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The Radio Dept

Back on air: The Radio Dept on their latest EP, 'Occupied' and their upcoming Asia tour

Despite being absent for five years, Swedish indiepop outfit The Radio Dept have lost none of their edge, as Graham Turner finds out when he speaks to singer/songwriter Johan Duncanson

Written by
Graham Turner

They once said that signing with a major label would be like getting a McDonalds neck tattoo. That just about sums up The Radio Dept, the Swedish indiepop cult heroes who have – by choice – been bubbling under the mainstream music surface for more than 20 years. Some may see it as hipster or misguided self-efficacy but the reality is it’s integrity.

This painfully shy low-fi three-piece are unwavering in how they go about their business and their stance as staunchly left-wing political commentators has made them something much more than the sum of their parts. The band’s belated debut in 2003, Lesser Matters, is seminal within Swedesh indiepop. It delivered many of the band’s signature elements, such as inventive self-production and intimate vocals washed with fuzzy guitars and gauzy synths that give everything a pseudo-shoegaze feel that’s at once melancholic and self-affirming – traits they would maintain through their many subsequent releases. It’s been a long wait and it’s with baited breath that we speak to the wonderfully affable Johan Duncanson to talk about their latest EP, Occupied, and their first gig in half a decade…

You guys seem keener on smaller releases, avoiding the thematic staleness that’s a danger with LPs. You always seem to keep things fresh. Is that the case with the new EP?
I guess it’s more of a political album. We’ve done political songs in the past but nothing in a full EP. It wasn’t meant to be but with the situation in Sweden, what with the general elections, it just kind of came together that way. I wish we could be a bit quicker, maybe release something every three years. I think we will be able to pick up the pace in the future. We’ve had some trouble with the label. We sued them and we’ve been in court with them so that’s obviously taken a long time. 

Labels seem to put a lot of importance on social media presence and that’s something you guys don’t really engage in. What do you think about bands that do put a huge onus on that?
I think it really depends on what they’re trying to say. A lot of bands will go on Twitter just to say that they’ve eaten or they’ve rehearsed a song. It was harder in the past to get to know the people behind the music, so I think the fact that you can get to people so easily now has made music lose some of its excitement for me. There’re not really any surprises. I’d like to keep that excitement. I’m not saying everyone should quit social media, just some. [Laughs]

Not engaging with these things is probably one of the things that has added to the underground quality and mystery surrounding the band…
We’ve never thought to come across as mysterious. We’re just shy people. If you don’t say anything, people can fill in what they like, so we like to give the audience clues on where we stand on social and political issues.

Your latest EP moves further away from your indiepop roots, with the title track a sprawling dance epic. How did you come to release something like Occupied?
We’ve been listening to a lot of old-school house and acid techno and we wanted to see if we could get away with making a kind of contemporary version of that. We didn’t want to make something too pop because it wouldn’t come across as experimental. We originally wanted to do an album of six or seven really long dance songs, but that didn’t work out. Occupied is one of the songs that survived from that. It’s boring when people know what you’re going to do next, and it’s more fun when you manage to surprise yourself. It’s easy to get lazy and just sit down with a guitar or a keyboard and just play what you know…

Across your significant body of work, there’s a huge disparity in terms of different sounds and styles. How does that translate into a live show?
We’re still working out how the live show’s going to pan out… I’m not going to start dancing or anything, unfortunately, but we’ll definitely do some of these new dancy, upbeat tracks. It’s kind of going to be a continuation of what we started on our last album. It’s the first time we’ve performed for five years so we’re a bit nervous.

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