Swedish club producers Toxe and Kablam talk growing up in Gothenburg and the perils of being described as ‘political’ artists at Way Out West festival
It’s a late Thursday evening in Gothenburg, and Kablam is DJing on the Dungen Stage at the city’s Way Out West festival. She’s mixing heavyset club tracks and experimental electronic music across three CDJs, rapidly tweaking the effects on the mixer as she moves swiftly from track to track. Two days later and another DJ, Toxe, is playing on the same stage, hammering out a mixture of hard-as-nails industrial club music, screeching rap, hardstyle tempos, and leftfield R&B. The crowd don’t know what’s hit them. A tall Swedish guy wanders between the dancers, yelling out to nobody in particular. “What is going on up there?!” he cries repeatedly.
It’s fair to say that Kablam and Toxe aren’t like the usual cookie-cutter tech house DJs that dominate the European festival circuit. Kablam cut her teeth at Berlin’s influential Janus clubnight, DJing alongside residents Lotic and M.E.S.H. and booking artists like Arca and Total Freedom. Toxe on the other hand is a member of the Swedish club collective Staycore who has, despite having only recently left high school, torn up dancefloors from London to Berlin.
Although there’s a generational difference between the two, Kablam and Toxe have a lot in common: they both grew up in or near Gothenburg, they’re both unafraid to push dancefloors into exciting and unexpected new directions, and both channel their radical beliefs into their music. We caught up with them both after their sets at Way Out West to discuss the similarities and differences in their lives and their music.
How did you first meet each other?
Kablam: Toxe emailed me a few years ago. I think she had just released her first two songs. I didn’t know about her. She asked about one of the first tracks that I had put up and asked if she could use it in a mix – and it was so sweet, ‘cause she was like, ‘I’m only going to use the first 20 seconds, is that okay?’ I was like, ‘You can do whatever you like!’
Toxe: That’s so cute. It was the first mix I ever did for this small magazine in my town. Kajsa (Kablam)’s first 20 seconds was the intro – a very good mix.
Did you both know you were local to each other?
Kablam: I didn’t. I didn’t look her up because she didn’t mention to me that she was doing music or anything, but then a few months later I found her through a friend on the internet. She had just released this amazing video for “Offense” with these karate women, and I realised that was the girl that had emailed me. I was like ‘OMG this is so amazing’, and emailed her like, ‘I’ve been sleeping under a rock. What is this, why didn’t you tell me?!’ (laughs) I didn’t know she was from Gothenburg, but it came up. We decided to keep in contact after that.
Toxe: Yeah, I didn’t know she was from here either. Gothenburg seems to create a lot of sick women though – like the label boss of Staycore, Ghazal, she’s from here as well. Kajsa came to my first gig ever when I played this Staycore night in Stockholm when I was 17. She gave me a hug behind the DJ booth while I tried to figure out how CDJs worked.
“(Music school) wasn’t really a place for a young girl to develop her creative ideas” – Kablam
Tell me a bit about life growing up around Gothenburg.
Kablam: (I grew up) outside of Gothenburg – a tiny place, really. Not really country country; there were still a lot of neighbours around. It’s really shitty, and really beautiful at the same time. The nature around there is amazing – there’s a nature reserve with horses walking around and there are old viking graves. It’s, like, classic Sweden – very white, working class or lower-middle class, and a lot of nationalism.
Toxe: I definitely have been isolated music-wise here. I knew nobody in the music scene and I had no friends that were into the same things. When I got in contact with Staycore, things definitely started to change, but I had to stay here and finish high school. I’m longing to meet people to work with IRL rather than chatting online, but I also enjoy the calmness and isolation of Gothenburg sometimes. Maybe it would put a lot more pressure on me to grow up in an environment like Berlin or something, where ‘the scene’ is all around you constantly.
When did you first start making music?
Toxe: I was 15, and I had no musical background really. I chose to not study music in high school so that I could separate my own music projects from school work and avoid getting a grade on my creativity. My brother downloaded Ableton to my computer. At 16 I also broke up with my boyfriend and then my music became like everything I did all day. I felt so empowered by working on my projects. I had no idea what to do with the music though. I was just happy I had found a new way to express myself. The music didn’t need any explanation or deeper thought – I just made sounds alone with my computer, and that was really liberating.
Kablam: I was in a band when I was a teenager. It was kind of like a punk band. I also went to music gymnasium, which is like senior high school, from 16-19. I went to a music programme at gymnasium and it was very uninspiring for me. It’s also the age, I guess – like, you’re into other stuff than focusing on something or being productive. It was also, like, a lot of dudes playing guitars and taking up space. It wasn’t really a place for a young girl to develop her creative ideas. I was playing music at home, but I wasn’t really making anything. I started producing when I moved to Berlin.
From my perspective as a journalist, I see you both as part of a wave of emerging producers whose political beliefs seem inseparable from the music that you’re making – those ideas are intertwined with the music rather than something that runs alongside it, if that makes sense. Would you agree with that or not?
