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The International Noise Conspiracy (TINC):
Chris Spannos interviews TINC singer Dennis Lyxzen
On May 20th major label recording artists and radical leftists The International Noise Conspiracy began their very first headlining tour across Canada. The band is from Sweden and their first stop was in Vancouver at the Plaza Club. They formed in 1998 and their music has been described as “punk rock played like 70's hard rock or the other way around, with lyrics straight from the heart and straight to the point.” Chris Spannos is from the Vancouver Parecon Collective and caught up with singer Dennis Lyxzen during their sound check to discuss the bands inception, rock & roll, punk rock, politics, art, the affect of capitalism on music and challenges faced in advancing social change.
CS: The bands first tour and record deal was in China, one year after your inception in Sweden. How did this happen?
DL: Our first couple of shows were actually in Sweden, but then our first proper tour was in China. And, it was one of those coincidences… You know, sometimes life just takes you to un-chartered territories. I think the first show we ever played we played in our home town and a friend we knew was there and his friend was this kid that lived in China. And we started talking and he said “I have this record label. You guys were great. Do you want to put out a record?” We were like “Yeah, if you bring us over to China to tour.” And we both kind of laughed at the prospect. Then a couple months later we were in China and we had a record out on his label and we we’re touring China. But I think it was very much a product of curiosity and setting the bar for the band in a way that was un-expected.
CS: I imagine that would be different. I mean you’re a rock n’ roll band and you’re going to China. I understand that you played in numerous underground clubs, with police out front in fact. What was that like?
DL: It was great. It was cool to be there because we went there in 1999, so it’s like the burgeoning of their music scene. And rock music is still fairly new to China. So it was cool to go there because, you tour the rest of the world there’s always a pre-conceived notion and a preconceived idea about how, you know, how rock bands are supposed to be and how crowds are supposed to respond and react. And coming to China they didn’t really know how to react or how to respond. They didn’t know what to think of our band. It was a very refreshing kind of experience.
CS: There’s a whole range of music obviously, from jazz, classical, R&B and soul; but mostly your music seems to be rock n’ roll, and in the tradition of 60’s and 70’s rock which back then had a libratory affect. What role do you think rock n’ roll plays now? And what role do you think it has for social liberation?
DL: Unfortunately, I don’t think, as a tool for social change or liberation, I don’t think it’s as potent as it use to be. Because I think that one of the problems is that, not only rock music but music in general, always coincided with big social movements and social changes. And I think today there s a problem cause there’s no, first of all there’s no real big social movement happening right now and there’s no music movement to coincide with it – which I think is a problem. I mean, it’s one of those deals where when you play in a band, like us, you want to have a purpose to what you’re doing. And you want to be a part of something that gives you this purpose. I mean for a while there was this whole globalization movement or ‘anti-globalization’ movement if you so will, and we played a bunch of shows and did a bunch of demos but then after 9-11 all that kind of died down. It’s kind of weird because a lot of times we feel kind of alone in what we do. So, unfortunately I don’t think it has the role it used to have in the 60’s and 70’s where it was kind of a [liberating force], or even the early 80’s in England or with the early hip hop scene and stuff like that, it had a bigger affect then than it has right now, which is kind of a shame.
CS: Let’s look at some of the bands political influences. A lot of the album titles, songs and videos contain phrases and slogans from the Situationists, who were agitators in the May 1968 Paris uprising. What role have they had in influencing your music and how has that influence played out?
DL: I think it’s like one of those deals where we all come from a radical leftist background. And the Situationist movement was just something that, when I started to read about it, it was a very rock n’ roll kind of movement and it’s very well suited, I’m sure there’s going to be some Situationist people out there who are going to get kind of pissed off, but it’s very well suited for sloganry. They were kind of experts in that. But it’s also a very interesting movement because it’s right at the breaking point of modernism and post-modernism; where you have like, modernism with the black and white schematics of the world, the big solution to the big problem. And then you have post-modernism which is very, kind of, “there’s no answer, there’s no solution, there’s no wrong or right”. And I think the Situationists were interesting because they were right at the breaking point of that. They acknowledged the fact that it’s not as easy as having the big solution to the big problem, but they also still had hope in wanting to change the world and actually wanting to do something. They’re example of how crazy and how fucked up they were, they were very punk rock. They just struck a chord with people like us and well, we could kind of relate to what they were doing.
