Down In The Basement - Into The Garage
Interview with Jan Sneum
The Danish musical underground has always been the beloved center in Jan Sneum´s life. How to fortify and stimulate the Danish music scene in the best possible way? Danish National Radio (DR)´s enthusiastic column of fire is turning 60 this month and I met him for a chat about punkrock, lo-fi poetry, willpower and the true values in rock music.
By: Helle Hellcat
The cold wind is howling and sprays of salty seawater whip the dark grey sky. At the roof of the fort by the sea stands a dignified gentleman with silvergrey hair swirling around his head and a big smile solidly plantet on his friendly face. From behind, you hear the pounding rock music from a hopeful band, who frenetically tries to split ears. The silverfox grabs his microphone tight. He is enthusiastically transmitting live from the garagerock festival to the listeners at DR. Wake up! Jan Sneum is out on his crooked mission!
Jan Sneum (JS) fills many posts. He is a producer at DR, photographer, music journalist, editor of musical dictionaries, leader of the P3 live programmes for many years and retired school teacher. For JS life has been all about medias ever since he grew up with a dad who was a painter and a mom who was educated in classic guitar from the Danish Academy Of Music. Sound and vision blended in very early and naturally created an inspiring platform for JS: " I think - in all connexions - music is the most important subject to be occupied with".
In the beginning the photography was the most interesting thing
... and what was more interesting to shoot in the end of the 60´s than objects such as rock musicians? In Brøndbyernes Pop Club JS was taking pictures like crazy, while listening to rock´n´roll music. Many things and friendships began here and soon JS was involved as photographer and journalist in Danish underground zines like Wheel, Rok and MM - often inspired by Rolling Stone magazine. In the 70´s the whole Punkrock movement and all it's bastards emerged for JS. Here came action!!
JS started in 1980 as a freelance reporter at DR and in the beginning the young journalist eagerly tried to fill all posts: "At my first job I managed both notepad, camera and taperecorder and it all went totally wrong", JS remembers, "I couldn't take pictures and hold the microphone at the same time, but I thought I could do everything myself and thought that this was a great idea. This was long before someone came up with the word media convergense". JS had to stick to one thing and here the radio was new and interesting to him. "I no longer had to transform the musical experiences to other medias such as writing or pictures. At the radio I simply played all the records I loved so much. There was no doubt, I thougth: I was on a mission!".
The willpower of the underground scene
JS has always been known in the musical underground environment as "Our Man From Inside ". He has been the primous motor in many enterprises at DR to emphasize the strength of the increasing rockscene. Amongst many other things he has delivered a lecture on the subject How to (maybe) make a commercial breakthrough. "If I have to draw a red line through all my years at the radio, then I must say, that what always have been the most interesting thing to work with is the underground mass of talents. Sometimes bands have asked me, if I could go out and tell the hopeful youngsters what to do e.g. to get a life at DR. But the lectures are not something I have systemized. It was more like a natural follow-up to some of the other projects we had been dealing with at the radio. And actually I don't think I'm competent enough of saying "this and that you have to do to become millionaires" or " this and that you have to do, then your band can play the Gutter Island Festival until you retire - but it will go no further". If I could, I would, right? But I will gladly tell which values we're looking for at DR."
LC: Maybe a solid formular of success doesn't exist? I guess the bands have to kick in some doors themselves?
JS takes a minute to think: "I think You're right. Many of the bands require a solid basis of true willpower. If You wanna make it in the musicbizz the willpower has to be there, because there is so much physical an psycological resistance: Your own lazyness, economics, family, studies, day jobs and so on. If You don't have the willpower there will be no results! Then maybe you drop out or find a state where it's just cosy to sing around the bonfire with your friends ... but that's all. That brings You to no record deal, no touring, no nothing."
LC: So willpower is essential?
"Sure, and this is where the punkrock and it's networking is really excellent showing you how to progress globally. What is going on in Odense? What is going on in Tokyo? ... and at the Phillipines? Many bands from Ungdomshuset (progressive ex-squatted punkvenue in Copenhagen. ed.) have been travelling around the world. The garagerock scene also has it's own network and this shows us, that - at least - for subgenres this determined, networking works! These genre networks often become a kind of a tribal culture, where the important subject isn't nationality, gender or age - it often has a reservation vibe to it - like i.e. at the Gutter Island Garagerock Festival."
Gutter Island Garagerock Festival
LC: You have been quite involved in the gutter Island Garagerock Festival yourself (www.gutter-island.dk). What is Your opinion on this event?
"For several reasons, this is a festival that I praise a lot. On the one hand: A genre I like a lot was miserably neglected and suddenly It came alive in Denmark. Earlier the whole Garagerock scene wasn't very visible and then - finally - the new rock´n´roll wave that had been going on for some years in Sweden, Finland and Norway rolled over Denmark. On the other hand, I think it was great that the garagerock community gathered together and created a festival along with local venues in an original way. I think Gutter Island has so many qualities. Also I think it's good that the festival is an every two-year event ´cause then there's time for some musically development and You have the time to get hungry and really be looking forward to the good times. If You do the festival every year in a genre that is so subcultural and narrow, well, then there's the risk that you'll meet exactly the same music as last year. As it is now, there's room for some new ideas, which I appreciate a lot. Also I'm very glad that The Burnouts, The Defectors and Baby Woodrose was into recording 12" live Ep´s from the festival - it has been really funny to be able to document the Gutter Island Garagerock festival".
LC: Documenting concerts with live albums was earlier a proud punktradition like with "Pærepunk", "Nosferatu" and so on.
