Book Review: The Encyclopedia of Swedish Punk 1977-1987

Maximum Rocknroll
304, September 2008

The Encyclopedia of Swedish Punk 1977–1987 
Peter Jandreus Premium Publishing
320 pages - $55
www.premiumpublishing.com
PO Box 30 184 SE-10425 Stockholm Sweden

Sweden had one of the largest punk scenes outside of England and the United States in the late 1970s (possibly the world’s largest per capita). Scores of bands released records, among them some genuine world-beating classics, like Rude Kids and Kriminella Gitarrer. In the 1980s, many, though not all, Swedish hardcore bands took their cues from Discharge and distilled that formula to its essence, producing some of the most powerful hardcore punk ever (eg, Anti-Cimex, S.O.D., Shitlickers, Mob 47, etc.). In addition, Swedish punks developed a unique style of melodic hardcore called “trall,” which was exemplified by the infectious yet tough-sounding Asta Kask. And then there were a ton of less well-known bands playing (and inventing) every variation possible under the punk umbrella, from the industrial thugchug of Vicious Visions to sound of the women’s insane asylum showers courtesy of Fega Påhopp. Peter Jandreus’s The Encyclopedia of Swedish Punk 1977–1987 is a well-designed, lovingly assembled, enthusiastic collection of the vinyl component of Swedish punk and hardcore history, including detailed entries on all these bands and many more, plus 160 or so records related to punk but which he excluded from the main listing because he did not consider them strictly punk enough.

In the wake of Mario Panciera’s magisterial 45 Revolutions, a nearly 1,200-page discography of UK 70s punk, wave, heavy metal, etc., published last year, subsequent punk discography books face inevitable, unenviable, and perhaps unfair comparison to Panciera’s. Luckily for Jandreus, however, he did not set out to produce the definitive, unabridged discography of Swedish music released on vinyl during the “punk years.” Instead, he set his task as documenting the records that fall within relatively narrowly defined parameters: his own personal definition of punk music, which is circumscribed basically in the negative as that which is not powerpop, new wave, heavy metal, prog, garage rock revival, or the nebulous DIY other (eg, Butter Utter). Sweden did produce a large contingent of what we would today consider “art punk,” particularly on the Heartwork label, but Jandreus’s taste thankfully is not so narrow as to have excluded most of these bands, which are essential to the overall punk picture. He notes that he endured long internal debates about what to include or exclude and still wonders whether some of his choices may have been mistakes. For the average punk fan, his inclusions are mostly accurate, reflecting “mainstream” punk taste (as in the mainstream of punk rock), sticking closely to the snotty, the three-chord, the aggressive, the thuggy, the obscene. The choice of what bands to include once hardcore punk evolved must have been a much easier task because the lines between hardcore and everything else were more clearly drawn.

Jandreus’s taste could be the subject of endless annoying debate. Why were some records included and others excluded? He is certainly aware that record collectors love to engage in this type of argument, but I think it would be unfair to criticize him for excluding some bands because he does not aspire to exhaustiveness. Still, the absence of, for example, Problem and Lädernunnan from the main listing was surprising, as was the inclusion of Krixhjälters (if Problem is too “rock n roll” then Krixhjälters is too metal). Also, Rävjunk made the cut in both this book and the Swedish prog discography published by Premium! Moreover, there are some mega-obscurities that aren’t mentioned either in the main listing or the “excluded” appendix, such as Tapes 7", Plast 7", and v/a “Ruff & Fukt & Suck” LP (no shit…anyone ever heard this thing?). Whether these records are punk or not is a mystery to most, but they’ve been mentioned by collectors in the same halitosis breath as well-known punk rarities, so inquiring minds want to know.

Today, with sound files and online auctions of heretofore unknown obscurities at the fingertips of even casual punk fans, allowing those without much understanding of the evolution of the sound to be bombarded by music taken out of its context, I believe there are two purposes a discography book can serve. Either it can try, as Panciera’s does, to cover everything so that one can look up any record and get a sense of whether it is worth a listen or it can exclude those records that might not appeal to most fans so that these fans can be fairly certain that if a record does not appear in the book it ain’t worth a toss. Of course, obscurity hounds, and those with more expansive taste, whose anthems include both “One Chord Wonders” and “People Laugh At Me (Coz I Like Weird Music),” are going to be out of luck with the latter type of book. Jandreus splits the difference with the appendix, which lists only the records’ year of release, title, format, label/catalog number, and a very brief description of the sound. In comparison, the bulk of the book includes for each band all those details, biographical information, member names, high-quality full-color scans of the records, and a rarity rating on a scale of one to ten. Also, Jandreus includes all reissues and bootlegs, Killed by Death compilations and their ilk, and records and CDs released after 1987 by bands that began before that year. Swedish pre-hardcore punk rarities have been appeared on three dedicated volumes of Bloodstains, two of Killed By Death (#50 and #51), and several one-off compilations like “GBG Punk 1977–1980” and “Ståkkålmsjävlar”; individual tracks are also scattered across over two dozen other rare punk compilations. A year or two ago, four cassettes pressed in very limited quantities showed up on the collector circuit, compiling 127 Swedish punk, powerpop, and punk/heavy metal hyrid songs (there was also a CDR of 20 outtakes if you can believe it).

