Turbonegro (Turboneger in Norway) is a Norwegian punk rock band, initially active from 1989 to 1998, then reformed in 2002. Their style combines glam rock, punk rock and hard rock into a style the band describes as “deathpunk”.
Early years (1989–1994)
Turbonegro came together as a band in Oslo, Norway, during the winter of 1988-1989. The initial lineup was Thomas Seltzer (a.k.a. Happy-Tom), Vegard Heskestad, Pål Bøttger Kjærnes, Rune Grønn, Pål Erik Carlin and Tor-Kristian “TK” Jenssen. Seltzer and Heskestad had formerly performed in a band called “De Dype” – a noisy and subversive ensemble inspired by American rock band Butthole Surfers. Early Turbonegro continued their conceptional styles.
Turbonegro performed their first show at Ungdomshuset in Copenhagen, Denmark in March 1989. By April, Turbonegro played their first show in their hometown of Oslo. In the following weeks, they recorded their debut single Route Zero and additional songs for their Turboloid 12″ EP. Both records were released by Thomas Seltzer’s own label, Straitjacket Records, which he started in 1983 to release the EP of his first band Akutt Innleggelse. This first session was recorded at Nesodden Musikkverksted by Christian Calmeyer. Seltzer played bass and drums on Route Zero. An initial pressing of 50 copies came with an exclusive demo tape called Computech, featuring a cover of The Stooges’ 1970.
The early pre-deathpunk Turbonegro sound featured fairly tormented and distorted noise rock (some contemporary reviews compared it to a Halo of Flies or early Mudhoney type of sound). Turboloid was the second and last release by the original lineup. Drummer Carlos Carrasco left to play guitar for Anal Babes.
Route Zero was reissued by Sympathy For The Record Industry in 1990 with two songs from the Turboloid EP. In September of that year, Turbonegro left Norway to tour the U.S. for three weeks. Grønn was beaten up in a quarrel with crack addicts in front of a hotel in Minneapolis a few hours after their arrival and remained in the hospital. The band continued without him, but the tour was unsuccessful. Three weeks later, Turbonegro returned to Oslo.
In the winter of 1990, Seltzer reformed Turbonegro with Kjærnes and Grønn. Norwegian punk veteran Harald Fossberg, who had gained fame in the late 1970s with Norwegian punk pioneers Hærverk, was recruited as the new singer and, in the subsequent months, Bengt “Bingo” Calmeyer joined them on bass guitar. In the summer of 1991 the reformed lineup released the Vaya Con Satan 7″ in the U.S., followed in early 1992 by their debut album Hot Cars and Spent Contraceptives on upcoming local label Big Ball Records. Both the single and the CD give an early introduction to the deathpunk sound – Turbonegro’s self-acclaimed own genre.
The musical pre-settings were anticipating later Ass Cobra era – dark death-driven punk rock with occasional excursions into hardcore and metal, as well as a tendency to disruptive and sarcastic lyrics. Swedish broadcasting DJ Lars Aldman once described their sound as, “Radio Birdman meets Venom in an institution for sexually abused retards,” and Danish Moshable magazine wrote, “One great big hunk of an album that simply barfs up the best in Scandinavian punk rock – and then slam it into overdrive. So fucking punk that it will tear you a new asshole – and then some!”
In December 1992, Turbonegro began a ruinous tour outside Norway. With money left from a grant, they went for one gig confirmed in Ålborg, Denmark, then headed south to Hamburg, Germany, where they became stranded in an unsuccessful search for an opportunity to play. After five days, the band ran out of money, but then they were able to make contacts with Gravy Train Agency, who organized several tours for Turbonegro outside Scandinavia in later years, as well as people from Crypt Records.
In late March 1993, Fossberg played his last show with Turbonegro at Sentrum Scene in Oslo. He quit due to health reasons and was replaced by Hans Erik Husby (a.k.a. Hank von Helvete), who would become their best known vocalist. With the new singer, the band was renamed Stierkampf (German for “bullfight”). They opened up for Poison Idea in Oslo and Denmark, as well as The Ramones in August 1993 at the Oslo Rock Festival.
