My memory is atrocious. Without books and videos and Wikipedia to tell me everything I’d know absolutely nothing. One thing I do remember, very clearly however, is the first time I heard “Worms of the senses/Faculties of the skull” by Refused, from their album The Shape of Punk to Come. I had bought the album at the Central office of small local label Ling Lao Records. I must have taken the MTR home with Suhail because I did not slip the shiny new compact disc into my battered Discman until I had reached my station at Kowloon Tong.
I had already heard the single, “New Noise”, but knew next to nothing about the rest of the album, save that Jonney at Ling Lao highly recommended it and that it took forever to make and was really expensive (I guess delaying the recording of a punk rock album from three weeks to six weeks can be devastating for indie label budgets). Needless to say I was blown away from the moment I pushed play – the pretentious spoken word introduction, the eerie guitar squeals and the devastating force of Dennis’ voice. This did not sound like NOFX, Bad Religion or even fellow political punks Propagandhi (granted it did sound like a lot of DC hardcore bands I didn’t listen to).
As I trudged up Broadcast Drive, Dennis hurled his sonic missiles over my crappy earphones – “I took the first bus. Let’s take the first bus out of here!” The drums then died out and one guitar slowly and calmly repeated the same riff over and over again while another expelled a terrifying screech of feedback. That minute seemed to last an eternity. “Please don’t finish here,” I thought to myself. “Kick in, kick in, kick in.” And so, the legendary band from Sweden obliged the wishes of a scrawny American kid scuttling up a hill in Hong Kong. “Let’s take the first bus out of here! Let’s go! YEEEEEAAAAA!!!!!”
By the time I fell deeply in love with these four Swedish men, they had no love lost between themselves. Months earlier, after a string of horrible shows in support of The Shape of Punk to Come (imagine Handel trying to tour The Messiah on a children’s Casio keyboard), the band decided, in Atlanta to call it quits after the tour. It did not even take that long, as a show in Richmond was shut down by the local police and the members of Refused all went their own way.
The venom and bitter disappointment surrounding their breakup assured me that Refused were done for good. A posthumous EP, a documentary of their break up (Refused are Fucking Dead), a ten year anniversary deluxe reissue of The Shape of Punk to Come, and incredible rumors of a Coachella appearance never once convinced me Refused would play again. An extract from their final, rambling press release:
When every expression, no matter how radical it is, can be transformed into a commodity and be bought or sold like cheap soda, how is it then possible that you are going to be able to take “art” seriously?
When every show played just becomes another brick in the wall between people, between “fans” and “stars”, when we instead of getting communication and interaction are being forced to become nothing but consumers and producers.
…we will never play together again and we will never try to glorify or celebrate what was. All that we have to say has been said here or in our music/manifestos/lyrics and if that is not enough you are not likely to get it anyway.
I met Dennis a few times (that’s not grammatically incorrect, I just had to reintroduce myself every time) on The International Noise Conspiracy’s annual visits to Chicago. I would always use Jonney, of Ling Lao, as an excuse to start the conversation and I guess eventually Dennis did come to realize I was that weird kid from Hong Kong who didn’t really know Jonney all that well but talked about him a lot. The INC were quite successful and Dennis seemed happy with what he was doing, more free in his political sloganeering. I felt lucky just to see them play, even though I much preferred the music of Refused, because, of course, I couldn’t possibly imagine Refused playing again.
A decade on from some of those INC shows and shit hit the proverbial fan just after New Year’s. It turned out the incredible rumors of a Coachella appearance were no longer rumors but completely true. My coordinating tendencies went into overdrive – what was the cheapest way to get to Indio, did I want to stay on and see any other bands, should I stay with friends in San Diego on Friday after the show before flying back Saturday morning, what would tickets go for? Other than planning, the most exhausting aspect was the difficult prospect of trying to enjoy Refused with, as one friend phrased events, “a hundred thousand assholes in the desert”. The vision was frightening. Bros and peroxide chicks with Kayne West shutter glasses would be out in force with “vintage” Modest Mouse shirts. What hell would I go through to see Refused?
