This article first appeared in The Courier-Mail in October 2008.
IT starts, as it so often does with electronic bands, with Human League and Kraftwerk. Throw in a dash of inspiration from Front 242, and you get Covenant: a three-piece from Sweden who, over the past 20 years, have helped forge a new direction in electronic music.
“I had an older brother who brought home a lot of strange records like Human League and Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart,” says Covenant co-founder Eskil Simonsson. “So I was listening to the Human League and I thought it was one of the greatest things I’d ever heard.
“From that moment I wanted to make that music because I was so fascinated by it. Of course you want to try it yourself. Later I was taking music lessons and met my friends in school and formed this band of ours, Covenant.
“Joakim has a similar story, he first heard Kraftwerk and it changed his life.”
Simonsson, Joakim Montelius and Clas Nachmanson met in school in Helsingborg and shared an interest in music. That interest was crystallised when they saw Front 242 in concert, touring with their second album, 1984’s No Comment.
“On the train home we said, we should start a band – I’d been longing for years to start a band – so we did. How things turn out!”
Some 20 years later, Covenant are one of the leading lights in the electronic body movement genre, mixing industrial stylings with dancefloor beats and synthpop.
Songs such as Dead Stars and 20Hz are firm alternative club favourites, with the cyberpunk undertones of the music lending itself to soundtracks. They released their sixth album, Skyshaper, in early 2006.
“I think we have had one foot in the cyberpunk theme since (the movie) Blade Runner destroyed our lives,” says Simonsson.
“It has been stuck in our hearts like a thorn. In Skyshaper, I also think there is a lot about travel and going places, not necessarily travel of the body, but travel of the mind: growing up, maturing, how you develop with music, interaction of human beings, love, lost love.
“We do try to have key themes, but in the end you just have to let it go and see where your unconsciousness takes you, where your intuition takes you.”
Simonsson says the beauty of electronic music is that “you don’t have to push all those white and black keys to make music. You can turn knobs and push buttons instead. Joakim always says, ‘I didn’t start a band because I wanted to play something, I wanted to make noise.’ Which is what we do, we make noise together.”
Covenant toured for some 18 months supporting Skyshaper, but last year Nachmanson decided to leave.
“When Clas left after two decades – I can’t really blame him, we shared a great time, he wanted to have a family and I wish him all the best with that – we asked Daniel (Myer) if he’d mind joining Covenant. He has been a vitamin injection to the band and is a very skilled artist and electronic musician and high-level electronic tweaker. He gives our music a different angle that I very much appreciate.”
The new line-up is working on an album due for release next year, with demo teasers being uploaded to Covenant’s MySpace page each month.
Simonsson says his favourite piece of equipment is a Minimoog, but the core instrument for Covenant is the sampler.
“The sampler is fundamental to us as a band, the possibility to record sound and replay it. We grew up, we found our place, with the sampler. We based a lot of songs on sampling techniques and played them on samplers. There’s such a beauty in the sounds you are able to produce.
“If I had to go to an island with an instrument it would be a microphone and a tape recorder, not necessarily for singing but for recording stuff. For example, the best bass drum: try putting your head on a thick phone book and tap it with your fingers. There’s so much sound around us to be found.”
Covenant make their first visit to Brisbane in October as part of their second Australian tour.
“We had a really great time last time, people were very friendly. This is the first time we are going to Brisbane, hopefully there will be time to go to the Great Barrier Reef. We spent a week in Australia last time, hopefully we can do more sightseeing this time. We are looking forward to presenting our music to the crazy people down there.”