STAR DANCER vs. CAR CANCER

The “Østbyen”-district in Trondheim has, in several ways, been important for Motorpsycho, and we have already mentioned the UFFA-house where the band made their early recordings and performed their first concerts. In this post we will look at a few other reasons why this region of Trondheim will have a prominent place in the large exhibition at Rockheim this autumn. In the 1990s, members of the counter-culture were fighting the political establishment and a car dealership for the right to define their place in the city. The battlefield was the neighbourhood of Svartlamon and Motorpsycho were in many ways at the heart of this conflict.

When Motorpsycho received their first “Norwegian Grammy” – the Spellemannpris music award in March 1997, the band was not present at Chateau Neuf to receive their praise and honour. They were in the middle of an extensive Norwegian tour and ready for a concert at Folken in Stavanger. The prize in the rock category that was awarded for their fifth album Blissard was instead accepted by their former member, Helge “Deathprod” Sten, who was still an associated member of the extended Motorpsycho family. The gaily clad audience in the hall and the TV viewers did not, however, hear a normal speech of thanks, but were rather informed of who did not deserve any thanks. Strandveien Auto and Trondheim Municipality were brought up on this issue, and the speech finally concluded with an appeal: “Long Live Svartlamon!”.1)Leve Svartlamon! Space is the Place!

The residential area of Lademoen is not only known for UFFA, but also known and talked about for its thick accent and high proportion of social welfare clients. The northbound train service that divides the district in two has had more accidents with alcoholics than the Østerdal trains have had with moose. The Municipality first went on the defensive when it was reported that the latest accident had been caused by two dark shadows that had released one of the drunkards on to the track.2)Beate Nossum: Bent over please!, Rock Furore 2/1993

A little history is in order here. Svartlamon is a name for that part of Lademoen that is located on the north side of the railway line, an area that was deregulated for industrial purposes in 1949. The formerly proud working class neighbourhood was from the 1960s steadily deserted by expropriation and torn down bit by bit, while the municipality let the remaining buildings and residents deteriorate. With municipal assistance the reorganised area was gradually filled up by a disproportionately high percentage of criminal and social cases. As the description from the review above shows, Lademoen had as a whole a somewhat dubious reputation, and this applied to an even greater extent to Svartlamon. Residents from that time tell of nearly lawless conditions, a district where only taxis drove reluctantly to, and the area was – not completely unfairly – referred to as a “slum” in the press.

bartlamon13
Aerial photo of Lademoen, 1999. Svartlamon is the area inside of the red line (“photshopped” by an anonymous blogger).

In the second half of the eighties, something else began to develop when youth began to move into the houses of Svartlamon. Svartlamon Beboerforening (The Svartlamon residents’ association) was founded in 1990, with the aim of working for the preservation of the neighbourhood. More and more new people came to live in the apartments. Although some takeovers first came through squatting, the young migrants were granted temporary tenancy agreements by the municipality. For some of the more than 100 residents, it was not just about preservation and cheap housing, but also about shaping an alternative.

But Svartlamon was also the area where the car dealership Strandveien Auto was located, and now they wanted to expand their business. In order to do so they wanted to tear down two apartment blocks nearby. The younger and more determined residents showed their might when they prevented the demolition of these brick buildings in 1995. The joy among residents did not last long however, for in the autumn of 1996 the city council instead decided to sell off large parts of the area to the car dealer. This would result in the demolition of entire streets of the remaining small timber houses. The battle for the neighbourhood advanced to a new phase.

DemoBent&Cecilie
Bent and Cecilie, demonstration 1997. Snapshot from the documentary “Nesten som i Afrika”, 2003 (Maya Momentum).

When Motorpsycho received the Spellemanspris music award in 1997, large parts of Svartlamon stood ready for demolition, at the same time as Trondheim was priding itself in the celebration of the city’s 1,000-year anniversary. In February of that same year, Motorpsycho along with several of the city’s alternative rock bands, such as Israelvis and Hedge Hog, had declined to participate in the celebration and any official cultural arrangements in protest against the municipality’s policies. In many ways Østbyen and Svartlamon were also areas of interest for Motorpsycho at this time. Large parts of the “Motorpsycho-family” lived there, and the band also had its office in the area. Some in the Motorpsycho family, and especially drummer Gebhardt, also declared themselves as activists, while Motorpsycho’s permanent illustrator and designer Kim Hiorthøy created mobilisation posters for the district.