Also when they first got together, they were not academics and they were not politicians, but they were like artists and poets and painters and writers and they got together. And then they actually kicked all the artist elements out of the group, but I mean, as far as their initial take on politics, it was a very un-political take on politics which is very inspiring. You know, that’s how we got into politics, none of us got into politics because of politics. All of us got into politics because of punk rock music and….
CS: I was going to ask how you were politicized and how that played out in the group…
DL: Yeah, and that’s kind of what happened. I grew up in a small working class community in the north of Sweden where politics wasn’t something that was spoken. People lived their politics, because it was a working class town, but it wasn’t something people spoke about. I didn’t really even know anything about politics until I was a teenager and I got into punk rock music. I always kind of felt like an outsider and felt kind of alienated. When I started listening to punk music, I was like “wait, first of all these people are telling me it’s okay to be an outsider, you can find strength in being an outsider” and then they tried to explained why you felt like an outsider and what you can do about it. It was just like one of those feelings when… You know… I bought a Dead Kennedy’s record and the minute I put it on, I just had this feeling that… nothings ever going to be the same again for me. And I instantly knew that, this is it you know…this is everything, in the 15 years of my life, this is everything that I’d been waiting for. It was kind of intense and that’s how I got into politics. And also, it’s one of those deals where I liked the freedom of being an artist that talks about politics. Because every time you become an academic or a journalist or a politician you have to cover your flanks. You have to really think before you speak. And I like the whole concept of just speaking your mind and exaggerating or saying things that are not necessarily… it doesn’t always have to add up, know what I mean… Everything I say, I don’t have to mean it they way I’m saying it, which is a beautiful thing about artist expression. And I love that and I’m not interested in politics in the “political” sense.
CS: One challenge for artists is communicating those ideas, political ideas of liberation. We’ve talked about Situationist influence, but a lot of your other songs have references to Emma Goldman, Buenaventura Durruti and Angela Davis. How do you communicate those ideas so they translate into action for social change? It’s a big challenge for artists. How does that play out in your music?
DL: I think the most important thing for me has always been that everything we do is set up to inspire other people. Our goal and our mission is for people to feel the same way we felt the first time we heard the Clash or the Dead Kennedy’s or whatever random punk band inspired us. That’s our goal, to inspire people that way. But then I think it’s also up to the people being inspired to actually do something creative with their life. I mean, for me, the political thing I did was that I started a band. And I talk about this [politics] every night. That’s how I transformed these political ideas into action. Like being on stage or doing interviews or doing benefit shows or writing lyrics about this. But then I think it’s up to other people to find a place, a space or setting where they feel they’ve got something to give.
I think the problem with Leftist politics is that a lot of times it tends to be this cliché about how you’re supposed to be, how you’re supposed to look, how you’re supposed to act and, well, “if you want to be an activists that’s how you do it and this is how you do it.” And I think that one thing I’ve learned hanging out in Leftist circles, in the last 16-17 years, is that there’s so many different ways of trying to achieve a revolution or trying to achieve a change. And I think it’s kind of naive to believe that there’s only one way or that there’s a certain way to do it. And I think that if you find a way or a place where you feel comfortable, then you can actually do it better. It’s one of those things where if you’re not inspired, how can you inspire other people? You know, a lot of times I see people and they come into the Leftist movement and they’re really gung ho, they’re really radical and they’re like “We’re gonna change the world”, and after passing out flyers for two years they’re like “Fuck this, I’m not even going to do this anymore”…
CS: It’s not fun. It’s not empowering…
DL: Exactly… And therefore I think you need to find an outlet and a way of expressing your political ideas that combines with your life in a healthy kind of way. For someone like us, politics is not on my mind 24 hours a day. But, it’s something that we deal with everyday and I find a good balance between living my life and having a good time, but also doing something creative and useful with it. And I think that also enables us to see a long term perspective on politics; realizing that this is something that we do for a long time because it something that needs to be done for a long time.
