The Past is Alive

Of all the words in the lexicon of music writing, legendary must be about the most over-used.  Yet I am very much of the opinion that it applies here. Anti-Cimex formed in the days when the U.K. punk scene of the late 1970s was metastasizing into the hardcore punk scene of the 1980s. Many of the reference points were still the bands of the old days (The Clash, the Pistols, Stiff Little Fingers), but bands like Chaos U.K., Disorder, and (most importantly) Discharge were creating a new, nastier aesthetic. Throughout Europe, bands arose to take up the challenge of this new wave of rebellious art.

One (although not the only) style that grew of this was what is now commonly called d-beat (with a nod to the founding influence of Discharge) or kängpunk (känga being Swedish for boot). Indeed, Sweden was particular hotbed for this kind of music, and the bands that carried it forward number among the most influential on the world wide hardcore scene of the late 1980s and 1990s. Along with bands like Mob 47, Crude SS, Asocial, and Moderat Likvidation (to name only a few), Anti-Cimex were progenitors of a music (and a culture) that was filthy, aggressive, and politically aware.

I met Charlie Claesson in 1986. I was living in Nottingham when Charlie’s band Anti-Cimex came through the U.K. on what would be their one and only tour. I piled into a van with a bunch of the guys from Concrete Sox (I think Kalv from Heresy came with us too) for the hour drive to Birmingham to see them at the Mermaid. I ended up meeting Charlie in front of the place and chatted with him. After a few adventures I watched him and his bandmates absolutely tear up the place.

Then they came back to Nottingham in our company. We drank a large amount of beer and played football in the meadows beside the River Trent. Charlie was a really funny guy, but he was also pretty good at football. A couple of days later they played at a place called Mardi Gras with Heresy opening (still a three piece at that point). I remember that show rather better, as I was a little closer to compos mentis. Heresy playing on their own patch were a tough act to follow, but Anti-Cimex held their own, dishing out some blistering hardcore to all and sundry.

Fast forward a couple of decades. Much to my joy, I managed to reconnect with Charlie over Farcebook. He still has a goofball sense of humor. He still rocks very hard. And he’s still a right guy, and there aren’t too many people around from the old days of whom that could be said.

Anti-Cimex are indeed legendary. But this is not merely a matter of their wide influence. The fact of the matter is that there simply weren’t that many of us around in those days. As with the radical movements of the 1960s, the passage of time seems to have filled in the empty spaces. Thinking about it now I can’t image that there were more than a couple of hundred people total at both the shows that I saw. Anti-Cimex were never going to fill Wembley. But they created an example of what oppositional art and culture could be. They threw down a gauntlet that has been taken up by hundreds of bands and thousands of people down the years. And perhaps this is why they legends refuse to die…

insertJohn Foster: When did you get into punk, and what was it that drew you to it?

Charlie Claesson: Back when I was 13 years old I was a little bit of a loner. I didn’t have any real friends and didn’t really fit in anywhere. I just let things go by, thinking it would be OK someday. Then one of my few friends, who kind of took me under his wing, went to the UK for a school trip. That must have been ‘78 or maybe early ‘79. He brought a shitload of punk singles back to Sweden. He introduced me to it, but at first, I really didn’t understand this shit. I told him he was crazy. But suddenly they started to sound really great. I really liked the aggressiveness of the music. It awakened something in my soul. I decided to investigate this punk thing, so I borrowed Sham 69 and Stiff Little Fingers records from another guy, and I liked what I heard. From then on, my curiosity hasn’t died, even though it’s much harder to get the same kick from new music. And being a guy that listened to punk music got me in contact with other guys (no chicks, at that time) who also listened to this music. Some of them even dared to dress in a punky way, and finally I took the big step too. I became a punk rocker. Like a Bambi on ice, I began my journey into a new life.

JF: Before you were into punk did you feel like an outsider? Do you feel like one now?

CC: I’m always been and I´ll always be an outsider. I even feel like an outsider in the punk scene! That’s the price you have to pay for being yourself! I do function in most environments, but I’m always a little different from the others.

