by Niklas Göransson
This is the story of Stockholm Slaughter, a Swedish underground metal festival which became national news in April 2018, told from the perspective of its promoter, Vlad.
The following is an excerpt from Bardo Methodology #4, which also features the perspectives of MARDUK and TAAKE. Additional content includes PROFANATICA, PRIMORDIAL, SOLSTICE, Götz Kühnemund, Louise Brown, THERION, KATATONIA, BLACK FUNERAL, and COUNTESS.
– I began promoting shows under the name Death Disco in 2016. The venture was mostly borne out of frustration over incompetent promoters – accumulated over ten years of touring – combined with my thirst for booking bands I personally wanted to see. Only a few days after organising my first gig I decided to put together an indoor metal festival here in Stockholm, where I’ve lived for the past decade. I’d previously discussed this idea with Roman Hödl, owner of Austria-based booking and artist management agency District 19, who I’d gotten to know a few years earlier when playing at his Eindhoven Metal Meeting. Getting him onboard didn’t require much convincing and from that point on it took no more than a few weeks to confirm the date of the first festival.
Stockholm Slaughter 2017 – The Awakening took place in April of that year and featured bands like WATAIN, MOONSPELL, TIAMAT and SÓLSTAFIR. When this tale begins, the festival’s 2018 edition had been scheduled for the last weekend of April. The first signs of what was to come surfaced in January when the administrator of a political blog posted on Death Disco’s Facebook page, demanding to know why the company had yet to voice its public support for the #killtheking initiative – a Swedish subdivision of the #metoo hashtag campaign, meant to raise awareness about sexual harassment towards women in the metal scene. The blog then published an article about its efforts in reaching out with similar inquiries to a number of Stockholm metal promoters, out of which merely two responded and only one obeyed.
– To be honest, I didn’t even notice until a week later when a friend called to tell me about that blog post. At the time, I had not the faintest idea what or who ‘killtheking’ was but it took no more than a few minutes research to confirm my initial suspicion: that the loudest voices resounding out of this community stem from a small minority of fringe radicals known locally for habitually appropriating serious issues such as sexual abuse in order to advance political agendas, drive personal vendettas, and – above all – draw attention to themselves. Whatever. I shouldn’t have to explain myself to a swarm of lunatics hiding behind keyboards when they obviously didn’t even bother doing their homework. Had there been any form of due diligence performed on their end they would doubtlessly have been made aware that for every major event under the Death Disco flag, we’ve communicated clearly our zero-tolerance policy concerning violence, bullying, or harassment of any kind. If you ask me, these things shouldn’t even have to be stated as no sane person would ever condone such behaviour. Not that metal crowds usually cause much problems but, to ensure everyone’s safety, we always have a professional security team on-site.
The catalyst to what would become the three craziest weeks of Vlad’s life came as an early-morning phone call on April 3. An inquisitive reporter from the Swedish daily newspaper ETC requested a statement about two of the bands from the Stockholm Slaughter line-up – MARDUK and TAAKE.
– This so-called ‘journalist’ claimed to have irrefutable proof of their nazi ties. Of course, my first reaction was to laugh – having toured with both bands in the past, and thus knowing the members personally, made the situation feel all the more surreal. I wondered which rock he’d been dwelling under lately; everyone knows that MARDUK and TAAKE have dealt with this nonsense in the past and it always blows over once people actually start looking into the facts. Besides his apparent lack of credible source material, this reporter obviously had zero intention of being the slightest bit truthful or objective. His one goal lay in attracting as many clicks as possible to their propagandist paper, nothing else.
The scoop ETC had uncovered about Norwegian black metal veterans TAAKE was none other than the widely publicised 2007 debacle where the vocalist, in an albeit drunken but spectacularly successful bid to provoke, drew a swastika on his chest. In Germany. The prank has since – at great cost and effort – been cleared up and they have toured Asia, South America and even Israel without issue. Out of TAAKE’s seven full-length albums, ETC had discovered two phrases worth of lyrics deemed controversial; one bidding the prophet Mohammed and his followers to go to Hell, the other stating that Norway will awaken.
