A history of violins

The bigger, better sound of Dungen
By MICHAEL ALAN GOLDBERG  |  October 23, 2008

LISTENERS’ DIGEST: “I love music and make music and I eat a lot of music to be able to shit a lot of music,” says Ejstes.

To paraphrase (very loosely) Ben Franklin, wherever you go in this world of ours — and that includes Sweden, native land of Dungen mastermind Gustav Ejstes — nothing is certain but death, taxes, and being picked on mercilessly if you’re a kid who plays the violin.

“It’s definitely not socially acceptable,” Ejstes says over the phone from Stockholm before bursting into laughter and recalling his efforts to conceal the instrument he took up at the firm behest of his fiddle-playing father. “I used my father’s case, which was totally rectangular, so it looked better — it didn’t look like a violin. I remember I went to the record store when I was 11 or 12 — that’s when I was first buying my own records, like Public Enemy and Pete Rock records — and I had my violin with me. I had 20 minutes before my lesson, so I was hanging out, and a guy there was like, ‘Oh, you play an instrument? What’s the instrument?’ I was like, ‘Uhh, yeah, it’s a synthesizer. . . . ’ ”

A bit older and wiser now, the late-twentysomething singer and multi-instrumentalist is nothing but proud of his violin, and thankful of the path it put him on. Years studying classical music and traditional Scandinavian folk songs attuned his ear to the intricacies of melody, structure, and arrangement. At the same time, hip-hop — which Ejstes first gravitated toward as a means of rebelling against his violin studies — helped him discover funk, soul, and jazz, then rock (especially Hendrix), and ultimately a slew of obscure ’60s and ’70s Swedish prog and psych-rock bands.

Formed in 1999 by Ejstes, who writes all the music, sings, and plays virtually all the instruments (guitar, drums, violin, bass, flute, keyboards, etc.) on the band’s studio recordings, with some help from the three other touring members, the Dungen project brings all that knowledge and influence together, perhaps no more breathtakingly than on the newly released 4 (actually Dungen’s fifth full-length). Within songs that feel epic and carefully arranged yet crackle with first-take energy and vitality, fuzzy, searing guitar lines and feedback rub against cascading pianos, delicate woodwinds, dramatically swaying strings, and exuberant drum fills. Meanwhile, Ejstes’s dreamy, yearning voice (he sings in Swedish) hovers over a tapestry of sound that occasionally alludes to the quirky psychedelia of Syd Barrett–era Floyd, the retro-psych freakouts of the Bevis Frond, the mannered jazz rock of Steely Dan, and, in its more casual moments, vintage Swedish porn.

“I love music and make music and I eat a lot of music to be able to shit a lot of music,” he laughs. “All this music I put into myself and I hear since I was a child — I listen to music as a way of learning. Like, ‘What about this part? How are the drums played? What are those, the harmonies? What is the code, what is the language?’ That has been my music listening. Even with hip-hop — of course I can’t relate to a lot of the lyrics, but the atmosphere is very hard and tough. It’s like a marching band for an army.”

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