track entitled “366.” For many, it was the first time they ever heard the song. It blended perfectly with the old material. A fourth new song entitled “Dawkins Christ” was on the setlist but got cut from the show. Why only three new tracks played? My guess is as good as yours. Another thing to be noted is that Refused definitely showed a metal side while keeping punk spirit. This was very obvious when the band played part of Slayer’s “Raining Blood” in the middle of “The Deadly Rhythm.”

Towards the end of the show, Dennis made a heartfelt speech about how cool it was to be playing within city limits of DC. He shared a story in which, as a teen, he traveled hours to see Fugazi somewhere in Sweden. He said that after the show he gave Ian MacKaye a demo tape and quickly ran out the room after asking Ian if he was still straight edge. The band ended the night with an enthralling version of “Worms of the Senses / Faculties of the Skull.” One of my favorites, even though at the moment, I wanted to change the beginning lyrics from “I’ve got a bone to pick with capitalism and a few to break” to “I’ve got a bone to pick with macho-ism…”

"This could be viewed as a metaphor for Refused as a band: always on the edge, leaving people wondering what’s going to happen next."

From what door staff at the venue told me after everything was over, Refused wasn’t a typical show for them. The impression I got was rowdy, sold-out crowds at the Rock & Roll Hotel are not the average thing. It makes sense that a crowd of 300 would feel extremely cramped in a place that would normally have a crowd half that size. Needless to say, everyone at this show was at least covered in sweat and maybe sore. The energy was infectious and we easily witnessed one of the most authentic performances possible. Shows like this are the reason we live for music. One can only hope that Refused are here to stay. Despite not getting the story I wanted, I can at least attest that the music I witnessed that night both new and old is relevant politically and sonically. Maybe someday I can have a discussion with the band. Then again, wouldn’t that end the mystery?

Credits

Words by Megan Lahman on June 18, 2015, 2:42 p.m.

Photos by Megan

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Refused (are fucking alive)

Posted by Megan Lahman on June 18, 2015, 2:42 p.m.

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