Dungen

w/Mia Doi Todd

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It's rarely good news when a story about a band sidelines into their relationship with a major label. For all the support the big guns supply their rosters, there's also the horror stories about industry purse strings becoming nooses, strangling a band's artistic output and putting the importance of shifting units above intelligent development.

While that's obviously not always the case, even bands outside the clutches of U.S. labels aren't immune. Sweden's Dungen nearly got cogged by the industry's vast machinery early on, hitting stumbling blocks with Virgin Records that caused frontman Gustav Ejstes to consider giving up music as a commercial endeavor. (After a Dungen track was used for the Scandinavian Jungle Book 2 soundtrack, the group was dropped from the label for poor record sales.)

If that were the end of it, you may never have felt the Dungen groundswell bunching record-store-clerk panties today. Luckily, Ejstes chose the path of DIY over the path of despair. He holed up at his mother's farmhouse, attended an intensive Swedish folk school for two years to study violin, partnered with an indie label (Stockholm's Subliminal Sounds), and absolutely flowered musically—releasing a couple of soon to be underground classics, including the import 1999–2001 and Ta Det Lugnt, one of this year's most spiritual, soulful, and sweetly psychedelic pop records. Listening to Lugnt (released domestically by Kemado this fall with five bonus tracks) is like witnessing a jungle full of rare, wild buds blooming simultaneously. Acid rock, church-organ melodies, delicate flute interludes, and free-jazz excursions color a vivid palette of Hendrix-attuned rock. Together, these loose genres mingle to perfume pop with a gently, elegantly experimental air. All this and the record was written, recorded, and produced by Ejstes (who plays live with a full band). Although all of Ejstes's lyrics are in Swedish, Dungen is dropping jaws from Madison Avenue to the Midwest and beyond; they've played New York's Siren and Denmark's Spot festivals, and all the big music-media cornerstones have chimed in their praise (Rolling Stone called it "the year's most blessedly weird album"). So, really, who needs the major label now?

"I have been taking it one thing at a time because last time it was a lot of talking and not so much happening," says Ejstes of the new appreciation for his music. "And this time it's incredible. We have this one-man label in Sweden (the guy is also our manager). There aren't five people doing promotion and five people doing radio; it's one man and the record has been all over because of word of mouth. There were also no producers; I did the music just the way I wanted it. When it starts to sell, that's interesting, too. It's advice for all musicians to just do their own thing; that's the best way."

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Doing his own thing also dovetails nicely with the current crop of LSD-leaning bands foraging in previous generations' hippie-dipped stash. Acts like Green Milk from Planet Orange, Comets on Fire, and Acid Mothers Temple are just a few choice artists whetting the public's appetite for breezy song structures, high-minded melodies, and generally psilocybin-friendly instrumentation.

Given the translations for Dungen (pronounced doon-yen, meaning "grove of trees") and Ta Det Lugnt ("take it easy"), it makes even more sense that Ejstes's work would come from an earnest, organic place. The son of a fiddle player (with whom he still occasionally performs), the unconventional 24-year-old has seemingly always daydreamed beyond his confines. As a teenager growing up in a 17th-century farmhouse in the small town of Vastergotland, Ejstes was originally attracted to hiphop, rapping in faux American slang and working the turntables. After mastering everything from the flute to the violin and fiddle, Ejstes still maintains some fascination with hiphop. "Recently I've been into scratching and turntables," he explains of his scant downtime. "Turntables is where it all started [for me], getting into rock with samples and beats and all that." He's also looking into producing, expressing interest in working with opening act Mia Doi Todd's next record; he calls her "one of the best singers I've ever heard." But with the first U.S. Dungen tour underway, Ejstes is mostly concentrating on bringing his sprawling pop to the public. The pied piper of Swedish psych is warming cochleae the world over.

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