Intoxicating Nordic Music Aimed at Supreme World Domination
Morten Alfred Høirup talks with the Danish experimentalists, Afenginn.
The Danish band Afenginn (Old Norse for "intoxicating" or "to strengthen oneself") are known for their gripping concerts, with the musicians giving their all on violin, mandolin, clarinet, electric bass and drums, creating a veritable an explosion on stage. Afenginn play a mix of Scandinavian folk, global roots and punk, and cover a dynamic range from quiet, lyrical passages to what can only be describe as going berserk. But behind their wild stage show are many hours of disciplined preparation, composing, arranging and practicing. Afenginn's music has been called "bastard-etno with a melancholic Nordic sigh and a dash of ecstatic madness."
On their third recording, Reptilica Polaris, the band's Finnish-born mandolin player and composer, Kim Nyberg, in co-operation with the rest of the band, has arranged music for a male choir and a 12-piece brass section. The album is primarily vocal, the language is a kind of gibberish from the poet Timo Haapaniemi, and the whole work was recorded as one long and unusually dynamic piece. In other words, this is a massive project, which demanded all of the band's resources for a long period; the recording alone took over six months. But Afenginn began as what could be described as an underground project as early as 2002, says Nyberg. Indeed, the musicians started playing together even before they had a concept ready:
"We began fumbling in the dark, without a gold-plated master plan. That came later. The original idea was to play music that contained chamber music and artistic aspects, but which rocked and could be danced to. Somewhere between Swedish Hedningarna and Argentinian Astor Piazzolla, so to speak. Since then we have evolved in various directions, and that is the fun with Afenginn - that there are not really any limitations. Both rhythm and tone are perhaps more off the wall now that we are turning our gaze more towards the east than the north."
Division of labor, a prize and professional recognition
For years, the Danish folk music scene found its inspiration in music from Ireland, Scotland and USA in the West, and from Sweden, Norway and Finland in the North. More recently, younger Danish musicians in particular have begun to look South and East, and they have discovered Jewish klezmer music, East European and Balkan music and Central European medieval-inspired folk music. The five musicians in Afenginn are all veterans of the Danish music scene, and play all manner of music from Danish rock and pop to Astor Piazolla's tango compositions and to Faroese singer/song-writer material in bands that are organized in various ways. In Afenginn the procedure is fixed.
Nyberg said, "If you look at how we organize our work, we are largely a do-it-yourself band, each of us with a ministerial portfolio. As the work expanded, however, we had to call in assistance from outside. Musically, it works like this: I turn up with a stack of sheet music I have written, and we all develop the dynamics, the tempo, and the expression. This has proved the most productive and efficient way for us to work."
Asked where the music comes from, Nyberg said, with a twinkle in his eye, "It comes from a special corner of the dark side of the mind."
There can be no doubt that his compositions and Afenginn's serious, engaged and deeply original work yielded artistic results, including critical praise for Reptilica Polaris. Afenginn have won several Danish Music Awards, and recently the band were invited to participate in the Ministry of Culture's project "The Young Elite," which has supplied important funding for the advancement of the band's international career. Afenginn will record two international albums in the coming years, and they are currently planning tours in Denmark and the rest of Europe.
Out into the World with the Music
Afenginn have already toured extensively abroad, in Germany, Malaysia, Belgium, Holland, Switzerland, Estonia, Sweden, Norway, Finland and USA and elsewhere. The band has an enthralling, original attitude towards the audience, they are all outstanding instrumentalists and the idea of singing in a language that sounds like a mixture of twaddle, Latin and Esperanto means that everybody has an equal chance of understanding the songs - or not – and so can enjoy the song for what it is. According to the UK magazine fROOTS, much more international activity awaits Afenginn: "They're shockingly good, with imaginations and technique that won't quit. If there's justice, they'll be huge."
Ask Kim Nyberg about their international potential, and there is no lack of ambition or optimism. "It looks promising. We already work quite a bit abroad and we've just been handed 400,000 kr ($73,000) by the Ministry of Culture to build up our international career over the next two years. We have signed a recording contract with the German record company Westpark Music, who will market us internationally. In Afenginn's rules and regulations it states quite clearly that the aim is "supreme world domination" and that is what we are quietly working towards."
Article by Morten Alfred Høirup
The musicians of Afenginn:
All of Afenginn's recordings are available from cdRoots
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