Supersonic Scientists will focus on Motorpsycho in studio and on disc. It is a fact that they built reputation early in their career as a unique live band. The group inspires extreme dedication in their fans, the so-called “Psychonauts” who follow the band from concert to concert. In this text we will look briefly at the band’s first expansion into Europe, as well as one of the reasons how today’s international touring circuit for underground rock bands came into being.
For many it is first and foremost as a live band that Motorpsycho has really excelled. The band’s early international concert career was mentioned at the Rockheim exhibition Network of Friends in autumn 2014. At this exhibition, we investigated a relatively unknown story. Through interviews, items, music and text we watched different networks outside of the regular music industry, where outsiderness was as much about conscious choices, as about necessity due to lack of interest from the industry. The do-it-yourself ethic in such networks included everything from production, distribution, media and organising concerts and tours.
One of the threads followed at the exhibition was the expansion of Norwegian hardcore punk bands in Europe at the end of the 1980s. While today it is not unusual for Norwegian bands to play concerts abroad, at that time it was unlikely for most of them. People from the hardcore scene in Norway and around Europe were keen to change this. On their own they built up an alternative well-functioning infrastructure for touring, which in Norway was referred to as the “Blitz Route”. Bands such as So Much Hate and Life… But How To Live It? (LBHTLI) spent most of the end of the decade in vans from Jugendzentrum to Jugendzentrum, and became well-known names within this international scene.
Motorpsycho was not really a part of the community that developed this, but did use the same concert circuit early in their career. Motorpsycho developed from the environment around the student radio station in Trondheim, but as Sæther tells us in an interview done in association with the exhibition Network of Friends, the band connected early on with the UFFA-house (Norwegian: Ungdom For Fri Aktivitet = Youth For Free Activity). In the transition to the 1990s, UFFA worked partly as a node within a larger (counter-)cultural network. UFFA had a concert stage that can be argued to be the northernmost point on the previously mentioned concert circuit. It’s info shop «Ivar Matlaus Bokkafé» stocked new and exciting music from independent labels across the globe. So even though the band may have lacked the punk background, Motorpsycho participated in an international network, which was also about to open up in its musical world. Sæther explains that while the different rock scenes and subcultures in the 1980s to a large extent were separated with the specific musical styles functioning as strong and rather closed identity markers, it was in the early 1990s to a larger extent “allowed to listen to a variety of music”.
Such a change was also noticed in bands that originated from the hardcore scene. Fugazi from Washington DC appeared in many ways as a leading light within the independent and more socially and ethically conscious section of the scene, but was at the same time completely different musically than what previously had been perceived as hardcore punk music. While Fugazi emerged as both exploratory and danceable, other hardcore bands such as Neurosis took the music to darker and heavier places. Incidentally, inspiration from both of these bands can be heard in some Motorpsycho tunes from the first half of the 1990s. The same tendency was seen in Norway. The politically aware anarcho-punk band Angor Wat linked to the UFFA-house gained inspiration from metal, and also later, newer electronic music genres with extensive use of sampling after changing their name to Israelvis, while previously mentioned LBHTLI linked to the hardcore scene at the Blitz-house in Oslo was not at all afraid of pop melodies.
Musically Motorpsycho were – among other things – inspired by both contemporary indie-rock and hard rock from the 1970s. The open and broad approaches could also be noticed in a selection of cover versions they sometimes played in a live setting. The cover songs stretched from classic hardcore acts such as Black Flag to songs by Neil Young, the latter quite unusual from a band playing autonomous youth houses. For in many ways it was at places like the UFFA house that it all began. While from the beginning the band also played at more traditional Norwegian rock joints, Kult-Alt (Cultural Alternative) in Molde and the Blitz House in Oslo were natural venues. When the band did its first tour abroad, in Denmark in December 1991, it was at venues typical of the so-called Blitz route, such as the alternative bastion 1000fryd in Aalborg and the BZ-squatted Café Ratata in Aarhus. The fact that manager Cecilie Lykke worked in the booking group at UFFA with its ties to similar houses and communities across Europe is also significant.
Even from their debut album Lobotomizer from 1991, an international record-buying audience and perhaps especially in Italy met the band with interest. Not all in the hardcore community were convinced by the first album from the long-haired musicians from Central Norway though. We find an example of this in one of the very first international reviews of the band. It was published in Germany in TRUST, the oldest German hardcore fanzine, and is signed by Dolf, a key person in the development and coordination of the network of venues and bands across central Europe.
Motorpsycho – ‘Lobotomizer’ LP
V.O.W. rec., Olaf Ryes Pl. 8, 0552 Oslo 5, Norwegen
Die Jungs kommen aus Trondheim/Norwegen, könnten aber auch genausogut aus den Staaten oder sonstwoher sein. Nimm eine Portion Black Sabbath und noch jeweils einen kräftigen Schuß der noch älteren Heavy Metal Bands, schütte das ganze in einen Topf laut brodlender Psych-Säure und würze es etwas mit dem heute gängigen Grunge, rühre ständig. Wißt ihr nun was ich meine. Die Cover/Inlet Artwork gibt dir dann den Rest.
