THE HISTORY OF HUVUDTVÄTT AND HEADCLEANERS: ONE OF SWEDEN’S FIRST HARCORE BAND
On the Swedish early Swedish hardcore scene they were a few early band, some of them making hardcore more as an accident, similar to the US band “Middle class” back in 1978. The first hardcore tune was “Krossa” by “the end” but honestly without any major links to the international scene. Missbrukarna released their split-EP in 1980, possible the first hardcore record. In general, the Swedish hardcore scene was much influenced by band like Discharge and band like Anti-Cimex developed the Swedish D-beat sound. Headcleaners were more influcened by the US hardcore scene and got inspiration by band like Minor Threat and Cause for Alarm.
The Headcleaners was active in Sundsvall and Linköping, Sweden, between 1981-1984. As a band they pioneered Swedish hardcore and was one of the first Swedish band to cut vinyl and was quickly recognized by the international hardcore scence. The band name Huvudtvätt was used for the Swedish lyric releases and for the english lyric released the band called themself Headcleaners which is direct translation of the Swedish name.
I, the editor is a big fan fan of Headcleaners. I have planned to make an interview with one of the founding members, Mats Nilsson for a while. However Chriss of Driller Killer made an excellent interview a few years ago and Tony Gunnarsson translated it and it was published in MaximumRocknRoll issue 339 (August 2011). So I contacted Tony asking if we could publish the interview on this site, but I also interviewed Mats Nilsson in Stockholm April 2013 for additonal questions. Here is the result:
Image to the left: Massmedia, pre Headcleaners, the band released 3 EP and one LP between 1978 and 1980.
Q: Musically there is a big difference between Massmedia and Huvudtvätt, how come? Was it something to do with the move to the city of Linköping, and the discovery of new brutal bands?
Mats: Massmedia was a real band, but Huvudtvätt was initially supposed to be just my own solo project. I would call Massmedia a “raw punk” band, but over the years we mixed between styles quite a lot. Ever since I heard the Ramones in 1976, I have always been more fond of the extreme and raw side of punk, perhaps more so than some other punks.
For example there was “musical differences” that lead me to quit my first band The Same, as early as January 1978, after we had played together for less than 4 months. Standard punk had already become too wimpy for my tastes.
It was Per Kraft, my classmate at school in 1976, who got me into his band in the spring 1977 – he was a divinely gifted musician. It was just two guys who played guitar in Per’s garage. He taught me how to play the bass. But nothing ever happened with that band, but it was the embryo of The Absolute Swine, which would form in late September 1977. Two quick name changes in its first month and finally the band settled for The Same, which is usually described as Sundsvall’s first punk band. (Editor’s note: Sundsvall is located in the northern part of Sweden about 5 hours drive north of Stockholm).
Image to the left: The first EP of Massmedia (1978), released on the Sundsvalls label Massproduktion which originally was started by Mats Nilsson. Pressed in 492 copies, the editor owns copy number 15.
My other band, Massmedia, broke up partly because of the same reasons. Brodde, our first singer, quit in the summer of 1979. He was too wimpy in his musical tastes, and probably already on his way into post-punk. I did not like that, and the band was “not big enough for both of us” (as Brodde once said in an interview). Massmedia ended in the autumn of 1980, when Torulf and I moved to Linköping for university. I studied the “Y-line”, i.e. Physics and Electrical Engineering, majoring in Computer Engineering, 1980-84. Massmedia had a reunion during Christmas 1980 when we (me, Torulf and Patrick) recorded two new songs for the compilation record “Andra Bränder”. Already in the early spring of 1981, I was eager to do something new in punk rock. I knew I wanted to do even more extreme punk (than the type that Massmedia played). I had heard a lot of Discharge, but also American bands like Minor Threat, Teen Idles, State of Alert and Black Flag etc. Torulf had bought some records with him from a study trip to the USA in the spring of 1981. When it was time to start “my” band, I did not know any other “studio musicians” (joke!) than Torulf (editors note: Mats’ brother) and Patrick from Massmedia. I knew what they could do so it was just natural to ask them first. We hooked up our singer Huw through our mate Janne Andersson from Uppsala.
As a note by the way: In the summer of 1980 I went around Europe by train with Janne (who was an old Massmedia-fan). We got to know each other pretty well and visited punks and record stores on the way, including in Germany and Holland. In England, we met Janne’s mate Andy who had started Xcentic Noise Records And Tapes in Hull, who mostly released compilation tapes.
