Raw Punk Godfathers Anti Cimex Are Dead But Still Angry

Drummer Charlie Claeson looks back on 25 years of Scandinavian hardcore punk, his views on punk rock and anarchism, and swears there's no reunion coming.
February 22, 2018, 4:00pm
Photo courtesy of Charlie Claeson

On February 23, Dissonance Productions will unleash a mammoth 3CD set of classic recordings from the one and only Anti Cimex—the Scandinavian jawbreakers themselves, godfathers of the Swedish punk scene, d-beat all-stars, and all-around underground legends. In a way, it's fitting that the set is being issued on CD instead of fancier vinyl. CDs are now seen as a jankier, less sophisticated format, which seems to suit a band that formed way back in 1981 amidst a tsunami of cheap beer and has always regarded themselves as "raw punk," even when they found the laurels of Scandinavian hardcore heroes thrust upon them (as well as the fact that a Google search for "Anti Cimex" still turns up results for the pest control company from whom they swiped their name).

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The set—which contains 41 tracks spanning the classic Anarkist Attack, Victims Of a Bomb Raid, and Raped Ass EPs plus studio albums Absolut Country of Sweden and Scandinavian Jawbreaker—is a mammoth compendium and a tribute to a band who, despite only playing 50 live shows in their 12-year lifespan, have made an indelible mark on the language and legacy of punk's nastier permutations (and, in a way, on extreme metal's as well—the band veered down a more metallic path in its later material).

The band split up in 1986, reunited in 1990, then called it quits for good in 1993; since then, a host of quality projects like Driller Killer, Wolfpack/Wolfbrigade, and drummer Charlie Claeson's many, many projects (which he mentions below) arose from Anti Cimex's ashes. Not until now, though, 25 years after the final split, has a collection like this been made available to fans—both diehards and newjacks—who have found themselves lured in by the air raid siren's call. Anti Cimex's dark visions of the future may have first been committed to wax during the age of Cold War paranoia, but, unfortunately for us, they feel just as timely now as when they were first written.

As Cleason told me when we spoke earlier this week, "We are still angry, and the world is still fucked up."

Noisey: First off, why did you decide to release this massive collection now? We haven't seen much from you guys since 2007's demo collection. What made now the right time?
Charlie Claeson: We actually rereleased all our stuff in 2014, but on a Brazilian and Finnish label, so can imagine that those and these releases are pointed at a slightly different audience. Now is a very good time, being 25 years (March 1993) since the band was put to rest. And releasing our stuff on a label that is more than a single guy spending his saving money to release it, is kinda exciting. But to be honest, the main reason is that Steve at Dissonance records asked us!

How involved was the band in putting this together—did you take a hands on approach, or was it an idea that was brought to you?
Not so involved, to be honest. We provided the material but let the label put it all together. I think they did a fantastic job, though. Sometimes you gotta let go and let other people do the dirty work. If the band put their fingers in the work, the box probably would have been released 2023 instead of now. And if you look at our original pieces, there wasn't very much work laid down. You probably can say that we are lazy bastards!

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Anti Cimex has turned into one of the most influential punk bands in history—not a small accomplishment! How do you look back at your time in the band? What would you tell your younger self now about the chaos that was to come? Would you do anything differently?
It was of course a period in my life that was character building. I was 15 when we started, and 27 when we quit. My whole youth was Anti Cimex! It's a big part of my life! A chaotic, frustrating and wonderful time. Learning our instruments together, finding new musical ways, and creating so much music. The first years we rehearsed quite a lot, almost every weekend from Friday to Sunday. We actually spent whole weekends in the rehearsal room, which also was the room I lived in. We rehearsed, drank, talked, rehearsed, slept, and rehearsed in a constant loop. That made us very tight, both musically and personally. And to have full connection with the people you play with is a wonderful thing—in fact, the very best bit about being a musician. The only thing that can compete with it is a perfectly executed gig in front of an excited audience.

If I was the guy I am, now things would have been different. Knowing what the abuse of drugs and alcohol leads to would at least have stopped me from taking so much and drinking those enormous amounts. We would probably also have gigged a lot more than we did (we did 50 gigs in 12 years).
But being the 15-year old me, I know I hadn't given a single fuck and then done it all again!

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When did you first realize that Anti Cimex had become bigger than just the guys in the band—when it turned into a sort of musical/cultural force? You essentially helped launch the concept of Scandinavian hardcore.
It took a long, long time before I understood that people was still listening to us. About ten years after we quit, approximately. I don't think the other guys had a clue either. We were probably too busy getting our kicks in daily life. I once described it as if Cimex was a train, we jumped off 1993, leaving the train to crash and fade into oblivion. But the train kept on rolling without us and caught more and more speed. Eventually it turned in to some mastodon train that couldn't be stopped—and we didn't even knew that it was still rolling!

Regarding all the labels that are put on our music, we only had one; raw punk. And that's what we still call it.

After the band drifted apart and split following the Scandinavian Jawbreaker album, a few notable bands came out of its ashes, like Wolfpack/Wolfbrigade and Driller Killer. I know all of the members have kept super busy with other projects—what bands/projects are you all working on now?
Well, Jonsson went on to Wolfpack, as you mentioned. That lasted two LPs before it crashed. He also did a project with people from Marduk, Moment Maniacs. Damn good LP. He hasn't done any band since then. Cliff went directly to do Driller Killer, who started out as a studio band but later transformed into a live band. They kind of quit around 2009 and I was the drummer the last four years. So Cliff hasn't been active for 8-9 years now. I am still playing drums, and am currently active in Wolfhour (d-beat), The Partisans (classic punk), Vengeance by Proxy (crust metal), Bring the drones (punk), Knife for an Eye (rockpunk), and more. Conrad and Jocke didn't do anything after they quit the band.

