The Fight Against Bedbugs: The Music of Anti-Cimex

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A Lyric Essay by Jared Demick

For Stuart Schrader, without whom this would not exist.
1. Anti-Cimex were artisans of ear-assault. Ostensibly, they were a Swedish hardcore punk group that lasted from 1981 to 1993. Their music remains, decades later, a torture contraption, designed to jiggle your squishy bits ‘til they burst. Short, static squalls. Did I mention short? Rarely do these sonic sprinters make it past the two minute mark. But then again, do they need to? The atomic bomb only took a couple seconds
2. Anticimex, which literally means “against bedbugs,” is a pest control company that started in Sweden in 1934 and now can be found in 14 countries, serving an estimated 2.2 million customers. For a multinational corporation dealing in the extermination and prevention of various vermin, their website curiously avoids mentioning insects, rodents, or parasites. Instead, it opts for vague Orwellian pronouncements: “We also provide new technical solutions, developed by knowledge exchange around the world, to detect and remedy the customers’ problems in both indoor and outdoor environments.” Tomas Jonsson, Anti-Cimex’s lead singer had this to say about the company: “[T]hey were sent a lot of interviews that were really meant for us. Luckily, they took everything quite well, and forwarded the interviews to us.”
3. Anti. It is important to begin with anti- in the Land of ABBA. The Land of Universal Healthcare and Free Universities. The Land of Lagom, that peculiarly Swedish concept. Technically, it means “just the right amount.” What it really means “Don’t stand out.”
4. My initial impressions upon listening to Anti-Cimex’s “When the Innocent Die”: Metal shavings so minute they disappear under the skin when you try to tweezer them out.
5. Yet do acts of rebellion ever succeed in helping us escape everyday drudgery? Stuart Schrader, the editor of the webzine Shit-Fi, offers the image of two of our heroic antiheroes, noting that, “I can’t help but be struck by the utter normalcy of it all.” Even anarchy-craving punks have to go grocery shopping at some point.
6. Cimex is Latin for “bug.” The common bedbug, or cimex lectularius, is only one of 90 species that comprise the family of blood-suckers known as Cimicidae. Cimicids are the ultimate connoisseurs: each species prefers a particular kind of host and will only suck from that species. In this manner, bedbugs are more discerning than capitalists.
7. Göteborg is the birthplace of Anti-Cimex. The second largest city in Sweden, both a port city and a university town. The city’s tourist website extorts us in English to, “explore the perfect combination of city buzz and peaceful nature.” Activities include visiting old fortresses, churches, and a “lobster safari.” Also, it was (and I imagine still is) a festering hole for punks. Then again, in the 1980s, every city and town in the Great Socialist Utopia throbbed with punk discontent. In fact, Sweden’s biggest export of the 1980s was leather-jacketed feral youth proud to be dubbed human shit-stains. Just look at the band names: the Shitlickers, Fleshmess, Raped Teenagers, Afflicted Convulsion, Dödsknarkarna (the Death Junkies), Sadistic Gang Rape, Total Armsvett (Total Armpit), Skrumplever (Cirrhosis), AB Hjärndöd (Braindead Inc.). The name of my punk band would be Lobster Safari.
8. Bedbugs mate by what scientists euphemistically call traumatic insemination. Male bedbugs have hypodermic penises and they use them to pierce females’ abdomens, coming in the ripped-open body cavity.
9. Anti-Cimex’s legendary second EP is titled Raped Ass. Despite being disturbing, the phrase is also quite awkward, something a fluent English speaker would not naturally say. Anti-Cimex’s songs have a number of these odd linguistic contortions, stemming from their decision to sing in English after their first EP. My personal favorite linguistic oddity is their song “Game of the Arseholes,” a phrase which, more than their pummeling d-beats, reveals just how deep their debt is to UK punk. Of course, Tomas Jonsson’s screams are so all-consuming—somehow simultaneously guttural and hysterical—that they obliterate language in a searing hot flash.
10. A tale about Anti-Cimex on tour: “We had no hotels or anything, so would face long drives back to my apartment to crash after most shows. One night we got back about 3am, quickly loaded the equipment inside, parked the van up on the (quiet, suburban) street, and got some zzz’s. No one realised Jonsson didn’t enter the house, figuring he went off searching for beer (or drugs), next morning I wake up early to get ready to head off to the next show, I see Jonsson lying spread-eagled face down on the fucking road! I thought he was dead…fuuuuuck! Turns out he had staggered outta the van and had passed out cold and laid right in the middle of the road, asleep for like 5 hours. How he was never killed that night, outside my apartment, we’ll never know.”
11. The impossibility of it all: that’s what makes Anti-Cimex so remarkable. When I first heard the band’s third EP, Victims of a Bombraid, I immediately replayed it. Then I played it again. Of course, the EP’s four songs flit by in a furious six minutes, so it was not too much of a challenge. Yet it was. This is music that demands your attention. When it is on, you think: How is this happening? Most people will only hear the rage. What I heard and still hear is the exhilaration, a band of ragged punks breaking the barrier of melody and smiling at each other: Can you believe our bodies can make so much noise?
Originally published on Sublime Scum, reproduced with permission