He cites Jan Hammer, he of the Miami Vice TV show theme song, as a major influence. His music is synth-poppy-goodness, but his performing name is pure violence. He used to do hip hop, but now he’s all about that 1980s synth sound. I’m speaking, of course, of Johan Bengtsson, better known by his nom-de-synth Mitch Murder.
I recently learned about Mitch from my co-worker Rob. We were both in Kansas City to attend a couple of days of meetings, and the ice-breaker was that each person would talk about what new music or books they were currently into. Rob told us that he was way into synthwave right now, so of course I made a point of getting some recommendations from him. And one day when we were headed back to the office after lunch he played some Mitch Murder in the car. And I was sold immediately.
Most of Mitch Murder’s releases are only available via download (which you can find at his extensive Bandcamp page HERE), but after a bit of poking around I found one that was released on vinyl – the five-song 2016 EP called The Real Deal. I had to order it from Norway (Murder himself is Swedish) and it just arrived. These songs are pure electronic goodness, sounding like the soundtrack to every great 1980s teen movie ever made – upbeat to the point of being almost chipper, incorporating unusual sounds like flutes and bells alongside beats that feel like they came straight from Mattel Synsonic Drums, more flat and snappy than the deep bass sounds we hear in more contemporary electronica. There are no vocals and only one track that has any vocal sampling, so you’re left with pure, crisp music.
It’s hard to compare Mitch Murder to anything specific from the 1980s, because he doesn’t sound like anyone in particular, but at the same time he sounds like everything we were hearing in pop and soundtracks at the time. “Outpost Alpha” initially reminded me of the early parts of Foreigner’s “I Want To Know What Love Is,” but as it progressed it turned more into something that could have been part of a slower early Madonna track, but then again maybe something Lionel Richie could have used… like I said, it sounds like everything and nothing in particular at the same time. And if “Prime Operator” doesn’t make you think you’ve just dropped into the middle of a sports-karate-military-training-sequence from a movie, you haven’t seen enough 80s movies. It makes me want to go paint a fence or gleam the cube or something. So good.
Go check out Mitch’s Bandcamp site (link above) and just pick something at random. You’ll be glad you did.
My preference when it comes to punk is for material from the late 1970s and early 1980s, when it was dirty and fast rock ‘n’ roll but hadn’t reached hardcore velocity. And if I want to get even more specific, I tend to like the stuff that came out of the Nordic countries the best. I’m not sure what it was that made those Finnish, Swedish, and Icelandic bands so good. (♠) Probably a combination of long, dark, cold winters that encouraged people to find stuff to do inside for six months out of the year, and maybe as a rebellion against the stability and homogeneity of society. Or maybe there just happened to be some rad kids there with interesting fashion sense who decided to play music. I don’t know. What I do know though is that they played some pretty great punk rock.
This weekend involved a trip about an hour south of us to Tacoma to go to a yarn show, which is very much not punk rock. But I’m OK with these jaunts to Tacoma as a trip to the yarn show also means a trip to Hi-Voltage Records, which never disappoints. Hi-Voltage has a pretty healthy selection of punk and metal, so it wasn’t entirely unsurprising (maybe just a little…) to find this 2011 reissue of Asta Kask’s 1985 debut LP Med Is I Magen.
Med Is I Magen is everything I like about Swedish punk. Fast and unpretentious with snarling and sneering vocals, foot on the gas pedal and let it rip with most of the songs clocking in at under three minutes. The guitar work is a bit fancier than one sometimes finds from albums in this era, even giving way to a few brief frenetic solos. The high point is the album’s last track, “Robotar Lever,” a song that opens with some heavy modulation that approaches industrial before breaking free into full throttle rock ‘n’ roll.
You can listen to the whole album below, though it’s the later CD version that has way more than the eight songs from the original. “Robotar Lever” kicks in right at the 14:00 mark.
(♠) I have love for you too, Norway, but much more so on the extreme metal side.
Well, this is it, the last of the records I bought on our recent trip to Sweden. I still have a handful left from the Iceland portion of the trip, but this is it from Stockholm. Overall the Swedish stuff has been a solid mix of punk, new wave, and experimental; there must be something to all that clean air and the cold winters that forms great musicians.
Kommissaire Roy is pretty straight forward lo-fi rock ‘n’ roll. There’s a bit of punk attitude in the vocals, with the singer not trying too hard, almost in a George Thorogood kind of way. There’s some rockabilly, a helping of Chuck Berry, and a hint of surf rock in some of the riffs. “En Annan Dag” is particularly catchy and gets a little charm from the 1960s style “do-do” female harmonies that pop up from time to time.
Overall a fun record, one you can’t help but tap your fingers and toes to.
Sator Codex (later just Sator) was formed in Sweden back in 1981, and 1986s Wanna Start a Fire? was their first LP. The Swedish pressing was around 1,500 copies, with a separate UK version released as well. I found this little gem at Stockholm’s Trash Palace last month, and while I wasn’t familiar with Sator Codex I was looking for 1980s Swedish bands, so I took a chance, and it turned out to be a pretty good one.
I’ve seen Sator Codex, and Wanna Start a Fire? in particular, described as goth rock, and I suppose that’s a decent description. The vocal delivery is somewhere between post-punk and goth, though more on the post-punkish side to my ears. Musically, however, it’s definitely more on the goth rock side – it’s got that general post-punk moodiness, but the pace is brisker, particularly the drumming. There’s an overall dark vibe, but it still rocks and the singing doesn’t plumb the depths of despair. If it reminds me of anything musically it might be Death Cult.
Side A ends with “Howling,” an intriguing number that presages the EBM of Legend, and not just because of the song title. While not as electronics-heavy as later EBM bands, Sator Codex’s synths created a layered mood that allow the vocals to get a bit crazy. It’s like being lost in the woods at dusk and hearing the pack of wolves that you know are tracking you, just wanting for you to grow tired… Then you’ve got songs like “You Need Me” that sound like something off Big Country’s The Crossing if you played that record at a slower speed. Though then again, the guitar riff could be Louder Than Love era Soundgarden. It’s all a bit confusing.
Wanna Start a Fire? is perhaps a bit inconsistent at times, but if you’re into the not-quite-so-dark versions of post-punk and goth there’s a lot here to like, and a certain freshness in Sator Codex’s eclectic approach.
I don’t know much about Sweden’s Rädsla. I came across this copy of their 1981 mini-album Sanningen För Pojkar at Stockholm’s Pet Sounds Records. The cover looked kind of punk and it was from the early 1980s so I figured I’d given it a shot. Sometimes that’s just how I roll when I’m overseas and don’t have access to the internet to look stuff up.
I wouldn’t go so far as to call Rädsla punk. Their style is more early new wave, before the genre had gone all Flock of Seagulls on us, when it was still a sort of darker pop music that was evolving out of the post-punk gloom. The riffs are catchy and pretty tight, with vocals that range from Clash-esque reggae-punk to contemporary shoegaze. There are early rock influences throughout the band’s sound, from the dub inspired “Dödens Pub” to the surf-ish title track. The bass guitar is prominent, providing a lot of the song structure and giving the tracks a more organic feel than you get from the more drum-heavy rhythm sections I’m used to hearing. The mix is clean and balanced, giving plenty of space to all the individual instruments. I’ve been trying to place the familiar feeling I get when listening to Sanningen För Pojkar, and it finally hit me during the last song – Rädsla reminds me a lot of early Radio Birdman.
There was a lot of great music being played in Sweden during the 1980s, most of it little known outside of Scandinavia. This stuff is worth exploring – it’s a bit of work, but often rewards the effort.