The rise and fall of Svartedauen

Just Another D.I.Y. Punk Label

"The state always has the sole purpose to limit, tame, subordinate, the individual - to make him subject to to some generality or other;

it's last only so long as the individual is not all in all, and it's only clearly-marked restriction of me, my limitation, my slavery." - Max Stirner

The rise and fall of Svartedauen

 

by Per Solvang

 

In September 1979, seventeen-year-old Per stole the loudspeaker system from the commentator box at the ski jump arena in the small town of Rognan, in the northern rural part of Norway. The removal of this equipment went on for two days; hidden by dark autumn skies, he dragged the amplifier and the loudspeakers along hidden paths in the pine forest. At first, the reason for this theft was pure greed and a great interest in technical equipment. Rock music had become important for him at the time, and he also had an urge to perform on stage. Per had purchased an electric guitar and had started to compose his own songs. He had learnt basic skills in guitar playing at school. By mistake, he had been enrolled into a music class for three hours a week. The theft from the arena suddenly showed itself to be an artistic scoop. The amplifier was so old that it contained tubes instead of transistors, which gave it harmonic distortion when Per played a

guitar on it. This was exactly the same distortion used by the bands that were soon to become Per's big idols, the British punk bands and Iggy Pop.

 

Debut

 

Per's first performance was at a 'Rock Against Racism' event held by the Socialist Youth at Rognan. Two bands from Trondheim appeared

Svartedauen back in 1980, From the left: Brian

Karlsen (trommer), Erik Fastvold (gitar), Bjørn

Martin Hanssen (bass) and Per Solvang

(vokal/gitar).

 

at the Rognan community hall, Johnny Yen Bang

and Belsen Boys. When Per discovered this, he contacted the leader of the Socialist Youth and was allowed to hire a local band as a warm-up. He was friends with several members of Export Band, a straight band that played popular dance music. At the concert, Export Band played some of their hardest songs and then played backing for Per, who sang some of his own songs. These songs were very primitive, with three or four chords that were repeated in the same sequence for two or three minutes. Per and Export Band had never rehearsed together. In the dressing room, Per had shown the band his chords, which were scribbled down on a piece of paper, just as they were about to go on stage. They were also asked to play faster and harder than they had ever done before.

Per made his entrance by shouting such insults as "fucking morons" at the audience. He felt like he was high on speed, rolling around on stage during the performance of his two opuses, "Bærre på jævel" ("Just for the hell of it") and "Ingen vil ha mæ" ("Nobody wants me"), and staring as if he was panicked into the eyes of the members of the audience closest to him. The response was overwhelming, but people were probably cheering more for the savageness than for the musical

performance. This appearance made Per a guest artist with Export Band. The guest appearances were generally at youth club, as he was a tad too spicy forthemore grown-up dance party audience.

 

Svartedauen comes to life

 

In late winter of 1980, two guys contacted Per because they were interested in forming a band. One of them had played the bass in a folk dance duo with his father, and the other longed to play the drums. Once again, it was Per's friends in Export Band that helped him; his new band got to use Export Band's equipment in their rehearsal room at the new youth club at Rognan.

 

 

They named the band Svartedauen (The Black Death). After a while, they were joined by the son of a local music teacher on guitar. This allowed Per to concentrate fully on the vocals.

From the newspaper; Nordlands Framtid:"The vocal singer in the band Svartedauen had maybe the most original element in the hole

final of Rock in Bodø. Of course in his apparence.For savety reasons:Break the swastika, is the expression on his sweather."

 

Their first public performance was in the nearby district capital Bodø at the Norwegian Rock championship district finals. All bands were allowed to perform for 15 minutes. Svartedauen did not get a ranking, but Per's picture appeared in the Bodø newspaper Nordlands Framtid. There was a bit of fuss because he had painted his eyes and mouth in the darkest black and wore a t-shirt with a huge swastika, above which he had written "Destroy!". The expression meant, therefore, to destroy the swastika. However, the use of this symbol still made a strong impact as the word was partly covered by the microphone stand.

