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The Radio Dept

Raise Your Voice

Jun 16, 2015 The Radio Dept.
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Despite an aesthetic that could be neatly placed in the dream pop bucket, The Radio Dept.’s world is one rooted in friction. It’s a fact of life, says member Johan Duncanson.

“I quit the band every other month,” he admits bluntly. “I’ve done that for ages, I guess I’m a bit like Larry David in that sense. Martin and I don’t argue nearly as much as we used to but it’s still pretty regular. But somehow we manage to stick together anyway. It’s more fun making music together with someone than by yourself. And Martin is one of my best friends and a fantastic musician in lack of better words, so he’s the one I’ll call whenever I’ve got something new going.”

Approaching their second decade together, The Radio Dept. has never been ones to rush. (Duncanson laughs at the very idea anything they could be called “speedy.”) Instead, the band’s rotating roster (currently featuring just Duncanson and Martin Larsson) has methodically turned out three full-lengths and a handful of EPs, all swirling around a similar sound created by lo-fi production, drum machines, airy synths, and reverb-laden guitars. It’s a blend that sounds personal and real—constructed for headphones rather than stadiums.

“Personally, I like it when songs are out of tune, not very well rehearsed and, over all, cheap sounding,” Duncanson notes. “That makes any song out of any genre more accessible to me. But I often find it embarrassingly predictable when bands make that ‘unpredictable’ album that’s deliberately hard to listen to. Yawn. Life’s too short.”

It would be easy to pin the band as a nostalgia act, and simply stop there. After all, they are the same act that wrote a paean to the year “1995.” Despite having little in common other than the fact both acts own guitars, critics often compared The Radio Dept. to My Bloody Valentine (a fact that Duncanson counters with little more than a Talmudic shrug.) Even Sofia Coppola, whose directing career has been characterized by dreamy, emotion-heavy work, is a fan, having included the band in soundtrack to her 2006 film, Marie Antoinette.

But as demonstrated by their standalone single last year, members of The Radio Dept. would much rather cast themselves in a different light—musical provocateurs. “Death to Fascism” was a sample and beat-heavy track featuring Yugoslavian partisan freedom fighter Stjepan Filipović’s chant, “Smrt fasizmu, sloboda narodu.” (“Death to Fascism, freedom to the people.”) Aimed at the Swedish Democrats (a political part to the far right), the chopped up song took a strong stance against apathy.

Although a return to their dewy rock sound, the duo’s new EP, Occupied, carries in the same hard-line political spirit. A look at a youthful dream crushed, the three songs center around the workings of an angry and desperate state of mind. But even with lines like “We all wish there was a hell for some people/some kind of retribution,” there’s also the promise of improvement. Although he wouldn’t purely classify himself as an optimist, Duncanson says it’s an idea he truly believes in. But it will take everyone working in the same direction to achieve.

“Music can obviously play a huge part in bringing people together and in making us feel united,” he says. “And used for political reasons it can be just as powerful and persuasive. To me, that is a constant fact, even in times when it’s not being put into practice. Not that any of our songs have had that impact, I don’t think they made any difference at all, but I’m positive that there always will be great political potential in music.”

“Woody Guthrie had the words ‘this machine kills fascists’ carved into his guitar,” Duncanson continues. “Indirectly, I’m sure it did. And now, with the new rise of racism and fascism in Europe, we really need people to speak up and to fight the pigs back. We need everyone. Aerobics instructors, teachers, clerks, and unemployed people. We need bands of every sub genre, and we need songs.”



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