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We Need New Noise

How Refused Reshaped Punk

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REFUSED did not want to be canonized or mythologized. So they stated in their farewell missive, upon initially dissolving in 1998 at the peak of their potency. Expressing disgust with the increasingly capitalistic music industry, the group—celebrated for blowing the lid off whatever punk was supposed to be—declared they were abandoning it.

They formed amid a creatively fertile late-'80s/early-'90s scene in the Swedish university city of Umeå, and the band coalesced within the then-prevalent parameters of classic hardcore. But Refused turned the scene on its head through a series of dizzying releases, culminating in the now-legendary The Shape of Punk to Come.

The title is a nod to a seminal jazz album, and the music is an unflinching, meticulous meditation on the possibilities of popular music. Its politically and philosophically charged songs incorporate elements of jazz, techno, classical, and folk music by way of instruments that range from synths to strings, demonstrating punk as an approach and process rather than a static, defined genre. Refused mirrored this innovation in live performance, exhibiting more energy than seemed feasible from five human beings—particularly frontman Dennis Lyxzén, who gyrated and agitated onstage as a playful, fierce, and joyous musical conduit.

Since the band famously refuses to be interviewed, we're left to speculate on their reasons for reuniting. The prolific online postings of Lyxzén—who has stayed terrifically active in underground music, as a performer and as proprietor of the Ny Våg record label—provide some clues. He expresses gratitude for the continuing support for Refused, but also gently suggests that fans listen to his new output, and encourages followers to make music and art of their own.

In the years since pronouncing their own death sentence, Lyxzén & Co. witnessed the mythmaking of their music as well as punk itself. Perhaps they realized the way to destroy myths is not to bow out, but to press on. And although their music is inevitably revered, their most enduring legacy is the relentless creativity they spurred and the boundaries they destroyed—showing that doing so is the true way to keep punk alive.

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