Poster, mass rally for Svartlamon, 1998. Illustration by Kim Hiorthøy.

Those who showed resistance to the demolition plans were a ragtag bunch. In the lead were the political activists, counter-cultural folk, artists and punks, where many of them had been “educated” for unconventional political activity in the UFFA house. The residents now used different strategies in their struggle for the neighbourhood. They were lobbying politicians while launching charm offensives to win support in the media and the city’s population, but at the same time they were also building barricades and mobilizing activist networks in Norway and Europe.

Despite (?) poor housing and miserable conditions, a unique creative environment had arisen among the residents of Svartlamon. The very low rent in the area was attractive and made it possible for many of the residents to invest most of their time to other than “normal” paid work. The district housed several musicians, and also Progress Records, one of the more significant Norwegian independent record companies in the 1990s, had their place here.

For an underground band like Motorpsycho with limited means the low house rents in Svartlamon meant for them that they did not have to work full-time in paid work to avoid spending a ruinous amount on housing. The band was thus able dedicate their time to the band, to tour for large parts of the year, and, not least, to practice constantly. The practising was initially in the Trondheim Preservation building, a stone’s throw away from UFFA, before they found new rehearsal studios at Dora in the middle of the 90s. Dora is the massive former German submarine base and bunker which, during the Second World War, was constructed where Svartlamon met the fjord, a site that in many respects represented the start of the demolition of the district.

The band’s involvement in the fight for Svartlamon was also expressed in the release of the CD Mot Riving (Against Demolition) in autumn 1997 which they made with the beloved Norwegian pop-band Tre Små Kinesere.3)Future Motorpsycho collaborator Baard Slagsvold was contrabassist in this band.  Motorpsycho offered three new tracks. “Star Dancer vs Car Cancer” had lyrics by the American poet and cooperating partner Matt Burt who also lived in the neighbourhood. The lyrics can be interpreted as a direct political input in the debate about Svartlamon and was sung by Frode Sander Øien. Øien was an old buddy of Bent and Hans Magnus from their time at upper secondary school in Steinkjer, and had also been vocalist in Bents’ old band Flippa Hormoner (Flipped Hormones)4)Øyvind Brandtsegg was the drummer in this band. Brandtsegg later undoubtedly influenced the soundscape of The Golden Core as a vibraphonist, and has also performed with Motorpsycho several times. The year after they would both take part in Øien’s new band project, Sanderfinger.

there’s semen on the wheel / that turns this town ’round / the city that’s ready to make a deal / when the suitors come around

they say it’s no fault of the car cult / that we look like dancers down from Mars / that worms can’t breathe under asphalt / or use sunrooves to see the stars

star dancer meets car cancer

but who are you, they say / just a bird blown before the storm / but you’re not of our feather, they say / so respectfully I will warn

there’s a tumor in the wheel / that turns this town ’round / the city that’s ready to make a deal / when the suitors come around

Musically the single was regarded as a side step, and the tracks have never been played in the band’s concerts. One exception exists with an outdoor arrangement for Svartlamon in autumn 1998. Motorpsycho came and did a mini concert as a warm-up for the festival’s main band Israelvis, before they themselves were to play a concert at Veita Scene later that evening. Between appeals from activists Motorpsycho, alongside Øien on vocals, played an unconventional concert at Svartlamon, where there was also space for a cover by Flippa Hormoner’s tune “Anna Johanna”. Documentation can be found on YouTube for those who wish to look for it.

Activists from the area were mobilizing Trondheim’s cultural life in the battle for Svartlamon. Support from Motorpsycho and other more typical Svartlamon bands was strengthened, much to the annoyance of the mayor, not only by several of the most popular musicians of the city including Åge Aleksandersen, Dumdum Boys, Arve Tellefsen and Gluntan, but also by other folk from the arts such as author Kim Småge and the painters Håkon Bleken and Håkon Gullvåg. Bleken and Gullvåg also contributed with artworks painted on the most threatened buildings. In 1998 once again the Spellemannspris music award went to Motorpsycho, this time in the category “hard rock”. The prize was received by the band’s guitar-tech Thobro as well as handyman Fagervik, who in the speech of thanks once again referred to the battle for Svartlamon, where also the band Funny Farm, which had been nominated in the same category, were based.

