, July 13th, 2013 06:29
Ahead of their debut London appearance tonight, Piers Martin catches up with cult masked Swedish electro legends Frak
Google “Frak” and the top two definitions concern, firstly, a primitive early-1980s BBC computer game called Frak! that involved a caveman named Trogg, and secondly, that the word ’frak’ was used in place of ’fuck’ as an expletive in the Battlestar Galactica TV series from the late 70s. Both these seem weirdly appropriate when it comes to getting a handle on the veteran Swedish electronics trio Frak. This cult outfit have been beavering away in the key of acid in the small town of Karlskrona in southeast Sweden for some 25 years, in the process racking up a considerable discography that includes perverse, goofy and genre-buckling releases on labels such as Börft, Sex Tags Mania and Kontra.
Jan Svensson, Johan Sturesson and Björn Isgren formed Frak in the late 80s, but it’s only over the last 12 months or co that their curdled take on techno has filtered into DJ sets and record shop racks. Odder still, the three make their first ever live appearance in London – and second in the UK – tonight at the Bleed/Xenoglossy knees-up in Hackney Wick alongside Hamburg’s Helena Hauff and fellow Swedish reprobate Dungeon Acid. With this in mind, we talked to Sturesson, who works full-time in theatre, about Frak, his other, equally intrguing musical projects and talk us through some of his tracks.
Hello Johan, what have you been up to recently?
Johan Sturesson: All good here with us. It’s summer and vacation time and that’s fantastic. We have just finished material for a record on the Kontra Musik label and we’re very satisfied with the result. We have some gigs coming up and after the summer we will start recording again.
What is a typical day for you?
JS: A cup of coffee on the balcony and then I slowly plan the day in my head, which is always to check e-mail and then panic over some deadline [laughs]! Every day always has some music-related task waiting, you see. It can be anything from recording or mixing or going to buy a cord.
Do you have jobs outside music?
JS: Yes, we all work outside music. I guess music is supposed to be our hobby but it's way more crazy than that. I work as a sound engineer at a theatre, Bjorn works as a chef and Jan runs a sports shop.
What can people expect from Frak live?
JS: An intense show that takes its shape together with the audience. We give it 100 percent to make it a memorable night and we hope that people wake up the next morning with a smile on their faces saying, ”Shit, I just have to go to Sweden!”
Why do you wear masks when you play live?
JS: We did this at our first ever gig back in 1988. Our music was considered extreme and definitely not OK. The reason we wore masks was so we wouldn’t get recognised, but the local mob of course found out who we were and they actually chased us to beat us up. Fortunately we were young and fast back then. The masks have become a kind of symbol that we don’t dare challenge. When I come to thing of it, all of our other projects also involve some kind of disguise. Hmm, maybe it’s some kind of fetish…
Frak have been making music for a long time now – what are the qualities you like about each other?
JS: All three of us are very different and that gives us different roles. Bjorn is the crazy guy who wants to do things in music that sometimes ain’t even possible. Jan is the most mature of us and he finds a functional twist in even the maddest programming. I’m the one who thinks things through and tries to build our programming into tracks. We combine each other and that’s our biggest strength.
Why do you think there has been a surge of interest in Frak recently?
JS: I guess it’s our way to not do things as they should be done that makes us interesting. We are not your average techno band. We have been doing our thing for so many years and now, suddenly, our sound is needed. We use old-fashioned methods when recording, for instance, so the sound becomes quite unique. Our tracks are sort of live studio recordings that aren’t edited afterwards.
Does this feeling of popularity – or more accurately, people knowing who you are and what you do – seem strange, or does it amuse you?
JS: It’s very strange and also quite hard to realise as we are definitely not used to any attention. We are often categorised as some kind of outsiders and over the years I guess we have accepted that, but we continued to do our thing. Of course, it’s nice and flattering to get cred for your work but it’s not something we have to get.
Tell us a secret about Frak. JS: Well, on our first ever gig the audience were all kids. I mean, 7-9-years-old or something like that. I guess they thought we were some kind of pop trio and when we entered the stage dressed in leather and masks some kids were really frightened and started to cry. We had to speak to some of them afterwards to show that we were nice guys. On top of that the gig was all playback. Not one instrument or microphone was connected. We actually stood there pretending to play and sing. This was a very well-kept secret until now!
Why should people to listen to Frak?
JS: To hear the simplicity and to realise that you don't have to follow the pop charts. Follow your heart instead and have a laugh along the ride!
How do you feel about fracking?
JS: To be honest I haven’t got a clue what that means. But in my fantasy it means that you are dancing madly to a Frak track, with your body out of sync with your mind [laughs]!
Johan talks through his output chronologically
Frak - 'Alice In Acidland', 1993
This is the first pure dance record ever released on Börft Records. It came about when we realised that the electronic music we were used to wasn’t about synthesisers anymore – instead the dance music scene was! We found it so much more interesting to explore this. At the time of its release it didn’t get much attention or cred, but for us it was the start of something new. The fact that it’s actually 20 years old is, for me, stunning.
2. Kord - 'I Play My Flute', 2009
Kord is my solo project. 'I Play My Flute' is the title track on a 7" and it’s supposed to bring a feeling of summer. It’s about a man who plays his flute on a beach and gets told to stop by other sunbathing visitors [laughs]! I was supposed to do an electronic reggae track for a compilation and this is what I came up with. It was rejected, of course, but Börft saw the charm in it. I myself am very proud of it. The more danceable flipside track 'KGB' has become a small underground hit.
3. Monster Apparat - 'Music Is Art, Not Fashion', 2011
Monster Apparat is a project I am in together with Mathias Brattberg (of Wobbler) and Daniel Svraka (of Adolf Filter). The project is a result of me forgetting about a festival gig and being reminded of it just a few days before the event. I panicked and asked Daniel for help. I made some tracks for us to improvise to, and robot outfits of cardboard to wear. Just minutes before the gig, Daniel sat in the car writing lyrics while listening to the master on the cars’ cassette player. We made the gig and it was kind of fun so we decided to go on. This track is about how false the music industry can be. Or at least how false we believe it can be. We state that music is an artform and without an artist’s work there is nothing! Kind of a joke but still there is some truth in it. I remember Daniel (who wrote the lyrics) was very upset when he wrote it because a track he had done had been labelled ”bad Eurodance” in a review and it got no scores!
4. Frak - 'Wobbler', 2012
Often our aim with Frak is to create music that we believe is missing in our own record collections. This one is an attempt to give minimal electronic music a bit more beat and power.
5. Frak - 'Synthfrilla', 2012
This is one of my favourite Frak tracks. Moody acid with a nice flow, and also a poppy melody which give the track, in my opinion, a wonderful depth. I remember this was recorded when we got a Roland TB-303 fixed. It had been broken for years and when we got it back we just had to use it right away! This track has been featured in quite a few podcasts from various DJs.
Frak play live alongside Dungeon Acid and Helena Hauff tonight at the Bleed/Xenoglossy party at The Hive Project at The Yard Theatre, Queen’s Yard, White Post Lane, Hackney Wick, London E9 5EN. Tickets £5/£8 available on the door or here here