At this concert, the band got to know some of the Bodø punks. The band Hjertesvikt A/S (Heart Attack Inc.) was playing, and they invited Svartedauen to play at a concert they were holding at a Bodø youth club later that spring. This was the first paid performance for Svartedauen. They played at this gig with Hjertesvikt A/S and Blomsterbarna (The Flower Children), who opened the concert, and the atmosphere was good. At the time, there was a bitter conflict between the punks and a group of fifties rock fans. The rock fans were inspired by the British Teddy Boys and tried to look like the young Elvis. Some of them turned up at the concert with rotten tomatoes, which ended up in Svartedauen's faces during their performance, and the drummer even had fireworks detonated between his legs. It got worse for Hjertesvikt A/S, who played last. The rockers had run out of tomatoes and started throwing ashtrays, fortunately without any serious injuries. At the end of the concert, the rockers waited in force to beat up the punks. For Svartedauen, it all ended with a police escort to the place they were spending the night. This gig in Bodø was the last show played by Svartedauen's original line-up. In the summer of 1980, the band split up. Per and the guitar player split from the rest of the band and went their own way, still under the name of Svartedauen.

Above: Merethe Sollund

 

A fatal encounter

 

In late autumn of 1980, Svartedauen was called to a meeting with the local community-employed

activator who was also the head of the youth club. She had asked them in advance if a journalist from the Nordlandsposten, another Bodø newspaper, could attend the meeting. The activator felt that it could solve some problems if the journalist was allowed to meet the band. This was perfectly okay with the band, even though they did not quite understand what problems the

activator was referring to. Svartedauen simply wanted to appear in the newspaper.

Rognan handball team

 

Handball has become so popular

but is so boring

you sit in a plastic hall in ten below zero

grinding teeth and freezing like hell

what can be the reason for this?

Rognan handball team is bloody great

at them all men like to sit and watch

Rognan handball team o-o-h o-h o

big tits and lovely thighs.

 

The activator placed particular responsibility on the group's female bass player, because she was a woman participating in something that the activator felt was sexist. The bass player, on the other hand, felt that the song gave a good idea of what was going on about the girls on the handball team at Rognan. Per thought that this was a taboo issue in the local community and that it was good to bring it to the light.

 

The discussion at the meeting became tough. The journalist and the activator felt most strongly about the lyrics of another song, "Berre på jævel" ("Just for the hell of it"). Per got inspiration for this song after vandals visited the Rognan churchyard. Per wanted to shock by imaginatively putting himself in the place of the vandal. With the punk rock unadorned plain speaking, he wrote something that could have been the churchyard vandals' message and turned it into a brutal announcement:

The journalist from Nordlandsposten felt that this text could make Svartedauen the object of

outrage forever if these lyrics became publicly known. Per responded that all publicity is good

publicity. The band did not care what was said about them; the important part was that something was said. The meeting ended in an aggressive and irreconcilable mood, and Svartedauen was told that they would be thrown out of the rehearsal room they were using at the youth club.

 

The scandal

 

A few weeks passed before the journalist put anything into print. He used the two most extreme sentences from the lyrics of "Berre på jævel" ("Just for the hell of it") and filled half of the front page of Nordlandsposten with them. "Kill all priests, burn down all the churches" was the headline of the story. The journalist wrote on behalf of the average citizen in the area, concluding that the texts and music of Svartedauen were "mentally confused" and that they used "a lot of fascist symbols". The band themselves felt that the journalist did not have a clue about what he was writing, even calling Svartedauen a "pop group". The newspaper article also stated that, "if we know the dance band audience in our district, Svartedauen will not be playing many gigs in the future." Pop music was, to Svartedauen, similar to swearing and they had nothing but contempt for the musical tastes of the average dance band audience. They considered themselves free artists, and took no notice whatsoever of the musical tastes of the audience when creating their songs.

A new era

 

Per and the guitar player soon recruited a new band. They were joined by the daughter of the district agriculturist and churchwarden on bass, the local station manager's son on drums, and finally the politically radical son of a teacher on guitar. The repertoire was soon rehearsed and supplemented with a few songs from other punk bands, both Norwegian and British. In early autumn, Svartedauen's new line-up had their debut at the local youth club. They had not really dressed up or made their hair in punk style. It came down to cast-off suit jackets and a few safety pins and, in Per's case, black eye make-up and nail polish. This was also in line with the style of the British punk bands before punk became a fashion phenomenon.

