Why Swedish band The Radio Dept will only play gigs in Asia
The dreampop band would rather be in the studio than on the stage, so their upcoming Hong Kong gig marks a rare chance to see Johan Duncanson, Martin Larsson and Daniel Tjäder live
Right now, the only place to be for fans of The Radio Dept. is as far as possible from the band’s European home.
The cult Swedish indie rockers are so fed up with playing in their own front yard that they’re only taking gigs in Asia. And even then, the more remote the better.
“We said we were not going to tour before the next album is out, but then we got this offer to play in Mongolia,” frontman and founder Johan Duncanson says during a break in rehearsals at the band’s studio in Stockholm. “We only said yes because we haven’t been there before.’’
Duncanson is not your typical rock ‘n’ roller. Not for him, that life on the road. He prefers working in the studio to playing live. Other than getting paid, the only real benefit of touring for him is the opportunity to see new places. Indeed, the last time The Radio Dept. released an album, instead of touring the big cities of Europe or the US to promote it, he and partner Martin Larsson decamped for a gig in Thailand.
“We don’t find it that much fun to tour in Europe or the US,” he says, adding a hasty apology to his European and American fans. “The US is so expensive and Europe is too close to home. We’ve had some great evenings playing in Europe, anyway.”
Fortunately for local fans, Hong Kong is one of those places Duncanson and his bandmates are willing to visit. On the back of their festival appearance in Ulan Bator, they’ve booked a brief Asian tour including a return to Hong Kong for one night at The Hangout in Sai Wan Ho on June 29. They’ll also play in Seoul, Taipei, Shanghai, Beijing and Bangkok.
For the notoriously road-shy band, it may be the best chance fans will have in years to see them: while they’ve said they’ll tour to promote their new record, that album has been six years in the making.
To say they keep fans waiting is an understatement. Formed in 1995, they’ve only released three albums. Each one has been rapturously received by fans of their feedback-drenched brand of indie rock. While there have been EPs and singles to tide over audiences, the clamour for a new full-length album is something Duncanson is in no rush to satiate: the band hasn’t even played a gig in three years.
“Maybe the fans are getting used to it,” he jokes.
To be fair, two of the lost years since their last album, Clinging to a Scheme, were tied up in litigation with their record label. After almost 20 years with Labrador Records, the band decided to look at their contract and didn’t like what they saw. The wrangling with lawyers prevented the band from releasing any new material.
Resolution came last year with an agreement that the next album will be the last with Labrador but not after a period that was “really horrible”, according to Duncanson.
That the band’s days with Labrador are numbered may come as a relief to label boss Johan Angergård, who wrote in the liner notes of the 2010 singles and rarities compilation Passive Aggressive: “They’ve cancelled more interviews than all the other bands I’ve worked with altogether. They are unworldly time optimists (they can miss a deadline by three years). They’ve demanded – and received – so much advances that we haven’t been able to pay our bills. I’ve had to bribe them with drugs to persuade them to talk to selected parts of the press.”
The Radio Dept.’s reputation for awkwardness will not suffer with the release of the new record. While the band had recorded what they thought was a great set of tracks, they decided to shelve the project three years ago.
“We started off making a traditional guitar album in 2011 but decided it was too good for our label,” Duncanson explains. “So we decided instead to make something more like the Pet Shop Boys’ Introspective album.” By that, he means a dance album.
This may come as something of a shock to fans who are expecting more Cocteau Twins-style vocals and My Bloody Valentine guitars of the sort that graced the previous three records.
“It won’t be quite like that but it will be a reflection of the music we’d been listening to at the time – acid house, club music and anything else from that late-1980s era,’’ Duncanson says. He’s been “vacuuming” YouTube for songs from the early days of house for inspiration. “A lot of Swedish guitar bands that came out at the same time as us still make heavy guitar albums. We try to incorporate things that our contemporaries wouldn’t use.”
With the label row done and dusted, Duncanson promises new albums will come thicker and faster.
“I’m hoping there will be a flurry of new releases” once The Radio Dept. have established how to release new material. “We have lots of half-done ideas.”
The Radio Dept. June 29, 8pm The Hangout, Youth Outreach Jockey Club Building, 2 Holy Cross Path, Sai Wan Ho, HK$490 (advance, www.eventbrite.hk, HK$550 (door)