Can’t Stop the Music

Jocke Åhlund’s multiple bands and projects and Blenda’s genre-defying tracks and burgeoning label are only some indication of their creative output. The Forumist caught up with them to talk about their ambition, artistry and drive

Over the past few decades we have witnessed a stream of fascinating subcultures, whose styles and cultural significance have come to influence the music we listen to, the food we eat and the clothes we wear. Often based around a sharp eye for fashion and style, well-dressed groups such as mods and Britpop aficionados have created their own lifestyles and ways of dressing, building a sense of belonging and affinity among them. Through their now-iconic looks, these groups have made stylish polo shirts, well-fitting jeans and impeccable boots staples in many wardrobes around the world. And one brand has been the uniting force for them all: Fred Perry. Having appeared on daring artists and celebrated groups such as Oasis, Paul Weller and Amy Winehouse, Fred Perry and its instantly recognisable laurel wreath logo is, to this day, an emblem of unity. The connection to music has always been strong, and artists from all over the world have embraced the originality and stylishness that Fred Perry has come to symbolise. And to celebrate the fantastic originality and creativity of the Swedish music landscape today, The Forumist met with two artists who don’t shy away from expressing themselves, and who, through their abundant and varied creativity, have generated their own identity, inspiring others around them to generate their own style and way of life, regardless of who they are and where they come from.

Jocke Åhlund

Even if the name Jocke Åhlund doesn’t ring any bells for you immediately, you’re bound to be familiar with his work. The musician, producer and music-video director makes music at almost factory-output levels of consistency, all stamped with his unique sound. And his more than 20 years in the rock game have produced some memorable songs, from the manic rock funk of Teddybears’ Cobrastyle (a song later covered by Robyn) to the motorcycle growl of Caesars’ Jerk It Out. Last year, most of Åhlund’s attention was taken up by another of his bands, Les Big Byrd, who released Iran Iraq IKEA, their first studio album in four years. Les Big Byrd’s soaring krautrock is another reminder of Åhlund’s ability to span genres – between all his bands, his creative energy leads him to explore a vast range of sounds. Iran Iraq IKEA had a difficult gestation, but the response to the record proved to Åhlund it was all worthwhile. “I feel like it was definitely worth the hard labour – if I’d left the album unfinished, it would have been a big failure, but I’m really happy with how it all came out, and that is the most important thing to me,” he says. “And then, of course, it doesn’t hurt that we got great reviews in both the Swedish and international press, and got nominated for Swedish Grammis both for the rock album of the year and me for producer of the year.” Åhlund’s way of working, with multiple projects always in play, means you can never take your eye off him and assume he’s limited himself to one project at any one time. Not long after Iran Iraq IKEA was announced, he dropped the bomb that Caesars were also on the way back to the live scene, with a slot at Stockholm’s Popaganda festival followed by more dates around Sweden. “That was more of a coincidence,” says Åhlund. “Frans, the bass player from Les Big Byrd, booked Caesars for a private Christmas gig at the bar where he works, so we got everyone back together and did that. That was meant to be just a one-off thing, but someone saw it and offered us a spot to headline the main stage at Popaganda in Stockholm last August. We all felt like that was super-fun to do, so when we were offered a couple of other really good gigs, we accepted those as well. But as far as recording plans go, there are none at the moment. But I guess you never can tell for sure.”

Even though his relentless creativity in music would be more than enough to occupy most artists, Åhlund also directs his energies into the non-musical aspects of his bands, with the striking cover art chosen for Iran Iraq IKEA, taken from an image by the artist Gunnar Thorén, being a powerful introduction to the album. “The visual side of things is super-important, of course,” he says. “I’m trying to create more than just music as an artist. I think that everything you do is part of a world that you are trying to build around the project, and the visual aspect as well as what you say in interviews, and what you wear, is a part of how you project yourself as a band or an artist. I don’t feel you can ignore any of those elements or let other people do them for you. I grew up with the DIY ideals of punk rock, so it’s always been pretty natural to me. Plus, of course, if you can’t afford to let other people do stuff for you, you’re kind of forced to do them yourself. But that doesn’t mean that I do everything myself – I collaborate with a lot of very talented people, such as Gunnar Thorén.” The Jocke Åhlund factory is already running at full speed as we move further into 2019. “I’ve got so much stuff I want to do. I’m in the midst of starting my own label, Chimp Limbs, and through that I’ll start putting out even more stuff this year. Plus, more stuff with me and [the Swedish artist] Jockum Nordström – we have three albums out now and we’ve already come quite far in making the fourth. Plus, more stuff with Les Big Byrd, of course. We’re not done touring yet, but on days off, we have started making material for the next album. I’ve been touring a little bit with mine and Jockum’s band, too, plus Teddybears, so it’s kind of hectic actually. But I like to stay busy, I guess – it gives you less time to think about death and Armageddon.”





