OK Computer?

Why Swedish act Dungen's psychedelic rock is like the Terminator

Scheduling an interview with hip-as-shit rockers on the rise is always an arduous, energy-sucking affair. How is a struggling San Fran freelance hack supposed to hone his chops and become the next Danny Sugarman or, hell, the next Gary James when he's devoting more time to coordinating an interview than actually writing his damn story? (By the way, James is my teenage hero -- a real, old-school rock critic and flea-market habitué residing in Syracuse, N.Y., who, in the late '80s, played an integral role in investigating the "Elvis is alive, and he frequently dines at a Wendy's in Kalamazoo, Mich." conspiracy.)

Let's take, for example, this hot, kinda-new psychedelic pop-rock group Dungen. Not only do these guys live in Sweden (about nine time zones away), but the last time they visited America they spent the majority of their time in New York City entertaining cocaine-kiddies-turned-pot-hippies at the Vice magazine 10th Anniversary Party. This trans-Atlantic appearance also served as a promotional junket preparing "indie-hipster, USA" for Kemado Records' domestic release of Dungen's third record, the critically acclaimed indie-psych epic Ta Det Lugnt (translation: "Grab the Calm"), which to date has been available only as an elusive import via the Swedish imprint Subliminal Sounds.

To quote my best bud from Brooklyn when I told him I was writing an article on these trippy Swedes (who sing exclusively in their native tongue), "So, what the fuck is up with this Dungen band? Everybody around here is up their ass these days." Thus, the issue at hand may be phrased as such: Do I also shoot straight up that proverbial Dungen-ass and struggle to secure a phone interview with indie darling Gustav Ejstes, the prime artistic force behind what he calls "my Dungen-music"? My answer is, "Fuck no." I don't earn enough green to afford an international phone call, and I don't have time to sit around and wait for him to call me. I have a cat to feed; I work two jobs a day. Anyway, wasn't free e-mail invented specifically for this type of long-distance, little-time-to-spare eventuality?

Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto: These Dungen 
masters may look human, but they're not.
Carl Abrahamsson
Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto: These Dungen masters may look human, but they're not.

After thoughtfully considering the above-mentioned ins, outs, and what-have-yous, I realized that the disembodied, voiceless nature of an e-mail interview with Ejstes would better serve my story anyway, because its primary journalistic punch is my (very cyberpunk) angle that this Ejstes character is not a real, blood 'n' guts human being residing somewhere in gorgeous Scandinavia but a highly evolved computer (just like Deep Blue) designed to program the ultimate, most hook-packed, psychedelic pop-rock ever created.

Of course I'm just messing around, but I do believe the influence of digital sampling, electronic music, and computer technology is so fucking profound on the human evolutionary scale that all three have helped to create a kind of next-generation pop-rocker biocomputer. (I intentionally misappropriated the word "biocomputer" from the great Dr. John C. Lilly.) What I'm talking about is the emergence of a modern composer-musician who actually thinks and operates more like a sampler and computer than his pre-digital age musicmaking ancestry. I'm talking about a souped-up transhuman e-rocker who can consume more information, who can process information more rapidly, who can recombine information on smaller "subatomic" levels, and who can then spit out info-as-pop-music in more densely packed permutations than any musician has ever done before. And the 25-year-old Ejstes is so one of these newfangled biocomputing gizmos.

Please don't let all this cyberbabble lead you to believe that Ta Det Lugnt consists of futuristic, Kraftwerkian electro-pop. (I mean, didn't Vice tell you? Electro is passé.) On the contrary (and this is the cool part), Dungen is a rock band employing traditional rock instrumentation, and Ejstes' sweeping, symphonic compositions are miniature sonic-encyclopedias, each one containing a dizzying range of influences from the late '60s, including psych-pop, jazz fusion, acid rock, funk, Brazilian tropicalia, prog-rock, analog electronics, and wispy folk-rock. As Ejstes explained (revealing his knowledge of psychedelic-era obscurity in the process), "I love Os Mutantes. One of my faves from the '60s is Jessie Harper from New Zealand."

On the other hand, I also believe Ejstes' statement, "I am making music in the 21st century. I'm no archeologist or neo-hippie," because Ta Det Lugnt doesn't feel like anachronistic retro-rock, even though Dungen is, indeed, composed of dudes jamming, cranking out music more than reminiscent of sounds from '68 to '70. But, knowing the fact that this disc was man-made using guitar, bass, and drums takes a back seat to my irrevocable feeling that this is music constructed on the microscopic level from millions upon millions of split-second samples of the all-time-greatest '60s psych-pop moments (with a sizable portion of them lifted from the Pretty Things' 1970 release, Parachute. And if you haven't yet checked this record out, you should; it's as perfect as the Beatles' Revolverand Something Else by the Kinks).

Ta Det Lugnt is a product of Ejstes' hyper-'60s aesthetic, and the only records I can think of (interestingly enough) that match the breadth of styles combined in a single tune and the assiduous attention to minutiae exhibited on this record are those mid- to late-'90s turntablist albums such as DJ Shadow's sprawling, ultra-complex Entroducing ..., wherein you feel the possibility of hearing the entire history of music unfold in just under an hour because each second is tightly packed with thousands of years' worth of sound. Consequently, I wasn't at all surprised to find out via Dungen's online biography that "During his teens, Gustav entered the world of hip-hop and samplings. He botanized around in the record jungle and on his expeditions got to hear many incredible Swedish 1960s-'70s recordings that he had never heard before.

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