I would love to tell you grand stories about the tormented but powerful relationship I have slowly built with Swedish punk music throughout the years, potent tales that would inspire or empower you to be all you can be. Some proper moving shit with misunderstandings, breakups, reconciliations and Anti-Cimex covers. I would love to tell you that the first Swedish punk band I came across was Mob 47 or Wolfpack or another such respectable hardcore band that an older friend would have taped for me because that was how knowledge circulated and passion was shared in those pre-internet days. Of course, it did not happen like that and reality, once you remove the gratifying coat of storytelling, is often not so inspiring after all and probably not worthy of a smarmy self-help book complete with ugly mugs and weird dentitions on the cover. The first punk band from Sweden I heard about was Millencolin through Punk O Rama Vol. 2, a cd I got in late 1996 at a local supermarket for 29 French francs (yes, a supermarket, though it has to be said that they used to have decent rock sections in those days). I was 13 and had absolutely no idea that punk-rock was an international movement. In my tiny teenage mind, there used to be punk bands in England before but not anymore as they all died out like dinosaurs but because of drugs and all contemporary punk bands were from California and lived in "the Epitaph house" or in the vicinity and if there were any foreign bands (meaning not from North America) they basically only wanted to be American though they perhaps did not realize it yet. I was not the brightest kid in the neighbourhood as you can see, although I suppose such delusions also say a lot about the marketing powers and tactics and the worldview they generated in the 90's.
So yeah, Punk O Rama. Of course all the bands were American apart from Millencolin who were from Sweden. Sweden... The only things I associated with the country until then were Abba (no thanks) and Henrik Larsson (yes please) and I remember being completely baffled by the inclusion of a Swedish band on the cd. I mean, Sweden? Come on! How utterly preposterous! What was next? Bloody Finland? It was all very exotic but, from my 13 year old wisdom, I somehow convinced my incredulous and ignorant self that, surely, Millencolin were a romantic exception. It is almost endearing to be that wrong I suppose. In the following years, I quickly discovered that not only were there more than a handful of Swedish melodic punk bands but that Swedes were also very present in all the other realms of punk music. By my 16th birthday I was heavily into wearing oversized bondage trousers, purple combat boots, disgraceful homemade patches and being chased down by bigger kids who, for some unfathomable reason, did not understand how magnificent the Casualties were. By then, Swedish "streetpunk" bands like Voice of a Generation, Bombshell Rocks or Guttersnipe were favourites of mine, however I was still blissfully if tragically unaware of Swedish hardcore. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I knew of Swedish bands playing US-styled hardcore but had no idea that the country had developed its own style of hardcore or that there were other styles of hardcore punk outside of the hegemonic tough guy American one for that matter (still a very common and unfortunate misconception to this day). The truth about scandicore hit me hard but progressively during the year 2002 through a local radio show broadcast on Radio Libertaire called "ça rend sourd" - meaning "it makes one deaf" in French - run by older knowledgeable punks with a strong liking for international hardcore, grindcore, crust and extreme punk music in general. To be honest, although I religiously listened to the show on every other sunday nights and did enjoy it, a lot of the bands they played were completely lost on me because my ear was still very much uneducated and unskilled to this type of music. Their scholarly references to Italian hardcore, Spanish raw punk or German powerviolence sounded deliciously cryptic and coded and it completely opened my eyes to the stylistic and geographical diversity of hardcore punk and to the importance of context and intent. And hearing Mob 47, Diskonto or Moderat Likvidation on the radio gave me a massive kick up the arse.
The early 00's were an intense period of discovery, revelation and musical epiphany for me, one that I remember vividly and with nostalgia as everything sounded subjectively new and fresh at the time. In a very short time I became aware of the wide world of DIY hardcore punk and the numerous subgenres that composed it and, from this day on, trying to understand the making and the reproduction of hardcore subgenres in their context and native habitat has become my lifework, a bit like Dian Fossey but with Discharge fanatics instead of gorillas and without a biopic yet (but that goes with being murdered I presume so I keep the faith). My evergrowing love for crust punk made a frontal reunion with Swedish hardcore, one of the genre's inspirations, both unavoidable and highly fruitful. The series Wesh to Sweden* will be a presentation of seven records of Swedish hardcore - be it of the käng, mangel or d-beat variety, with the crust cursor more or less pronounced - that I deeply engaged and connected with during those formative years of intense discovery (2003 and 2004). The selection might look a little random, subjective and illogical as it is based on the purchases I made at the time on distros in order to explore and accumulate enough knowledge and as a result it was linked with the availability of records at that particular time and in that particular place and with my personal whims.