If their clothes were not very shocking, Svartedauen had other ways of reaching the extreme. One of their cover songs was "Toilet Love" by Wayne County. It is about a man who loves the smell of dirty underwear and the sound of the toilet. The performance of this song was accompanied by taped sounds and a slide. The motif was a close-up of the toilet after Per had done his deed and the tape contained the sound of flushing. This did not have much effect on the audience besides inducing a slight nausea. What had a much greater effect on the band was the fact that they had printed some of their lyrics on sheets of paper and had handed them out to the audience. These sheets came to the attention of both the head of the local youth club and a local journalist.

The reason for this meeting revealed itself to be a concern for the well-being of the youth club. Svartedauen had become too extreme for the activator's taste and there were forces in the district council that were quite sceptical towards the youth club. If the band's doings became publicly known, it could very well break down the confidence of the local community in the youth club. The activator had seen them perform a few days prior to the meeting and she felt that they held a suggestive power over the audience that was frightening. Along with Per's face painted in black, the use of such effects as chains and swastikas (even if the message was clearly anti-Nazi) made terrible associations. However, it was the lyrics that were the major problem. As they had been handed out, they were well known. There were two songs, in particular, that the activator and the journalist felt were hard to swallow.

 

One song was about the female handball team at Rognan, which, at the time, was doing very well and was a local favourite. During Per's only visit to one of their matches, it became clear that it was not solely their athletic achievements that made them favourites among the male part of the audience. This inspired him to write the following text (here in English translation):

Just for the hell of it

 

Here at the cemetery

lay all the dead ones

with flowers and stones

for hundreds of pounds

while my wallet is clean

 

Tear up all the flowers

just for the hell of it

tumble all the rocks

just for the hell of it

put fire to all the churches

just for the hell of it

kill all the clergymen

just for the hell of it

The facsimale from the newspaper;

Nordlandsposten 30th oktober 1980:"Kill all thepriests, burn down the churches. A popgroupfrom Rognan has the record in meanness."

 

Reactions on the article soon erupted. The local populace was terrified. Per's mother, who ran a grocery store, said that she just wanted to close the shop and go home. Her customers had great sympathy for her, though, seeing her as the woman who had to put up with such a degenerate son. The other members of the band faced similar reactions and each of them were verbally abused by people on several occasions. At Nordlandsposten, the phone lines were ringing hot and the responses of the callers were printed. One person felt that the community was dealing with forces that could commit murder and that it had to end with disaster. An 80-year-old felt that the solution was a good beating with a birch rod, which should work well against this weed.

 

Curtain fall

 

Just after the fuss with the newspaper article, one of the guitar players left the band. He gave

priority to his work on the political left wing; there was no doubt that Svartedauen's troubles were a danger to the political trustworthiness of the youth organisation in which he was a high profile member. Amongst other things, his political left-wing acoustic song group was nearly thrown out of their rehearsal rooms at Rognan High School after the Svartedauen scandal.

 

The band activity was slowing down at the time. They had a couple of jobs in Bodø; these

appearances were rather successful, but inner tension and frustrations caused Per to dissolve the band in the spring of 1981.

There was a short epilogue in the summer of 1981. Per and the first guitar player rehearsed a

freshly composed repertoire with a violin player and a classically trained composer, who were two of the very few bohemians in the small rural town of Rognan. The instrumental version of "Natt i furutoppen" ("Night time in the pine top") was the peak of this joint venture, but they never appeared in public. When that summer ended, so did the story of Svartedauen.

 

Another short epilogue took place in the autumn of 1994, when Bodø Rock Club released a cultural history documentation consisting of three CDs named "Tiddelibom". One of these CDs contains a muddy, but authentic, recording of Svartedauen where they play their magnum opus, "Just for the hell of it". This song also appears as a bonus track on the CD "Null Problem" released by Snack Ohm Tapes.

below: Per Solvang, the vocal singer in Svartedauen

The end is very near!