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Way Out West festival goers on one of Gothenburg's famous tramsMikael Gregorsky

Going underground in Gothenburg

Checking out the new punk bands and gender separatist DJs keeping Sweden's second city its musical home

Currently home to Scandinavia’s largest film festival and Sweden’s sole art biennale, among manifold music events. With its cornucopia of architectural styles and West Coast seafront glittering in the crystalline light, Gothenburg gets under your skin quick.

During the 90s, the city became known for melodic death metal via breakout bands such as At The Gates and In Flames.  A decade later, its sounds yet again spilled out to global acclaim as it was revealed to have been incubating a horde of idiosyncratic, alternative pop artists, such as El Perro Del Mar, Jose Gonzalez, The Knife, Jens Lekman, The Embassy, Studio and Tough Alliance – the latter four signed to cult label Service. Many of its offspring spawning their own labels, such as the nonchalantly radical Sincerely Yours, which previously released mordantly mischievous creators of sublime electro pop, Air France; and this week put out the intoxicating debut of rising artist, Merely. Dazed favourites Little Dragon also call this forward-thinking, post-industrial outpost home. 

The next generation are just as active: whether they’re repping female and trans-only club nights, bemoaning a lack of better indie-pop parties, or putting on (illegal) techno raves in the park. The attitude here is to make things, and then share them with whatever small, or large, community is seeking them. Visiting the town for its standout music festival Way Out West, we spoke to the music makers and party throwers making this city such a special place.

DJ JULIA PUGSI

As well as playing parties Julia Pugsi puts on events such as CAKE, a hip-hop club focusing on breaking gender stereotypes, and reports on clubbing for pop-culture site Nöjesguiden.

How long have you been involved in the Gothenburg music scene?

I started putting on clubs four years ago, mostly so I could DJ. We have different girl themes, like a Beyonce tribute night. It can be mixed musically, but mostly it’s hip hop and RnB. It’s a hard business to make money out of. I don’t like using too many sponsors. They have so much power over the music industry. No one seems to care, but in the long run it has an effect on culture.

There seems to be a heritage of DIY events here.

Absolutely. That’s what I love about Gothenburg. In Stockholm a lot of that has disappeared. Here people throw parties as they want to keep the scene vital.

Does having a political purpose, like raising funds, bring more people out to events?  

Yea. We had a festival recently that collected money for undocumented immigrants. People think it’s important to be political here, and the Feminist movement has grown so quickly in the last three years so Feminist parties are popular. If you’re doing something different, and chose to have a female-orientated theme or something, people are really supportive. Like, “If you do this then I will come to your club as it’s important.”

Do the parties - legal and illegal ones - generally have the same demographic?

Yea, Gothenburg is a segregated city. I can’t talk about what it’s like in the suburbs as I don’t live there. The club scene is white hipster club kids, that are privileged in different ways. That’s boring as it becomes homogenic. I feel that too. When I have parties, I see a lot of white people, partially as I’m a white club promoter, and my friends come.  I have friends that have these underground dancehall clubs where no-one is white though. I think it’s a scene that I don’t know about, and the hipster kids don’t even know about, but exists in this city.

What about the queer scene, I’ve heard that’s growing hugely of late?

The really interesting thing about the queer movement in Sweden, is that we have separate parties for women and trans people. They are really big and it’s amazing to be there.  I think it’s popular as this club is a free space where you don’t have to worry about people judging you, and you can meet other queers. 

MAKTHAVERSKAN

Post-punk pop band Matkathaverskan formed playing squat parties and clubs, carving their sonic identity as far as possible from the alt-pop sound Gothenburg was known for. They recently released their lauded second LP, “II”, on local label, Luxxury.

Did it feel quiet growing up here? 

Hugo: It wasn’t that there was nothing to do, but the things you could do felt lame. That frustration was needed as we realised if we wanted to do something fun the only thing we could do was start the band.

Gustav: It also gives you the ability to create what you think is missing, what you want to hear and feel in music.

Did you feel the punk spirit was dead here when you started out?

Hugo: I don’t know if there was a punk spirit really, but there was a DIY scene with underground pop clubs and shows in squats.  We always preferred the smaller DIY shows to proper venues. But I think that the lack of legal spaces is hurting new bands.

Gustav: Now every club here is mostly focused on either hiphop or techno, and there are rarely any interesting indie-pop clubs.

Lastly, any local bands that you think we should check out?

Gustav & Hugo: School who we share our label with are the best pop band from Gothenburg in a long time.  And Neutral just put out an album on Omlott which is awesome.  Look out for Höga Nord Rekords too.

ALEXANDER BERG

DJ and producer, Alexander Berg is half of electronic duo, Genius Of Time, and part of the city’s intrepid Aniara Records. He recently relocated back to Gothenburg after a stint in Berlin.

Was there a strong electronic culture here when you were growing up?

There were a few good nights, but never a huge scene. It’s probably better now, although I feel I’m missing out on stuff when I tour. But it’s nice to be back. I feel more inspired musically working from here.

How did you come to be part of the Aniara label?

I make music with Nils (Krog) as Genius of Time, and Fabian (Bruhn) was launching a label, so we gave him two songs as the first release. It was back when we felt there wasn’t a lot going on, so that summer we did a lot of parties to do something for the local scene. Then we got involved in each others’ music and the label. When you hang out a lot you inspire each other, and form a common vision.

Did you put on any parties around Way Out West?

We had an outdoor party on the Thursday, in a spot 40 minutes walk into a park. It’s not legal, but the latest venues close at 5am, and those are not where you want to have a party when it’s our kind of music.

KLUBB ÅMÅL

Klubb Åmål is an underground, gender separatist, females and transgender only dance party that takes its name from Lukas Moodysson’s debut film, a coming of age tale that deftly tackles emerging sexuality and plays anything from riot grrrl to rap.

How did you come to start Klubb Åmål?

We felt there was a lack of female / trans only events in Gothenburg, and most of the queer parties were in spaces that didn’t feel safe. Conventional clubs have guards, and they often act like complete ass-hats and make it hard for undocumented immigrants to go out. Either guards, or random cis-men treated us badly, or the clubs were expensive and therefore inaccessible for many people. Two of the members started a Facebook group and asked the rest of us. Since then we've created magic.

Had you been to other female and trans only events?

G: I’d been to one separatist club in Stockholm, then I found out the venue was exploiting undocumented immigrants so I never went back. I think all of us have been involved in different kinds of separatist organizations. For example, arranging music camps for girls here in Sweden. It is so liberating to be part of a scene where it is seen as matter of course to arrange female / trans only events or happenings.

Will it always stay underground?

Yes. There is no way we would compromise on either security or pricing, and we don’t want anyone to profit from us.

Was it an easy thing to get people to come to?

Yes! Many people felt there was a lack of female/trans only parties and word spread. We were nervous at first, but it got really crowded fast.

Do people make an effort to dress up, or is it more that no-one needs to?

The pervading theme is glitter, tonness of glitter. Otherwise, we haven’t really thought of it that way.  All kinds of people show up for Åmål: indie kids, rock’n’roll dykes, punks, intellectuals, skaters, queers.