Marcus Harrling and Per Nyström have been involved in the Swedish independent music scene now for some years now and have been in, amongst others, The Concretes, Monster, Mackaper and Sons of Cyrus. Their band Diagnos (a name taken from the title of a novel by Peter Weiss) began taking form eight years ago and today sees the release of their self-titled new album. A line-up of guest artists were invited to contribute vocals, saxophone, percussion and other instruments adding flavour to the songs. They include Nadine Byrne (Magic State, Ectoplasm Girls), Tove El, Maria Eriksson (The Concretes, Heikki, Strountes), Niek Meul (Das Pop), Oscar Moberg (Ultra El!, Estroboscorpio), Felix Unsöld (Felix Unsöld Quartett).
Marcus and Per took some time out to chat with me about the album but before launching into it, listen to ‘Blood in Sand’ from Diagnos.
I began by asking Marcus how he would describe the new album’s sound to a newcomer.
“The decision to work from the idea of performing a live soundtrack came partly from a wish to get away from any specific genre. This led to a wide variation in sounds being recorded for the album, which in itself could be seen as a soundtrack for an undefined movie.
“It’s always hard to describe one’s own sound, but terms like drony, atmospheric, folky are frequently used. Some of our songs have got more of a beat though, like the single Be Good for example, in this song we use an old vintage drum machine. So I guess it’s a mix between a beat-driven vintage sound and more free improvised and drony parts.
Marcus is a film maker with a master degree from The Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm and the music of Diagnos at first was developed as a soundtrack to super 8 travel films. They then began to improvise further, with film and literature inspiration in the foreground and their musical interpretations of those influences.
“Most of the super 8 material was filmed between 2002-2007, I would buy cartridges in thrift stores that at the time included a bag from Kodak giving you free developing. I was experimenting with ways to perform musically as well as ways to present my film-work. Me and Nadine Byrne were working on ‘The Harrling ByrneOrchestra for Television’ (see video below) for Gagnef festival for Music and Arts . This was six separate audio and video tracks synced and looped on six monitors.
“One of the tracks was slowed down and used as the video for ”Walking Down” which is the second single from the Diagnos album.
“Me and Per started doing music 2007-2008. Initially, we made the soundtrack for a theatre play, and after that, it felt very natural and relieving to use this form performing as we really wanted to get away from the stage and put the films in focus. This also led to sets without disruption where we could improvise and let our guest musicians who typically would come straight to the event without rehearsals to improvise as well. My travel films have been presented in galleries and other occasions though the strongest reactions have been when screened with Diagnos performing a live soundtrack. The images are personal and many times banal but they have a strong influence on the music which I believe makes a strong connection.”
With Per coming from a music background I asked him how they both met.
“For over ten years ago I used to work at an alternative music venue called Ugglan (The Owl in English), which was known for booking experimental underground bands, free jazz combos etcetera. Marcus came there one day with a camera and said he wanted to document the gigs and the whole underground scene of Ugglan. Since we were both drawn to that kind of music (although from slightly different angels perhaps) we soon became friends. Everybody who hanged at Ugglan got to know each other, the underground scene for this kind of music wasn’t bigger in Stockholm at that time. After a while, we decided we should try to make music together too – and I think the music of Diagnos is in a way inspired from that Ugglan scene. The venue doesn’t exist anymore but left a big impact I think, at least on Marcus and me.
I’d read in the press release that their first public performance was a one-minute-festival arranged by Daniel Fagerström from The Skull Defekts. That’s just not the srot of thing you gloss over…Marcus was happy to expand on this ‘crazy idea’.
“Daniel is a friend of ours (and also the producer of Per’s other band Mackaper’s (whose latest album is called ”Minnen av framtiden”) and he had this crazy idea about arranging a tiny festival where all the bands played one minute performances. It was around 18 bands including Magic State, Optic Nest, Dungeon Acid, New Rose etc. We thought this would be a good way to start playing live, so we made a song that was just one minute long. Later we recorded that song called When the Sun Comes Up, it’s actually featured on the album too, just slightly longer.”
As well as their one-minute performance they’ve also played in friends galleries. I wanted to know more about their live performances and whether they were always based around a film and live soundtrack.
“Not always but I do feel that the films have equal importance as the music. Once we get a show we start working on a set with the venue in mind. Our interest for old gear when it comes to audio and video makes technical solutions a big part of the final performance. In the past we’ve been using VHS cameras to live broadcast ourselves on different floors and also have been using a lot of prerecorded video clips in live situations.
In my mind, I was begining to build a picture which was comparable to that of a collective. Although this turned out not to be the case, the size of the ‘scene’ lends itself to collaboration.
“…the underground art and music scene in Stockholm is not very big so we know lots of people in the ‘scene’ (if you want to call it a scene). Some of the guest musicians on our album, such as Nadine Byrne for example, are artists and indeed part of the Stockholm art scene. Also Oscar Moberg who recorded and mixed part of the record is very active musicly in projects like Estroboscorpio and Ultra El!.”
And what would you say makes the work of Diagnos standout?
“I guess it’s our approach to music as being just one element out of many (film being another) to create an atmosphere. We also try to make every live performance different from each other by inviting different guests but also by playing at venues that aren’t really traditional music venues. The mix between improvised sessions, prerecorded loops and more traditional song writing probably also makes us stand out.”
With the new album featuring so many guest musicians, I ask Marcus what was the driving force to go from a duo to being supported by guest artists?
“It just came naturally. Some of our songs have been hard to do live as a duo, so when we have performed live, we have often asked friends from Stockholm to join us on stage. And all of them have added something of THEIR unique flavour to our music, so it would be dumb not to ask them to join us on the album too. It makes the music richer.”
Marcus and Per hope to tour the album in the UK in the coming Autumn or winter.
Diagnos’ cd/lp/dd – Control Freak Kitten Records – Released July 14th 2017