After meeting ambitious lead guitarist, Reine Fiske, at folk school, the stage was set for Dungen to develop into one of the most meaningful experimental bands’ now cavorting through the universal nightclub scene. Originally, Dungen fooled around with different chord structures, exploring the catalog of Jimi Hendrix Experience at intervals, deftly attempting to figure out the dexterous psychedelicized fretwork as well as Mitch Mitchell’s thunderous drumming in a dank, dusky basement.
“I was forced to play guitar in music school,” the fleet fingered Fiske recalls. “Sweden used to have a scheme where if you’d pick up an instrument and join a band the government would pay.” But he promptly confesses, “Ultimately, it’s all in your system. I’ve been programmed with so many things. I don’t consider myself a very blues-y guitar player. I’m more into melodies. You always indirectly borrow ideas from people, but in the end, they’re your own.”
Dungen’s limited edition fuzzed-out ’01 self-titled vinyl debut sold out its initial 500 copies, and along with their more cohesive second album, Stadsvandringar (described as ‘a promenade with observations on city summer life’), has been re-released on CD with unreleased material added, creating quite a stir amongst well-informed subterraneous residents. Could fame on par with fellow Scandinavians the Hives, or at least Sahara Hotnights, be far off?
Fiske may laugh at the thought, but he offers, “I’ve been into Swedish underground music forever. The first incarnation of International Harvester (whose feral fusion of raga, folk, jazz, and nature sounds coalesced best on ‘68s dependable Sov Gott Rose-Marie) played complex, haunting drone-rock with tribal beats. They were a very big cult band in a more free form improvised genre.”
Though denying any first-hand prog-rock influences, Fiske admits to having early Yes albums in his collection, albeit not the late-‘70s symphonic investigations of Tales of Topographic Oceans. He finds beauty in some of it, but has otherwise “grown tired of it.”
Yet the self-assured young maverick does touch upon some enthrallingly proggish inclinations, as he noodles around abstrusely, moving through wacky offbeat dementia and outrageously fanciful excursions in increasingly intriguing ways. Gratefully, notwithstanding the fascinating tripped out hi-jinx daubing a few clever suites, ‘05 breakout, Ta Det Lugnt, finds Dungen remaining surprisingly affective constructing euphonious hook lines and subordinate symphonic orchestral grandeur; mutating cosmic styles while astonishingly singing in their native tongue instead of commonplace English. Piercing trebly guitars reach punk-metal pandemonium during unexpected intervals, subverting several protracted decorous extravaganzas with spacey electronic manipulation any old school King Crimson fan would recognize. However, at the core of these galactic expansions lie the hearts and minds of true garage-rock freak’s resourcefully handling primal studio gadgetry and primary tools (guitar-drum-bass).
“It was cut together as a montage. We worked real hard on it. Certain movements are spontaneous. The jams blend together,” declares Fiske. “The last song, “Sluta Folja Eiter,” has Gustav on all the drums during a heavy night. We were just drunk, had a good time, and were loose. I put the guitar notes down and it was crazy. Nothing but the basic track was planned.”
Even if, as Ejstes claims, Ta Det Lugnt was made in the midst of an angry drunken stoner hangover, its nervous tension allows room for multitudinous spiffy pop embellishments. Unconventionally beginning with a nifty swing-styled drum solo, the upwardly mobile sorcery of “Panda” imbues a similar celebratory European harmoniousness ‘60s legends, the Monks, once exposed. Perhaps another hazy reminder of a long-lost psychedelic-crazed Sixties relic, the echoed vocals and six-string sustenance fortifying the congenial “Gjort Bort Sig” reference The Creation, aiming at the frazzled skull before heading straight to the stratosphere. Folk-acoustic spiral “Festival” then settles into the semi-aquatic neo-orchestral glaze of emotional ballad “Du E For Fin For Mig” (where Fiske’s fiery guitar coda seemingly mingles Hendrix distortion techniques with dazzling Frank Zappa-sponsored fluidity). And the soothing “Lipsill” slips into voyaging lounge-y ambiance better than the velvety piano-strolled morsel “Det Du Tanker Ideg Ar Du I Morgon.”