"yes, that's right and maybe, again, it's because the networks for these subgenres are so close, that it's easy to get an idea and then fulfil it and that's wonderful. In so many other ways it's terribly complicated e.g. to clear and use DR´s livetakes".
LC: How did the idea of making the split EP Snotdum (Bad Afro) in Danish with The Defectors and Powersolo come up?
"The Idea emerged at the first Gutter Island Festival, where I heard Kim Kix and Powersolo as a duo with songs in Danish. I'm really proud of the Snotdum EP, but in many ways I would have loved to do it even more stripped down as Powersolo was in the beginning. It possessed a lo-fi poetry and beauty I have rarely seen or heard. The stripped down formula is interesting when the songs and the performance are good. The contrast is interesting: stripped down lo-fi and poetry. Powersolo has become so many other things later on and the EP is marked with all the traditional rock effects and fun you recognise in Powersolo, but the earliest fundament is gone. It's clear now that we should have done the EP in that moment and not have waited. But I'm really glad we realised the project. Then we can move on to other projects."
LC: ...and The Defectors?
"I don't know if the EP and their two songs in Danish have had any influence on The Defectors? Maybe they wanna do more songs in Danish in the future? It sure was new to them, but the result is very good, I think. It's important to focus on the good song, both in English and in Danish. Without the good song nothing works. You can do a lot with sound, special stageshow and a spectacular image but without a good song there'll be no success. The song that survives at home on an acoustic guitar or the piano has a great strenght."
"If I have to draw a red line through all my years at the
radio, then I must say, that what always have been the
most interesting thing to work with is the underground
mass of talents".
Networking with no limits
LC: Which qualities do you enquire with Danish bands? "Again willpower is the keyword. Right now I feel there is so incredibly many artists who really wanna make it, not only regarding DR and the home market, but who has the big lust for global thinking. All these bands who, by own drift, set up tours in Germany or Finland or where the Hell they go ... that is just wonderful! That is where the true values of rockmusic exist: When you got the strong urge and the willpower to get a grip on your music and use your network. And especially rockmusic is such an lovely international thing. If you don't have immediately success on your hometurf the fight goes on. There are so many opportunities with all the new ways of communication that the limits are gone".
LC: So it has become easier to get visible as a band with the Internet and so on. It gives You the opportunity to expose your band in different ways than earlier. But at the same time this means, that even more bands are competing about the attention on the various platforms that exist. What do you think of the Danish music scene today?
"The music scene has become so incredible wide. Once I thought I had a general view, but I indeed don't see the whole picture anymore. A neverending stream of new bands have emerged and even though I have been in the music business for years, I can not reach all corners now. Well, that is just wonderful, but it also means that, as a radio station, you have to make some choices, since there is only the same 24 hours in a day".
Punk, experiments and raw poetry is still a big part of JS´ life. Even though he turns 60 in December - at his own big surprise - there still is anarchistic sides to the radiojurnalist's personality. In 1979 a young JS wrote the liner notes on the livealbum - and portrait of a generation - Pærepunk and here, 25 years later, he wrote liner notes on the two punkrecords Fåk Danmark! ´03, (= Fuck Denmark!, ed.), and Ungdomshuset ´04. On Fåk Danmark! a.o. he writes: "The new names at the Danish punkscene dare to work progressively with the Danish language. And it's new. And wonderful. And necessary. Expressionism, wildness and gigantic spirit is in focus. Et spark i bolledejen!"
LC: The "Fåk Danmark!" cover shows Pia Kjærsgaard and Anders Fogh Rasmussen (right-wing politicians) in some VERY pornographic situations. What did You think, when you saw the cover? " Ha ha ha ha ... yes, that was a surprise. I must say, that when I saw that cover I thought:" Yep! Ungdomshuset is alive!" It's still possible to make provocative covers, but I never thought it would look like this. Maybe it was a strategically smart move ´cause suddenly the record got a lot of attention and the cover made the music more visible. Sometimes you need a provocation and I do think it is done with a lot of humour ... ha ha ... but I didn't know it was going to look like this."
LC: You cleared the live-takes made by DR which appear on Ungdomshuset´s jubilee record? "If I have to talk about DR as a cultural institution, I think it's important that we contribute on that record with some songs. We make live-takes from the Royal Theatre as well and this width is very well documented, I think. We operate from Ungdomshuset to the Opera. But through my years at DR I guess I spent most of my time looking down the basement and into the garage.
From Ungdomshuset to The Opera
LC: What if JS had never worked at DR and been standing on the top of the windy fort during the Gutter Island Garagerock Festival transmitting live? Do you think the programmes on the Danish National Radio would have been just as varied as now? "Eeh - I don't really know anyone else at DR with the same perception of music like me, so well - it's hard to say, " JS´ cheeks are getting slightly red, " I think it meant something back then that someone like me, who wasn't part of the scene, but then again wasn't too old, via punkrock found back to the amusing roots of rock´n´roll. I hadn't been here today if it wasn't for punkrock. It was so lively, it turned me so much on and there was a close contact with the audience that I like - the element of " the people right there at stage are doing the things I would like to do too".
NOW PLAYING: Dennis Diken & Bell Sound/"Late Music"
and...NEW TIN HUEY!
it's on Amazon right now!!
NOW READING: sixth book by Carl Hiaasen - "Sick Puppy". he's so good, but he's also killing Florida for me.
PEEVE DE JOUR: the speed trap in New Paltz
JOIE DE JOUR: learning Dennis Diken's songs. can't believe i'll be playing drums for HIM!!!
cb...where are you?
DENMARK...in my thoughts, anyway.