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Escape Velocity

Slagsmålsklubben: Internal Brawling & Sending Fish Into Space
Ben Hewitt , November 5th, 2009 05:13

The six nerdy Swedish young men crowded round an old picnic table in the backstage area of the Secret Garden Party don't look like pop stars, yet later tonight, their band Slagsmålsklubben will take to the stage and produce flashes of frazzling synthpop to a captivated tent of late-night thrill seekers. The result of a freak experiment involving a cheap guitar amplifier, an even cheaper toy synthesiser and a room full of bored musicians, they've now released three albums - Den Svenske Disco, Sagan om konungens årsinkomst and Boss for Leader - and have started to cultivate a cult following in the UK.

The Quietus caught up with Hannes Stenström, Joni Mälkki, Björn Nilsson, Kim Nilsson, Joakim "Beebop" Nybom and Frej Larsson to discuss dog-walking, band brawling, and the possibilities of sending sea food into space...

There's quite an interesting story behind the history of Slagsmålsklubben. For any Quietus readers out there who aren't in the know, how did it all start?

BN: Erm...[Long pause]. I don't know, it's quite boring I think.

KN: Don't people already know about it? I mean, it's on our website if they want to read it. It's out there.

BN: I don't even think I remember.

Well, you were fed up that your perpetually late lead singer of your old band The Solbrillers had failed to turn up for another rehearsal, so to alleviate the boredom, you decided to plug a guitar into a tiny toy synthesiser. And thus, Slagsmålsklubben was born…

BN: Yes, that’s the story…it sort of just happened. The old singer has a dog and a wife now, whereas we get to be in a band and play all over the world every single day.

KN: [Laughs]. And we get to drink free beer for the rest of our lives.

BN: He has to go home to his wife every night, and take that dog for a walk every day for the rest of his life. Actually, he probably has to take it for two or three walks a day. That’s a lot of walking.

Do you stay in contact with him?

KN: [Laughs]. Er…no, not really.

BN: No, we don’t speak to him now, although he does actually live quite close to where most of us live. He’s not really our friend now - he’s not that interested.

JN: He’s lost a lot of weight though. He’s really slim now.

BN: Yes, he did used to be quite fat. He's not anymore.

That’s probably from walking the dog so much. So what did the old band sound like? If you only started using synthesisers with Slagsmalsklubben, it must have been quite different.

BN: It was actually very similar. [Pause]. No, I’m joking. We were very, very different. We had just two acoustic guitars, and we would bang on cookie sheets instead of playing the drums. And we had absolutely no bass whatsoever.

FL: We really weren’t very good.

JM: [Laughs]. No, we were quite dull.

KN: We’ve made up for that since, though - the lack of bass, I mean. Now we have loads and loads of it. You could almost say we have too much bass.

And then you had this amazing change. Did you realise straight away that you were onto something special?

BN: No. We don’t have that sort of ability. It probably sounded dreadful.

KN: We’ve evolved since then. Actually, I think we’ve gone the full circle now. We kept evolving and evolving, and now we’ve got to the point where we’ve ended up where we began - if not slightly behind it.

BN: Starting to play electronic music, though, was a massive moment. It was a huge catalyst. We just started to experiment a lot. Before that I’d been playing the guitar for several years, and I’d played a bit of piano, stuff like that. But the revelation of synthesisers was a huge turning point for us. I wasn’t into electronic music before that. The sound itself, the thrill of synthesisers, that was the influence, that’s what we wanted to sound like. I don’t think I listened to any popular music at all growing up.

Really? No popular music?

KN: [Laughs]. No, I listened to what my parents listened to.

HS: We get asked this question a lot - we got asked it in the first interview we ever did. And we never really have a good answer.

BN: The only music I listened to growing up was a monthly cassette which you could subscribe to, and it had a really wide range of music on it, but nothing really popular or contemporary. Sadly, I don’t think they make it anymore.

So who did the toy synthesiser belong to?

JM: It was mine.

And do you still use it to play live with?

JM: No, it got stolen! We were moving to Berlin and we loaded up our car with literally everything we owned. All of our belongings - our instruments, our computers, all of our best clothes, and then, right on the top of the pile, the toy synthesiser. And the next day, the car had been broken into and they’d taken the synthesiser.

HS: It was really lucky that they didn’t take our computers, because that’s where we had all of our songs stored. If they’d have been taken, that would have been…I can’t even describe how distraught we’d have been.

OK. So we’re backstage at the Secret Garden Party festival. You’ve only been here for two hours, but how are you finding it so far? Is it the first UK festival you’ve played?

HS: No, we played Latitude last year. But it’s nice here, I actually arrived last night.

KN: With festivals like this, there’s a lot more of a theme - there’s more culture and art. In Sweden, people tend to just get really drunk. Plus, you have a lot of really cool flags at UK festivals.

BN: It’s like a fairground. And people dress up a lot nicer over here, too. If you dress up in Sweden in costume, people shout at you and call you a “fucking faggot” or something.

KN: Audiences over here are a lot better dressed, they look really good. And they’re almost always more drunk and on more drugs than we are, which is fun.

BN: We played one show in England where people just threw loads of glow sticks at my head. That’s never happened to us in Sweden. I don’t think the Swedish chemical industry have discovered the technology to invent glow sticks yet.

And did you like getting glow sticks thrown at you?

BN: Oh yeah. Loved it. It’s better than people standing doing nothing.

The non-Swedish speaking readers of The Quietus probably won’t be aware that, if translated into English, your name means ‘Hardcore Fight Club'. Big fans of the movie?

BN: Yeah, I think I’ve seen it like 15 times. Although I haven’t seen it in five years.

So that’s why you chose it?

KN: No, because even in Sweden, the film Fight Club is just called Fight Club, and not Slagsmålsklubben. It uses the English name.

Right…so where did the name come from?

HS: J downloaded an illegal copy of the film…

JM: Yeah, I burned it illegally from the internet. And on the disc I wrote Slagsmålsklubben, which is a really geeky translation of the name.

That brings up an interesting topic. Are Slagsmålsklubben cool or are they nerds?

KN: [Laughs] Yeah, we know we’re cool.

JM: My mum says I’m cool.

HS: I don’t know, I guess maybe we’re nerds…

BP: We’re kind of both. We are cool nerds.

If you guys had a literal fight club within the band, who would win?

JN: [After much furtive inter-band discussion]: I think Bjorn probably has the most muscle.

KN: Yeah, I think Bjorn would win. He’s the strongest.

BN: I’m like that big Russian guy from Street Fighter…I can’t remember his name [Zangief - Ed]. But yeah, he’s big and strong. He is really slow, but still dangerous.

Providing there aren't any fights in the band, what do you have planned in the future?

KN: We want to finish this tour, and then carry on making beautiful music. And we also have this plan to send loads of sea food into space.

BN: Yeah, we're trying to rid the world of seafood one step at a time. We're going to put loads of seafood in balloons and rockets and send them into space when we're on stage.

KN: It's the hottest thing in Sweden this year. Last year it was jeans. This year, it's sending seafood into space.