CS: Yes, having fun is part of making it sustainable for the long run, to achieve successful social change…
DL: …Yeah, exactly. And I think also that if people see that you’re having a good time and seeing it’s not a chore, you know, people are like “oh wow”, it seems cool to be in politics. Because people’s concept or perception of politics is usually middle aged men in crappy suits talking about budget proposals and you and I know that politics is so much more, so much more every day life activities. And I think that if you show people that these activities can be empowering, they can be fun and they can be useful -- I think that inspires people more then just, pointing the finger [at them] and telling them what to do.
CS: It’s one of the things I had in mind around the question of rock n’ roll as a medium. Because in many ways, especially for youth organizing for anti-capitalism or against occupation and war, the culture of it [organizing] can be boring and really stifling, people believe it has to be boring and you’re not aloud to have fun and rock n’ roll subverts that.
DL: Yeah, yeah, yeah… That’s also what we try to do. We try to play, if there’s a chance and possibility, we try to play benefits or try to play events like that, that show people that you can actually get together, you can have speeches, you can have demonstrations, you can have a good time with it.... But I also think that there’s a certain idea about how a Leftist movement’s supposed to be super, super idealistic; like if you’re a radical Leftist you kind of have to be like a monk almost, you know no material possessions whatsoever and you’re not supposed to have a good time. Self-sacrifice is kind of a big part of the Leftist movement. It becomes very religious and I’m not very interested in that… I like to have a good time, but, when it comes down to it, you gotta do what you gotta do, but you also have to be able to live your life so that when it comes down to “you gotta do what you gotta do”, you have the strength and energy to do it.
CS: Coming back to producing music, I’ve read elsewhere that you don’t think there’s any real difference between producing music for a major record label or say working in a factory or grocery store. Can you elaborate on what you think the similarities and differences may be?
DL: There are of course a lot of differences, because as a cultural worker you have little bit more leeway, you have a bit more freedom. But at the end of the day it comes down to you working for a big corporation making money off of your work. And that’s the capitalist set up. And I think it’s pretty similar – it doesn’t matter if you’re a musician or a movie star or you work in a factory, it’s kind of the same set up, someone is making money off of your work. And um… you know, the boss is always going to be the boss.
CS: Right, right… There’s the other angle too of how different kinds of work actually, you know, affect people’s personalities and characters…
DL: …Yeah, yeah…I mean, of course, like to play in a band and to have very creative work, of course, I mean it is a privilege. I have to acknowledge that. It’s pretty good work… But if we’re not talking about how it affects you, I was talking about straight economics, the capitalist set up of the way things are. Yes, you work in a factory, you work, there’s always someone making money off of your work. But then again, I acknowledge the fact that this is probably a better job to have [being in a band], it’s probably more creative and it’s probably more fulfilling; even though at times it doesn’t feel like that, but I mean that’s just me being spoiled I guess…
CS: Do you have any thoughts on what the implications of those insights might be, the balance between creative work, maybe as an artist, but any creative elements, of regular factory work say, and then the more rote jobs, I mean it provides insight into the division of labor of all work.
DL: Yes, I do think about those divisions and I do think about what it means. I think that, at least at one time or another, we have to attack the fucking weird notion that people who are creative are people that write books or play music and are some kind of super people, and there’s only a few of us that can be that creative. But it’s also because we live in a set up where you’re not allowed to do things if you don’t make money off of it. So it doesn’t really matter how creative you are. If you can’t find a way for your creativity to be profitable people are not going to take your creativity seriously. Which is a huge problem and I think that people are just kind of creative by default. But we live in a system that set it up so that there are only a few people who trickle through and actually make a living off of their creativity; which is like telling the rest of the people that they can’t become as great as these people [the ones who trickle through], it’s the whole idol, genius myth. There’s been a couple times when we [the band] talked about that and thought that for a lot of people it’s just a matter of finding that Clash record when you were a kid or like being exposed to something different. I think that the things that we learned and the things that we do, pretty much anyone can do. I mean, some people are better at playing music then others, but I don’t think that if we lived in a world where we didn’t have to wage labor every day, I don’t think everybody would want to become a musician. That’s kind of an un-reasonable thought that everyone wants to play music, not everybody wants to do that. But people want to find other ways of expressing themselves. But it’s just hard because we live in a culture where, like I said, if you don’t make money off of it, it’s not a real way of expressing yourself.