Kablam: I mean, I never really thought of myself as a person who makes ‘political music’, at least not when I started out. But I guess I reached the point where I realised everything is connected. What I’m thinking, what I’m feeling, what I’m doing creatively – I can’t separate those things. I was thinking the other day about people who have different artist aliases, making different kinds of music, and I don’t understand how that works ‘cause I’m like, ‘I’m just me, and I’m going to do what I feel right now.’ I’ve always felt very strongly about… not necessarily politics, but ideology and principles. I’m constantly learning.
Toxe: I kinda feel the same. The music I’m making is all me, my real self. I’m not good at hiding parts of myself and separating them like that either. However, the media has definitely created a ‘selling identity’ of me being ‘the young feminist producer’. I almost always got questions about feminism in interviews, as if I were suppose to have all the answers to some really complex problems instead of talking about my music. I definitely wasn’t ready to be some kind of spokesperson for that – I’m so young, I have a lot to figure out still, and I’m also forever learning. I’m never going to scale down on my fight for the things I believe in of course, but I’ve already made mistakes and I really want to make good use of the attention I get.
Kablam: Yeah, it’s funny how eager people – especially journalists – are to put artists in boxes. Like, if they can’t put us in a certain genre box, they wanna put us in some other box. ‘The political producer’, ‘the feminist producer’... I’m not even sure I’m that political. But I like to use the space that I’m given to talk about certain things.
Were there any DIY music communities in Gothenburg when you were growing up?
Kablam: Not really when I was younger, at all. That’s actually more a part of my life now, because now I’m in a studio collective and I’m working with different people. The studio collective, Drömfakulteten, is all female and non-binary. It’s very much based on the idea of doing stuff together. In Sweden, there’s this general development of individualist ideas, this right wing idea that you have to make it on your own. Also this idea of having your own ‘brand’, just because you are doing something creative. I find it gross. Because of that, it’s super important to create collectives. We’re like, ‘We’re all as important as the next person.’
Toxe: I guess there were some. For example, there was this music camp for girls I went to one summer. All the musicians and technicians there were women. I remember I performed with a Deerhoof song called ‘Perfect Me’ at the end of the camp. Being in that environment probably gave me a lot more confidence than I thought. I think I was 14 then. I remember the camp was basically only white middle class girls though, but I’ve heard they’re working on this problem.
How much of a role does the internet have on your connection to that sort of community?
Toxe: As soon as I started making music I put it up on Soundcloud, and when I got more attention, I quickly started to connect with a lot of people. This actually became a big part of my life since I was so isolated in Gothenburg. It was actually a bit too intense. Some months ago I took a break from all of that. I got too stressed out by constantly being so available to people. And it’s so easy to drown inside this little music scene bubble – it’s pressuring and stressful, and life is so much more.
Kablam: I think it’s quite different for me. Toxe is part of a generation that grew up chatting with friends online. I got the internet (for the first time) when I was like 12, and it was super expensive. I had this timer I had to set and my parents would come in and yell if I went over time. So that sense of community came quite late for me. Now it’s a bigger part of my life. But I also think it gets real stressful from time to time, like, I’m not being rude because I’m not replying to your message within 24 hours. (But) maybe I’m conservative in that sense, because I still really like to meet the people I’m collaborating with before actually doing something.
Can you tell me more about Drömfakulteten?
Kablam: It’s Stockholm-based, so it’s actually a physical space, with a studio that we’re all sharing. (The people that I’m working with are) amazing, super amazing. We’re growing more and more all the time – now, we’re like 13 people. We’re all doing different stuff – some are working in the noise genre, some are doing techno, gabber, some are more pop or R&B-based. We’re mixed in that sense, which is really cool. There are a few people there who are really good with sound, I learn a lot from being there. This year we’ve also had a small club night once a month where we mainly booked female, non-binary and queer people.
“I almost always got questions about feminism in interviews, as if I were suppose to have all the answers to some really complex problems... I’m so young, I have a lot to figure out still” – Toxe
Have you noticed a community emerging who are interested in this sort of music in Sweden, or is it still quite intimate?
Toxe: In Gothenburg, I haven’t really discovered anyone being into what I do or listen to, to be honest – at least no one from Gothenburg has hit me up. I guess it's a bit different in Stockholm?
Kablam: It’s quite small – every party we’ve had has been in a really small venue, and we try to keep a low entrance fee. Small is not necessarily a bad thing, (but) I definitely think it’s growing. When I first moved to Stockholm from Berlin, it was very hard for me to get a gig. I think Ghazal and Dinamarca (from Staycore) were the first ones to book me, for a small gig in a bar. I barely knew them, but they were so warm and welcoming. Now it’s gotten a bit easier with gigs here. I think people are getting more and more into experimental and genre crossing stuff on the dancefloor. There’s a noise scene in Stockholm, but it’s kind of like white, male…
Kablam: (laughs) Yeah. The thing is, I can really be into those kind of sounds – I can really enjoy that – but I don’t like the environment. It’s not necessarily bad that it’s white and male, it’s more that they’re usually closed to other things, and that’s what I have a problem with. Like, can you be into something with a rhythm maybe, or something with a melody? There’s two options: you can try to fit into that and be like ‘one of the guys’, or you can just… shit all over it, which is what I like to do. I kind of enjoy breaking into those spaces and try to open minds a little bit, but it’s also exhausting – of course it’s more fun for me to play with my friends and for them to enjoy what I do.