Fuck the state! Fifteen years later

By Torstein Helleve

The city on the west coast of Norway, Bergen was like hell in the early eighties. Children prostitution  flourished. The number of murder cases was on the level of that of New York, and children in wheelchairs couldn’t go safely from home to school because of the black masked cidnappers in grey Mercedeses on the next corner. The population were constantly exposed to surveillance cameras, and no one seemed to care as long as they were offer cheap products on Wednesday, disco on Saturday and meat on Sunday. Or so Bergen seemed if one did go to high school in Voss (a town close to Bergen), listening to The Aller Værste! (TAV!/The Very Worst) and reading the Norwegian music paper Nye Takter (New Beats).


The bumblebee that couldn’t fly


TAV! was maybe the best representative of the Norwegian flood wave of bands that occurred when the shock wave  from the punk-explosion in England a few years later made it beyond Stad (meaning; the south of Norway). From under nearly every bush there popped out a punk band or a new wave band who bought themselves a bass, stole two drum sticks and borrowed the rest of the equipment through a big brother in the class level over, because he had a fuzzbox even though he played in a discoband, and was a sort of cool.

It is said that according to the laws of aerodynamics the bumblebee should’nt be able to fly, but since it doesn’t know, it flies anyway. It’s the same with TAV! and ska music too. Since they obviously did not know how ska music should sound, they were free to try out new ways of doing things. If it worked, they would keep it. And although they put out some indifferent stuff, it was easily forgiven when mixed with all their small gems.

Even though we didn’t at the time realize the limits of TAV!, at least we understood that we could try ourselves. From the origin in the youth club Vangsgryto, Voss Rockeklubb grew to one of the largest rock clubs in the country, at least measured in delegates Norsk Rockeforbund’s annual meeting in Bergen in 1984. If I remember correctly, seven membersparticipated on this meeting, even though only two representative from each rock club were permitted free of any charge to the concerts in the evenings. Among these seven were two delegates from Palmafossen Rockeklubb. This rock club had an intense and short-lived history, that consisted of sending two representatives to the annual meeting of Norsk Rockeforbund in Bergen in 1984. Probably few other rock clubs could show the same amount of active bands anyway. The way into playing in a band was usually to know someone else who played, and then you joined

On the other hand, with so many bands there also appeared band names that had deserved a better future. Døvt Støv (Deaf Dust), Oddvar I’dole (untranslatable), Slumsøstrenes Daglige Trøst (The Daily Comfort of the Slum Sisters) and Aqua Velva Bænd are some examples. The last one operated inside of one year and one day, gaining herostratic fame when they slaughtered a hen on stage at their last concert in an attempt to have a farewell concert that would be remembered for years afterwards. In which they apparently succeeded, but became so shaken themselves that they to this day prefer not to talk about the episode. I’ll soon return to TAV! and other well-knowned Norwegian bands, but I have to mention Gonoreagan, who summed up the attitude of the punk rock in Voss in their classic song “Pul staten” (Fuck the state)”. The guitar player did only play one-finger-chords, and had Balle as their lead singer (who went on to inspire Balle and his Assholes, a band that although they never existed, got more record and concert-reports in Nye Takter than the other bands from Voss did. put together).

Uknown meat dishes

Well. TAV! released two singles and two LPs’ (OK, the last LP pretended to be just a mini-LP) as people know. Then they did their first single all over again, including a bonus track and drawings on the sleeve. In the end they released the single “Hakk/Bare feiginger”,

with a new drummer, it wasn’t so after all. It was supposed to be a musical collective, where themembers could come and go much as they wanted. I'll allow space for mentioning the titles from the record:

1. Nykter (sober)

2. Reisning (erection, or rise)

3. Presence!

4. Sug (blow/suck)

5. Glass (glas)

6. Tundra

7. Pest (plague)

8. Europa

9. ...etter regnet (...after the rain

To my knowlegde modul 2 never saw the light of the day. Many will disagree, but to me Michael Krohn's straight rock'n'roll was best when balanced with the pretentiousness of Helge Gaarder, wheeras the latter helplessly drifted into chaos without someone with an eye for the simple solutions.