“There’s always a kernel of hook-y melodies – something to grab onto,” Fiske shares. “When I listen to the record, I get very connected to the way the record turned out. The mixture of songs is interesting. There are all kinds of moods that go lots of places you couldn’t imagine. New things are happening all the time.”
Even while rejecting the notion that the mid-section of barreling sashay “Bortglomd” touches upon some swiftly stroked riffs drawn from The Who’s Quadrophenia, Fiske does unequivocally acknowledge their windmill-armed axe master.
“Pete Townshend was important for me as an angry teen not knowing what to do. But I wasn’t thinking about them. Instead, the inspiration comes from certain (established) Swedish bands. The drum patterns were from a jam.” He continues, “We function well together in a recording situation. I’m handy in the studio. Live, to some extent, we’ll break into jams. There are times we head off in any direction.”
Dungen have been recording some new ideas, but no particular songs have been finished yet. Will Fiske risk the venture into solo artist territory in the near future?
“I’m not a song man. But it’d be nice to get together with people I love and have he same attitude towards playing. I’d definitely want good people,” he avows.
Best of all, Dungen has already caught on here in the States thanks to a recent spate of nationwide club dates. At Maxwells in Hoboken this September, Fiske, whose frizzy shoulder length blonde locks covered his bespectacled face, displayed technical proficiency way beyond his twentysomething years. Curly-haired Ejstes, meanwhile, did yeoman’s work adding rhythm guitar segments, manipulating keys, shakin’ tambourine, providing decorative tidbits, and taking on lead vocal chores. Bassist Mattias Gustavsson held the fort as athletic drummer Fredrik Bjorling proved to be mightily sufficient banging out engrossing rhythms and perplexingly distended fragments. Mars Volta’s fabulous protracted jaunts came to mind as well as Soft Machine’s strenuous Jazz-informed free form meanderings (especially on spectral flute-interspersed epic “Om Du Vore En Vakthund”). Only a little blurry over-modulated distortion during the dramatic harmonic refrain of “Panda” marred the otherwise magnanimous set.
Fiske concludes, “We did two weeks in America in July. We basically sold out the smaller venues. We got good press, too. It’s almost odd how we got that kind of exposure.”
4 hemp leafs
Reclusive studio rat Gustav Ejstes may shun interviews and appear shy onstage (despite the beautiful noisy racket he creates), but the industrious multi-instrumentalist cannot be denied his place amongst the top modern rock surrealists. Masterminding Swedish combo Dungen (pronounced doon-yen) with a little help from fellow Nordic hotshot guitarist Reine Fiske (and an equally compelling touring unit), they blend myriad textural elements into a heady brew of kaleidoscopic psychedelia.
Coming off dazzlingly cosmic ’05 U.S. debut, Ta Det Lugnt (recorded in the wintry daze of what Fiske described as “an angry drunken stoner hangover”), Dungen’s latest resplendent offering, Tio Bitar, reaches a tantalizingly melodic pinnacle without sacrificing abrasive metal-edged angularity. Conveniently holding heavy-handed proggish tendencies in check, Dungen allow piercing sonic feedback, Goth keyboard drones, jazz-fusion percussive milieu, illustrious acoustic-violin tranquility, and fluttery flute nuances to paint a rich canvas of contrasting dark and bright hues.
Indirectly informed by Classical Swedish folk and singing in his native tongue, Ejstes may make music mag headlines for devising astoundingly complex arrangements, but it’s ultimately his majestic emotional linguistics that seal the deal. On autumnal piano-plinked climax, “Svart Ar Himlen,” Ejstes’ warmly mesmerized lyricism rings out clearly, conveying a universal message way beyond restrictive cultural boundaries. Moreover, during the siren “Intro” and then elsewhere in Tio Bitar’s blissful narcotic midst, Fiske lets his freak flag fly, showing off a full-on Jimi Hendrix compulsion by scattering a blurry cavalcade of sustained riffs, gruff turbulence, and jagged distortion into the most far-out abstractions. In summary, it’s a hip opiate-encrypted trip picked to grip the underground nation.