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March 20, 2006 | by  | in Features | [ssba]

Weird War

Five years ago, my most played album for that lingering last gasp of high school was The Shape of Punk to Come from Swedish hardcore band Refused. Billed as ‘A Chimerical Bombination in 12 Bursts’ it was a visionary mash-up of genre, the potent signifiers of hardcore wrapped around the self-aware Marxist fist of Swedish punks who knew how to dance. It

had its eyes on revolution. I was more than a little disturbed a year later to find that Refused had borrowed wholesale from an earlier band, Washington DC’s Nation of Ulysses. From the innovative mixing of jazz and blues elements into hardcore punk, down to the elaborate art and manifesto package that housed the album: it was the European parallel import

of their 13-Point Program to Destroy America. Aware of the constant theft and influence that composes most art, as a music-fan I learned to live with this and eventually so has the Nation of Ulysses’ frontman Ian Svenonious. His legacy has spiralled out through the underground of hardcore to inspire hundreds of bands and also onto the airwaves of the globe, his rock-as-liberation art-rebellion co-opted by the mainstream ‘punk’ actors of the early nineties and is once more in vogue with the International Noise Conspiracy and the Hives. This month Svenonious will tour New Zealand with his current collective of ontological freedom fighters terrorists: Weird War.

Weird War is Alex Minoff (from Golden) on guitar, Michelle Mae (from Make-Up) on bass, Sebastian Thomson (from Trans Am) behind the drums and Svenonious doing his funky Prince meets Jim Morrison via Jon Spencer Gospel Preacher thing. I had the pleasure of talking with Ian and while my questions were woefully inadequate, he politely endured them and espoused his rock n roll as Marxism dialectic theories and conspiracy leaden musings which frame the music of Weird War and also form the basis for his soon to be released book: The Psychic Soviet. For Svenonius, rock ‘n’ roll forms a dialectic between the groups in Western society with power, and the working classes without. In a lengthy extract from his forthcoming book you can read on the Weird War Website (, he ponders that, “an examination of a leader’s/culture’s most beloved art can yield the destiny of that nation and people. That the popular expression of the culture is actually the narrative which determines it’s overarching historical course.” He then goes on to examine Hitler’s love of opera and the resulting Wagnerian tragedy Nazi Germany played out that serves as modern mythology for anyone growing up in the 20th Century. Extending this theory to Britain and America, rock ‘n’ roll is their cultural narrative:

“Britain and America. Both have institutionalised disregard for high art – the tragic forms. Britain, instead of opera, had Gilbert and Sullivan. Instead of Nietzsche’s Dionysian forms, they replaced it with an Apollonian narrative. Rock and roll has a Dionysian element, like Kurt Cobain or Jim Morrison, but it’s in the context of triumphalism. It’s a ‘winner takes all’ thing. The point is, if rock is the way you see art, it’s a rock and roll group’s responsibility to create a narrative – like Wagner – that will kill the ruling class”

This led Weird War to realise, “that if we could construct a narrative, if we use rock and roll, people could make a narrative that was similarly made. We could drive our own president to kill himself in his own bunker. He could take a little cyanide pill sewn into his suit jacket. That is what our music is all about.”
Interestingly enough, Svenonious did manage to attract the attentions of the F.B.I. last year for a show flyer with a joke about President Bush that was suspected to be ‘threatening’. Serious business: “It was never about being threatening. It was more about finding people to be patsies for theatre later. Politics has become theatre now. It is all fake narratives that keep people complacent.”

I asked how well the music of Weird War goes down overseas, being such a product of an American/Western context. Not surprisingly, better than at home, especially in the more socially liberated socialist Europe. He described how often their home audiences were “left a little perplexed” by their danceable incitements to unity, ecstasy and self-awareness. This then diverted into a discussion of Hardcore punk as folk resurgence and how rock ‘n’ roll was not just veiled cultural imperialism but in fact an embodiment of liberal capitalism. Svenonious identifies a pattern of musical groups being downsized for economic efficiency over the past century, moving from orchestras, down to jazz groups, then rock bands, individual celebrity packages and DJs. Each step furthering the distance between audience and art object. Hopefully his own band flies low enough under the radar to not be part of the great cultural export dilemma. But as he ironically joked, they have “languished in obscurity. Despite our best efforts.”

Finally after many years of coaxing, Mystery Girl has convinced Weird War to bring their Dionysian revelry to New Zealand. Catch them at Indigo on Saturday the 25th of March with So So Modern supporting.


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