Oslo’s Dancing the Conga take us through their dynamic and dazzling debut album ‘Trying to define newpunk,’ a catchy, cathartic, and utterly exhilarating musical fever dream reckoning with human experience in the 21st Century.
for fans of MGMT, The Flaming Lips, Beck
“I carry my umbrella like a gun” – Dancing the Conga
Some say being nice is the new punk; others say it’s mumble rap or hyperpop.
The thing about punk music was (and still is) that it threw away the rulebook – and then, ultimately, many of those same “punks” who rejected the old conventions went on to make ones of their own. So what are we really saying when we’re “trying to define newpunk”?
Oslo’s Dancing the Conga set out to answer this in song, and the result is nothing short of stunning. Restless and radiant, dynamic and dazzling, the band’s debut album – literally titled Trying to define newpunk – finds its niche by pushing boundaries, defying genres, subverting expectations, and constantly reinventing itself. The resulting record is catchy, cathartic, and utterly exhilarating: A consistently intriguing sonic adventure embracing the full rollercoaster of life’s highs and lows, replete with intimate overtures and vulnerable upheavals reckoning with what it means to be alive in the 2020s.
I carry my umbrella like a gun
I never drink without you baby
And even when you’re done
I’m holding onto you forever
When the enemy is approaching
You’re my love
When I see you wearing black then
I’m in love
When I unfold you like a shield
I am in love
Dynamic, emotionally charged music reflects our dynamic, emotionally charged lives as Dancing the Conga leave no stone (or sound) unturned. Quite frankly, it’s a happy surprise that this album works as well as it does; even when they should be jarring, the transitions are smooth. But that’s the genius of these three exciting arrivals to the indie music scene.
Released October 20, 2023, Trying to define newpunk is a provocative ten-track fever dream – and a truly delightful, smile-inducing best-foot-forward from Dancing the Conga.
Named after a line they once read in a Harry Potter book, the Oslo-based trio of Øyvind Skjerdal (bass, guitar, keys and vocals), Henrik Lillehaug (guitar, vocals and keys) and Gudmund Guren (drums, vocals) have introduced themselves through an undeniably unique set of material that is at once dreamy and dramatic, tender and thoughtful, charming and churning.
The band describe their music as “passionately and empathetically” pinpointing the core elements of what it is to live in our time: “The album beautifully weaves together the joys, struggles, and intricate emotions that define our contemporary existence… It offers an authentic reflection of the human experience in the 21st Century – in best or worst case, at least the band’s experience.”
Brexit girl came to see you
Promised to make you new
She had a skeleton suit on
And a pair of used boots
Brexit girl came to hold you
And shake you to your core
She’s a fed-up piñata
You’ll be sweeping your floor
Jump off The Tower Bridge with you
End all these dreadful things
Capturing something so visceral and multifaceted requires an equally visceral and multifaceted approach – all of which is second nature for these three artists: Dancing the Conga are the kind of band that keep a very open mind, willing to push themselves out of their own comfort zones and try anything at least once.
“We spent a lot of time making the record, created loads of sounds and kept the ones we liked best,” the trio tells Atwood Magazine. “It started in our rehearsal space where we created lots of ideas, and then we bought recording equipment and went to Gudmund’s childhood home to record, and also write, what we thought would be the album.”
“Most of it has probably been replaced by now – we’ve been spending a lot of time on this. When you record it yourself, you can spend a lot of time on it without the feeling that someone is looking you over the shoulder and wonders what the hell you are doing. We did it in cozy, but acoustically messy spaces, and created a lot of problems for ourselves which we had to solve, which gave us a sense of having our own sound sort of automatically. It’s our first record and we’ve learned a lot. We’re usually surprisingly pleased with the results, probably because supporting each other is all we can do if we’re not to fall apart.”
“Our vision was to try to define newpunk,” they candidly (and cheekily) explain. “We had a sense of there being a genre somewhere out there for us to discover and decided to make an effort to find it. Of course, definitions are reductive and can never capture reality, so really we’re aware it’s an impossible mission. Trying is all you can do, anyway, and we figured we had to. Also, we like spending time together and making music, so really it was a no-brainer.”
Dancing the Conga describe their debut album friendly and loud, but also quiet.
The title, they explain, just felt right – and that was a good start: “Punk tries to free itself from convention but creates new ones (of course); still, we celebrate its effort and want to follow up on it,” the band muses. “We accept the contradiction and the ambivalence that follows in its wake. It’s a “you destroy what’s beautiful by loving it, still trying not to makes no sense”-kind of thing.”