The band’s only professional release as Stierkampf was the Grunge Whore EP on Sympathy for the Record Industry. All songs on this release would resurface on their next album, with the exception of “Six Pack”. Their second album “Never is Forever” (1994) was recorded by Christian Calmeyer at Nesodden Musikkverksted, and was self-released (limited to 1,200 copies) with a friend at Oslo Musikk Distribusjon. In their own words, this second album was “a tribute to Blue Öyster Cult”, an attempt to dissociate from the lo-fiaesthetics of the garage. “When the rest of the punk oriented world tried hard to be lo-fi and ‘real’, Turbonegro as usual went the opposite way, creating a miniature suburban deathpunk opera. Seldom have pop culture, darkness and desperation blended so well.” The release of this album followed their first full European Tour, which was nicknamed “Nihil Jung” and had 17 shows in Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands.
By the winter of 1994-1995, the band had reclaimed the name Turbonegro, but had a new look referred to as the “Al Jolson schtick”, though it did not last long. Happy-Tom summed it up with an anecdote, “So there we were backstage with our black faces and wigs and little hats, smoking pot with our all-time heroes the Bad Brains, and the absurdity just didn’t cross our minds. I mean, those guys didn’t mention it, they were probably just embarrassed on our behalf.”
New look and new sound, rise to success (1995–1997)
The gag was long gone by May 1995 when they debuted the denim and moustache look. Happy-Tom said, “We feel that denim out-rocks leather at all levels. Leather is for empty, little people. Denim is for us big guys! And the kids love it!” With a new look came a new sound. Calmeyer, their engineer at the time, said, “We decided to make things more raw, trying to convey the power of the live performance, if not the sound.”
The first recordings of the new and improved Turbonegro were the Denim Demon and Bad Mongo singles in the spring of 1995. That summer, Turbonegro left for their second attempt at a U.S. tour, “Namblin in the 90’s”. They played only 11 shows. In the words of Happy-Tom, “at least we didn’t get the shit kicked out of us like we did the last time we were in the USA”. In the fall of 1995, Bingo and Pål left the band, putting Turbonegro on hold. Pål wanted to travel, while Bingo didn’t like the new musical direction (“less Slayer, more rock’n’roll.”) Happy-Tom, at the same time, was suffering from stress injuries to his arms after the U.S. tour. Therefore, agreements were made to put the band on hold for a while.
In that same year, Anthony Martin started his new label, Boomba Records, in order to release Turbonegro’s third album Ass Cobra. It did not come out until the spring of 1996 and, by September, they were touring Europe again with a new lineup. Anders Gerner from Angst was added as the new drummer, so Happy-Tom returned to playing bass. Pål was replaced by Knut Schreiner, with whom Happy-Tom had played in The Vikings. Knut (a.k.a. Euroboy) was added to the band to help reshape their sound. The Prince Of The Rodeo 7″ was Euroboy’s recording debut with Turbonegro.
Also at this time, Pamparius returned from traveling in Thailand to open his famous “Pamparius” pizza parlor outside Oslo in Kolbotn. He decided to rejoin the band as the keyboard player and dancer. His return would be the final touch in the latest incarnation of the band. The new look, sound and album irritated and fascinated the European underground. People were starting to pay attention to Turbonegro.
In December and January, Turbonegro continued touring with 14 more dates in Spain, Portugal, France, Germany and Denmark. The insignia of their stage performance – the bulging denim, Hanky’s routine to stick a lit Roman candle up his ass, Happy-Tom’s sailor hat, Euroboy’s lithesome and sultry guitar choreography, and Hanky’s attempts at addressing the audience in their broken native tongue – became Turbonegro’s trademarks.
In spring 1997, Turbonegro had another lineup change. Christer Engen (a.k.a. Chris Summers, from BigBang took over on drums, and they were ready to tour Europe again. This time, they opened up with a modified version of a Grand Funk song, “We are a Norwegian Band”.
Hank wore Alice Cooper-like make-up and lit Roman candles in his ass (referred to as “assrockets”). Their final album was Apocalypse Dudes. Musically, they made a move into mid-1970s punk & glam territory in the spirit of proto-punk pioneers á la The Dictators, The Ramones or late Iggy & The Stooges, plus a bit of New York Dolls travesty thrown in. As Euroboy explained, “When I came into the band, that added a ’70s rock-n-roll feel that wasn’t there before…Turbonegro was just as dirty, but they were certainly more punk rock-driven than (before). We brought the Rolling Stones into the Ramones.” It was time to take the new and improved Turbonegro back across the Atlantic with the “Summer of Head” U.S. tour. They were more warmly received this time, but still played only a few shows that were plagued with problems. Nonetheless, after years of stumbling through lineup changes, name changes and various shticks, they finally found themselves.