One of the first Swedish hardcore cd's that I bought and that really won me over was Allt e skit from the mighty Skitsystem, from Gothenburg. I ordered the cd (because it was cheaper to ship than vinyl and my budget was limited) while I was living in Manchester as part of the student exchange program Erasmus, in late 2003. I had made friends in my hall of residence with a lad who was really into hardcore and metal and he often recommended bands to me. I remember him giving me local distro list that was updated every trimester and mostly carried extreme metal music and grindcore but also had some heavy hardcore and crust. In the list were Skitsystem's Allt e skit and Wolfpack's Allday Hell which he said were both amazing bands and compulsory listenings. Trusting in his better judgement, I sent a letter to the address indicated on the list with a £20 bill and a week later I was able to play Skitsystem and Wolfpack in my rather bleak and very small room (I had had the brilliant idea to bring a cd player along), in awe at the brutality of the music. Out of the two, Skitsystem prevailed in my opinion, probably because they sounded crustier and that was what I was after at the time and for this reason I played Allt e skit to death and can pretty much sing along in mock Swedish to all the songs (human waaaaaaste). I suppose that, in retrospect, Skitsystem is an obvious band to love, a genuine classic of what we mean by Swedish crust. What particularly impressed me at the time was that they sounded very heavy, menacing and aggressive and yet, at the same time, very simple and direct. The music had the desperate power of a charging rhino with a grudge but also felt quite accessible in its composition. Little did I know that Skitsystem was a band conceived by hardcore-loving metalheads as a tribute to that brand of heavy Discharge-inspired hardcore, namely käng, that had become so popular in the 90's in Scandinavia and whose best instances could be found in the releases of Distortion Records. To me, though the recordings were a bit old, it was an active band destroying everything in its bloody path.
Contrary to a lot of their peers of the time, Skitsystem had those heavy and dark down-tuned textures and a raw and heavy production closely associated with old-school Swedish death metal, which made sense since the original lineup was made up of members of At the Gates and Sarcasm, so that one gets the impression that, while it does fit with the crusty Swedish hardcore tradition, it nevertheless sounds like it is played by rabid death metal cavemen (I say this now but, truth be told, when I first played Allt e skit I had never even heard of Entombed and death metal was about as foreign to me as space rock). In spite of the intentional brutality of the sound and the punishingly simple riffing, you can tell that the boys had fun writing those early Skitsystem songs and many chorus are wonderfully anthemic ("Human waste", "Allt e skit" or the smashing Asocial cover "Revolt" specially come to mind and I challenge you not to sing along). To be fair, I had not played the cd for a while and had forgotten how fast, intense, energetic, mean and just unstoppable it sounded like. Genuinely headbanging stuff. I recall being blown away by the extremity of the vocals, how angry, direct and hoarse they sounded like, how the singers sounded like they were on the brink of rupturing their vocal cords just for the sake of expressing their blackest hatred of the shit system and outrage at the world's injustices and that just really spoke to me and still does. In retrospect, the sheer pummeling power and forwardness of the music, the dark down-tuned metal sound, combined with the extreme vocals of the two singers (who perfectly work together) and a d-beat drumming of mammoth proportions make Skitsystem a definitive highlight of the 90's Swedish wave and a fascinating instance of hardcore punk infused with death metal in terms of textures and sound instead of structures and composition like a fight to the death between Disfear, Extreme Noise Terror and Unleashed. It comes as no surprise that, to this day, Skitsystem is still a major reference for any band keen on taking the scandicrust path.
Although it would not be far-fetched to call Skitsystem a crustcore band, it is not completely true either, not in the same sense as Warcollapse, the other great Swedish crust band of the 90's. While WC were much closer to the eurocrust sound of Doom and Hiatus, Skitsystem's roots were strictly located in the classic Swedish hardcore and metal sound which resulted in them creating a hybrid that was distinctly Swedish and could appeal to both punks and metalheads looking for fast, direct, heavy and extreme apocalyptic music. The ultimate compromise of studs and long hair. Allt e skit included the first three records of the band: the Profithysteri Ep from 1995, the Ondskans Ansikte 10'' fril 1996 and the split Ep with Wolfpack from 1997, all originally released on Distortion Records. This was Skitsystem at the height of their primitive power and while their following records still packed a heavy enough punch, they were also a little too polished for my liking and missed that early Nordic cavemen savagery replaced with a more controlled metallic fury. The version of Allt e skit I own was released on Barbarian Records, an American label that was more on the death-metal side of thing apparently, and there are a number of spelling mistakes in the names of the songs that I actually chose to leave as they were so that you get the most authentic experience possible (that's immersion for ya). Another odd thing about the reissue is that you can hear vinyl crackles at the beginning and end of the songs so I guess the fellow behind the label did not use the studio tapes for the reissue but the actual vinyl records from his collection. Added to the statement at the bottom of the backcover stating that "This is not a bootleg. Full royalties paid on this release to band in cash and copies" and to the absence of the label's contact or even logo, I always had the dubious feeling that, despite the warning, it was indeed a bootleg cd. And did bands really get royalties in cash when playing crust music? Now, that was a work option I could heartfully consider. Barbarian Records even reissued the reissue in 2004 with a new cover parodying the typical "singles collection" of 80's UK punk with a mohawked lion wearing a studded leather jacket at the center! That really cracked me up and it shows that for all the dark heavy music, we all enjoy a bloody larf at times.
For opening my mind to the wonderful world of Swedish crust on a cold Manchester night, I would like to address my most sincere gratitude to Skitsystem. Allt e skit!
*about the title of the series "Wesh to Sweden": "wesh" is a slang word commonly used in France by the urban youth. It is derived from the Arabic language and can mean a variety of things like "hello", "what's up", "how are you?", "what!", "fuck" and the list goes on and on. Sorry if the meaning gets a bit lost in translation.