Music From the Masses

Sweden's (International) Noise Conspiracy has more than a few things they'd like to talk about

The (I)NC (remember them?) packages its political dissent, which is broadly Marxist in a Gramscian vein, in tight little pop music formats, in songs like "Enslavement Blues," "The Subversive Sound," "Imposter Costume" and "Do I Have to Spell It Out?" (to which, apparently, the answer is "yes"). It sounds like pop, and yes it does rock well. But what the (I)NC is really intending to accomplish is what U.S. political theorist Frederic Jameson described in The Political Unconsciousness as the "bringing to the surface . . . the repressed and buried reality" of the economic and political ideologies at work within any given system.

Like the rock music industry.

4. Communism as a political ideology experienced an almost total decline in Europe in the 1990s. Are the (International) Noise Conspiracy's ideas and agendas rendered moot or outdated by this historical reality?

The (International) Noise Conspiracy: Clockwise from left, Inge Johansson, Dennis Lyxzén, Lars Strömberg, Lugwig Dahlberg and Sara Almgren.
Elin Berje
The (International) Noise Conspiracy: Clockwise from left, Inge Johansson, Dennis Lyxzén, Lars Strömberg, Lugwig Dahlberg and Sara Almgren.

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Not in the least, unless you mistakenly equate "Marxist" with "communist," which are two very different critical models. This is the howling banana-peel slip that the Allmusic Guide's Alex Henderson makes when he states in his review of Survival Sickness that "once you get past all the tired, antiquated Marxist rhetoric, you'll find that these guys deliver some incredibly infectious, if derivative, rock & roll." Dismissing the (I)NC's message as outdated is one example of hegemonic enforcement at work: Communism failed, therefore all Marxist thought is invalidated. Capitalism won. Ignore the message. Dance to the beat (which is a little "derivative," aren't those tousle-haired European bands funny and cute when they try to play rock music?).

The distinction, apart from the semantic one, is that (I)NC isn't about pushing a political agenda per se; the group merely wants listeners to think a little bit past the culture they (we) grew up in. From "I Wanna Know About U": "I wanna know about Tiananmen Square, the names and the faces of who died there/I wanna know about 1939, Spanish anarchists in our time/I wanna know about the books you're reading, and the blood that you are bleeding/I wanna know about U." Or, from "Smash It Up": "I want to smash it up for all the kids/Who got fucked up like their parents did/I want to smash it up for all my sisters/Who got caught up in this funky system."

"Manifest this repression/With smart bombs and easy listening," sings Dennis Lyxzén on "(I've Got) Survival Sickness." Are you hearing anything like this on commercial radio much? No. You're hearing Dream run through "He Loves U Not" for the blue millionth time. And you're supposed to. Ignore the message.

5. Is the (International) Noise Conspiracy's political aesthetic too esoteric to reach a wide audience? Discuss whether young punks want to learn about economic theory, or whether Alan Greenspan cares about post-punk music.

Take it away, Dennis Lyxzén.

"When people see us come up on the stage [(I)NC members wear really bitchin' Beatles suits in performance] and they hear us play, a lot of times they're like, 'Oh, yeah, I know this song. The Kinks did it 35 years ago.' But if they listen to the words, after a while they'll have to say, 'Um, no. The Kinks never sang this.' And that's the effect we want. Protest music has usually been confined to either the crusty punk scene or the peace-loving hippie scene. And we wanted to play music for people like my dad, who listened to '60s pop, and also my brother, who listens to contemporary punk rock. We wanted to package it in a certain way so that people would be hit by something they didn't expect. People everywhere by now understand basic rock music. The hard-core punk rock people usually hate us; but the political ideas we're talking about, which are not very new, we think are far too important to be confined to any one scene or genre or music."

So why not stand on a street corner, or pass out leaflets, or teach class, or go to activist meetings? Why take on this project via an essentially ephemeral form of musical expression?

"All those things, passing out leaflets or speaking at meetings, it's all good. But we do this well. We play music well. And if we can take that energy and passion from our politics and put that into music, and make our music that powerful and passionate, then people can understand that politics and protest and all of that can be very sexy and beautiful. And inspiring. The whole reason I got into politics was from listening to the Dead Kennedys, and other punk bands who were into talking about politics. And I went, 'Whoa, this is fucking amazing.' And maybe by doing this we can inspire people to do those things, to play music or pass out flyers or become teachers. Or just to educate themselves. That's a very important role to fill, because music is such a big part of our popular culture, and there are very few bands who are saying the stuff that we're saying."

Pause.

"It's a very pretentious project," says Lyxzén, and laughs softly. "Let's not lie. It's very pretentious. But we don't think we're bringing The Truth to people. Just a method of analysis. I was in America a couple of times two years ago, with another band, and we talked about this stuff and people didn't like us. They were not impressed by the pinkos. So when we went over last November with the Noise Conspiracy, we were ready for that: 'Let's arm ourselves for battle.' But after every show on that tour, people came up to us afterward and they wanted to talk about all this stuff, about these political issues. And they were informed. They knew about [radical U.S. historian] Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky. I think maybe what happened in Seattle two years ago was a point of recognition for American kids; they were not only talking to us about political issues, but about political issues of the day. That made me very happy."

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