Personal tragedy and lyrics that live on created a myth surrounding Steppeulvene, a band that lasted less than a year but managed to lay the cornerstone of homegrown Danish rock. With a biopic about singer Eik Skaløe currently out in theatres, the band has arguably never been more popular.
The 1967 release of Hip by the band Steppeulvene (The Steppenwolves) marked the dawn of Danish rock 'n' roll. Although sales figures are virtually impossible to trace, the album had not even sold 1,000 units within two years of release.
Last month – nearly half a century later – the album finally made it to the Mount Olympus of Danish music. A double-vinyl remastered LP and sales of other recorded media made it soar upon its release to the number four slot on the official Danish album chart. It remained in the top 25 for three weeks running.
“Steppeulvene achieved mythological status for two reasons: the band’s album was the first ever Danish-language rock LP; and, even more so, because of the group’s frontman and songwriter, Eik Skaløe,” Jan Poulsen, author of the 2012 biography, 'Eik Skaløe – spejder og steppeulv' (scout and steppenwolf), tells The Local. While most view Skaløe as a rebellious hippie musician, the title refers to the little-known fact that he was also an avid Boy Scout for a decade.
The victim of an apparent suicide, Skaløe’s remains were found in India near the Pakistani border in 1968, less than a year after the band had broken up. He was just 25 years old and possibly the world’s first rock star to commit suicide. The troubled singer left behind a note:
”India, 15.10.68. For the officials: As I guess you know – this suicide is decided & carried out by myself No one is to blame except the cruel person inside me Forgive me"
“You can’t ignore the interest generated by the suicide, but it’s the quality of Skaløe’s lyrics that made Hip what it is. They are unusually poetic, witty and quirky, with deft use of the language,” says Poulsen. “He was likely inspired by Bob Dylan, but even more so by contemporary Danish poets.”
Sales of the new album and Poulsen’s book have been spurred on by excitement ahead of the February 19th release of a biopic about Skaløe. The film, entitled Steppeulven within Denmark and Itsi Bitsi abroad, featured at several international festivals before its Danish release. (Story continues under trailer)
Warner Music Denmark’s head of catalogue Lars Bennike says Hip has sold modestly in the past 47 years, but nothing like now.
Bennike is the one who dug up new material and remastered it along with the original 43-minute LP into the current double album. “I have a personal interest in Hip; not only the music, but also the fact that my father produced the original forty-seven years ago.”
But Steppeulvene’s renewed popularity is not just down to aging Boomers trying to keep an oldie but goodie alive.
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“The songs on Hip have survived the years and mean something to all generations because they are still fresh and compelling, and full of emotion. All layers are peeled back and the lyrics come right from the heart. They’re genuine,” says Poulsen. “Plus the songs are fairly simple to play on a guitar, so it’s not been unusual for youth of the past couple of generations to sit around the campfire and sing, ‘Itsi-bitsi, tag med mig til Nepal.”
The final words of the song title mean, “come with me to Nepal,” which is ironically close to where Skaløe’s life ended, and the Steppeulvene legacy began.