In 1998 Refused dropped The Shape of Punk to Come and irrevocably cratered the hardcore landscape with deadly rhythms and protest songs. The Swedes toured the album for six months, suffered personal and ideological divergences and then broke up just as the mainstream was starting to take notice. Seventeen-years later, the four piece are back with a new record Freedom.
“Nothing has changed,” tight-panted front man Dennis Lyxzén insists on Freedom’s first single, "Elektra". Nothing has changed. Refused still sound fucking fire and the socialist concerns found on The Shape of Punk to Come are still as pertinent. Dennis was in his early 20s then, and he’s in early 40s now – but he refers to his ‘agenda’ often, and in a way that implies it hasn’t changed much, either.
NOISEY: Hey Dennis. You mention your ‘agenda’ a lot. What do you want?
Dennis Lyxzén: It’s not so much that we have… we’re not a political party and we’re not journalists. We’re people that look at the world and say: “OK this is what the world looks like. That’s fucked up.” Then we try to communicate that. We don’t have solutions. It’s not like we have a program. I think in the ‘90s, we wanted to have a program, which is really difficult. If I were able to solve the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean, I would not be playing rock music. We are rock musicians, but we’re an anti-capitalist band.
Some corners feel that reuniting after a 17-year hiatus is pretty capitalist.
[laughs] Well first of all, if people think that releasing a record will get you money, they haven’t really been following what’s been going on in the music business for the last ten years. If you want to make money, putting out a new record is not the golden ticket to making millions. That doesn’t apply anymore. If you are Madonna or someone like that, maybe, but we’ll have to sell a whole lot of records to be able to make money from it. We wanted to do it because we love music and we love to play music.
You can’t argue with that.
The other thing is that, there’s a certain idea that artists and musicians have to be idealists. I am an idealist in a lot of ways. I still play a lot of shows for free. I play music because I love to play music, but to equate that… I’m not going to deny that when we did the tour in 2012, yeah, we made some money. It was good. I came home and I didn’t have to worry about paying the rent for a year. That’s amazing. But to equate that with being a capitalist, then you don't know what capitalist is. I’ve heard people are saying “Refused are capitalists now.” What do you mean I’m a capitalist? Do I make other people work for me so I take the profits? I don’t see that happening. We go out and work. That’s saying that anyone that makes money in the world is a capitalist. We know that’s not true, but it’s just because we’re making more money than we’re supposed to, I guess.
There’s that fire.
[laughs] We come from a radical leftist sort of background, and this whole record we try to look at the world and view the world and deconstruct the structures that we see in front of us, and how these structures that we see directly effect the lives people live; the economical poverty of the world, and how we live in an economical, social, political structure that’s not designed for people.
So what’s fucked up?
Pretty much everything is. We live in an economical, political culture system that is designed for profit, and that’s designed for shareholders to make money, and not designed for people. We live in a world that’s not very safe and that’s full of racism, poverty, slavery. Everything that you see is worth writing songs about. We live in a patriarchal society where men still dictate, and still abuse, and still oppress women.
Isn’t Sweden supposed to be some social utopia?
Sweden used to be one of those countries that people looked at and thought was great because of public schools, and health care, and elderly care. But everything’s being privatised. You can see how much class differences are growing in a country like Sweden. The third biggest political party in Sweden: Neo-Nazis. Nationalist party. 15 years ago, they’re out on the streets Sieg heil’ing, and now they have 15% of the votes in Sweden! David [Sandström, drummer] and I sat down and started talking about what we wanted this new record to represent. It wasn’t hard to find topics to write about.
So you are still dealing with how fascism happens?
I’m speculating because I’m not a racist and I don’t know a lot of racists, but I think what happened is: We had a right-wing government for a long time, and a lot of the ‘safety nets’ that Sweden had were dismantled. A lot of people, especially on the countryside, especially in small towns… there are no jobs anymore. All the women are moving to the big cities because they’re smarter than a lot of the men! It’s true. Women look at the world and think, “OK, maybe I should move to a bigger city, get a job, and get my shit together.” A lot of men, they just like to stay put. When there’s no jobs and there’s no culture and no aspirations for the future really, they get angry. They try to blame someone, and it’s hard to blame an economical system, and it’s hard to blame slow-burning right-wing politics – so they blame refugees.
Other countries seem pretty good at that also.
Yeah, people look at refugee s or immigrants and say, “That’s why I’m unemployed. That’s why I’m in a bad place. That’s why I feel miserable.” But it’s all connected through structures and reproductions of political power, and I think that’s a problem: People see the easiest solution to a really complex question. That’s always what racism’s done, and always what racist and nationalist parties have done: They offer a really easy ‘solution’ to a very complex problem. The economical order of the world is in despair? It has to be the refugees! That’s what people do. People are not very smart. People can be smart if they want to, but then we live in his culture that’s quite stupid and it makes people stupid.
How do you address some of these issues?
On the new record, there’s a song called "Destroy the Man" – that actually makes men think about their position in the world and see like, “What do I contribute to these structures, and how am I as a man, how am I responsible for the fact women never feel safe around us? How am I responsible for the fact that women are still being raped and abused? How am I responsible in reproducing the idea of The Man?” If we can get some people thinking about that, that’s great. That’s what you can do as a musicians and artists. That’s what we try to do.
'Freedom' is available June 26 (Aus), June 29 (EU) and June 30 (US) through Epitaph.
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