Cue Eggen. Deeply wounded that his roles as musician and journalist should be mixed, he demanded an apology and public flogging of the poor woman. The shell-shocked editors issued said apology, the female writer was never heard of again, and remaining was an image of Eggen as an upright gentleman that in no way had reacted so much to a negative review as to an out-of-order mix-up between his two roles .


Cut released two albums, both of which existed in my childhood home. I can't remember a single line or song title.


Is Poland located on the Balkan?

The real third wheel on the Norwegian three-wheeled-bike was DePress. They arrived at the scene some years after Kjøtt og TAV, but they arrived well. With the first guitar star in the new wave in Jørn Christensen, and the starngest lead singer in Andrej Nebb, they introduced the new style of music called balkanpunk, a genre they did very well, since no one else participated. And they got Snorten on drums. Drummers usually give sympathetic impressions, and Snorten was no exception. This became obvious when Cirkus Modern a couple of years later played in a youth club on Voss. After the concert  the audience tried to make the band doing some encores, and though the others in the band was ready, Helge Gaarder leaned back and said: “I don’t give a shit playing forthose snotty kids no more” ( three years earlier the band Kjøtt could make a song with the same title!)

The price to pay

That this was the childhood of Norwegian rock, were also obvious from the sales numbers. According to history, Wannskrækk sold half of their copies from the first printing of 1000 copies of their now classic self-named 12". The other half lay in the attic in a now torn down concert place called Renegat, and now is part of the foundation of the shopping center Oslo City, together withs a consert place called  Renegat. A sad story with a bittersweet irony. That it also were the foundation for the career of the band Dum Dum Boys, is free for anyone to interpret, the fact remains that the 12" is sold for prices around NKR 1000,- today (about £90).

Somebody told me, and I believe it, that one of the employees at a now closed record shop in Oslo had six or seven copies of Kjøtt-1 2”, and sold them one by one on the amount of NOK 1000-1500 (£  100-150) when he needed the money.

In 1981 or something Geir Rakvaag in Nye Takter wrote something like this as a review on a record:”A year ago I dreamt of Norwegian bands releasing their own records. In the year that has passed, they have started doing just that, and I'm left wondering what the hell I was thinking about".

In one way you could say he was in the right. Bands like Ischjazz and Gummgakk A/S didn’t get the attention they deserved (we thought then), and that they didn’t deserve either (we're forced to admit now) . In another way he was wrong.

So we tried. And here another influence from TAV! came in: The collective. They had no lead figure, mainly because they shared on the job as lead singer (they also shared the jobs of playing bass guitar and organ). They were a band , an entity that did things together. And we too would do things together. It was the sense of unity that drove us on, the feeling that even though Helge Gaarder had never heard of us, standing in a basement in Voss spending half of the practising sessions just trying to tune our guitar so they sounded at least approxiamtely alike, we still were part of the same movement. We ahd understood a little more, and we would try to do something about it.

And we tried and tried. In the end, we got a little tired. The world insisted not to listen, and the creeping suspicion that that was the right thing for the world to do, evolved into self insight, thereby dampening the enthusiasm significantly.

For me, the nail in the coffin came when we arranged the Rarock Festival for the second year running. After a small success the year before, we gambled and failed. In an attempt to get more people to come and listen to Wannskrækk, Skjønn Forening and Angor Wat, we hired Sir Douglas Quintet. The Midsummer Eve was the day, the only rainy day inbetween three months of sunshine. The festival spent

Some years ago I was at a reunion concert with TAV! for the third time during the nineties, which eventually caused this piece of writing. Before the concert I attended a vorspiel with some people of my own age, a gang from the far from merry eighties, that I knew through a friend of the  same gang . I d i d n’t know whether to feel young or old  when the music turned out to be eighties exclusively. It was very apparent that the band wasn’t the only ones to have a reunion that night.

