Seminal politically-charged Swedish hardcore band, Refused, made music well ahead of its time. No debate - these guys were the real deal.
"We wanted something more than what was on offer and we gave it our best shot. It didn't pan out, we went out and played it and people didn't like it. The record was a failure and we had spent ourselves on it," reads the band's statement about The Shape of Punk to come in a post called "Boredom is Not on the Table," "Then, like a free ball at the end of a pinball game, thousands of miles away from Umeå, it found itself an audience. We should have been forgotten by now, but we're not, and why that is is near impossible to figure out. We're grateful, either way."
Refused is far from forgotten, as a new generation of fans embrace the band's definitive sound.
The band was intent on never reuniting, releasing statements like "We were hoping that we could be the final nail in the coffin of the rotten cadaver that was popular music, but unfortunately the reification was too big for us to succeed with our feeble attempts to detour this boring discourse."
That begs the question of why Refused got back together. The staunchly anti-capitalist band has received some flack for doing so, with fans calling them hypocrites and stylizing the name with euros and dollar signs. The "Boredom is not on the Table" piece says the band wants to ensure as many fans can see them as possible without wearing each other out, both physically and emotionally. "In summation: we want to play to everybody but we're not The Rolling Stones. We convey this with all due respect."
That statement makes sense in light of the band playing so many festivals after announcing reunion plans in January of this year. The U.S. dates are dwindling down, with a couple of California dates this weekend and one final hoorah at Fun Fun Fun Fest in November. The band will play in Europe and Australia, but after that, who knows what next.
At Coachella, frontman Dennis Lyxzén seemed genuinely thankful to be back on stage. He said he was reminded of why he started the band in the first place, though his initial goal was destroying capitalism in the United States.
Live, Refused was as great as I could have imagined. The band hasn't lost its edge, the sound is still as raw and visceral as it was on albums released over 15 years ago. Some of the band members look like Bond villains, but that seems like an appropriate comparison, because these guys are here to fuck with your perception.
The Shape of Punk to Come is a masterpiece urging for change. This really was the alternative to what was on the airwaves in 1998. It didn't end up being the true shape of punk to come-- seriously, how did the Hot Topic whiny crap start?-- but it did have an impact on hardcore. If Refused formed 10 years later, and say, released Shape in 2008, they would have been better received, though less groundbreaking. Though Refused was misunderstood in its hometown, the band was embraced by American audiences, even if it was packaged in a strange way.
I was first introduced to Refused when I heard "Summerholiday Vs. Punkroutine" on Epitaph's compilation Punk-o-Rama 4. This song is a little more melodic than say, "New Noise," but its urgent sensibilities set it apart from the standard Epitaph fare.
Then I heard "New Noise." I'm hard pressed to find any other songs that provide the same sense of catharsis while questioning the current state of music. The Shape of Punk to Come definitely still holds up 14 years later, just look how crazy these folks went at Coachella-
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Last year, I saw the reunited Death From Above 1979 at both Coachella and FYF Fest. I was hoping that either Refused or At the Drive-In (or both?) would follow suit, and sure enough, Refused has a headlining slot at FYF. Tickets are still available, and Los Angeles is a short six hour drive away. The members of Refused couldn't stand each other after The Shape of Punk to Come was released, so what's going to happen after a year of touring? Has the band grown enough to set their differences aside and play shows here and there, or will they revert to their old ways and go another 14 years without performing? I think it's worth the $89 to see them once more time.
Regardless of Refused's motivations, the band's reunion is a reminder that break ups aren't necessarily final-- and unfortunately, most reunions won't be nearly as solid as Refused.