With a father who is a violinist and a music teacher and a family home in a
17th century farmhouse in the small village of Lanna in Vastergotland,
Sweden, it's hardly surprising that Gustav Ejstes grew up with a deep
knowledge of and love for mysterious Swedish folk music.
unusual are the facts that as a teenager, Ejstes became enamored of American
groups such as Public Enemy and N.W.A, and that as a twentysomething, in
between milking the family's cows, he began applying what he learned while
emulating those hip-hop acts in a home studio in his grandmother's basement
via an ethereal "psychfolkrock" band called Dungen.
"When I discovered the samples on those hip-hop records, it seemed like
what I had always been looking for," Ejstes said as his band made its way
across the country on its first full-fledged American tour, following its
debut performance in Chicago at the Intonation Festival last July. "But the
thing with the computers and the samplers that I got fed up with is that I
missed the live [performance] part. So I started to learn how to play all
the instruments and make some sort of instrumental music that was very
Dungen -- pronounced "dune-yen" and translated as "the grove" -- made its
recorded debut with an impressive indie album called "Stadsvandringar"
("City Walks") in 2002. The ambitious double album "Ta Det Lugnt" ("Take It
Easy") followed last year. On both releases, Ejstes sang and played nearly
all of the instruments, including electric and acoustic guitars, bass,
drums, keyboards, fiddle and flute. While his trippy sounds and his solo
virtuosity bring to mind England's similarly psychedelic Bevis Frond -- as
well as a long list of '60s heroes from the Incredible String Band to the
Jefferson Airplane to Jimi Hendrix -- there is hardly a hint of Dr. Dre or
DUNGEN; MIA DOI
7:30 and 10:30
Bottle, 1035 N. Western
Tickets, $12 in
advance, $14 at the door
Then again, psychedelia, as Ejstes says, is in the ear of the beholder.
"Recently, I have been listening to a lot of early-'90s stuff like Gang
Starr Blacksheep and A Tribe Called Quest, and I'm getting inspired from it.
It's probably far away from what we are doing, but it's just good music that
I find psychedelic.
"I think there is a lot of music that people don't see as psychedelic
that I see as psychedelic, but it is music that makes you forget about
everything for a while and takes you away. If it's a good song, it has a
psychedelic effect on you. If you like Italian disco and you really like
that and get off on it, I guess that's psychedelic to you. If you feel a
love for something and get feelings from something like music or art or even
eating with people, life is psychedelic in itself."
Dungen's music alternately transports the listener to the outer reaches
of the galaxy via full-throttle electric freak-outs and the darkest corners
of the forest via bucolic acoustic reveries. Issued on his friend's
Subliminal Sounds label, Ejstes' first two albums didn't win a huge
following at home in Sweden, but Dungen began to build a fan base in the
United States as listeners traded its songs on the Internet. The music seems
all the more exotic to American listeners by virtue of the fact that Ejstes
sings only in Swedish.
"It's not a problem to me, because the people who come and see our shows
think of the vocals as just one part of it -- a texture in the music. I
don't think that words are so important to people, not in our music at
But what, exactly, is the artist singing about?
"A lot of personal stuff," Ejstes said, laughing. "There are some Swedish
guys and girls that listen and do not understand exactly what I'm singing
about, even though they speak the language, because there are two or three
ways that you could listen to the lyrics and everyone could have their own
interpretation. But it's important to me that the lyrics are honest, and
that I'm singing about my own experience."
Onstage, Ejstes has recruited several Swedish mates to flesh out Dungen's
spacey, free-flowing grooves.
"I did the recordings in Sweden and wanted to release them, and at that
point, I had never been too interested in doing live shows," he said. "But
since there were people asking for it, we set up this band. Now, sometimes
I'm recording by myself and sometimes with the band. But onstage, we do a
lot of improvisations; we want to keep it fresh and up to date."
Nevertheless, Ejstes remains Dungen's driving force and sole songwriter.
"I do music, and when I choose songs for an album, there is a lot of
music that I put away and only the best part is left, and I do judge what
are my best parts," he said when asked how he knows he's written a good
song. "It's difficult, and I don't always know how I know. I have an idea
for a song, and if I get it done in a good way, I guess I just feel it."
REASONS FOR LIVING
Since her death at age 32 in 1974, Cass Elliot has been reduced
to a punch line. Having come close to fulfilling her desire to become "the
most famous fat girl who ever lived," thanks to the gorgeous harmonies she
loaned the Mamas and the Papas and the central role she played in the
California music scene of the '60s, the singer died from a heart attack
aggravated by her weight (the official cause of death) or by her
depression-fueled drug abuse (the real reason, clouded by the obfuscation of
well-meaning friends, according to biographer Eddi Fiegel).
A ham sandwich had nothing to do with it; there was one beside her bed,
but it hadn't been touched. Unfortunately, the former Ellen Naomi Cohen
suffered such sizist indignities throughout her sad, short life, as Fiegel's
Dream A Little Dream of Me: The Life of Cass Elliot reveals.
Thoroughly researched, colorfully written and powered by a critical
appreciation of Elliot's music -- especially her vastly overrated solo
recordings -- the book stands out from the never-ending slew of '60s
hagiographies, and with any justice, it will spur an overdue reassessment of
Elliot's musical legacy.
Meanwhile, if all you know is "California Dreamin'," the best-of
compilation "Dream A Little Dream: The Cass Elliot Collection" is a strong
introduction to one of the best and brassiest voices in '60s pop. Even
better, though harder to find: 1968's "Dream A Little Dream" and 1969's
"Bubblegum, Lemonade and ... Something for Mama."