Chain and The Gang are one of those bands who genuinely communicate something, rather than simply performing to a passive audience.
Their notorious high-energy frontman Ian Svenonius holds this ambition close to his heart – especially following what he claims to be the complete normalisation of indie rock, bound by a culture of middle-class musicians who take themselves way too seriously.
“Once indie music became middle-class, it became less authentic expression, and that’s something I’m quite interested in,” he says. “There’s a real theatre aspect to music – you can perform your synthetic self onstage, but it’s generally not ever your authentic self. But now it’s become very abstract because it’s become more institutionalised as a way of expression.
“It’s lost touch with almost everything it used to be, which is this kind of ritualistic form of communication. So for Chain and The Gang, we don’t really care about being authentic, so much as we do about communicating with people in real time. No choreograph.”
For Svenonius, the ’80s and ’90s were a time of self-discovery, where his flair for creativity and performance art shone its light within a number of different bands – most notably The Nation Of Ulysses, in which Svenonius sang and played trumpet. He longs for a return to the values of those times, against what he calls the “IKEA/Obama/Pitchfork” era. In turn, this inspires him to create the kind of music he does today – one with feel, attitude, and which encourages the rejection of mainstream values and ideals.
“It just feels like today, indie rock has an enforced positivity that has no personality or style,” Svenonius says. “Just watching popular and mediocre people elevated to extraordinary stardom when they aren’t very interesting is kind of boring. When normal people discovered indie rock, it became normal. It doesn’t have an underground or fringe context any more, and you can see unusual ideas or aesthetics approaches that have become completely mundane.
“I guess that’s my motivation for creating. All kinds of people are determining what should happen with music nowadays, and it’s just like, ‘Who the fuck asked them?’ People like me, we made music in a ghetto, and nobody cared about it except for the people that cared about it. It wasn’t attempting to be Madonna, you know?”
Svenonius adds that Chain and The Gang work towards a framework of rejecting the corporate interest that has otherwise changed music forever. He remains vigilant against the idea of super fame and fortune, but says Chain and The Gang aren’t really a band that is marketable anyway – and it’s not like they ever really wanted to be.
“I mean, I’ve never been famous,” he says. “I’ve got a bit of notoriety, but I think to be successful you can’t really say anything. It’s just like, you know, if you want to be invited to the party, you can’t really be having opinions. That’s part of the agreement now. Once music became a bankable product, it basically made you silenced, otherwise you might fuck it up for yourself and the record company.
“You know, it’s cool to say ‘Free Tibet’, but if you say ‘Free Palestine’, you’re not going to be looked upon very favourably.”
Still, for the most part, Svenonius says Chain and The Gang are not a political group – more than anything else, they represent a philosophy, reflecting on a time when music was about the music.
“When people say Chain and The Gang are a political group, I wholeheartedly disagree,” he says. “Maybe philosophical – yeah, philosophical. And yeah, politics is a part of philosophy, but it’s almost broader. Being a political group just puts you in this box that I don’t like.
“We’re just trying to do a good job. I just like performing and creating things, and an aesthetic that isn’t bland and has no content or personality. And definitely not idiotic, consumerist pop music. I like something that helps to address important things in life, stuff that makes you think.”
Chain and The Gang are excited to travel to Australia this month – in particular Sydney, from which news of the State Government’s lockout laws has travelled overseas. Svenonius is particularly aware of the impending closure of Newtown Social Club; the venue they’ll be playing during their visit to our city.
“Let’s keep it open!” he says. “Maybe we’ll just refuse to leave after our visas expire and become international examples of what can happen with a bit of anti-establishment noise.”
Chain And The Gang play at Newtown Social Club on Wednesday March 15, along with Angie and Cold Sweat DJs.