Keep It Real started as a small DIY hardcore punk zine based in Athens, Greece. The first issues were entirely in Greek language and weren’t that impressive in layout or anything, but I was collecting them as a zine nerd looking for anything coming out from the Balkans. Along the way, Apostolis changed the direction and the last issues were all in English, full of quality columns and interviews with some of the best punk and hardcore bands from all over the globe.
Here’s an interview with AC4 from the last ever issue of Keep It Real, conducted in 2010. AC4 is a hardcore punk band from Umeå, Sweden. The members of the band at the time of this interview were Dennis Lyxzén, David Sandström, Karl Backman, and Jens Nordén. All of them living legends in the hardcore punk scene, being active in bands like Refused, The (International) Noise Conspiracy, The Lost Patrol Band, Step Forward, The Vectors, or Final Exit.
Currently, AC4 is still active with a different line-up. David was changed by Christoffer Röstlund Jonsson (D.S.-13) and Jens changed by Fredrik Lyxzén.
Due to what you state in your myspace page you refuse to do interviews with mainstream media and you wanna do them only for fanzines written by kids under 18 years old. Keep It Real is definitely not a mainstream media, but I’m almost 28, just to let you know!
Karl: It has nothing to do with being mainstream or not. All media people just wanna talk about old times, because it’s safe to them. We didn’t wanna do any interviews with AC4, but I remembered back in the early 80’s when I did a fanzine and how much getting letters from my favourite bands meant to me, so me and David said we’d have to answer mail from young kids at least. We’re gonna do a few interviews every now and then. We’ve been doing this for two years so hopefully people will start asking more relevant questions.
So, AC4 is the regional code of Umeå. Do you know that there’s also a Sega videogame called Armored Core 4? Nothing to do with you, I guess, even though the hardcore you play is well armored… I know that this is not even a question, but I’d appreciate it if you can answer it, hehe!
David: No, I didn’t know that. Did you know there’s a videogame where the objective is to get guys who know about videogames laid?
Dennis: Never really played videogames in my entire life except for a short spell of Guitar hero but I noticed that Armored Core game when trying to find clips of us on YouTube. People that add clips from a videogame on YouTube need to get a life.
Karl: Well, AC is really the code for the region Västerbotten, where Umeå is located, and 4 is the number of people in the band. It’s like MC5 being 5 guys from Detroit. I don’t play videogames. In Sweden there’s a gel to relieve hemorrhoids called AC3. We like to think of AC4 as a kick up the arse.
The obvious now… AC4 features 2 members of the legendary Refused, plus ex-members of Step Forward and The Vectors. Dennis is also in The (International) Noise Conspiracy. Old kids, experienced enough, eh? What motivates you to be active in the hardcore scene after all these years? And how annoying would it be to ask you if there will ever be a Refused reunion?
David: I guess you just keep doing what feels like the thing to do, from the perspective you have, and the motives are the same but the angle is different. It’s harder to care about other people’s opinions the older you get. Not their views on life and their own ideas but other people’s opinions about what you do or should do, I mean. I still see punk bands I like, young kids who just wanna destroy, feels the same as it always did.
Karl: I’ve always had a punk band with a few of my friends. I write and play music just as I paint or meet people or have sex or read books or whatever. Being involved in something good and enjoyable is all the motivation I need.
Dennis: There is no real motivation other than the fact that we got stuck here and there is no way we can get out. Karl, David and Jens just happened to be the only other 3 guys over 35 that were still around. So, therefore a band was the only solution. Never really felt that there was much outside of the punk community even though most people here are also idiots but alas, they are my type of idiots. Refused questions are commonplace and I’ve learned to live with them.
You are located in Umeå, the straight edge / politics capital back in the 90s. How’s the scene there nowadays? I know a cool band called Forever Young, coming from your city… Are still there a lot of straight edge kids and anarchist / leftist activists?
Karl: Our local scene is not divided like that, so everybody hangs out at the same gigs, and no-one really cares if you’re drinking beer, piss or water. That’s why it’s stayed good. Yeah, we’ve played with Forever Young a couple of times. If it’s nothing but straight edge bands you’re interested in, there’s one I really like called Instängd. They have two 7″ EPs out, with a third coming soon. AC4’s merchandise guy, Larsa, plays with them. He’s the only true vegan straight edge guy I know actually.
Dennis: Nah, the scene is way smaller and very different than the 90’s. In a good way though, I think. There are still plenty of bands and people around and the vibe is pretty. However, not as political as in the old days but also not as narrow minded. Umeå is a good city to live in and play music in, never underestimate isolation.
David: There used to be a lot of shows at this place called Verket, and the “scene” grew just from there being a place where people could meet, as is the custom. Then some old person started complaining about the noise and you know how that goes. And now, since everybody drinks at the same place, Scharinska Villan, it seems that the punk element is kind of mixed in with the rock / pop / whatever-stuff that is going on. I like that; that you don’t have to travel all over town to find your friends.
