2003 is the year of the Ox. But more than that it is the year of the Turbonegro, the Imperial Underdogs of Scandinavian Rock.
As the media hype that is ScanRock screeches to a halt, a gang of denim-clad thugs bully their way into the afterparty, jacked up on Arctic beer and Krakow crystal, knocking over full ashtrays, shivering A&R personnel and champagne glasses with a jolly smile upon their heavily made-up faces, looking for a wellspring in which to urinate.
Behold the Underdog. Clad in the most delicate blue, Turbonegro has been a major force in the global underground for more than a decade, even though they disbanded under dramatic circumstances in 1998. This summer brought them back. Three headlining slots at major European festivals marked a renaissance rarely witnessed, they were bigger - and astoundingly better - than ever. Later this spring you will get to know them even better, when you'll get the chance to lick a piece of brand new genuine, shiny shiny Scandinavian Leather (which according to inside sources tastes saltier than ever before...the same sources also report that a certain "fifth Beatle" has designed the cover art, back at the ol' drawing board for the first time since 1968).
Over the years they've recorded for labels like Man's Ruin, Sympathy For The Record Industry and Amphetamine Reptile Europe, and have been keenly championed by the likes of Poison Idea, Rocket From The Crypt, Dave Grohl, Dr Eugene Chadbourne, Jello Biafra (who claimed that "Apocalypse Dudes is possibly the most important European record ever"), The Beastie Boys, the crew behind Jack Ass, Metallica, The Soundtrack Of Our Lives, Beck's mother Bibbe Hansen, The Hives, Steve Albini and Queens of the Stone Age. This admiration resulted in a tribute album - "Alpha Motherfuckers" (Bitzcore records, 2001) - with tracks from the likes of The Supersuckers, QOTSA, Satyricon, Therapy?, The Residents drummer Toby Dammit and Teutonic bubblegum dance queen Blümchen (re-christening herself Denim Girl for the occasion). Turbonegro magically defy genre, especially their own, as is shown by the diversity of artists that have covered them the recent years (even Black Metal founding fathers Mayhem saw it necessary to include a cover of "Are You Ready (For Some Darkness)" in their live set recently, the rationale being that "Turbonegro is the most evil band in the world, we had no choice"). And their fan base has grown rapidly since they disbanded in 1998, as proven by the immense and ecstatic crowds at their appearances this summer (imagine 44.000 people singing along to "I Got Erection" at the Bizarre Festival). Why? Because there is no one like them. No one to fill their orgone-blue briefs.
However, lets step back a bit, to 1996 when they created a punk masterpiece with the awfully stiff upper-lipped "Ass Cobra". This album marked their step up from their fuckpunk roots to a more melodic, rocky sound. The cover is of course a spoof tribute to "Pet Sounds" (as it was the 30th celebration of that release), however there is nothing spoofy about the musical content on display here. The sheer attitude and lyrical knuckle sandwich in these grooves leaves the listener nothing less than flabbergasted. Dangerous gay rock performed by dangerous (perhaps heterosexual? Or perhaps not?) dudes.
And then two years later came "Apocalypse Dudes" and changed it all. First of all there were new members in the fold. The mighty thump of drummer boy Chris Summers, and the onslaught of classic rock guitar from Euroboy, really made an impact on the music: We're talking serious next-level shit. The power of the songs grew to dizzy heights, wuthering even. It became both simpler and more sophisticated; and it went beyond the matter of a bunch of guys hanging out and playing some kick ass rock'n'roll. Hold it right there, mister. Turbonegro are more than a rock group. Turbonegro are an island. I would not dare to say it's a religion - however, looking at the more than 30 branches of the rapidly growing fanclub/denim army Turbojugend across the globe - including such exotic locales as Sao Paolo, Brisbane, Houston (which has two separate club chapters) and Cornwall - you might think otherwise. It's just a way to stay alive, boy.
