Music: Refused, THE BAND (Part 1/3)

Fuck the System in a Dozen Bursts and Chimeras

The Swedish band Refused from the northern industry town of Umeå shaped the punk scene of the 90s as well as the straight edge hardcore genre. With their masterpiece album The Shape of Punk to Come they earned pop cultural fame in epic proportions. In proper distinction to others of the branch Refused caught the very essence of punk music: politics. 

by Kilian

introduction: “a scenario of simplicity, a scenario of you and me”

We will continue […] to do everything that is in our power to overthrow the capitalist structure that alienates us from every aspect of life and living, smash the reification that forces us to dress in outdated identities and rules: we will continue to demand revolution here and now, and not in some vague future […] We want every day and every action to be a manifestation of love, joy, confusion and revolt. […] We got everything to win and nothing but our boredom to lose.” We hear the statement of a band that delivered furious and inspiring texts of this kind with each record, called manifestos, printed in the booklets of their LPs and CDs. A punk band that referred to French intellectuals such as Foucault, Baudrillard, Derrida and Debord, known as the post-structuralists or under the label of post-modernism in Western philosophy.

Refused only reached a small part of their fame whilst the band actually existed. Since the masses of listeners and the critics became definitely aware of the importance of their output, the crucial impact of their oeuvre only occurred in its afterlife. The final manifesto announcing their break-up in 1998 was signed with “REFUSED ARE DEAD – LONG LIVE REFUSED”, as if there was an unperceived force that already anticipated their heritage to come, not far from the “self fulfilling prophecy” they talked about in the first sentence of their farewell.

band history: “worthless is the freedom bought”

Formed in 1991 by 19-year-old Dennis Lyxzén and 16-year-old David Sandström together with Pär Hansson and Jonas Lindgren who both left the band later on, Refused succeeded their former band project Step Forward. They grew up in the northern Swedish town of Umeå located far from Stockholm between the capital and the Arctic Circle. This dark and cold place in the midst of a mining region and surrounded by heavy industry is in fact not as grim as could be expected. It indeed has a rich cultural scene, including an opera, a visual arts museum, a well-known annual jazz festival and two universities which make the city a central research spot in Sweden. Umeå will be European Capital of Culture in 2014 to what Refused certainly had a share boosting the local punk and straight edge scene in the 90s.

After the three EPs Refused (1991), Operation Headfirst (1992) and This Is the New Deal (1993) they published their first full length album This Just Might Be… the Truth in 1994. At the time the band composed songs of harsh and not very sophisticated hardcore punk. This tendency was kept up on the 1994 EP Everlasting, as well as on the second album Songs to Fan the Flames of Discontent (1996) and the subsequent EP Rather Be Dead of the same year. The last two mentioned records developed an explicit political slant. The album name Songs to Fan the Flames of Discontent was taken from the Little Red Songbook, a collection of workers' solidarity songs collected by Swedish-American labour activist Joe Hill in 1909 and published by the internationalist anti-capitalist organization Industrial Workers of the World. This was the beginning to overturn the hardcore compositions to more experimental and avant-garde approaches that culminated in the fabulous third and final studio album The Shape of Punk to Come. Its subtitle A Chimerical Bombination in 12 Bursts hints that this 1998 record represents Refused's creative climax that should later inspire artists from all walks of life in popular music.

At this time Refused consisted of Dennis Lyxzén (voc), David Sandström (drums, melodica), Kristofer Steen (git), Jon Brännström (git, samples) and Magnus Björklund (later known as Magnus Flagge, bass, cello). The band was nominated for the Swedish Grammy in the category “best alternative hardrock band” three times in 1995, 1996 and 1998. But they neither won the Grammy nor the Swedish national radio prize for which they were nominated as “best live band” in 1997. In the last two years of activity they were signed with the Swedish indie label Burning Heart Records which popularised European and Swedish bands such as The Hives, Millencolin, Moneybrother, Turbonegro and The (International) Noise Conspiracy to world wide success.  

After a year of extensive touring the band decided to split-up in autumn of 1998 while on the road in the United States. Their last show in Harrisonburg, Virginia in October 1998 was shut down by police accompanied by the audience shouting “rather be alive” in reference to the last song played: Rather Be Dead. The year 2012 brought a surprising temporary reunion of Refused to tour festivals and play shows in Europe and the United States. New records were not held out in prospect for all band members are occupied with other musical or creative projects.


large and substantial fan page

sources of pictures