Although TAV! was representative as a band, they were, to be honest, not much to brag about as musicians. What they did have, though, were lots of enthusiasm and heartfelt paranioa. It was said to be the first ska band in the country, not easy to understand when you compared them with bands like Specials and Madness, but it was accepted anyway because it said so in the music magazine Nye Takter, the bible among farmer sons who never dreamt of ever touching a guitar amp.

Of course it wasn’t true either. It was typical of the period that they were spoken of, both of others and of themselves, as a ska band, because they did often had this off-beat guitar. Ricky Martin has the same thing today, but I have never heard him be mentioned as part of this new ska wave.

a band to, just to keep up. And if you played guitar in one band, but wanted to sing, and another one played the bass in another band, but wanted to play the drums, you two just formed a band toghether. This led to that most people played in at least two or three bands, and had a different instrument every time. This again led to two things more: first; very few became any better musicans, since they spread their efforts to more than one instrument, second; there were not much practice hours on each band, because of the amount of bands in exictence.

and than they split. For those who have heard the last single, the band sounded like they had split already during the recordings. It’s hard to get the impression that they're actually trying to play the same song. But at least it's experimental. The urge to go experimental also turned out to be the fall of Kjøtt (Meat), but they though they probably was the most successful band of this era. First of all, they could play. Which helped. They also had a drummer who could conjure the most meaningless lyrics. Titles like “Jeg vil bli som Jesus” (I want to become like Jesus) and ”Nå vil jeg ikke leke med teitinger mer” (I don't wanna play with goofs no more) is stuff that anyone who has been doing a bot music oneself would kill for. The twelve inch only called “Kjøtt” was the closest to “Never mind the bollocks” measured in potential to be a classic. And it's very close too. Later came t h e L P “O p .”, and the title already is a warning of the upcoming decline and fall of the band. The lead singer, Helge Gaarder, had had a long stay in hostpital, and came out with a bleak look at life which he apparently had sworn to make the rest of the world participate in. After the record “O p .”, the drummer Michael Krohn threw his drum sticks away and moved onto a-straight-fast-rock-n’roll-legend-status as lead singer in Raga Rockers, while the rest of Kjøtt threw themselves into really alternative music with the record “Presence! - a Montasje-product, Modul 1". Even though Montasje was Kjøtt

The knife of Eggen

When speaking of Norwegian rock at this time, it was customary to talk about Kjøtt, Cut and The Aller Værste!, especially on radio, because it sounded so good when you said it aloud. Take Norwegian lessons and try it yourself if you don't believe me. Trouble was that while Kjøtt and TAV! were great, Cut sucked. The only good song they ever recorded, was the cover song "In dieser Stadt", a German cabaret song from the thirties or something like that. Probably the most self-concious band in the annals of Norwegian rock'n'roll (although a couple of newer bands may also be contenders for that title), they were fronted by German Volker Zibell onlead vocals, and on bass guitar: Torgrim Eggen!, a man who's bedded more trends Julio Iglesias ladies. Reviewing "Presence!" for Nye Takter, Eggen wrote something along the lines of "God have mercy on us when the real dilettantes start making records". He probably knew the band members too well to write that the record was crap.

Shortly thereafter, Cut released their second album. It was the first review of a young female writer, whose name has been erased form my memory. She used quotes from Eggen's review to make the point that the moment Eggen had warned against, had arrived.

Snorten replied:”It’s actually those snotty kids who pays us.” I believed Ola Snortheim was called Snorten only in Voss. And never did he hear it. Jørn Christensen did by the way participate in Cirkus Modern too, and played in another band named Can Can, produced records and playing in movies. Hard working young man, and probarly deserved that half of  Norwegian guitarists’ tryied to copy his style of playing (the other half sounded more like Eddie Van Halen).