JF: Sweden seems like kind of a small place (to someone from the US). How difficult was it to find other people who were into that music?

CC: I lived in a city with around 50,000 inhabitants and only ten of us were punks. And being a small city, if someone turned punk we would sure hear about it quite soon. We also had 3 regiments with thousands of military guys that hated us. The city is also known to have the largest contingent of “raggare”, stupid people driving in ’50s American cars, drinking like maniacs and making trouble everywhere. They chased us and wanted to beat us wherever they saw us. So the ten of us had to stick together. And we had the music store, called Discos, where we bought all of our punk records. The guy that had that store became our friend, and everyone listening to punk would eventually meet at that store.

JF: Anti-Cimex wasn’t your first band if I recall correctly. Did you play drums to start out with, or did you learn once you started?

CC: That’s correct. My first band was called Piller (Pills) and it was decided that I´ll play the drums in it. So I got my dad to buy me a drum set and I was on my way. I remember the first rehearsal, I learned how to drum with right and left arm, but I couldn’t get my foot to work with them. So we just gave absolutely no fucks about that. We were playing “Roadrunner” and other simple punk songs we heard. That was the second awakening for me. First punk music and now playing drums. I had found my place in life!

JF: What was life like playing in in Anti-Cimex? Was it fun? Frightening? Did it change you?

CC: Anti Cimex was THE thing for us. That was what we really wanted to do. We rehearsed every fucking weekend, Friday to Sunday, not to become famous or anything, we just had a really great time in our own company. We got some beer after work on Friday then we went to our rehearsal place, which happened to be in my little guesthouse, where I lived. We played all the time, listened to records, drank beers, played a little more, switched instruments and played even more. And that continued until Sunday midday, when people had to go home. But it all started over again the next Friday. So yes, we had fun. We played a little different music from the other bands in the area, and it was about to get even more different. We didn’t know if anyone actually would like the stuff we made, but on the other hand we didn’t care. Never frightening, because we didn’t give a fuck about what other people thought about us. But it did of course change me. 12 years with a band don’t go away without a load of memories, good and bad.

JF: Did you see yourselves as political?

CC: Not really. We were at the age when we were supposed to do our military training in the near future. That was our biggest horror. We didn’t wanna participate in no war machine. So our songs were mostly about war and militarism. But of course, we were somewhat political. We were sick of the society that bullied us for being punk, exploiting our nation, destroying our wildlife, and making people dance to stupid disco while they had a slave like life! We discussed anarchism a lot, but I’m not sure any of us was mature enough to see the whole situation. Hell, I can’t do that still today! We were outside the system, but still part of it. Like today. You can’t win that fight. At least not alone.

JF: I saw you guys when you toured the UK in 1986. Was that the first time you’d been on tour internationally?

CC: We weren’t really organised enough to go on tour. The UK tour was our first and last tour, really. We had been playing Finland a couple of times, but that was only single gigs, or just a couple. We didn’t see ourselves as a band that people wanted to see. I think we were wrong….

JF: Those shows were cool, but kind of terrifying. I really thought Jonsson was going to cut someone at the Mermaid (in Birmingham).

CC: He was a very angry man, by that time. But we were never really dangerous, except when people fucked with us, and if there were Nazis in the building. We were just kids with frustration in our souls! And there are millions of them out there, still today. (Until the arrival of Pokemon Go, haha…)

JF: I remember on that UK tour there was also a thrashmetal band (Agoni, I think) that came along. How did that come about?

CC: Hmm…I think they helped us with contacts about and around the tour. I don’t really know, to be honest! Maybe they were there to babysit us?! Who knows?

JF: After Anti-Cimex was over, what did you do then? Did you ever consider going back to being a “normal” person?

CC: When we put Cimex in the grave, I had a one-year-old son, and in my mind I was finished with the music bit. I mean, I played d-beat, what are the chances to find a new band playing that kind of music? So I quit it all and gave all my time to my son. But being normal?? How do you do that?? I quit everything! But it only lasted for two years. I started to play drums for a band called Not Enough Hate, just to get to play some drums, which I had become missing a lot. So I got back into it again, not giving it all my life, like with Cimex, but just to be active. And I got active, alright! I played more drums than I ever did with Cimex, even though I never got back to the rehearsal routines we had. And it continues until today!