So how did it end in Svartlamon’s battle against the seemingly all-powerful authorities? They won. In a way. The alternative milieu gained in fact a rare victory in autumn 1998, when the town clerk mediated an agreement with the car dealer about moving their business. The path forwards was not without compromise, and the municipality held to ownership of the area and at the same time abnegated most of the responsibility for refurbishment of the long neglected houses.

In 2001, the district was redefined as an “experimental area for city ecology” and the residents association together with the municipality established their own housing foundation. The housing rents were supposed to go to the maintenance of houses, as well as for rent income for the municipality. The rents have increased, but they are still far below commercially-rented properties in Trondheim. After many arguments and deferrals the car dealer finally left the area in 2006. There are still cars there though, and in spite of repeated claims by the residents’ association to the contrary, some of the residents still drive and park free everywhere in what is theoretically a pedestrian zone.

In spite of a high degree of self-governance Svartlamon has maybe not become the left-libertarian, sustainable and ever expanding utopia consisting of active idealists, which certainly some activists had dreamed about. Some still try, though. Without a common enemy, it is harder to keep up the dedication and effort to work for a common goal. For the majority of residents, Svartlamon today is first and foremost an alternative residential area. Then we will see in the future if the neighbourhood manages to mobilize against the upcoming threat of demolition of two buildings because of the forthcoming expansion of the nearby railway lines, and also against an increasing political pressure from the city authorities against Svartlamons self-government in other local matters.

The neighbourhood has, however, doubled in the number of inhabitants since the battle for district was at its hottest. This has not least happened because of the birth of children and the neighbourhood has close to 250 inhabitants of which around 50 are less than 18 years old. A lot of time, energy and activity in the aftermath of the Svartlamon struggle has been spent on repairs, renovation and maintenance of the houses in the long neglected district. There is also a lot of cultural activity, including the annual Eat the Rich-Festival, a free, do-it-yourself event that has been held almost every year since 1997.

After the district was saved, several small businesses have arrived in the area, also an art gallery, a small food cooperative, a people’s kitchen, and a free store. Some residents have established pubs, the housing foundation has built some (quite spectacular) new houses, and a large kindergarten has been created along with the municipality. The latter is housed in the former premises of the hated Strandveien Auto. In the premises which belonged to the car dealership, we also find a collective workspace for arts and architecture, a centre for creative recycling, the concert stages Lobbyen and Verkstedhallen, a centre for dance, as well as other rehearsal studios. One of the bands practising there today is Motorpsycho.

Skjermbilde 2015-06-02 10.53.51
How should Østbyen be represented in the exhibition? Do you have anything to contribute here? Please get in touch! We also need more playlists! supersonicscientists@rockipedia.no

Thanks to Frode Dreier and May Linn Bang in Maya Momentum for the use of film clips and Espen Hernes for history lessons. Photo of anti-car graffiti at Svartlamon (2005):  Aslak Raanes. The red door: Vigdis Sjelmo

 Sources

“Nesten som i Afrika”, documentary 2002 (Maya Momentum, May Linn Bang & Frode Dreier)

Bojer, Ranja: Leve Svartlamon! http://www.rotrock.no/wordpress/leve-svartlamon

Harby, Sjur: ”Moro mens det står på, borte når det er slutt. Portrett: Bent Sæther”, Kulturarven nr. 70, des 2014, http://www.disenkolonial.no/userfiles/files/Kulturarven-70-2014-Portrettet.pdf

Harstad, Johan: Blissard (Falck Forlag, 2012)

Johansen, Carl Kristian: ”Et midtnorsk post-hippie bohemia”, Ballade 25/3-2010, http://www.ballade.no/sak/et-midtnorsk-post-hippie-bohemia/

Lie, Øistein: ”Raddisadelen: Opprøret som forsvant.”, Magasinet Plot 3/2013

Nossum, Beate: ”Bent over please”, Rock Furore 2/93

Småge, Kim (red.): Svartlamon Lever! (Adresseavisens forlag, 1997)

References   [ + ]

1. Leve Svartlamon! Space is the Place!
2. Beate Nossum: Bent over please!, Rock Furore 2/1993
3. Future Motorpsycho collaborator Baard Slagsvold was contrabassist in this band.
4. Øyvind Brandtsegg was the drummer in this band. Brandtsegg later undoubtedly influenced the soundscape of The Golden Core as a vibraphonist, and has also performed with Motorpsycho several times.

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