When I speak of Norwegian rock as a three-wheeled-bike, it may sound more patronising than it's meant. In my world, this really was the childhood of Norwegian rock. After I grew up I realised there had been rock bands before Kjøtt, De Press and TAV! too, but that revelation came from reading Nye Takter, and there was no obvious connections between Aunt Mary and Hærverk. When I grew up it were crap pop artists like Hans Petter Hansen and Inger Lise Rypdal that represented the apex of Norwegian popular music.  Jahn Teigen appeared in the Norwegian qualification for the Eurovision Song Contest in 1976 in a skeleton dress, but it was still the Eurovision Song Contest.

As earlier mentioned there was no obvious connection between Aunt Mary and Hærverk, but you can easily trace the connection from Hærverk to Madrugada. Hærverk released one of the first Norwegian punk singles, and TAV! and Kjøtt came not long afterwards. When DePress came along  a couple of years later, the eyes of the record companies had been opened to what had been gong on behind their back for years, and from then on Norwegian rock (and other new music) has found it easier to find a rich uncle in a record company to fund their music and earn them some money.


Do it yourself

And simultaneously the more or less self financing scene still exist, with music too extreme (i.e. too small sales potential), or too firm to sell out. Thanks to the worldwide networks of small indepedent labels that rose in the early eighties, now Norwegian metal and HC bands may sell thousands of copies of their record abroad, even though they may find it hard to fill up a concert in their own country.

“Anarchy in the UK” has the best summing up of the new wave: ”I don’t know what I want but I know how to get it.” A lot of us felt like that.  Well, actually I guess we didn't quite know how to get it either, but we knew that we wanted something else. And we were gonna make an effort to get it.

And so it may have been nessesary that bands like Kjøtt ended up in misguided experimenting. They started great  when the 12” was done, gambled on “O p .”, only to collapse with the release of “Presence!”. But at least they tried. And if anyone were thinking they could do this better themselves, they were free to try.

the communal guarantee of loss on NOK 30.000,- and nearly the same amount in private money. When we realised which direction this was going, Myggen and I went down to the water and to light our big Midsummer fire (Norwegian tradition) which we had made on a raft in the water. The raft had capsized.

That summer I left my hometown.

The revolution eats some children

Over time, many of my friends did the same. And there it ended. Not.

While we weren't looking, up popped some younger brothers and sisters and other youngsters and took reponsibility, both in the running of the rock club and the music itself. And in the grim light of retrospectivity it’s an open question whether we had understood much after all. The next generation of rockers growing up in Voss were not received with open arms, but had to endure teasing and ridicule, which they received in at least equal measures as they did support and encouragement. They were entering our enclosures. Had we put in all this hard work (which we actually hadn't anyway), to see them enjoy the fruits of our work? And besides, they were better to play than us, since they spent more time practicing and less time going around in black clothes (not only ex-Kjøtt members were depressed those days).

My life as a boring old fart

I am afraid that, like many of my generation, I have turned into one of the people that many of TAV!'s songs was about, boring old farts sitting home with a bottle of wine on a saturday evening, voting for the socialist party (or never) and having well paid jobs, often as public servants. Still a

bit concerned about the state of society, but “preferring to change things from within”.

And then I ask myself if there was any point in doing what we did. Of course we influenced each other's lives, but beyond that? Did the world become a better place to live? Or more correctly, the things that has become better, had anything of that to do with us?

When I become too melancholy, I try to tell myself that it did. If not I, than the movement of which I was on the fringes. We have a self-governed youth house in Oslo that's almost never raided by poetry-loving cops, new Norwegian bands have the possibility of getting a record deal, and if they don’t, there is networks that make it possible for them to release something anyway, and never more shall Norwegian radio DJ's embarrass record label people by proposing translating every English hit

into Norwegian so that Norwegian youth may hear the lyrics in their own language.

When I don’t feel so melancholy, I try to avoid thinking about it.