– For those unfamiliar with the MARDUK story and wondering what solid proof this guy was sitting on – well, the answer is in retrospect almost comical. ETC claimed that some document they’d found online is, in fact, a hacked database which implicates two MARDUK members as having purchased books and stickers from a website with ties to an extreme right-wing organisation. Obviously, I asked him to produce the real evidence since, in my world, no sane individual would ever use random spreadsheets found on the internet as justification for sabotaging the livelihood of a band that’s been going for almost thirty years; especially since none of the prior witch-hunts ever produced anything warranting further scrutiny. MARDUK themselves have far too much integrity to air private matters in public but anyone with the slightest bit of personal insight knows how idiotic it is to call them a nazi band. Needless to say, there was no reasoning with this individual. Fast forward a few hours and I found myself in a crisis meeting with the board of Fryshuset, the festival venue, where I was told that this journalist had been making calls to key people in the local council and municipality. He was threatening to publish an article likely to tarnish the venue’s reputation, should the bands be allowed to play.
Fryshuset is a youth activity centre in Stockholm; they run a school on the premises, manage various social projects, and offer educational programs. There are also two venues within the same building, in which both MARDUK and TAAKE have performed multiple times before.
– Sadly, neither logic nor reason got me anywhere. The journalist had stirred up too much of a fuss and Fryshuset said they’d have to make their final decision within the next twenty-four hours. I was also told about the terrible timing; it’s election year in Sweden so, basically, everyone is petrified of swimming against the politically correct current. I found it mind-boggling that people would go so far as to attempt tearing down someone else’s work without considering the full scope of consequences. I was about to face the harsh reality of getting caught up in a crossfire of political propaganda. In the early-morning hours, after the first of more sleepless nights than I’d care to remember, I received a text message from ETC containing the quotes that would be attributed to me in their story. Having never dealt with mainstream journalists before, I was shocked. Not only did they take my own words completely out of context and use them against me, they’d also somehow gotten hold of an email I sent to Fryshuset and included quotes from there framed in a way which made it look as if I was speaking to the reporter. No class. Needless to say, neither any of my actual arguments nor the material I sent him made it into the article.
After the initial phone-call, Vlad compiled a dossier of evidence he claims supports his avowal that neither MARDUK nor TAAKE are nazi bands and then emailed it to the reporter. He shows me the subsequent text message exchange, in which the journalist responds, ‘Thanks for the very interesting information. Will try to include some of it in the article.’ Not a word ended up used. This was actually ETC’s second stab at covering underground metal – in a 2015 feature called Black Metal Blooms, they extol with enthusiasm the genre’s ongoing liberation from its old satanic baggage as it transcends ever deeper into eco-awareness territory. It is explained how black metal musician Hunter Hunt-Hendrix from LITURGY has issued some manner of public manifesto which essentially draws an ideological line in the sand between the old and new. WOLVES IN THE THRONE ROOM are mentioned as another strong current in this progressive green wave sweeping over the scene. One also learns that, ‘VELVET CACOON shocked a lot of people when they expressed support for the radical animal-rights group Animal Liberation Front.’ Now, I don’t know a whole lot about the first two bands but the lattermost was an advanced prank loosely connected to the Full Moon Productions forum; they gave outrageous interviews and put out releases containing other bands’ music. This came to light many years before the article was written – it would be an actual feat to perform the slightest bit of research into VELVET CACOON without spotting this rather pertinent piece of trivia. Alas, ETC’s second foray into the pastures of black metal got off to an equally ill-fated footing as their MARDUK exposé was illustrated by a photo of the wrong line-up, with one of the accused members absent and his presumably innocent predecessor in place.
– Not only that, the level of professionalism and transparency under which this ‘newspaper’ operates was highlighted further when they changed crucial information in the article not only once but twice during the initial twenty-four hours. The first version contained obvious factual errors and when people started pointing out holes in the story, they simply changed the article accordingly to make it sound more convincing… without even clarifying or mentioning their edits! Luckily, people took screenshots. The tragedy is that all other news outlets – state television, major tabloids and morning papers – simply copy-pasted this nonsense without bothering to fact-check anything, thus contributing to further misinformation. In Sweden it’s pretty much only paedophilia that’s more socially stigmatising than being publicly named a neo-nazi so just consider the social implications involved, especially for those with kids. This ignited a tsunami of serious problems but, looking back now, also afforded me some valuable lessons. It’s not every day you get to witness first-hand how easily the masses can be manipulated with nothing but a few paragraphs peddled by what’s now been proven beyond reasonable doubt to be a scam enterprise. Since all this went down, ETC have been exposed as the criminal swindlers they are; not only in the court of public opinion but also the judicial equivalent. If only this would’ve come to light earlier, it could have saved us a lot of panic, effort, and money since no one can possibly take them seriously forthwith.