The picture for Swedish hardcore is even more complete: nearly every record has been reissued or bootlegged on vinyl or CD, and tracks have appeared on “Killed by Hardcore,” the huge 3-CD compilation “Varning för Punk,” another CD called “GBG Hardcore Punk 81–85,” and a 2 ´7" called “Let’s Start a Riot in Sweden.” And then there are the blogs. What all this means is that hundreds of songs from the golden eras of Swedish punk and hardcore are available at a relatively reasonable price. Nevertheless, soon after I heard about the publication of this book, I had a dream that Premium had released a 4 x CD boxset to accompany the book. It was loaded with obscurities I’d never heard before, but, as always, I woke up just at the point when I began to tear off the shrinkwrap. Anyway, the point is that there is not much need for such a CD boxset. It might take some work, but one could track down a tune from nearly all the book’s entries on a compilation LP, a reissue, or a blog. Because bootleggers so rarely include anything approaching useful or accurate information with their comps, I believe listening to “Bloodstains Across Sweden” while flipping through this book—and trying not to drool on the sleeve scans—could be a very satisfying experience for the history-inclined Saturday-night-stay-at-home punker.

From the scum perspective, the best part of the book must be those full-color sleeve scans, especially the variations, such as that of the uber-rare 57 Kez 7" and PF Commando’s first EP (about as primitive a fuck off to polite society as any teenagers outside Cleveland have ever mustered), and the nearly unknown mega-rarities like Framför Flötet (coming soon to a wantlist near you) and Kessler Jugend GmbH (their second 45 also had a sleeve variation, apparently). But the overall presentation of the book will warm even the hardest punker’s heart, as it is replete with cool original band photos, scans of pages from fanzines, and photos of original badges. I assume that you already have your mind made up about whether to buy this book. You’re either the kind of person who can’t live without a discography of Swedish punk or you’re, as they say, sane.

My only substantive criticism is that the English diction is not quite right at points. It’s sorta pseudo-idiomatic English. But anyone who collects punk records is probably accustomed to corresponding with nonnative English speakers and will not mind Jandreus’s occasionally odd phrases. Besides, we should be grateful that this book about Swedish punk published in Sweden is not written in Swedish! The translations of band names is quite welcome too, even when they don’t quite translate. Anyone looking to understand Swedish punk as it related to the social context of the moment, however, will have to look elsewhere. I would like to know why punk was so big in Sweden. Did the social democratic state aid the punks? In what political struggles did the punks become active? What connections existed between the “progg” scene of the 1970s and the punk scene? And what’s up with the raggare? Outside anecdotes here and there in the band biographies, there is not much to provide a cohesive view of the various scenes that comprised Swedish punk, though a discography is certainly the foundation of such a history. (The lavish oral history Svensk Punk 1977–81: Varför Tror Vi Låter Som Vi Låter… published in 2004 includes a lot of this type of information—in Swedish.)

Jandreus and his publisher have managed to produce a book that looks great and is easy to use as a reference work. But would-be historians of Swedish punk who can write in English should not feel as though this book has closed the door. Rather, it’s a starting point. Next, we need a book that documents all the records in Jandreus’s appendix as well as the ones he left out because they’re too experimental, poppy, hard rock/metal, or whatever (Hörförståelse, anyone?). Also, I would like to read an English translation of the documentary fanzine “Svensk Punk Ny Våg” published in 1981 by Gunvor Alexandersson and Lena Lundquist; this zine includes the first discography of Swedish punk and wave as well as a great deal of information on the early scene, from interviews with participants to a bibliography of contemporary articles published on punk in the Swedish press. In the meantime, I recommend two Swedish websites, swedishpunk.com and punktjafs.com, for discographic information and mp3 downloads. Also, two articles on the cult metal site thecorroseum.com provide useful information: first, on Swedish metal singles but including bands that did not quite fit neatly into metal or punk (www.thecorroseum.com/features/707inches/index.htm) and, second, on the many Swedish compilation LPs that included metal, punk, wave, pop, and other genres (www.thecorroseum.com/features/swedishcomps/swedishcomps.htm), some of which receive coverage in Jandreus’s book without much detail. Though these articles are well-written, I would love to see them penned from the punk perspective. Once we have all that, someone needs to get to work on the complete Swedish punk and hardcore cassette-ography.

© 2017 Stuart Schrader