Tickets turned out to be USD $285. Not bad until you come to the small matter of $41 in additional fees (this does not include parking passes or if you want a camping pass). $41 in additional fees! 14% just slammed on top like that. I could do without wasting more than a week’s wages to spend an evening trying not to let my own demographic get me down. Frustration fell like a winter nightfall. What the hell were Refused doing? Why Coachella? Just play a few European festivals, hang out with your friends and whatever godawful Yanks are willing to make the trek across the Atlantic. Their new press release (so clear and accessible, lacking any remnants of the earlier esoteric manifestos from the band) seemed so convincing.
We never did “The Shape of Punk to Come” justice back when it came out, too tangled up in petty internal bickering to really focus on the job. And suddenly there’s this possibility to do it like it was intended. We wanna do it over, do it right. For the people who’ve kept the music alive through the years, but also for our own sakes. We feel that you deserve it and we hope the feeling is mutual.
Once a festival day in Gothenburg popped up and contact information for their various booking agencies appeared on the front page of their website I carried a slight hope of other shows. Sure enough, a few days later my brother broke the news of a San Francisco date as I stumbled out of my bedroom one morning. “Phew,” I thought. “That was a close call.” I pushed all thoughts of Coachella from my troubled mind and I didn’t think too much about the reformation of Refused. Tickets went on sale that Friday and I had no fears about getting tickets to a Swedish punk band that hadn’t played in fourteen years and would perform at The Warfield – a two thousand plus capacity venue.
I got on to The Warfield’s website half an hour before the ticket sale began at 10:00 o’clock AM. I waited patiently and then, almost on the dot on the hour I was transferred to a page to purchase my tickets. My billing information already filled out I selected five tickets in General Admission, only to look on in horror as the ticket search came up empty. “Surely, the system’s not up just yet,” I thought to myself (out loud I was, instead, screaming every obscenity in the English language). I tried four tickets, three tickets, two tickets, ONE FUCKING TICKET! The search returned nothing. I refreshed the site and decided to try again. By this time it was 10:04 and I was in a state of extreme frustration. In the midst of my confusion and panic I jumped onto Facebook to see what friends – those purchasing tickets themselves and those just observing events – were saying. All the chatter led to the same conclusion – sold out in ten minutes. What? It wasn’t even ten past ten!
I quickly checked eBay and found tickets, face value of $40, were going for $120. A red midst descended. Reports from friends confirmed Craigslist and scalper sites were already selling tickets. For fuck’s sake, scalp Areosmith tickets, not Refused.
So as any sane person in 2012 would do, faced with the prospect of losing out on the supply of a completely frivolous and inconsequential demand, I spent the next 45 minutes mashing buttons on The Warfield’s website until I had accumulated four tickets for seats scattered around the various balconies. I HAVE TO SIT IN A BALCONY TO WATCH REFUSED?! Thankfully I was comforted by the soothing words of Mei, “At least we got tickets.” Glass half full, glass half full, glass half full. Deep breaths, deep breaths.
Since procuring those seats I’ve spent no shortage of time debating whether I even wanted to go anymore. I could be an asshole, sell the tickets to some bros and walk away with a 350% profit. Hell I could sell them to some cool kids for face value and try not to think about things. Sadly I am a consumer, albeit not a very happy one, scrounging around the outskirts of Coca-Cola City and Shell Town, and I have accepted the repackaged and re-branded product Refused is offering. April 18 will offer up a bittersweet night. It won’t be a pre-millennial basement show in Philly or a few hundred raucous broke ass Scandinavians on a chilly winter’s night in Umea. No, it will be something new and something different, I just hope it doesn’t bring too much regret, too many bros (and their tattooed chicks in “vintage” Black Flag shirts), and too strong of an impulse to throw myself over the balcony banister onto the idiots in General Admission who may have paid up to $500 for a ticket.
Full report to follow of Refused’s first non-festival appearance and the riot that will ensue when concert stewards try to stop the inevitable balcony pits…