In June 2018, Sweden’s Press Subsidies Council announced that the newspaper must pay back eight million Swedish kronor – 767,000 euro – of tax-payer money. According to the ruling, ETC had greatly inflated the number of paying subscribers for three of their local papers in order to obtain significant press subsidies they were otherwise ineligible for.
– On the third day of this nightmare, it no longer felt as if we were organising a music festival but rather a political rally – an awkward situation to be in as someone holding no political interest whatsoever. Fryshuset asked me to lay low on social media until they’d come up with their final decision. Meanwhile, the press had begun claiming that we, Stockholm Slaughter, had cancelled MARDUK and TAAKE after learning of their nazi associations. Ticketholders and fans alike went ballistic and directed their anger towards us, turning an already shitty situation into chaos on virtually all fronts. To this day, I still don’t know where that information came from because obviously neither Roman nor I would’ve ever said anything of the kind.
A few hours later, Fryshuset emailed Vlad to inform him that neither MARDUK nor TAAKE would be allowed to perform within the premises. They wrote that while the ‘information put forth by ETC has turned out to not have much bearing’ it didn’t really influence their ‘overall assessment’, adding that Fryshuset ‘isn’t just one venue among many’ but due to the school and community outreach programs they must allow their ethics to be the foundation for all activity; ‘There’s too much about these two bands that doesn’t feel okay for us.’ Consequently, it was with a fair degree of astonishment one noticed their July 2018 announcement for an upcoming concert with American rapper 6ix9ine, who’s previously been convicted of first sexually abusing a child and then spreading videos of the deed. As of this writing, all of Bardo Methodology’s attempts at clarification as to how engagement in and distribution of child pornography is compatible with Fryshuset’s guiding moral principles have gone unanswered by their communications department. The concert was subsequently sold out following which the promoter, Live Nation, moved it to a bigger venue.
–At the time, Fryshuset’s decision felt like a hard blow – we’d done absolutely everything within our power to change their minds. I was about to learn the hard way how people who purport to be saving the world from radical political ideologies are more extreme than those they claim to oppose. The whole thing was just one big contradiction, bereft of any logic. Myself and Roman realised that if we were to simply accept this and replace MARDUK and TAAKE, not only would we betray our paying customers but also be sending a dangerous signal to other promoters by implying there to be some measure of validity to these accusations.
After assessing the situation, Vlad and Roman decided that if they were unable to host the bands at Fryshuset, then an additional venue would have to be acquired.
– Being bound by contract, not to mention having prepaid sixty hotel rooms within walking distance of the venue, moving the entire event was out of the question. The hunt for a new location was on and during the next forty-eight hours I contacted virtually every single concert hall with the capacity of hosting most of our audience. Bear in mind that Stockholm has a highly active cultural life which, considering there was less than three weeks left until the festival, meant we were facing an impossible task. There was nothing available. That’s when we realised that most of our foreign guests wouldn’t be leaving until Sunday afternoon and onwards. We expanded our search and finally found a venue that said yes to Sunday around noon.
With nineteen days to go, amidst a torrent of raging speculation, Stockholm Slaughter announced that MARDUK and TAAKE would remain on the bill but with a different date and new location. In a show of support, Italian black metal band FIDES INVERSA agreed to perform on the Sunday. To minimise interference, the location would be kept strictly confidential until the last moment – not even the bands knew. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time a Swedish metal gig has been forced to keep its whereabouts secret.
– Anyone who’s sold tickets to anything knows how sensitive paying customers can be when it comes to changes in schedule, venues, and especially dates. We weren’t quite sure what to expect but the response was tremendous! We were genuinely shocked by the overwhelming show of support from most attendees, even people who couldn’t make it on the Sunday. Meanwhile, both bands were a bit concerned that the new venue would also cancel. They couldn’t have been more right… but we’ll get to that shortly. Roman and I also concluded that we needed a new headliner as compensation for those unable to attend the third festival day. Hectic times.