CS: Yeah, if we did have a classless society, there would be many more doctors, not that everybody would be doctors… There would be many more bands like the Rolling Stones or something, but, you know, not the Rolling Stones…
DL: It’s one of the things that we think about a lot because irregardless of how political we are and how much of a “Fuck You!” punk attitude we have, if we’re not selling any records we’re not going on tour. If we’re not going on tour we’re not making any money. You know, you have to think about these things. You have to think about the fact that somewhere along the line you have to be able to pay the rent and that’s something that you think about when you write your songs. Not maybe consciously, but in the back of your head you know that if you write songs that are too weird no one will like your songs and you won’t be able to put out records and that’s something that stifling for creativity. Just imagine living in a world where music or creative work is not defined by money... Music would be amazing… Creative work would be amazing… But right now we live in a world where the record labels dictate how things are supposed to sound and how long songs are supposed to be and how bands are supposed to look and it’s just kind of disheartening…
CS: Looking at the more concrete production of the music, is the band a collective? How does the musical process un-fold within the band?
DL: We’re very much a collective…. We’re one of the few bands I know that, if we’re not all four of us actually practicing together, we can’t really make music. Usually it’s like someone has an idea or two and we pitch it and then we’ll do what the bands in the 70’s did -- we just jam. And then after an hour we usually have a good base for a song. But that’s always how we’ve done it. We always get together, all of us, to work out theses things together. We don’t have a song writer. Sometimes we wish we had someone who actually wrote songs and it would be like “this is what we’re supposed to play”, because with this jamming, if you have a good day it’s great. But if you have you have a bad day you just feel like you’re the crappiest band in the world, it’s hard...
CS: The band is obviously inspired by modern day social movements. And one of the things I get from your music is energy and some inspiration. I like to have a good time, I like to listen to good music and, you know, groove or whatever. So, I find your music also inspiring. What are your thoughts on that relationship of mutual inspiration between social movements and artist’s and what that symbolizes?
DL: Well, it’s like we talked a little about earlier, that you want to find a place and a setting where your music makes sense, not just on a scale of people being a bit inspired, but where there’s a purpose. 2001 was a great year, we played at a bunch of protests, and we were at a bunch of protests for the anti-globalization movement. And that made us have a proper purpose for a lot of the things that we’re saying and doing. So in that sense we were immensely inspired by being at these protests and demonstrations and talking to people involved in the movement. And what we’ve always said, you know…playing music now is not like we’re going to be at the forefront of The Revolution or anything. We’re not gonna be like the vanguard elite. But when The Revolution comes to town we’ll definitely put up a stage there and we’ll play when The Revolution rolls in. And that’s kind of our take on it. Like, we want to be the inspiration to these people, who are us as well, but you know, these people are actually doing this grassroots organization work and their actually protesting. And as much as we’re part of that movement we also want to be a soundtrack for those people to be inspired…
CS: Your music and politics are being heard and seen in a variety of mainstream outlets -- MTV and here in Canada on Much Music. How important do you think it is to reach out to the mainstream and why?
DL: Um…. It’s one of those fundamental questions that we fight over, a lot. But I think that, coming from a punk rock back ground, sometimes it’s hard to reconcile the fact that we’re not a DIY underground punk band anymore. It kind of wears you down sometimes thinking about that. But at the same time, also knowing from experience, that where I grew up I was lucky to find those records that I found. But also knowing that a lot of people won’t be able to find these DIY punk rock underground records where they live. I think it’s important for a message like the one we have to be everywhere. I think it’s important to be in the DIY punk rock underground scene. But I also think it’s important to be on MTV or somewhere where normal people would see it. If you’re interested in keeping punk rock underground then I’m sure we sold out about a million times. But I’ve never really been interested in that. And no matter how corny, looking back at someone like Rage Against the Machine you think “Uh, that was kind of rap rock, what were you guys thinking?” But I know like 20 kids who got into politics and learned about Leonard Peltier or learned about Mumia Abu Jamal because of Rage Against the Machine. I mean, that’s something to be considered. I think the problem with being a bigger band talking about politics is that a lot of people look at you and they’re like “You’re on MTV, you have a successful single” or whatever, and you talk about politics. People look at you and they’re like “Well I guess they’re going to set things straight.” You know what I mean? A lot of people looked at Rage Against the Machine and thought “They’re kind of a failure because they didn’t really change the world.” But I think that’s not really the point of it. The point of it is to be out there and to talk about ideas and hopefully they trickle down to people, you know, make room for something more radical to come about. I mean, I’d love to turn on MTV and see a bunch of radical socialists on MTV -- I’d be pretty excited about that. But usually that’s not the case. Usually it’s like the watered down version of everything. I love punk rock music and I turn on MTV and there are all these punk bands, it’s got nothing to do with the music that I grew up with. So, we just try to be there and if someone gives us a microphone… You know I don’t know how many bands have been on MTV and talked about squatting or talked about shop lifting or talk about stuff like that. We try to be that band. If they give us a microphone we’ll say something that we think is important. And hopefully someone will pick up on that and pick up our record and maybe read the liner notes or check out some book tips we have… yeah.
