I’m in Helsingborg quite often working in the studio so for me it’s a city in the now. I grew up at S:t Clemensgatan 25 where we had our first rehearsal studio in the basement so of course it feels special to stand there and look across Öresund and see Denmark
You rarely become a prophet in your hometown, so we haven’t played here that many times. As far as I can remember we’ve played as Covenant a total of six times and maybe fifteen times as parts of different constellations.
We also had one of Sweden’s best record stores, Heta Vax (Hot Wax), which was owned by extremely ambitious and knowledgeable guys. They had a lot of imports and super rare music, I heard stuff like Die Form and Test Department there already in 1985.
A small town is compact and everybody with the same interest learn to know each other which of course is very important.
Text: Benjamin Kristiansen Photo: Frank Machalowski
Translation: Henrik Kanatidis 2019-10-28
Friday 1 November Covenant takes the stage at Charles Dickens in Helsingborg in the city where it all once began. One might think that Covenant has played a lot in their hometown but we who live in Helsingborg are definitely not spoiled with gigs by the pride of the city. I saw Covenant for the first time at The Tivoli in Helsingborg at the end of the 90’s while I was still living in Malmö. Actually, it’s been 15 years since the band last played in their hometown which was a great reason to do an interview with Eskil Simonsson and Joakim Montelius about Helsingborg which still has to been seen as the band’s base.
What’s it like playing on your home turf? Is it extra fun?
ES: Extra nervous! But fun of course. Our in-house graphic designer Tobias Green who originates from and lives in Helsingborg will be with us on stage so that feels special. He hasn’t played with us since a tour in Russia 10 years ago. Fun Fact: He and Anders Catjar had a band together with Tobias Bernstrup among others and they rehearsed next door from us at the arts centre Röda Kvarn (The Red Mill) while we were working on our debut.
Nowadays not all of the members live in Helsingborg. How often are you here?
JM: I’m the only one living in Helsingborg nowadays but we have our studio here so Eskil is here relatively often.
For many years Covenant was synonymous with Eskil, Joakim and Clas on stage I suppose Joakim will be in the audience since he’s still part of the band even if he doesn’t perform live anymore. Do you think Clas will show up and do you still keep in touch?
JM: Clas will be attending the gig. It will probably feel a bit funny both for us and for the guys on stage when 2/3 are watching instead of playing. Clas lives a couple of hundred of meters from where I live but unfortunately when don’t see each other that often. When Eskil is in town the three of us use to play some boule or go for a swim.
Are you feeling nostalgic about getting on stage in Helsingborg?
ES: No, why would we? I’m in Helsingborg quite often working in the studio so for me it’s a city in the now. I grew up at S:t Clemensgatan 25 where we had our first rehearsal studio in the basement so of course it feels special to stand there and look across Öresund and see Denmark
When was the last time you played in Helsingborg and where?
JM: At The Tivoli 15 years ago.
Do you remember where your first gig as Covenant was in Helsingborg? Please tell me a bit about the gig if you remember it.
JM: The first time we used the name Covenant was at a gig at Röda Kvarn in 1989. But that was with more members than the version of the group that started recording records. The thing I remember the most is that Clas wasn’t with us on stage that time. There was a group called Spacelab at the time and Clas was a good friend of theirs. Pelle Folkesson, today known as Pelle Jubel and a programming hero at places like Clavia and Propellerhead was extremely good at making sounds for his DX7. Clas had apparently managed to copy some of those sounds and we used them in some of our songs so when he heard that Pelle was going to be there that night he felt so embarrassed that he temporarily left the band.
But as the ”real” Covenant it took until…1993 or maybe 1994. Then we played at a tiny club called Bläckfisken (The Octopus) which is no longer. That was also a memorable gig. We were still doing our space samurai thing then and since our studio was only a block away we changed clothes there. We had an extra who was supposed to be crucified on stage (I have no idea what our message was with that...) so there we were, in the street, five persons all wrapped up in plastic and wearing face masks and one with a big black cross on his shoulder walking through the crowd on a Friday evening. Many comments were made in a very short time
How many times have you played in Helsingborg?
JM: You rarely become a prophet in your hometown, so we haven’t played here that many times. As far as I can remember we’ve played as Covenant a total of six times and maybe fifteen times as parts of different constellations. That means that Covenant has played just as many times in Moscow as we have in our hometown.
What has Helsingborg meant to Covenant?
JM: Helsingborg has meant a lot to us. When we began making music there was a wide and very active scene which meant that you had an audience and there was an enormous amount of creativity. There was a music association called Blecktrumman (The Tin Drum) where I myself and Eskil were active, mainly because we were minors and wouldn’t have been allowed to attend the gigs. Club nights were arranged and many fantastic bands played under our supervision. Blue For Two and Ladomir are two I remember fondly. In 1987 Blecktrumman became a part of the Röda Kvarn arts centre, a cinema which was taken over by a lot of different cultural associations with a recording studio and rehearsal rooms in the basement. Most people we knew were in a band, making movies or being creative in other ways. Andreas Catjar and Tobias Green (our in-house designer who will be a stand-in for Andreas at the gig at Charles Dickens) had a brilliant goth band called Raftsmen, then came Souls, the previously mentioned Spacelab with Jonas Jonasson and Thomas Öberg (later members of bob hund), the completely crazy rockabillypunk group Kerb Crawlers, then Dipper and so on. Our debut album ”Dreams Of A Cryotank” was recorded in the studio at Röda Kvarn and then we built our own in the room next door where we recorded ”Sequencer”, ”Europa”, ”United States Of Mind” and ”Skyshaper”. The songs for ”Northern Light” were also written there. About the same time as we began recording there the club Tip Top was opened in another part of the building. It was a tremendous luxury and inspiration to be able to sit and write songs for a couple of hours, walk out the door and go clubbing, go back and use new ideas immediately or bring a freshly recorded track and hear it on the dancefloor and see if it worked.
