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What's the Stink? — An inebriated chat with Dennis Petersen of Slowjoint

Updated: Aug 14, 2021

Back in March, I made a video call. Eventually I even wrote about it. Here it is.

I saw the ridges of disgust rise from their resting places on the North face of that superhuman proboscis of a nose, and knew the Doc was feeling he had walked unwittingly into a sonically noisome scene. “Not for me,” he pronounced in lieu of a greeting before swanning off to begin the business of the afternoon, the details of which are too paradoxically sobering to relate here.

You see, I was on a mission. I had been working my way through the unfortunately sized back catalogue of Philemon Arthur and the Dung, the obscure Swedish duo formed in the 60s whose outsider approach to pop and folk is an acquired taste which nevertheless managed to win them a Swedish Grammy in 1972 (which caused its own stink). This was not the pleasure I had imagined it would be when I had drunkenly assented to this undertaking the night before during my video call with Dennis Petersen (aka Slowmojn, aka Dennis Fumblefinger, aka Stinky Pete), bassist and vocalist of Danish sludgers Slowjoint. Yet I was not to be beaten. Dennis had informed me Slowjoint would be covering a Philemon Arthur song on their upcoming album, which they hope to be recording this October, but he would not say exactly which it would be. It was up to me to guess from their entire discography. Eventually I found what I was looking for. Amidst the myriad quirky tracks of two people clearly revelling in the surreal freedoms of mid-20th century avant garde and counter culture music, a groovy pearl, ripe for an enfuzzening. What else should I have expected from a band who like to listen to the “crazy organ” of Klaus Wunderlich backstage before playing their shows?

“Is that the one?” I messaged Dennis, already triumphant.

“Don’t tell anyone.”

“I can say I guessed correctly, right?”

"It’s about life-sick riffs."

It’s the previous evening. I have a couple bottles of red wine and a glass at my side. Dennis appears before me in the tiny window of my phone, trucker’s cap pulled firmly on and a cloud of ginger beard claiming the greater portion of his face, except at the liminal space betwixt cap and undergrowth whence two twinkling eyes play. He has taken himself into his garage so our call will not be disturbed, and relaxes comfortably back in his chair, occasionally pulling at a reefer joint and sipping from a tumbler of amber liquid which clacks and tinkles pleasantly with ice. “Honey bourbon. Homemade,” he would later explain. “Like, I stir some honey in some whiskey and add ice. Been drinking it for years. Especially good after half a bottle.”

We have been talking about sludge music generally, and Slowjoint’s place within it. Their dirty Delta blues buzzing at the pace of a muddy trudge through the fields can’t fail to call to the mind’s ear other such Southern-fried luminaries as Weedeater and Bongzilla, a comparison they have not tried to slough off, particularly in their early days, being fans of both.

“We got lots of hate from that.” Their appearance on a Weedian and Esbjerg Fuzztival livestream in May last year received a number of comments which quickly sought to dismiss the trio as ‘Weedeater wannabes’. “I don’t get it. I don’t dress up like anyone; I don’t dress up like Dixie Dave, I dress like me. How many other guys playing bass in a band do you know who wear caps and have a beard?” he jokes. “But,” he points out, “for all the hate you always find one positive comment which makes up for the rest.”

People often mistakenly believe a simple but catchy, slung-low sludge riff is an easy thing to come by; that all you need do is down tune the guitars and muddle together the three lowest power chords you can find in the available blues scale. Then, so the thinking goes, you push the result through a righteous fuzz pedal and amp combo. This is, of course, only partially true. Just like twelve-bar blues, sludge is a nuanced beast with a lot of its character coming from tone and phrasing, and like twelve-bar, it is experience that brings these revelations.

“You go through a lot of bad stuff before you get to the good stuff,” Dennis explains of the writing process at work within Slowjoint, “because it’s the same two strings.”

Having grown up in a house with a piano, Dennis first took up the guitar aged 12, his mother teaching him some chords. By 14 he was into the heavier side of things and found he preferred music with a groove and enjoying a good bong mix with friends. It was that easy sense of fun with music that would, in time, lead to the creation of Slowjoint.

While not finding themselves catapulted to sludge stardom, they are certainly growing. Dennis tells me the band has shipped their records to the likes of South America and Japan, and the operation is now paying for itself, something he finds crazy considering they were only really expecting to shift a few records in their local South Jutland. I take the opportunity to ask if they had any plans to play the UK or US. Nothing set at the moment, but they are enthusiastic at the prospect.

“We keep playing because it’s fun. Life is a big turd. The taste depends on what you put on it; the sprinkles.”

Dennis is not a stranger to fame within his hometown. By his own admission, he is “not very good at jobs” (he once worked as an ice cream van driver for a day and destroyed the truck by running over a huge rock), but for the last three years he has been a regular DJ co-hosting the morning show of a local radio station, so he is occasionally recognised by the denizens there while out shopping. But fame as the frontman of Slowjoint is a separate matter. The highlight in this regard was when he was once recognised at a bus stop in Copenhagen (“Fuck! You’re the guy from Slowjoint!”), but that’s about the limit of it. He tells me how the band enjoys playing Copenhagen, not only because of the great response from the crowds, but because they can then play up to their stereotype of being ‘country bumpkins’ in the big city.

“There are two types of people here,” he says regarding rural South Jutland where he grew up listening to his parent’s country music collection. “Friendly people and the other kind who don’t like outsiders.”

Their geographic and social origins are felt in their music, frustration, pain and gallows humour borne in each song. What did I expect from a country where the convention is to say you like something by stating you ‘can suffer it’?

Dennis admits he likes to laugh at himself, and this is evident in the lyrics he writes. “If there’s a scale,” he croaks in the song ‘Hashed Potato’, “for what I’m getting done, I’m scoring low, maybe minus one.” He chose to write in English as the language just sounds good to him and has “good flow.” Besides, “it was [his] musical education,” listening to music with English lyrics. Yet he manages to coin some interesting phrases by translating directly from the Danish. We get “snot shovel” for an idiot, and “pocket wool” for when all you have stashed away is lint.

The booze-swilling, joint smoking laughter in Slowjoint is so apparent to me that I can’t help ask about the darker side. I am told they like to make light of serious subjects, this technique adding weight and credence to their theme. They think of themselves as down to Earth people, and Dennis certainly comes across as such. Their music is concerned with the plethora of frustrations in everyday life; the death by a thousand cuts. This downer realism is probably the unifying vibe across the genre.

Young Dennis struggled with depression (something he is glad to say is largely behind him now), and he made use of a wider array of drugs, but has now settled on a regimen of whiskey and cannabis. “I don’t push shit on people, but I speak well about it,” he says of weed. “People should have fun with it. It’s getting bad if [you use drugs] because you’re in a bad place and running from something.” He warned the problem can be more about the next day, or even the next few years. I explain that alcohol is the harshest on me the following day. He agrees, saying hangovers bring out a depression in him and he cannot stand to look at his face in the mirror on such mornings. Little did I know then that my own hangover from that night would include Philemon Arthur and the Dung.

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