The late 60's was a time of protest and possibility. In the footsteps of social and political upheaval followed a cultural revolution that breathed new life into the music scene throughout the Western World. Music took many different forms and barriers between genres were largely ignored. It was a visionary and utopian way of making music, progressive both in theory and practice. At the time Western ideology took a beating as a result of liberation struggles throughout the world and, most importantly, the Vietnam War.
Due to the expansion of communication and information How, society was forced to develop a higher consciousness of domestic and international politics with more people than ever before finding ways to revolt against life in modern capitalist society.
An Evolving Movement
In Sweden, these forces were consolidated in many ways, sharing common cultural expressions. More often than not, their outlet was that of a musical nature. International Harvester, Gunder Hägg and bands of that ilk took the first stumbling steps in I he late 60’s, but they initially played mostly for the intellectual and cultural crowd.
In May 1970, a two day festival was organized at Lilia Teatern in Lund. It was the first of its kind. Featured acts were Träd, Gräs och Stenar, Gunder Hägg, Peps Persson and an early incarnation of Nationalteatern. It was "part picnic, part demonstration," as Gunder Hägg drummer Leif Nylén would later remember.
However, the actual breakthrough was the first Gärdet Festival, held between June 12th-14th, 1970. Artists and bands came from all over Sweden to perform. For organizers, acts and audience alike, it came as a considerable surprise that many of the performers expressed political awareness through their music.
Festival organisers included Bo Anders Persson (Träd Gräs Och Stenar) and Sten Bergman (Atlantic Ocean). Troubles with authorities led the intended location to be moved several times. In the end, the festival was held without the necessary permissions, leaving Bergman to be charged with holding an illegal gathering. He was later fined in court.
The Gärdet Festival was not only experimental by nature but also the dawning of a new era, as evidenced by the chain effects of similar events it inspired throughout the country. Another Gärdet Festival was organized in August that same year. The acts performing at the second Festival no longer considered themselves avant-garde, but part of the expanding Movement. Some of these bands had been around long before, but until now had been considered curiosities more than serious musical forces.
The creative climate also spawned the first two substantial "alternative" record labels in Sweden: MNW and Silence. These two labels operated on the principle of autonomy, breaking from "the etablishment" while simultaneously fostering growing interest in the Movement. Many of the acts that performed at the Gärdet Festivals went on to record for MNW and Silence, enabling them to expand the reach of their music.
The new alternative scene eventually became known as the Progressive Music Movement - in Swedish most often abbrivated as progg. The term "progg" really had nothing in common with the prog rock of UK bands like Yes, ELP and Genesis, where the music was complex and played by highly skilled musicians. Many of the Swedish progg bands, on the other hand, were only mediocre musicians at best and encouraged the audience to play along by including chord sheets and lyrics with their albums. Instead, progressive came to mean the content of the lyrics. These typically had a strong left-wing slant, focusing on topics like social revolution or the negative effects of capitalism.
To avoid confusion for non-Swedish readers when describing the scene, we have decided to use the term "The Movement" instead of progg for the purpose of this book.
Three styles of music primarily dominated the Movement. The first was built on a foundation of political protest, not unlike that of forerunners like Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, but with an emphasis on countering commercial music of the time. Acts utilizing this political style usually played folk rock with lyrics ranging from left-wing/communist to feminist leanings. NJA-Gruppen/Fria Proteatern was initially the most noteworthy of this type of band. It its electric form the most visible bands were Hoola Bandoola Band and Nationalteatern.
The second style was based solely on music that was progressive by nature. It was mostly performed by trained musicians who frequently played long, experimental songs, often with poetic and existential lyrics - if included at all. Early examples are International Harvester and Fläsket Brinner.
Influenced by bands like The Fugs, but to a great extent a Swedish phenomenon, was the third style. These performers were not known for musical prowess - they had, in fact, little to no skill - but were intent on expressing an ideological standpoint in opposition to commercial music. Their in-your-face attitude appealed to hippie kin and communist clans alike. In this category we find bands like Gunder Hägg and Love Explosion.
Silence’s and MNW’s lack of organized distribution proved to be cumbersome as success ensued and in the autumn of 1971 they joined forces to form the independent network SAM-Distribution. The partnership allowed the records to reach a much wider audience and the venture paid off handsomely.