Like the hardcore bands before them, Motorpsycho nevertheless quickly found a larger international market than in Norway. The previously mentioned network of venues had during the eighties been to a large extent reserved for the independent hardcore scene, but this was about to diversify. The network was a success and with the infrastructure in place, it soon emerged in the early 1990s as virtually the only way of touring for underground bands, as well as being more open for bands outside the hardcore scene. This independent network, therefore, was one of the factors making it possible for Motorpsycho to take its first serious steps into Europe.
By using contacts linked to the hardcore scene that were given to them by the constantly networking members of Israelvis, Motorpsycho made their first major international tour in the winter of 1993. In many ways this was a typical punk tour through Germany and Denmark, with youth houses, lentil soup, vegetarian stews and sleeping on sofas in the homes of the organisers. The band was mostly well received by the audiences and the main part of the set lists consisted of songs from the newly recorded Demon Box. Writer Helge Schreiber, also from the hardcore network, was very impressed after seeing the band live on its first tour in Germany. He considered Motorpsycho as a band connected to the same scene and gave them overflowing reviews in the punk-oriented fanzine Ox.
Motorpsycho – Lobotomizer CD
– 8 Soothing Songs for Ruth CD
Voices of Wonder rec./Norway
Mein absoluter Favorit derzeit! Live waren MOTOR-PSYCHO aus Trondheim, Norwegen dermaßen brachial, daß ich dem Gehörsturz nahe war. Das war so, als ob HELMET, MUDHONEY, SOUNDGARDEN, TUMBLEWEED und andere 70’s Bands in ihren besten Momenten zusammengefasst wurden. Die beiden CDs sind noch von ’90 und ’92, bestechen aber durch ihren unkonventionellen Grungesound. Kiffen, und dann mit MOTORPSYCHO zuballern, dat isset! Dieser Tage kommt die neue 90 Minuten Doppel-LP von MOTORPSYCHO raus. Yes Sir!
With the release of Demon Box even more people became aware of the band, and even Dolf from TRUST was impressed. In his record review he claimed that the band now stood just as diabolically potent as Trøndelag moonshine, though much more agreeable. However, Motorpsycho moved away from this typical punk touring circuit. The band’s sphere of influence was broader and certainly did not appeal only to the hardcore community. Neither was it a goal in itself for them to remain in this scene. Motorpsycho was first and foremost musically focused, and in a different way from the hardcore pioneers, where perhaps the subculture, the particular network and the values it represented, as well as the contempt for the established music industry were just as important.
Right from Motorpsycho’s second big European tour in autumn 1993, which took them to the Netherlands, Belgium and Italy as well as Germany, they used booking agencies outside of the hardcore network. This meant more rock clubs and fewer youth houses. From sleeping in people’s homes they now stayed in hostels. Even this was still quite a different way to tour than is typical today.
But it was not only abroad that Motorpsycho built up their reputation. Demon Box can also be seen as a slight breakthrough for the band in Norway. While the country’s music press had been aware of the band’s qualities since their debut album, they were now also mentioned and praised in Norwegian newspapers. Only a couple of years earlier this would have been almost impossible for “alternative rock” on independent record labels. The band landed an important gig at the Roskilde festival in Denmark the summer of 1993, and was also nominated for the «Norwegian Grammy», the Spellemannprisen music award. Touring at home became also easier during that decade, partly due to the government’s financial commitment to music equipment and stages around the country. Motorpsycho went from playing individual concerts in the biggest cities to being able to plan more continuous tours in their homeland.
In addition to their large studio production, throughout the 1990s the group played well over 50 concerts annually. Musically the band was constantly moving on, and their eventual large catalogue of songs allowed for new items from concert to concert. In addition, the band frequently introduced striking improvisation and jamming elements so that the concerts (often several hours long) could stack up very differently.
At the turn of the millennium the band filled many of the biggest clubs in Norway as well as around Europe, and they also landed several larger festivals. Although Motorpsycho evolved into something quite different from the pioneer bands within the hardcore scene, there are also similarities. Through its entire career, the band has been dedicated to having full control, both in their art and in their management. Independence, friendship, family, and trust are words that are constantly being used in conjunction with Motorpsycho, words that we also recognise from the networks within the hardcore scene.
They are still working today with many of the same people who they were familiar with and were linked to on their first tours. One example is Stickman Records, which was created in 1994 to publish and promote Motorpsycho in Europe. Behind this name we find a couple who are Motorpsycho aficionados, Rolf and Jeanette Gustavus. In connection with his visit to the Trondheim Calling music conference and festival, Rolf explained to us that it was Norwegian hardcore and bands such as Life… But How To Live It?, that first awakened his interest in Norwegian music.
Does anyone have posters from the very first tours? Stories? Recordings? Other things? Do you want to help me with translations from Norwegian to English? Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
“Network of “Friends” was an exhibition at Rockheim from 20/9/2014 to 22/2/2015, and will ultimately form the basis for a separate Internet exhibition.
Some of the sources:
Bent Sæther 22/8-2014, Dolf Hermannstädter 11/6-2014, Helge Schreiber 13/6-2014, Morten Fagervik 15/5-2014
Meeting: Rolf Gustavus, 30/1-2015
Articles: Carl Kristian Johansen: Motorpsykedelisk Utferdstrang, ballade.no