Q: How come you had the name Headcleaners for the foreign market and the name Huvudtvätt for the domestic Swedish market? And why this obsession with cleaning?
Mats: I had a cleaning cassette cartridge in my dorm room in Ryd (Linköping), called Head Cleaner, so when we were brainstorming band names it just happened to come up. But, we were supposed to sing in Swedish, and translated it became Huvudtvätt, which sounded cool. I’m a humorous guy who likes to joke about most things to most people. I think the theme (which was first “washing”, but then became a broader concept of “cleaning”) just happened when the music for the first record required lyrics. It came of course from the band name (and from the very first song we wrote). After that it was just too hard not to run with it…
Janne in Uppsala asked us already back in 1981 if he could release us for foreign markets (in English). Sure, of course, we gladly told him. His label was to be called Malignant Massacre. And of course we had already invented the “English” band “Headcleaners” (indeed before Huvudtvätt). My brother and me are very resourceful and market-oriented people. We decided early on that we would record 8 instrumental songs in Sunsdvall. Then we laid vocals on each song in two different sessions, six Swedish and seven in English. We also had Janne (to freely) produce the English version, while “Mono Toni”, which was our producer’s alias (“Moses Zero’s son”, from my old stage name and Nill=Noll, and Torulf Nilsson), mixed the Swedish version in another studio (“Bastun” in Stockholm).
Note: The very first mix, in Swedish, from the Sundsvall studio is on the Xcentric Noise-cassette “Beating The Meat”. It is not the same mix later released on the EP.
Q: How did you come in contact with Really Fast, and what do you think they did for the Swedish punk scene?
Image to the left: The first compilation LP – Vol. 1 (1983). It was not the first time Headcleaners cut vinyl. The record had 3 Huvudtvätt songs.
Mats: During the time in Linköping we came in contact with Patrik Jonsson who together with Staffan of Kurt i kuvös ran Really Fast. We got along with Patrik and bought / sold / traded records with each other. Really Fast asked us if we wanted to be on the compilation (1983), which we thought sounded like fun. Some people apparently had some “problems” with the Really Fast’s hard-line unit price (“Pay More Than”), but we were also into the low budget / self-cost price. We would much rather sell more copies of a record than become rich. The Really Fast-guys were also just the type of enthusiastic “do-it-yourselfers’, who were driving Swedish punk.
Admittedly, the split-LP with Kurt I Kuvös (KIK) that Really Fast released in late winter 1984 was mostly made for the money, which however was only a couple thousand crowns split between us. Of course we had the urge to release more records by ourselves, but our drummer Patrik Tanner had already immigrated to the United States at that time. Patrik Jonsson arranged so that Staffan from Kurt I Kuvös helped us. Staffan was a different kind of drummer, which you can tell because there is a different sound on the LP. Overall, we think that our side on this LP is a bit like a rushed job.
I definitely think that Really Fast did a lot for Swedish raw punk, but at the same time they did not have a unique role. Nor do I think that there was anyone in Sweden who was dominant in the scene, instead there were one or more persons / organizations in every Swedish medium-sized town that were driving local punkscenes and helping to make larger regional punk scenes.
Q: Tell us a little about Janne’s label Malignant Massacre! Do you know if the label released more than the Huvudtvätt – Disinfection EP, the Skitslickers EP and Anti-Cimex’s Victims of a Bomb Raid EP? Is it true that he (Janne) wrote most of the lyrics to both Huvudtvätt and Headcleaners?
Mats: Janne wrote all the lyrics for Headcleaners (in English), but I mainly (with the help of Torulf and later singers) wrote the Swedish lyrics. Janne was a serious guy, so it was more classical/anarchist punk lyrics.
Malignant Massacre released just the three records. Janne paid for the first two. He did the same with Skitslickers, as Headcleaners, in other words released the record for the ‘English’ market, under the name “Shitllickers. The third record on MM, Anti Cimex’s Victims of a Bombraid, was however done by me, financed by me with Mats Bodenmalm (from Nässjö, but now living in Gothenburg) as principal. Mats was our contact with Anti Cimex. I released the record on Malignant Massacre because we did not have our own “hardcore” label.
Janne was a punk rocker that I don’t think played in any band. He bought records (as a collector) and was in contact with bands, record labels and other collectors. These days I have no contact with Janne, who left punk early, but I know he still lives in Uppsala.
Q: You released your last EP “The-Infection-Grows” on Xcentric Noise Records in 1983 and the artwork was made by Pushead. However – who made the artwork for the Disinfection EP?
