Back when The (International) Noise Conspiracy signed to Warner Brothers for the Rick Rubin-produced Armed Love under his American Recordings imprint, I asked frontman Dennis Lyxzén if the major-label backed album was an affront to their politics. As though prepared for the question, he included the phrase, “there’s no difference between small-market and large-market capitalism” in his answer. A humble and young “journalist,” I took the answer at face value. It was a great soundbite at the very least, and provided me with context when I interviewed other radically-left leaning musicians.
But the more time has transpired, it has become painfully clear there is actually a very large difference between small-market and large-market capitalism. The easy example is WalMart vs. your local mom & pop. In the larger context, it’s the ten largest companies receiving tax breaks, while a small business who doesn’t incorporate faces paying more in taxes regardless of income level. Which brings us to the pressing question of the day: Is there a difference between small-market Refused and large-market Refused?
Small-market Refused is the socialist hardcore band who came up in Umea, Sweden and subsequently broke-up upon the release of their most commercially-viable record, The Shape of Punk to Come. Large-market Refused is the one who “reunited” a decade later on the heels of said T(I)NC career to play Coachella and are now set to release Freedom—their first record since The Shape—June 30 on their original American home of Epitaph. Sonically, the answer is clear. They’re a bit older, a bit less angry, and sound more like Lyxzén’s later band then the former. Politically speaking, this is a larger topic to tackle.
Refused succeed. In the same way the white guy gentrifying your local bodega complaining about the Koch Brothers succeeds.
On “Françafrique”, the second single from Freedom, Refused explore the relationship between France and its (former?) African colonies—specifically the Congo—presumably due to the current administration’s re-opening of these “working relationships” for political means under president François Hollande. We’re given a lyric video to accompany the song, which, while filled with plenty more buzzwords than Françafrique, might be helpful to understand the complex history behind these puppet states. As the band admits, “full-on anarchist jargon” is gone, and in its place are songs inspired by time spent “talking about politics, existential issues and what we wanted to present as a band in 2015.”
On this level Refused succeed. In the same way the white guy gentrifying your local bodega complaining about the Koch Brothers succeeds. Apparently capitalism is no longer the issue Refused rally against. Finger pointed outward, their beef is now with… unchecked capitalism? A fight that all Americans can understand, but one that we should all know by now is not worth the fight. The core principal of capitalism is profit at any means; figuring out how to side-step regulation to find the profitable loophole is simply part of the job. This is the difference between good capitalists and poor people. Not drive or lack of trying, but the naive notion that idealism can exist in a flawed state. Greed will always make you do unsavory things, and none of us are above it if we are to live in a society that forces the practice upon us. Regulating capitalism is like arguing the people of the Congo have it better because of the economic strength France offers the region. At best, it’s fundamentally flawed if you want to adhere to a totally “free market,” at worst, well, watch the lyric video for “Françafrique”. (Or the preferred Downtown Boys video for “Wave of History”.)
This is why it was easier to digest anti-capitalist songs from a band who was socialist, than criticisms of capitalism from a band who fully practices and benefits from it. The world doesn’t need more preachers, it needs more activists. Maybe Refused are still very politically active (beyond militant veganism), but the “anarchist jargon” is gone, as is much of the passion they left in its wake, so we’ll likely never know. Or care.
As for the song, it’s pretty decent. I can get behind the message.