A weekend ago, I saw one of the best synth bands of all time perform live in front of a sweaty crowd in Helsingborg, Sweden. On the small, tiny stage at Charles Dickens, the band brought with them a glimmer of hope. Maybe Swedish synth isn’t completely dead after all. The band, now a duo, consisting of Robert Enforsen and Johan Malmgren is the iconic, legendary Elegant Machinery (beware of bias).
Despite the fact that they formed in Helsingborg in 1988, they haven’t had a gig in their hometown since the 1990s. And they haven’t released an album since “A Soft Exchange” came out 15 years ago. In an interview with Zero Magazine, Robert mentioned that the band members’ priorities since the late 90s have been family and their day jobs. Apparently, it’s difficult to make a living as an musician, who could have guessed. Now the band has started working on new material and (based on what we, the sweaty audience in Helsingborg, got to hear) it sounds promising.
This was my first time standing in front of a stage, feeling the initial notes of “Process” embrace me like a warm hug from an old friend. Despite loving the band for over two decades, I had never managed to see them perform live. I missed them when they played at Arvikafestivalen both in 2005 and the festivals last run i 2009 (rest in peace, love). As they started the final song of the evening, “Watching you”, the layer of sweat on my back felt like a bandage on a 20-year-old wound.
Throughout the entire gig, I hadn’t taken a single picture.
I was too busy drowning in the present moment, as well as in the stormy crowd of 50-100 of southern Sweden’s last synth fans.
Just in time for the last song, I had managed to swim all the way to the stage, which was so low that I almost tripped over it. There’s something special about small stages and small crowds. It gives you a completely different kind of community than what large arenas can offer. A sense of community. Small intimate stages are what make up the edge pieces of subculture. It’s something that both binds and separates. Without this sense of belonging, only a shapeless mass remains, which disolves with the night ending.
Since the 2010s, we have been watching as the Swedish synth puzzle slowly deteriorates. Lost puzzle pieces leaving behind broken edges where the content can seep out and disappear. The mecca of swedish synthlovers, Arvikafestivalen, went bankrupt, synth clubs host events less frequently, and even synth as a music genre seems to need artificial respiration. However, Elegant Machinery seems to want to preserve much of the band’s old synth sound.
In that way, they stand out among the multitude of new synth acts that mostly sound like a mixture of The Knife and a 1995 modem.
But this is not something I’m thinking about now, as Robert starts singing “Watching you, Standing in the dim light, Watching you, Hiding in the dark night…”. Faster than a strobe light, I throw my bag onto the carpeted stage floor and dig out my phone. I take eight crooked pictures, half of which are out of focus. Soon, this moment will be gone, and I must preserve what I can.