One thing to note: Don’t ask this band what “newpunk” means to them. They’ve already given that question a 36-minute answer.
“We’re really happy about how it all turned out,” they share. “It captures our artistry perfectly. Time has no mercy though, so by the time you’re reading this, our artistry is something completely different.”
Saying your name
Telling you how great you are
Beautiful and pretty
Far away from me
Calling you up
I’ve just borrowed my favorite car
Drop you off outside the bar
It’s not for me
Oh everything I do, I do for my friend
Everything I do, I do it for my friend
Everything I do, I do it for my friend
He has everything
Because I do it all for him
Capturing artistry is like surfing, and we’re always excited about catching the next big wave.
From the moment “Get you darling” begins with its warm acoustics, surfy guitars, and close-miked vocals – all of which evolves and shape-shifts considerably over three minutes’ time – Trying to define newpunk ensures an enchanting experience for all. Highlights all depend on your musical tastes, but romantics might enjoy the sweeter melodies of “The Car,” “I hope it’s a slumber,” and “Heavy old clothes” while fans of harder-hitting indie rock may gravitate toward “I carry my umbrella like a gun,” “The Realism,” and the gorgeous banger, “Brexit girl.”
Everyone in the band has their own favorite moments on the album, too.
“Henrik likes the end to ‘Realism’ – he’s very happy every time he hears it, and he hears it every time. Gudmund’s personal highlight is the second chorus to ‘Get you darling’ – it makes him warm and fuzzy inside. Øyvind likes the lyrics to ‘Umbrella,’ because he thinks it holds a fragile bird perfectly in its hand and manages to squeeze it soft enough not to hurt it but hard enough that it’s not able to escape. Give us a breakfast seminar or an hour anywhere and we will go into detail.”
We still can’t say definitely what newpunk is for sure, but having experienced this album in is entirety, we can offer a few guesses as to what it might be. Newpunk is free from expectation; newpunk is unapologetic; newpunk is achingly honest and brutally raw; newpunk is tender when it wants to be, and caustic when it feels like it. Newpunk beats to the tune of its own drum, and there’s no denying that Dancing the Conga are living their best newpunk lives – whatever that means.
“We hope listeners take away whatever they need to take away from the record,” Dancing the Conga share. “Honestly, we mostly just try not to step on the feet of listeners by overstating the stuff or by making musical choices that get in the way of whatever personal experiences listeners bring to our album. Our hope is that listeners might relate to it and appreciate whatever it is that makes their particular encounter with our music special.”
Let this warm, wondrous collection of songs light a fire in your soul and whisk you away from this world for a while. Experience the full record via our below stream, and peek inside Dancing the Conga’s Trying to define newpunk with Atwood Magazine as Skjerdal, Lillehaug, and Guren take us track-by-track through the music and lyrics of their breathtaking debut album!
Stream: ‘Trying to define newpunk’ – Dancing the Conga
:: Inside Trying to define newpunk ::
get you darling
This track emerged after two thirds of the band had read some book by John Fante. To live large is (usually) also to live small. Commitment is hard.
This is our hit. Have you ever driven your best friend to a date with your one true love? Then you know friendship, and the ambivalence of it.
I carry my umbrella like a gun
We feel like this is driven by the idea that attacking and defending look a lot like each other. And also by the idea that holding onto what protects you from the rain is stupid if the wind is so strong it will fucking break your umbrella, so really, you should fold it.
Heavy old clothes
Tradition and habit sometimes feels like wet clothes, they’re heavy and also wet. Wearing them is familiar and strange at the same time
This is based on an online forum conversation that we stumbled upon and did not participate in. Most of the lyrics are direct quotes. Shoutout to “The Realism,” whoever you are.
We’re into dense cities where it takes you 10 minutes to walk to everything that matters in your life. Unfortunately, landlords rule the world, or at least the cities, and we’re sometimes mad about it.
I hope it’s a slumber
Gudmund wrote these lyrics and sung the entire song in one take while coming up with the melody. It explores death, sleep and crossing your fingers while you lean into the unknown.
This one is a banger. We wanted to write a song about Phoebe Bridgers, but also about Brexit, and ended up compromising until we had something that was neither of those things but also both.
All these other men
Discussions about sexuality and the idea that it can somehow be an object of therapy were all over the news as we wrote this one. Not sure if any of it is still left in there, but Henrik sort of sounds like David Bowie when he sings it which is also good.
This is a beautiful song about caring and also about trees. Friends who perform acts of love don’t always brag about it, and those on the receiving end aren’t always in a position to show how grateful they are. Doesn’t mean they’re not grateful.
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© courtesy of the artist
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