We also had one of Sweden’s best record stores, Heta Vax (Hot Wax), which was owned by extremely ambitious and knowledgeable guys. They had a lot of imports and super rare music, I heard stuff like Die Form and Test Department there already in 1985. You could hang out with the cool people there and listen to stuff which wasn’t on anyone’s radar. I remember that my mum had been given a cassette with a girl that made fantastic electronic music with surreal stories as lyrics. I immediately lay my hands on the cassette but no one could tell me who it was on the cassette so I brought it with me to Heta Vax. Bengt at Heta Vax listened to it for three seconds, went over to a box with records and picked up Laurie Anderson’s ”Big Science”, this despite Bengt being a really big blues fan. He kind of had a musical Wikipedia in his brain and an unfailing sense of quality, no matter what the genre.
Another important thing was that techno and rave parties came to Helsingborg, maybe it wasn’t the first place in Sweden but definitely one of the first, very much thanks to Glenn Wilson and his recordstore Planet Rhythm at Södra Storgatan. Glenn moved his recordstore to Stockholm and started a record company releasing such innovators as Adam Beyer, Cari Lekebusch and Jesper Dalbäck. But the scene was up and running and we jumped on the bandwagon because we thought techno was synth music 2.0. This was the new New Romantic. To go away to secret locations in the middle of the night just to party and dance. This was also the key to Covenant, the last piece of the puzzle we needed to find our own sound. If we hadn’t had that extra engine we’d probably wouldn’t have taken off the way we did.
Then of course there was the location which played a big part. The sea for instance, which has been a source of inspiration for me ever since I was a child. Many lyrics have been born while I have been sitting on the groyne in the harbour and dreamt myself away and then of course there is Copenhagen in the vicinity.
So the town has definitely shaped us, at least in the early stages.
Name five places in Helsingborg that has meant something for Covenant.
JM: Apart from our home addresses:
1. Pålsgatan 5. We had a role playing association there and all the members in what was to become Covenant met there.
2. Karlsgatan 7. Röda Kvarn. We had our studio in the basement and recorded all the albums (except Northern Lights) up until Skyshaper there!
3. Norra Hamnen (The North Harbour). Before the area was refurbished during the late 90’s there were old warehouses and silos that, more or less legally, were used for raves.
4. Stadsbiblioteket (The Town Library). Before the internet, the library was the place where you looked for information and inspiration
5. The crossroads between Möllegränden/Södra Strandgatan. Heta Vax.
What was it like starting an electronic music group in Helsingborg in the eighties?
JM: It came naturally, at least in the part of town where we lived. Most people listened to electronic music there.
Was coming from one of the three largest cities in Sweden an advantage?
JM: I’ve never thought of that. Maybe it was. A small town is compact and everybody with the same interest learn to know each other which of course is very important. Without a network and people helping each other out it’s hard to accomplish something, especially in the days when we began as there weren’t many ways to reach out to people as there are now.
Are there any traces of Helsingborg in your lyrics?
JM: No, at least not any direct references.
You released the Fieldworks EP this spring. Can we expect a new album in a foreseeable future?
ES: There will be a follow-up to the EP next spring and then an album. It’s exciting times to work with the rather demanding concept of field recordings. For instance, I’ve recorded the old ferry to Denmark before they switched to electric propulsion. At one of the outlets there is a deep ringing twang like you were in a cathedral.
Soon you’ll be playing at Charles Dickens which is one of the city’s oldest clubs. A place that might not be too familiar to those listening to electronic music. Do you have any memories from the place?
JM: No, we don’t have a connection to Charles Dickens. Just that it’s been there for ages and that we’ve had a beer there a couple of times.
What can one expect from your gig at Charles Dickens?
ES: They’re going to rent extra smoke machines and strobe lights! But apart from that it’s all-in as usual. Check out the event on Facebook if there is any particular song you want to hear! We’ve already received a lot of requests so half of the setlist will contain those. And Tobias will be with us on stage!
Helsingborg has meant a lot to us. When we began making music there was a wide and very active scene which meant that you had an audience and there was an enormous amount of creativity.
But as the ”real” Covenant it took until…1993 or maybe 1994. Then we played at a tiny club called Bläckfisken (The Octopus) which is no longer.
There will be a follow-up to the EP next spring and then an album. It’s exciting times to work with the rather demanding concept of field recordings.
No, we don’t have a connection to Charles Dickens. Just that it’s been there for ages and that we’ve had a beer there a couple of times.
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