CS: This leads me to my next question which I think you’ve touched on throughout the interview in numerous ways but I want to ask you directly. The Vancouver Participatory Economics Collective, we write essays, do interviews, actions, whatever. We try to create the conditions where after an event people are more empowered than they were before an event; to leave some kind of residue or infrastructure behind that says “this is the difference before organizing against capitalism and after; we’re still organizing against capitalism, but it’s made a positive difference somehow.” The band produces music, videos and concerts, how does this play out for you and your music in the cultural realm?
DL: Probably the same way. I mean, when people come to our shows and they see us play, as we talked about before, making them realize that it’s a good time to be a socialist or whatever… We always bring the AK Press books with us on tour, we always try to talk to people and hang out and if they’re interested in what we’re saying then just talk to them. Our ambition is that when people leave the show they’ll have this clenched fist thinking “Fuck yeah, yeah, we can actually do something!” But then also the more concrete things are that we play a lot of benefits, we try to do that. We did a Live record where all the proceeds went to the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), the movement that sends people to Palestine. We just try to do stuff like that, that’s more concrete actual work. I mean, it’s one of those things you have to balance because 6 months of the year we can barely pay the rent. But when we actually have the time and energy we can do stuff like that; just try to do good creative work that is stuff that we know how to do. We’re good at playing music so we can try to use that. We’ve played a bunch of shows like that in Sweden. And even in the States (US) actually, we’ve played a couple of End the Occupation rallies. I think it’s an important thing to do. That’s the more concrete things that we can do.
Um, everyone in the band used to be more or less involved in political groups back home. But it’s one of those deals where we’re never home. So it’s like signing on to learn Kung Fu, but you’re only at one practice every other month – it doesn’t really make any sense. And that’s kind of how we all felt. I mean, even Inge, our bass player, he ran for office in our home town with the Socialist Party a couple years ago. So we’ve all been involved [in politics], but then this just became a full time job and we realized that if we actually wanted to do something we should put all our effort into the band and every thing that surrounds the band. But I think it’s an important thing just to inspire people and make them feel like their part of the event that we’re doing tonight. Not only, we’re the band they’re the crowd, but actually, try to some how… I mean it’s something you struggle with every day as a performer or artist, is making people feel like they’re involved in what’s going on and it’s a challenge. Some nights it doesn’t work out at all. Some nights the stage is too high, there’s a barrier, there’s security, or the second the show is over everyone’s out the door. Some nights it doesn’t work out and some nights it’s great. Like, you have this sense of communication, it becomes like a service of sorts and then after the show you’ll hang out for like 2-3 hours, just talking to people and hanging out. Some nights it’s perfect. And some nights, you go up on stage and you talk about politics and people fuckin get it and they’re like “Fuck yeah!” Some nights you go out and talk about politics and people just look at you like “This guys kind of out of his mind”. Some nights you go out and don’t talk about politics at all and people get it. It’s like one of those things, you never know. Every other night, you say something and people totally respond and then you say it the next night and people are like “This guy is obviously out of his mind.” So it’s really hard but it keeps it kind of interesting…
CS: Well, thank you very much for taking the time out to do the interview. Thanks Dennis.
This interview was produced by the Vancouver Participatory Economics Collective (ParEcon). To find out more about ParEcon or the work we do visit our website at vanparecon.resist.ca To find out more about the International Noise Conspiracy you can visit their website at internationalnoise.com There you can find the bands music, video’s and tour dates.