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.
Published: 20 February 2015 16:07 CET
A new movie and a re-release of their classic album have led to a renaissance for Steppenulvene. Photo: Nimbus Film
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.
“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.
How Danish Oscar-nominated dark booze comedy was inspired by director’s tragic loss
‘Another Round’ (Danish title: ‘Druk’), a film about a pact by four world-weary Danish schoolteachers to spend every day drunk for a loosely scientific "experiment," was always going to walk a fine line between comedy and darkness.
Published: 20 April 2021 11:18 CEST
Director Thomas Vinterberg talking to press in Denmark. Photo: Emil Helms/Ritzau Scanpix
Director Thomas Vinterberg wrote his script, originally a play, upon realising many of the world’s great historic feats were made by people regularly intoxicated on alcohol — the very same substance that can rip lives and families apart.
But four days into shooting, Vinterberg’s daughter was killed in a car crash. He somehow still finished the uniquely funny, tender and tragic film — which has earned him a rare Oscar nomination for best director.
“The movie was always meant to be life-affirming and full of love, and bare to some extent… raw,” Vinterberg told AFP in an interview via Zoom.
“But the tragedy that happened in my life left all defenceless and open.”
Starring as the teachers are four of Vinterberg’s close friends and collaborators, including former 007 villain Mads Mikkelsen, who all spent the shoot doing “everything they could to make me laugh in these circumstances.”
“There was so much love on the set — and I guess you can see that on the screen,” said Vinterberg, whose movie is a favourite to take home the Oscar for best international film on Sunday.
While the film is clearly about alcohol, it is also “about living inspired, about forgetting about yourself, about being curious, and being in the moment and all that comes with drinking.”
Those life-affirming elements were inspired by his daughter Ida, who was due to play Mikkelsen’s daughter, and whose real-life friends play classmates who participate in a joyous teen drinking competition around a lake.
“There’s an alarming bunch of people and countries who connected to this thing about drinking,” joked Vinterberg.
“Yes, they drink differently in California — they put the bottle in a [paper] bag — whereas in Denmark, teenagers run around in the streets with bottles out,” he said.
“But it seems that the film connects on a different level, and hopefully we succeeded in elevating this film… to a movie about something more.”
Humour is not always associated with Vinterberg, co-founder of the ascetic Dogme 95 filmmaking movement with Lars Von Trier, and director of movies tackling issues such as child abuse including “The Celebration” and “The Hunt.”
But Vinterberg, 51, has often defied categorization. The famous Dogme 95 “manifesto” imposing strict naturalistic limits on directors was always half serious, half tongue-in-cheek.
And while he has dabbled in Hollywood — for instance 2015’s “Far From the Madding Crowd” starring Carey Mulligan, also an Oscar nominee this year — his most widely acclaimed films are often his most Danish and local.
“It seems like when I dig in my own garden, that’s when people really get interested, also abroad,” he said.
The universal themes of “Another Round” may partly explain how Vinterberg landed one of just five Oscar best director nods, for a non-English-language film (fellow nominee Lee Isaac Chung’s “Minari” is in Korean and English).
“The pleasures of alcohol, but also the destructive side of drinking, have been around for thousands of years, in all cultures almost,” said Vinterberg.
The director served his cast booze during rehearsals, and they watched Russian YouTube videos together to observe episodes of extreme inebriation.
“We needed to see these characters being in the zone,” he recalled. “It wasn’t like they were very drunk, actually, but there was alcohol.”
On set, however, everyone was sober, Vinterberg said — “they had to act, basically, which I think they did well.”
Much as the production of “Another Round” is a story of contrasts — tragedy and camaraderie, humor and philosophy — the fates of the teachers diverge when the temptation of booze takes hold to varying degrees with each of them.
But the movie itself deliberately “did not want to moralize” or “make an advertisement for alcohol,” said Vinterberg.
“Very importantly, I did not want to have a message.”
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