But he nearly did not do just that, singer extraordinaire Hank von Helvete: the abyss-peeker, with a history almost too perfect for the myth-obsessed among us. His dabblings on the not-so-bright sides of existence left the band in ruins at a psychiatric intensive care unit in Milan back in 1998. But that is water under the bridge. This is now. Meet the rest of the band: You have Pål Pot Pamparius, the man who bakes the pizzas and tinkles the ivories with equal frenzy. Then there's Rune Rebellion, the Demis Roussos of the group, a man worthy of his black triple humbucker Les Paul Custom. Last, the giddy anchor: Happy Tom, the mastermind behind the group, coming on like a Ray Charles with 20/20-vision, plucking his four strings like Pinocchio's papa. So these apocalyptic dudes inhabit the ship that is Turbonegro.
These boys are no "rawk" slugs, posing as "dumb" or "for real, man, really". Instead they radiate a different, most brilliant hue of Dumbness and an Authenticity of a higher order. No wonder fellow Scandinavians are both intimidated and fascinated. They're the Starbucks of Neo-Rock, the antidote to democracy: It's denim or die. Turbonegro's favourite subject matter is that what you see isn't always what you get. Their topic of choice is "Darkness", the type your heart may be full of, if you're lucky. This Darkness is all around us, you can't touch it but you can definitely feel it. Their world contains bad mongos, denim demons, razorblade lips, invisible power lines, sailor men, clawing the taboo crack of Scandinavian disharmony and eagerly smelling their fingers afterwards, getting high on the fumes. It's not right, and it's definitely not OK, either. The contradictory positive, survivalist vibe that still oozes from these tracks must be a side effect of the triumphant oomph of the song writing, the pure bliss of aggression.
Their music recalls the bon vivant antics of the Alice Cooper Group and the urgency of Black Flag, served with the tidiness of "End of the Century"-period (i.e. "wrong") Ramones. Perhaps. We really don't need to name others, except mention that there may even be a small hint of Todd Rundgren hidden in there somewhere. Their trademark epic rhythm schtick hits you like a fully exercised facial, combining hypnotic punk riffs with Class 'A' Rock Anthem Extravaganza. It is sufficient to say that Turbonegro are partly responsible for the return of the rock guitar in today's musical subdivision. Somehow, somewhere punk became rock, but no-one, let's say it again: NO-ONE other than Turbonegro are purveyors of the finest musical genre known to man: Deathpunk.
They've never played The Game, these silly mannish boys. Now that the Scandinavian Rock Revolution is on the fast track to being the tight-panted equivalent to electroclash, in effect yesterday's news, it is just natural for Turbonegro to jump on the bandwagon. They have a history of always doing the wrong things at the right time. There has been no long-term market plan behind Turbonegro, no think tanks, no on-campus cameos, no blowjobs (at least as far as I know) beneath the counter, no promo budgets and certainly none of the image-, media- and career strategists so eagerly employed by the world of "alternative rock" these days. Some free jeans, that's all. And a deeply imbedded, 100% non-ironic belief in the power of rock'n'roll.
They've never bothered to achieve anything at all, never strived for acceptance; why compare yourself to players in the System when you're already Number One in the Underworld? It doesn't really matter anyhow, because now everyone seems to want a piece of the action. It's just the way of the world.
They've been touring Europe and the US so many times, and in such glorious ways - the legends of mind-boggling mishaps, on-the-road violence and insanity are a-plenty - that people just HAD to notice them. And when you first stumble into the magic roar that is Turbonegro, you will experience a rush of blood to, well, take your pick. If you choose to look and listen beyond the blatant yet beautiful in-your-face stupidity of their "image" and aesthetic hooliganism you will find one of Rock's hidden gems. Then you may need to hold on to something, as Turbonegro enters you. Might as well just lay back and enjoy it, as your skin turns as blue as the holy fabric of dungaree. These two discs are more than pieces of plastic. They are pieces of history. Cherish them. Because Deathpunk is the New Loud.