You release your records via underground / indie / DIY labels; why did you take such a decision, while (I guess) you could find tons of major labels to put out your stuff? What’s so bad with the music industry nowadays?
David: I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. In fact the music business is a lot of fun these days, the rules have changed dramatically and there’s less and less stigma involved in dealing with the major-aspects of the thing. A lot of people have gotten fired and have figured out better ways and better things to focus on, it’s like everybody is DIY now.
Karl: It wasn’t really a decision we made. Aniseed in Australia and P-Trash in Germany just asked us before anyone else did. Jens had released an EP on P-Trash before, and Aniseed just sent me an email on the right day. That was the two 7″s. Ny Våg is the local punk label in Umeå, it’s run by our friends and Dennis, so that was the obvious label for our first album.
Dennis: I own the label and it just felt like the right thing to do. This project is based on lust and fun and is not really intended to be something catered to the music industry. We are doing it on our own terms with labels and people that we like. I am also not so confident that tons of majors would be interested in us. Maybe ‘cause of our past but not because they love fast old school hardcore and that is also one of the reasons that we decided to do it our way; to let the music be the focus not boring shit like who used to be in what band. The music industry has never been good. Not now, not ever.
Besides that, one of your first videos ever exposed in the net got amazing attention via the Kerrang! YouTube channel. Also, you have played along with bands like The Hives, Juliette & The Licks and Manu Chao. So, I can assume that it’s difficult to get rid of the music industry and major media…
David: No, AC4 has no contact so far with mainstream media, well actually a gossip magazine wrote about Dennis and his ex because she was famous and they mentioned AC4 in the article. Not very punk. We played some small stage at a big festival on a Thursday before anyone had gotten there, if that’s what you mean, if those bands played there too, otherwise I have no idea what you’re referring to…
Karl: Ha-ha. It was just our friend Lisa who filmed a song at a local gig and put it up on her YouTube account. We had nothing to do with that, or Kerrang! writing about it. AC4 have never played with any of the bands you mentioned. That said we don’t mind playing festivals with any band, if they’re good. We’ve played festivals with great major label artists like Megadeth, Motorhead, Slash, and Airbourne. We also did a gig with Rise Against. It’s no problem to us. We do our thing, they do theirs. It’s a lot better to see great bands and meet interesting people, than seeing bad bands and having to meet morons. The name of their record label isn’t what’s important.
Dennis: Well, AC4 never played with anyone famous so for us that is irrelevant. If people get an erection cause of the fact that two guys from Refused are doing music together then it is up to them. We don’t really care.
The AC4 lyrics are simply straight to the point and not too thorough and philosophized as the ones of your ex / other bands. Why does this happen? You wanted something more ‘in your face’ and intense or do you get bored of preaching to the converted?
Karl: I write lyrics in the same way for both AC4 and The Vectors. A song is short and fast because it needs to be delivered like that, not because you sat down and decided to write a short and fast song. When I write it usually starts with either just a short sentence or a guitar riff; something that triggers something in me, and it builds from that. Songs may end up sounding very different, but the process of writing is the same. I don’t think anyone of us ever think of an audience when we write.
What do you think of the whole political crisis? Does it have affected Sweden at all?
David: The continued indefinite progress of actuality is wearing us all down I think. It is a type of crisis.
Karl: If you mean the financial crisis and the recession; yes it affects Sweden too. My views on that is the same as everyone else’s; the rich and powerful got too greedy and fucked things up and now the poor and powerless have to pay for it. In that way very little has changed, and that really is a true and seemingly never-ending political crisis.
Dennis: I am not sure what political crisis that we are talking about. The one in Greece? One of capitalism inherent functions is that there always has to be some sort of crisis for it to function. That is the way it is and the way it has always been. Talking about the fact that Sweden for the second term elected a right-wing government and that for the first time since the 40’s a racist party got seats in the government you can very well say that Sweden is not exception to what is going on in the world.
A silly question now… What are your favorite hardcore bands of all time and which bands and scenes do you dislike?
David: Black Flag were good.
Dennis: Minor Threat. I dislike plenty of bands and scenes but I don’t really see the relevance in that. I would say that AC4 as a collective pretty much dislike everyone and everything.
Karl: I mainly listen to UK82, old Oi! bands, and some 80’s anarcho-punk. My all time favourite band is the Sex Pistols. I think we have some good bands in Umeå right now, and the scene in Copenhagen, Denmark, seems to be consistently good, too. The worst scene is a scene no-one enjoys, that’s why I don’t like the expression “support your scene”; a good scene doesn’t need support through mandatory attendance, it has people who enjoy it. You can’t force love. Musically I can’t stand the emo and neo-metal variation that some people call hardcore.
Thank you for the interview. I hope to see you in Greece as soon as possible. Till then, Keep It Real!
Karl: Playing in Greece could be fun.