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Refused - Refused AreFucking Dead

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Refused are fucking dead.  It’s as simple as that.  After recording one of the most important punk albums of the last ten years, Refused promptly fell apart on the following tour.  Taking its name from one of the songs on that album, Refused Are Fucking Dead documents the final year of the band.

Refused have a knack for basic and accurate titles.  Their final album, 1998’s The Shape of Punk to Come is widely credited with bringing life, urgency and a potent social voice back to a punk scene which had become all about skate-boards, whiney voices and the one drumbeat.  It also kick-started the post-hardcore/screamo styles of music.  It truly was the shape of punk to come.  The manifesto was a song called New Noise.  From the opening question “Can I scream?”, it was a call to arms. A reminder that punk was never meant to be about the right look or trying to sound like every other band around.

How can we expect anyone to listen
If we’re using the same old voice?
We need new noise
New art for the real people

We dance to all the wrong songs
We enjoy all the wrong moves

But like so many other great bands, the manic energy which made them great was intrinsically tied to their inevitable downfall.  The volatile nature which created such excitement and tension within the band also made them unstable.  Refused consisted of four people who had been the leaders of their previous bands.  They found themselves in a situation where they believed in what they were doing but no longer felt they had control over it.  Especially once other people began to notice and the movement became bigger than the band itself.

After the band broke up, guitarist Kristofer Steen became a filmmaker and it is he who has put together this film.  Rather than rely on archival footage of the events, which is terribly scarce (after all at the time, no one knew the impact this album would have), he has put together a beautifully shot piece of storytelling.  Panoramic shots of the landscape of Refused’s native Sweden are interspersed with interviews and newly shot situational footage of the other band members – vocalist Dennis Lyxzén (now in The (International) Noise Conspiracy), guitarist Jon Brännström and drummer David Sandström (as the documentary focuses only on the final year of the band, members from their original lineup are not included, nor is bassist Magnus Björklund, who left during the recording of The Shape of Punk to Come).

Steen himself does not appear in the film, other than in the few bits of archival and live footage which are included, but his voice is still quite strong throughout, as much of the interviews with other band members feel like a conversation between them and him.  Steen’s skill as a filmmaker is also on show, with the overall visual style of the film being stunning, while the editing and combination of Rikard Borrgärd’s musical score and Refused’s live performances creating strong feelings of tension and excitement.

The live performances are worth noting too.  Unlike many other music documentaries recently, Steen realises that after talking about it for so long, all the audience wants to do is finally HEAR some music and see what the fuss is all about.  Mercifully he has included full performances of Circle Pit, Life Support Addiction and New Noise throughout the film at relevant moments.  Also included is some brief footage of the song Rather Be Dead, captured at the final Refused concert as the police pushed through the crowd, tellingly stopping the band before they could reach the song’s refrain “but I’d rather be alive.

Refused Are Fucking Dead is a must for fans of the band, or anyone with even a passing interest in punk, hardcore or any of their variations.  However it will appeal to lovers of any kind of music, purely for the passion of the band members, their unwavering belief in what they’re doing, and the artistic direction of the film itself.  It should also serve as an eye-opener to anyone who dismisses the post-hardcore scene as “whiney-emo-shit”, to see just how powerful, important and vital it can be in the right hands.

Bonus features on the DVD are a mixed bag.  Video clips for Rather Be Dead and New Noise are a welcome addition.  The idea to try and include live performances of as many songs from The Shape of Punk to Come as possible doesn’t work as well as could be hoped though.  While it is exciting to have them there, most are shot from hand held cameras by the side of the stage, using inbuilt microphones (again, at the time no one could have known how significant the band would become posthumously).  The amateur camerawork and distorted sound, from which you can often make out only the drums and one guitar, mean this stuff is for hardcore fans of the band only.  However in this case, the main feature really is worth the price of the disc.

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