JF: Do you see continuity between the bands of the old days and those that came later like Wolfpack. Skitsystem, Disfear, etc.?

CC: Definitely. They all have members that know each other! It’s basically a d-beat family and it’s all about d-beat incest! Wolfpack contains Jonsson, vocalist of Cimex, Skitsystem contains people who hanged around Cimex and people who played together with people in Disfear who hanged around Cimex. We are all a happy family!

JF: The Wolfhour CD is great. How is it playing this kind of music at this point in your life?

CC: I still love it! I don’t have the same energy now that I had when I was 18, but Im still in there. As long as my body allows me I will continue! (And if people wanna play with me, of course) This is the music I have in my mind and soul…

JF: How did Wolfhour get started?

CC: Slaktattacks drummer had quit and they called me and asked if I could replace him. Well, of course! But it didnt work at all. So they buried the band. Realising we never would sound the same as Slaktattck, we decided to start a new band, me and three members from Slaktattack. We began on a new page, so to speak, did new songs. And this time it worked well, especially since Rännan (Blisterhead) joined us. He is a drummer but playing guitar with us. Being a drummer, like me, makes it easy for us to play together.

JF: What’s the best thing that happened to you in your life in punk?

CC: Oh…tough question. But I think it must be the release of the first Anti-Cimex EP (Anarkist Attack, 1982). It was a special kind of feeling holding that bit of plastic in your hand! A moment of real pride! We achieved something special! Remember that this was the days where not everyone could record and release records whenever they wanted too. It was a big moment! And getting all the gratitude for having been in Anti-Cimex on the Internet nowadays! That’s a sign that we did something right, a long time ago in our youth. That’s also worth mentioning. Another source of pride!

JF: What is the worst experience that you ever had at a show?

CC: Probably when another member of the band was so high or drunk that he couldn’t play. Or maybe when I got a cinnamon bun to the head? Or when I’m so hungover that I was dying but still had to play? Or when you soundcheck and you have great sound but when it’s your turn onstage the sound is non-recognizable and you can’t hear shit? Or when they cut the power on us in the UK because all the opening bands played far too long? I don’t think I’ve had a truly bad experience…

JF: Has Sweden changed a lot since the 1980s? You post a lot about the idiots in the SD [the right wing Sverigedemokraterna political party]. Are the as bad as they seem?

CC: They (Sweden Democrats) (Democrats? HA!) are like Trump in the US! Do I need to say more? Just today, one of the big shots wanted all asylum seekers to be in camps. They are fucking Nazis in suits. They can hide their uniforms, but they can’t hide their stupidity! Nothing makes me more angry than that 20% of the Swedish population wants these guys to run the country! I seriously don’t know what to do if they ever should lead this country. I´ll probably become a terrorist!

JF: So, do you think that there is still a place or a need for punk in today’s world?

CC: If it wasn’t, there wouldn’t be any punks today. But I think the biggest danger about the survival of punk is nostalgia. For me, punk is about crossing borders. For many punks today, its record collecting and reunions! If we had seen where it was heading, back then, we would have been terrified! I mean, It’s ok with old bands and shit, but punk is about youth, frustration, aggression, and creativity! Use your head to look forward, not backward! (For me, it’s too late, though!)

Crude SS
Never been a big fan of them. Good punk, but what I heard they are a band you either love or hate live. And Im talking about the reunion. And I dont like reunions.

Mob 47
Great guys, one of the reunion bands that actually deserves to tour. True. Old, but true!

Kind of Cimex brothers. Wish I had gotten to know them more than we did! Great band!

Asta Kask
Super guys! Grew out of the same bunch of people that Cimex came from, and they did a great job with that! Hm…Good job with what? Spreading the punk! But music-wise they’re not my bag.

Black Uniforms
Half of them became Cimex, so of course I liked them. I liked their musicianship better than their music though. Cliff and Lefty were better in Cimex, methinks!