With the festival’s refusal to boot the two offending parties, some began speculating whether these efforts might not be indicative of its promoter resonating ideologically with the accused bands. Once they started investigating Vlad’s private social media profile it was revealed how two of his cats, Freja and Loki, are named after northern gods. The remaining residential felines – Amon Ra, Anubis, and Amunet – went by without mention. Other detractors found his name to be an infinite source of Dracula-oriented amusement.
– Goes without saying, what possible reason could there be for a Romanian expat in Sweden to name his pets after something from Norse mythology – unless he was a hard-line national socialist? Indeed, very logical conclusion… I remember how weird it felt after the first day had passed without anonymous threats or having my name and ethnicity ridiculed by these tolerant types. One full week after the whole spectacle began I received information from friends who’d gone undercover that a stubbornly stupid group of people were trying to find out where the Sunday gig was taking place so they could amass in their little online clusters and harass the venue until cancellation – in the process driving me into financial ruin for having the gall to stand up to them. You see, it’s these self-declared social justice heroes who are the real extremists; if you don’t expressly agree with them on everything then you’re a simple pariah and have effectively waived your rights to existence.
Sixteen days before the festival, disaster struck once again as the Sunday venue pulled out. When staff had found out about which bands were coming, they refused to work the event for fear of reprisal. So, three days after announcing the third date – Stockholm Slaughter had lost its new site and, despite significant efforts, there was still no replacement headliner confirmed.
– The same day, someone from Fryshuset called me to advise caution because these activists love to hate and will stop at nothing. It turned out that I wasn’t the only one receiving threats, even families of Fryshuset-employees were now being targeted. While all of this was reported to the police, no one has been caught so we can only speculate about the culprits’ identities. I have my suspicions, of course; I can’t imagine the ‘real’ antifa would get involved in something that ridiculous. So, unable to figure out our new location, they turned on the venue which had already cowered to pressure by banning MARDUK and TAAKE from playing – hoping to shut down the entire festival instead. To make matters worse, ETC had now translated the latest version of their article into English and started running paid Facebook campaigns in cities where MARDUK were scheduled to tour in the coming weeks, no doubt in hopes of rabble-rousing local extremists into doing their thing. As we would soon discover, these keyboard heroes also contacted foreign venues directly. Things were simply spiralling out of control and there was no doubt that what we were seeing was a targeted smear campaign of the highest calibre.
Further concerns arose when the venue for Vienna Metal Meeting – an annual Austrian festival organised by District 19, two weeks after Stockholm Slaughter – called Roman to express their newfound reluctance to host MARDUK.
– Fortunately, everything was cleared up once Roman met with them and explained the situation. Meanwhile, in Sweden, a new potential venue for the Sunday show was in our sights. I clarified the circumstances to the owner who assured me that, come hell or high water, there would be no cancellations. The very same weekend we also secured ENTOMBED A.D. as replacement headliner. More and more people, including members from bands such as WATAIN, MEFISTO, BEHEXEN, NECROPHOBIC, PRIMORDIAL, HORNA, and DEMONICAL openly expressed their support. For the first time, it felt as if a lot of people were fed up with this internet warrior bullshit. Besides, we’re talking about two established black metal bands here. It’s just ridiculous. One day, I can’t remember which, I noticed an incoming call from Morgan Håkansson of MARDUK. Having dealt with nothing but one disaster after another I took a deep breath, picked up the phone, and asked: ‘What’s happened now?’ There was no reply since, as it would later turn out, he’d pocket-dialled me. Unaware of this at the time, I rang him back to which he instantly answered, ‘Now what!?’ Then both of us laughed when we realised that the only thing we were expecting was something bad to happen once again.
Due to both rumours of possible riots and the threats directed towards its employees, Fryshuset demanded that Vlad sign a document holding him personally accountable for any property damage incurred. Hell-bent on seeing this through, he agreed and then began mentally preparing himself for the eventual financial consequences – on top of an extra venue, new flights, plus the additional headliner.
– Once again, the defenders of freedom and peace were threatening violence. It didn’t seem to matter how many times we tried to explain that Stockholm Slaughter is a non-political festival with no agendas besides that of seeing metalheads enjoy the music of their favourite bands. Getting dragged into this mess was of course anything but positive but, as the festival crept closer, we clung to our conviction of how all that truly mattered was making sure the artists our audience had been promised would play. We’d already suffered one extremely unfortunate cancellation with MY DYING BRIDE, due to matters completely out of our hands, and were not about to let that happen again. Finally, the last week of April came and we went into production mode.