In a 2013 interview, Tomas mentioned the vague possibility of an Anti Cimex reunion. Is that something you're still interested in? Is this new box set a hint about future plans to be more active?
We have of course talked about it, and Jonsson and Cliff want to do it, I'm more the negative guy. My opinion is to let the dead stay dead. But, if we decided to play together again, it would probably be as a new band. The plan was to get into a studio, make some songs, and if we liked the result we should release it under our new band name, not mentioning who the people in the band was. But as the situation is today, there ain't gonna be no recording at all. And that's OK by me.

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But there is another option. There is currently a documentary about us in the making, and when it premieres we want to do a thing about it—a Cimex-day, if you will. Bands playing, film shown, and maybe we go on stage and play some oldies. I'm up for that! The boxset though has nothing to do with that. In short, we are not planning an reunion!

In that same interview, he also expressed some disappointment at the way Anti Cimex's sound bled into metal territory near the end. Why was that? Did that cause internal friction in the band? Would you have preferred to stick to punk, or did you have reservations about becoming more affiliated with metal?
You could say that we had frictions in the way we wanted our music to sound, but then again we have had that since we started. And I think that's a good thing for creativity, everybody trying to get their favorite bits into the music. That's what creates magic! But to be honest, in the end, Jonsson did get too far away from the rest of us in that matter. He wanted a more industrial sound while we wanted more rock. We never sat down and said, 'Let's play metal,' it was a thing that just turned up when we rehearsed and made new songs. I was pretty fed up with playing simple punk, I wanted to play proper music, whatever that was. We wanted to evolve!

Jonsson living in a city 400 km from us might also have some importance. We had stopped seeing each other except for when we made music. And that wasn't often! So we drifted apart, both musically and personally. And in the end, that killed us.

Regardless, Anti Cimex has proven to be super influential on the metal scene, and obviously there's been some metal influence in your sound, as well (as you mentioned back in 1992, citing Motorhead, Bathory, and White Zombie as inspirations!). What do you think punk can still learn from metal—and vice versa?
We listened a lot on metal at first, probably because there wasn't enough hard music for us in the punk scene. And in the beginning, you could find the same feeling in metal as in punk.

My personal opinion is that metal bands have a higher opinion about themselves than punk bands. Maybe metal needs more of the self distance and DIY feeling in punk, and punk needs more of getting a wider spread and actually behaving like proper musicians as metal? Difficult question. I'm probably gonna get a beating by both sides after this interview!

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How has your personal perception of punk changed over the decades?
Not much, really. It has only grown more mature. Punk is to be a part of a global movement, having the music in common and certain basic ideological thoughts. In my world, you can't be a Nazi punk. That doesn't make sense. It's like being a carnivore vegetarian. If you call yourself a Nazi punk, you're probably just full of shit and in need of a good spanking! That was my opinion in 1981, and that is my opinion now.

Scandinavia in generally has quite a generous social welfare system compared to most other regions, and is known for its support of the arts; the Norwegian black metal scene, for example, had access to government-funded rehearsal studios and travel grants. How did growing up in Sweden help young punk musicians like you guys get involved in making music and playing gigs?
It helped us a lot, but the coin has two sides. The gigs that are arranged with government funding are almost always a bore because of all the rules that must be accomplished to get the funding. But getting rehearsal rooms through the community is worth gold. It has helped numerous bands in Sweden getting the practice they need to be a good-sounding band and to later become a successful band. I've met bands abroad that struggle to even rehearse before a gig, bands that never had a rehearsal room of their own. That must be the most frustrating thing for a brain full of musical creativity!

Anti Cimex was never shy about their politics—you're punks, after all. Anarchism, radical ideas, and anti-war sentiment are all over your releases; do you feel as strongly about these political positions now as you did in the 80s during the Cold War? What kind of parallels do you see between our current state of the world and what things were like then?
We're still not shy about our politics! But we're also 40 years older now. We have found other things to be afraid of. Were still anti-war of course, who isn't? Radical politics are a frightening reality, with the alt-right movement spreading over the globe and the jihadists bombing innocent people. That is one of my biggest fears at the moment. It feels like the world is standing on the brink of destruction, just like it did in the 80s. So things change, but the core still remains the same. We are still angry, and the world is still fucked up.

What does anarchism mean to you? Are you involved in any outside political/community organizing work? If so, how does that tie into your place in the DIY punk music community? How much overlap is there between political activism and punk in Gothenburg these days
Anarchism is for me a mindset, not an actual ideology. For me, punk and anarchism goes hand in hand, and thus vary slightly from person to person. I've never been a member of any political party and I'm not planning to be. I have my opinions, and I'm ready to fight for them, but I do it as a one-man army, and will never bow for any faction. As soon as we join a faction we partly agree with, we also get the things we don't agree with, and you have to fight for something you don't really believe in. It's a big and complicated question, but in short you could say I believe in the individual in the society. We are all humans, but we are all different.

In Gothenburg, the punks are very political, but in a more punky way of political—you know, vegan, 'no one is illegal' and all that. I agree with them all but I'm not a part of them. Damn, this is a complicated matter! Next question!

What is your idea of freedom?
To continue from the question before, freedom is to be an individual in society. It's as simple as that. But of course freedom can be many things. The freedom to have enough money to not starve, the freedom to have the opportunity to play my music (and get government funding for it! Haha!) Freedom is to have a home that is safe! To not get beaten when walking the city! The freedom to be able to travel the globe to play my music! I could go on all day! Freedom is everything I can do! Freedom is to be healthy and having a good welfare system to back you! Freedom is also an illusion and freedom is to believe the illusion. How's that for an ending!?

Kim Kelly is heading for hell on Twitter.