The feeling of affinity generated by the Movement was evident on many recordings. Members of established acts often lent a hand to lesser-known artists and bands, which was part and parcel of what the Movement was all about. Musicians like Kenny Håkansson, Kjell Westling and Thomas Mera Gartz played with so many bands and participated on so many recordings that it became virtually impossible to trace their respective contributions.
In 1973 the magazine Musikens Makt [The Power of Music] was founded by people within the Movement in order to express their political and cultural agenda in yet another forum. As in all practice, theory comes limping in its tracks and Musikens Makt held a firm gaze on every act and stage, often from an ideological point of view.
Many Movement bands found it difficult to get gigs at established clubs and felt the need to create alternative venues to perform. This paved the way for the community to organize both temporary and permanent forums for local acts. About sixty groups nationwide joined forces and spawned the organization Kontaktnätet [The Contact Network] to accommodate cultural exchange.
By 1974, Musikens Makt had rapidly grown along with the Movement and was published monthly. Tonkraft [Tone Power] was a weekly national live music radio show, devoted entirely to the progressive rock scene and provided an opportunity for Swedish bands - both established and unknown - to be broadcast alongside international acts such as Jethro Tull and King Crimson.
Several new record labels were founded and the number of album releases increased significantly. That same year Nationalteatern's album Livet är en fest sold exceptionally well, reaching way beyond the usual Movement audience.
As mentioned above, the Movement had strong left-wing leanings and a quick rundown on that political scene is in place. In 1967 the Swedish communist party split in two when those to the left formed KFML, while the remaining majority became VPK. Three years later, KFML was divided when some members left to form KFLM(r) - with the (r) standing for "revolutionaries". In 1973 KFML, in turn, changed their name to SKP. Some of the main Movement spokesmen were connected to SKP and the party also issued records through the Oktober label, while the smaller KFML(r) was similarily affiliated with Proletärkultur. Even the colossal left-wing party, the non-communist Socialdemokraterna - who had ruled Sweden since 1932 - started the A-Disc label to get in on the action. The influence of A-Disc on the Movement, however, was minimal.
Despite the strong left-wing winds blowing through Sweden at the time, they didn't generate that many votes for the communist parties. In 1976, at the height of the Movement era, the Government election gave SKP only 17 000 votes while KFML(r) got so few votes they didn’t even register on the scoreboard. 258 000 people voted for VPK while Socialdemokraterna got a whopping 2.3 million of the 5.4 million votes given. This didn’t help, though, and they lost power to a coalition of the three remaining (mid-field and right-wing) parties of the parliament.
In 1977 KFML(r) changed their name to KPML(r), still remaining a fringe party. The same year saw another split within VPK lead to the formation of APK, but the new party never gained much momentum. SKP folded in 1987 and the name was later taken over by APK. In 1990 VPK finally renounced communism and became Vänsterpartiet, gaining a lot of new voters in the process.
With the Movement’s growth came problems that led to clashes of opinion between political groups, forcing public debate that focused on the commercialization of the Movement. Some artists and bands were targeted and blacklisted because of commercial success or a lack of political awareness.
Certain segments of the Movement were of the school that the music should be the voice of the working class, while others thought it should be a free forum that did not necessarily associate with political content, such as the left-wing or revolutionary agenda in the Marxist or Maoist sense.
The rift led some bands to leave MNW in 1975 and form Nacksving, their own label in Gothenburg.
Those bands were mostly from the West Coast anyway, most notably Nynningen and Nationalteatern. It also brought to the fore differing ideals and agendas within the Movement in Sweden's three largest cities: Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö.
By the end of the decade, MNW, Nacksving and Silence began producing more commercial records, shifting their focus away from upholding their original political ideals. The result was that new acts released albums on their own in order to maintain artistic integrity and economic control.
The commercialization of the labels, along with growth of musical professionalism, marked the beginning of the end. A few isolated bands carried the Movement torch into the early 80's, finding it difficult to grasp that their heyday had indeed come and gone.
Perhaps the most defining moment that the end was near was that many of the organizations created to foster the Movement's existence ceased operation, including the demise of Musikens Makt in 1980.