Friday saw performances by COUNT RAVEN, DEMONICAL, TSJUDER, THYRFING, HALLATAR, SEPTICFLESH, AURA NOIR, and ASAGRAUM. The second and now intermediate date brought with it ALFAHANNE, FEJD, SINISTER, ENFORCER, OCTOBER TIDE, ONE TAIL ONE HEAD, DOOL, SWALLOW THE SUN, ARKONA, MASTER’S HAMMER and ENTOMBED A.D.
– We had no delays and everything went according to plan. The festival vibe was very positive and at times one could almost forget all the excitement of the past weeks. Looking out over the crowd, it felt absurd that certain people had plied such vast resources into preventing the whole thing from happening. Of course, I made sure that fans heard as much MARDUK and TAAKE as possible in-between sets. We announced the location for the third day late on Saturday night and, once again, our efforts seemed highly appreciated by festival visitors. I can easily say that April 29 was the most stressful day of my entire life. I think it’s important to mention now that without my girlfriend who stood by as firmly as she did, a solid business partner and friend like Roman, and an amazing crew working around the clock for three full days with barely any sleep, moving the festival to a second venue would’ve never been physically possible.
I ran into Vlad during the Friday and he looked like a walking corpse so, in an attempt to be helpful, the following day I brought along two bottles of dried guarana root dissolved in water. Guarana is a source of natural caffeine, it’s more potent than coffee and often found in energy drinks. I specifically told him to have no more than one, definitely not all in one go, and absolutely nowhere near three hours before sleep. Nevertheless, upon fading towards the end of the evening – seeking desperately to remain upright until closing-time – he slammed one and a half of them at once. It worked.
– Yeah, cheers. I seriously thought I was going to die that night, lying wide awake in bed with my heart racing. As it turns out: anxiety, stress, and an overdose of guarana does not make for stellar sleep. After that ordeal, in the early-morning hours, I had to go straight to the second venue to set everything up. We were terrified of getting only a handful of people in attendance; perhaps not everyone who wakes up with a hangover is quite as defiant as the night before. Not even the weather seemed to be on our side. It was therefore with great relief we opened the doors to find about two-hundred people waiting outside in the rain, and it wasn’t even twelve-o’clock yet. When FIDES INVERSA went on we had more than 350 people checked in. It felt surreal and what a great atmosphere it was! By the time TAAKE took the stage we were about to close the doors, having reached the venue’s full capacity – which means that we got six-hundred people to travel to a remote industrial area outside Stockholm city, early on a Sunday.
There was also a brief moment of commotion when the police showed up in force. Not as a result of the gig itself but because somebody had phoned the law after seeing so many taxi cars arriving at once; it was first assumed to be some kind of organised gang-fight.
– We even had a few activists wanting to make their progressive voices heard; they approached the security staff outside and asked for permission to spray-paint a message to the bands on the venue wall. Very rebellious! They were politely instructed to fuck off or risk being taken in and held for property damage. Back inside, “Panzer Division Marduk” kicked off the day’s final set and they absolutely crushed it! I felt both rage and relief – anger because this was proof of how fake news, social media outrage, and egomaniacs with too much time on their hands can damage the reputation of hard-working musicians. I was relieved that, despite all obstacles, the festival happened, all bands played, and our audience by all accounts had a great weekend. I’d like to think that in the eyes of the visitors, Stockholm Slaughter 2018 – The Second Coming was a hugely successful statement of freedom, with attendees from no less than twenty-nine different countries. Somewhat revealingly, not a single one of the media outlets, metal or otherwise, that previously reported on the festival made any mention of it actually having gone ahead as originally advertised. Roman and I recently discussed the future of Stockholm Slaughter and both agreed that regardless of the logistical, emotional, and financial strain we suffered with the latest edition, we’ve invested too much of ourselves to abandon ship now. We’ve decided to proceed with the festival in 2019.
This was an excerpt from Bardo Methodology #4, which also features the perspectives of MARDUK and TAAKE. Additional content includes PROFANATICA, PRIMORDIAL, SOLSTICE, Götz Kühnemund, Louise Brown, THERION, KATATONIA, BLACK FUNERAL, and COUNTESS.