Though she’s only been officially active for a couple of years, since the release of her debut single Chill in 2017 Blenda has already marked herself out as one of the Swedish music scene’s rapidly rising stars. Across five singles, she’s showcased her effortless ability to flit between genres and styles, from soft neo-soul on Exe’s Vibe, to thumping electro-pop on Chill and funk-flavoured dancehall on Payday. But, supremely self-driven, Blenda isn’t one to get caught up in the industry’s stardom flow. Despite her relatively short stint in the “biz”, she’s already found herself running into walls and struggling with some of its worst drawbacks. Last year’s release, Payday, was followed by a long pause as she tried to figure out what she really wanted from her career. Her return this year, the tender, dreamy ballad Funeral, proved that she’d lost none of her spark in the time she’d been away. Blenda’s interest in music started in her childhood. Raised in the Stockholm suburb of Vällingby by her Congolese parents, her father played guitar in the local church and was a major inspiration for the young artist-to-be. “My father was my first introduction to music,” she says. “He introduced me to James Brown, Michael Jackson, The Jackson 5 and Aretha Franklin, among many other legends. My father himself was a songwriter and produced many songs just for himself, and he played the guitar and bass. It’s too sad that he hasn’t done anything with those songs that he wrote, but I guess that’s where I come into the picture.” Blenda’s musical inspiration comes from the very depths of her soul, from the three factors that make up who she is: her faith in God, her feminist ideals and her Congolese roots. “Those three facts are my facts, which means that it’s my truth and I need to stay true to myself. That’s the only thing I owe myself and the people around me.”

Success came fast to Blenda once she had released Chill, but her determination to be in full control meant that she soon decided it was time to put the brakes on and consider the artist she wanted to be. “I had a period where I didn’t feel genuine to myself and to my work,” she says. “I hated everything that I was doing and the woman I was becoming. I didn’t listen to myself – all I was doing was trying to be wanted and accepted in the music industry. In that, I think I lost my voice and my authority. So I decided to take a break from the music, to ask myself what I wanted and who I wanted to become.” That period of reflection resulted in her re-emergence as a solo artist, releasing on her own label, SION, in full control of her creative and commercial ship: “SION gives me the ability to create with no boundaries, and to me, that’s freedom and power.” After creating SION, she returned with Funeral, a beautifully sad song that’s the sound of Blenda opening up and showing her vulnerable side. That it’s already been a popular release doesn’t surprise her, as she sees it as a song with universal appeal. “Who hasn’t been taken for granted? Who hasn’t been heartbroken? Who hasn’t asked themselves, ‘Why am I here?’ Or, ‘If I wasn’t here what would you do?’ Or the most interesting question that I think every human has asked themselves at least once, ‘What would you say at my funeral?’ That’s what Funeral is about, being taken for granted.” Now in full control of her own destiny as an artist, Blenda’s got a big year ahead. Norway’s famous showcase festival by:Larm was already booked when we spoke, and she’s also heading out on tour with celebrated Swedish rapper Erik Lundin. “I have so many surprises for you guys, you don’t even know,” she says. “I’m going on tour now for eight weeks, so that’s going to be really fun.” Her strength and self-confidence is evident in her position, in control of the whirlwind that is her career. It can be hard to take so much on, and to have that much duty and responsibility, especially when it’s to yourself. But the vulnerability that she showed on Funeral is also part of her creative identity, and her total honesty means she would never hide it. “Yes, of course it’s hard sometimes. But I’ve chosen to be an artist, so I think I have a responsibility to try to do my best to tell my truth and to open up.”



Team Credits:

Words by Austin Maloney
Photography by Felix Swensson
Styling by Natalie Olenheim
Hair & Make-up by Elva Ahlbin
Special thanks to Fred Perry

Fashion Credits:
#1 Taped tracksuit jacket, twill checked shirt, embroidered tracksuit trousers & tassel loafers
#2 Twin-tipped top (M3600) and embroidered tracksuit trousers
#3 Two-coloured knitted button-neck top & embroidered tracksuit trousers
#4 Two-coloured knitted button-neck top
#5 Twin-tipped top (M12) and embroidered tracksuit trousers
#6, #8 Embroidered 1950s tracksuit jacket by Fred Perry x Amy Winehouse Foundation, Twin-tipped top (M12) and embroidered tracksuit trousers
#7 Bold striped piqué top and embroidered tracksuit trousers
#9 Bold checked shirt and vinyl-collar piqué dress

All by Fred Perry