Viagra Boys
The hidden depths of Stockholm’s gonzo punk rockers.
The hidden depths of Viagra Boys

The FADER's longstanding GEN F series profiles emerging artists to know now.

For a band that continuously spews heaps of self-loathing, Stockholm’s unruly post-punks Viagra Boys seem to have an awfully fun time while doing it. Their wild energy has made them known as one of Europe’s best live bands, but anyone mistaking Viagra Boys for another testosterone-fueled act reveling in male bravado is missing the point. The name alone should send the listener in the right direction; it’s “a comment on the failed male role in today’s society,” they tell me.

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We’re speaking a few days before Viagra Boys leave Sweden for an ambitious European tour, timed with the release of their debut album Street Worms, via Year 0001. Lead singer Sebastian Murphy is home sick, so bassist Henrik Höckert and guitarist Benjamin Vallé get to do the talking.

“Men are basically the root of all problems,” says Höckert matter-of-factly. Vallé adds: “Just take a look at society. Patriarchy has to be crushed, and we all need to carry along a message of solidarity."

The band’s name both ridicules the normative idea of hypermasculinity and plays down the stigma of not being a potent Nordic Superman at all times (as does their song ”Can’t Get It Up,” where Murphy laments over how “it fucking sucks” to not be able to perform, after too many chemicals). All while Viagra Boys’s debased male punk rock persona is still inherent in their aesthetic, most notably in the captivating Sebastian Murphy.

The hidden depths of Viagra Boys

The California transplant with a Swedish mother and American father is a tattoo artist by day (himself covered in chaotic layers of ink) and a darkly growling vocalist at night. His signature appearance onstage was immortalized on YouTube in 2015, from one of the band’s most talked about gigs at Kafé 44 (Stockholm’s equivalent to L.A.’s teenage punk bunker The Smell). Adidas tracksuit pants, sunglasses, and a small-time gangster chain around the neck, with a loud, ruptured voice evoking a bastard child of Butthole Surfers and Dead Kennedys.

While Murphy has been seen play live in a T-shirt saying “I [heart] speed,” calling Viagra Boys drug-romanticizers is reductive. “I see it as quite the opposite,” says Vallé, “None of the lyrics are like, ‘Hey I just took this and I feel great.’”

But then nothing about Viagra Boys is “Hey, I feel great.” More like, “Life is insane and society is shit, but let’s still go hard.” Which feels especially true at the moment. Street Worms comes out just weeks after the general Swedish election where the far-right Sweden Democrats made substantial gains, at a time when the zeitgeist reeks of xenophobic “male activists” and non-parliamentary parties like the neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement.

That doesn’t make punk more important than before though, according to Höckert: “All forms of cultural expression are more relevant today because of Europe’s right wing populist wave. But not punk specifically, more than ten years ago. Hip-hop maybe is. It’s the punk of today,” he says — and at once makes it clear it’s no coincidence the band’s label, Year 0001, is best known for working with Yung Lean.

The hidden depths of Viagra Boys
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“There has always been a counter movement against oppression, long before Iggy Pop or Johnny Rotten sank their teeth in the mic.”

“The only 'good' thing about semi-fascist leadership is great anti-movements,” says Vallé. “Look at all the great punk and hardcore that sprung up thanks to Thatcher and Reagan. But there has always been a counter movement against oppression, long before Iggy Pop or Johnny Rotten sank their teeth in the mic.”

Street Worms contains a lot of the gonzo punk rock hybrid brew that the band has become known for internationally, like the album’s first single “Sports” (with a hilarious and spectacularly simple video that takes the song title very literally). But the album also sees Viagra Boys blend this formula with a more subtle sound, as on the electronically-laced second single “Just Like You”, and the gently swaying lo-fi track “Worms.”

“If you compare 'Worms' with the album’s oldest track 'Slow Learner,' I think you can hear which way our sound is heading,” says Höckert.

The hidden depths of Viagra Boys

Not to worry though. There are no articulated plans to tone down the band’s notorious live formula, so if you’re heading to one of their upcoming European shows, expect the no-holds-barred, unbridled energy the Boys are known for. How do they view the arguable discrepancy between this macho image and their feminist message?

“It's a stage persona,” says Vallé. “But not by choice. I don't know, maybe our punk background makes us behave that way on stage. My intention is not to go up there and look badass raw. It's more like an open channel to express our feelings.”

Tough on the surface, soft in the center. How many other belligerent, six-man-strong punk rock bands are so persistently expressing similar viewpoints on masculinity and patriarchal structures? Is this point-of-view a typically Swedish one?

“I don't consider us a typical Swedish punk band”, says Höckert. “We are who we are. For sure we are self-loathers, but that doesn't spring from the punk scene or being from Sweden. The general Swedish man is not self-loathing or semi political, he’s just more manly and… just shit. A little bit less so than in the rest of Europe. But not much.”

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The hidden depths of Viagra Boys