Mats: It was one of the Janne (Malign Massacre Records) friends, Fredde from Uppsala.
Q: How many copies were there of the split EP with Picnic Boys? There are conflicting information regarding the record…
Mats: Massz-16 (the editor’s note: the record was released on Massproduktion) was pressed in 610 copies, of which 310 had Huvudtvätt on the cover and 300 had Picnic Boys on the cover.
Image above: MaximumRocknRoll issue 330, on which this article is based.
Did Headcleaners really have four different singers? Please would you name each of them and explain who was on what record etc.
Mats: In this case, I have not looked up the exact months and so on, but yes, we had four singers. Huw, Hasse, Lasse, and Janne. Firstly, it was Huw The Horrible in 1981. Then secondly Janne Andersson in 1982. Thirdly Hans Nilsson from Skövde in 1982-83. And finally Lars Persson in 1984. (Hans and Lars was Torulf classmates at University, on the “I-line” course, LiTH.)
Janne actually sang for Huvudtvätt / Headcleaners on our only live performance in September 1982 at Woodstock, the club in the basement of Skönsbergs Folkets Hus, in Sundsvall. It was not a successful show. Janne “who had not been in the band previously “forgot” some of the lyrics and Patrick had drunk a whole bag full of beer. We had trouble with the sound and the guitars were out of tune … But it was hilarious nonetheless. This concert is documented on video, which unfortunately has really poor sound. Therefore we mixed the film picture with the sound recorded on tape by the sound engineer Göran Tungström. This new version of the video has sadly gone missing, as well has the audio tape. A copy of the original video is still around, now transferred to a digital format.
Hans sang on the three songs we did for the Really Fast compilation (and the Xcentic record. I think). Lars (and I) sang on the split with KIK.
Here is hardly any images of Huvudvtvätt / Headcleners. Above from the left: 2 images from the Huvudtvätt video for the Infection EP. The last image is from their only live pefromance. In the beginning of the concert the band state: Wellcome to Headcleaners last concert.
Q: When did you first hear d-beat, both as a drum beat and as a concept?
Mats: I have never heard of d-beat. I had to Google it and found the Wikipedia page on D-beat, which gave me a good laugh. I think this kind of genre creation just confuses (for example see all the varieties of metal these days). But I understand that the people involved want to be able to describe more precisely the style of music they play. That said I’d guess it’s “hacks” who invented terms like this.
(Note on my musical background: Played the flute for many years, including in the Kommunala Musikskolans Youth Orchestra in Sundsvall, but I quit towards the end of high school. Then I started playing electrical bass guitar in the spring of my first year at college, at the age of 16.5. Self-taught with the help of Per Kraft)
Q: What would you classify as the first Swedish rå-punk band (raw punk), and why? How do you define rå-punk (raw punk) at all? Was it a term that you used early?
Mats: Yes, of course Headcleaners were rå-punks (raw punks), but we used the expression ‘rå-punk’ (raw punk) long before 1981. Rå-punk is fast punk rock with a lot of distortion, in my opinion. Can’t remember when the term “hardcore punk” came to Sweden but we did not use it ourselves anyway. As the term ‘rå punk’ was already used during the first wave of punk, I would say that Kriminella Gitarrer must be one of the best Swedish bands of all time.
In the second wave Anticimex was early, and of course us in Huvudtvätt. There were probably many more around the country at the same time, and a lot of bands came just after us, which means it should have been in 1982, but these other bands could easily have formed as early as 1981.
We were quick to release our first record, because we were very experienced (as punk musicians) and we did not need to rehearse that much. Huvudtvätt was indeed solely formed to make records. We did not have any concerts (except the one in September 1982) or anything else to prepare for.
The songs were written by me over the course of a few months, then the lyrics were later written in two days. First Torulf and I rehearsed, then we played with Tanner in Sundsvall, Sweden (during the summer break). A while before our allocated studio time we recorded our music on cassette tape and sent it down to Janne & Huw in Uppsala. The two of them with Huw’s girlfriend came up to Sundsvall in early August 1981, and then we recorded everything in two days at the KFUM-studio [editor's note: YMCA] on 16-channels.
Q: Why do you think that Sweden produced so many high-quality raw punk bands in the early 80′s? When the neighbouring countries to Sweden, with the exception of Finland, did not come up with many comparable classic bands?
Mats: Sweden had a big punk rock boom in 1979, following the first wave in 1977-78, with lots of new bands.
The following year (1980), a lot of these bands broke-up due to different musical tastes. Some new bands then went to the extreme side, others to the so-called post-punk. Influences came mainly from American bands, and not the tough English punk bands. English punk quickly became “too fat and lazy” (as did the “Oi”-style). There was however some exceptions, of which I have to mention Discharge.
Finland also had many good bands. I often made trades and bought records from Voitto “Vote” Vasko. Because I had a mailorder distro during my years in Linköping.
Sweden is also more Americanised than the neighboring Nordic countries. Most in a bad way I think, but maybe this had a role in creating a second wave of punk in Sweden.
Q: Please give some comments about the following bands and what you think they have done for the Swedish punk scene: Moderat Likvidation, Anti Cimex, Mob 47, Skitslickers and Disarm.
Mats: Anti Cimex were important to us. Not as role models, more because they were one of my favourite bands. We saw them in Linköping, Sweden (1982/1983?). Also I think they were important for Swedish Punk, which for some years spread around the world, and for other Swedish bands. That was more raw than anything we did.
I think Mob 47 started a bit later, but I understand that they were important role models for many. They did not enter my world until several years later.
The other bands that you mentioned I also liked even though I can’t say either of them were my favourites. I’d rather name Asta kask, because they were really funny when they came out.
(Note: my older sister Ing-Marie Olofsdotter was in charge of the Rockdepartementet radio show on Swedish Radio SR P3, with Mikael Nilsson, for some years in the early 80′s. They brought a variety of rock and punk bands, although I don’t think they ever played Huvudtvätt. Asta Kask stayed with my sister during a visit to Skara, where she lived in the 80s.)
Already in 1981 we felt like “punk rock veterans”, and weren’t so active because of our studies. Huvudtvätt was therefore mostly a “studio band”, which only formed (and with members only meeting) to record the records. Of course we did it because we thought it was fun, but also because we thought we knew how to do punk rock and wanted to create something of our own. We did in principle always everything ourselves (in other words truly “DIY”).
Our own records were often used to trade for other records. Bands often used to trade a 7” record box (25 copies) with others. Us provincial bands could hardly expect to get a record deal (even if we want it) or we were simply too poor musicians. And I would like to point out that punk was a movement that allowed everyone the right to do whatever they wanted.
Image above: Mats Nilsson, interviewed in Stockholm in the spring of 2013. Holding his fave sleeve.
Q: What is your reflection on the high prices on “vintage” punk records? Some of the rare releases go for several hundred dollars on eBay in the recent years!
Mats: I understand that there are collectors that are prepared to pay a lot of money for punk records. It is possible a type abuse. I guess some want to flash with their rare records. Luckily I have kept most of my hardcore records, some I have sold or rather given away to people I like. Over the years there have been some scavenger trying to get stuff out of my collection, without success. As I mentioned earlier I used to trade and sell records back in the early 80′s so I got access to a lot of records.
Q: What happened after you stopped playing in Headcleaners? Do you still listen to punk?
Mats: I moved to Stockholm. At that time, around 1984, I went to a lot of punk concerts at that time but did not play in any bands. Today I listen to a different style of music but the DIY is still attractive. I still listen to punk and still really enjoy the early US hardcore bands.
Q: Have there been any thoughts about a Headcleaners reunion? What are you opinion about punk bands that play reunion shows nowadays?
Mats: Headcleaners have no plans to reunite. Unfortunately it is very unlikely that it could ever happen as I live in Stockholm, Torulf in Oslo and Patrik Tanner in the United States. But I still occasionally get offers to reissue our old records, re-start the band with new members, make new songs for other bands, or even be involved in various punk bands currently active. It is an honour, but it is unlikely that anything like this will ever happen.
What is more likely is a Headcleaners discography record which has been under discussion for many years now -”All of Headcleaners/Huvudtvätt” or whatever it may be called.
Unfortunately, I am often disappointed by reunited bands. Old and slow … Mob 47 still sounded good, or even better, when I looked them up at MySpace and their website.
Q: You have not revealed any scandals or mayhem from your hardcore years! Anything on that?
Mats: Huvudtvätt quite serious and least I did not engage in any “mayhem”. My brother however was in Washington DC in 1981 the first time. That’s how we got all the early US hardcore records. At some time he met Jeff Nelson (the drummer of Minor Threat) or Henry Rollins ( S.O.A.), I can’t remember now. Talking about Swedish hardcore they said they liked Headcleaners but not Huvudtvätt, ha ha!!
Article compiled in Sundsvall, Sweden July 2013, the editor