Apocalypse trilogy part one, popularity boom and disbanding (1998)
In the autumn of 1997, their next album Apocalypse Dudes – the first part of the so-called Apocalypse trilogy – was recorded at Endless Sound studios in Oslo with producer Pål Klaastad. When Happy-Tom was asked if their new sound and album had anything to do with Euroboy’s entry into the band, he replied, “Yep, he’s a genius, and so is our new drummer Chris Summers, The Prince of Drummers. We released the punk album of the millennium with ‘Ass Cobra,’ and didn’t want to make an ‘Ass Cobra’ part two, plus we spent two years writing new stuff, so as to make sure that every song is a hit, so we ended up making the rock album of the next millennium.”
The album was released in March 1998 by Boomba Records. However, it was released in Norway exclusively by Virgin. It is regarded amongst many fans and critics as their best and most successful album. Moshable magazine wrote, “Apocalypse Dudes is the perfect mix of classic 70’s US punk / rock’n’roll like Dictators, Heartbreakers & Ramones… every tune on this release is fucking brilliant”. Jello Biafra said, “The new Turbonegro record is possibly the most important European record ever.”
Turbonegro supported the album by playing 24 sold-out shows throughout Europe. By fall, they returned for another 16 European dates on the “Darkness Forever” tour, which was for a long time their last, and ultimately the end of Turbonegro. According to Happy-Tom, “Turbonegro broke up in the waiting room of a psychiatric emergency ward in Milan, Italy.” Hank’s mental indisposition became a serious problem and, as a result, the remainder of the tour was cancelled. They bid their farewell on 18 December 1998, at Mars in their hometown of Oslo. The last song they performed onstage before they broke up was the final encore “I Am In Love With The Destructive Girls.”
On hiatus (1999–2002)
On the threshold of what was expected to be a major breakthrough for the band, Turbonegro withdrew from the music business and appeared unlikely to ever return. While there were several reasons, Hank von Helvete’s drug addiction made it impossible for him to continue. Leaving the band to undergo treatment for heroin dependency, as well as his struggle with depression, von Helvete returned to his childhood town in northern Norway. There, he worked at a Local radio station and as a guide at a Fishing Village Museum. Another reason for Turbonegro’s hiatus was that the band was stuck in an oppressive record deal with Boomba. The band saw very little money from the arrangement, and cancelling their tour with Nashville Pussy after playing only half the dates added to their financial problems.
In 1999, Bitzcore Records out of Hamburg bought the contracts from Boomba and began to reissue Turbonegro’s entire back-catalogue of albums. The year 1999 also saw the release of a posthumous live album entitled Darkness Forever! It released selections from two of the band’s shows in Hamburg and Oslo, documenting Turbonegro’s larger-than-life stage antics. Their appreciation among contemporary artists from diverse musical genres as rock, pop, punk and even black metal was displayed on Alpha Motherfuckers, a tribute album to Turbonegro that was compiled over a span of two years and released by Bitzcore in May 2001. The lineup included, among others, Queens of the Stone Age, Nashville Pussy, Therapy?, HIM, Bela B. & Denim Girl (a.k.a. German technopop star Blümchen).
During these four years, the band members would rarely speak; however, the momentum from their previous albums (especially Ass Cobra and Apocalypse Dudes) continued to grow as more and more music fans turned to their music. Unbeknownst to the band, Turbonegro was becoming a cult phenomenon. Fan clubs were established all over the world (“Turbojugend”).
The immense following and the tribute album revealed a huge interest that, by audience numbers, hadn’t existed before they had quit. When Turbonegro was approached by the organizers of the Norwegian Quart Festival about possible participation in 2002, Turbonegro agreed to the reunion. What was initially meant to be a one-off event to provide an opportunity to the many new fans to witness a Turbonegro performance, finally resulted in the band’s reunion. The festival shows received tremendous response.
Reforming: new albums, new tours and greater fame (2003–2009)
Shortly after the Bizarre Festival, the band announced that they signed a record deal for two new albums with Burning Heart Records, an independent record company from Sweden with a long tradition in the punk & hardcore sector. Burning Heart also licensed Turbonegro’s most successful albums Ass Cobra and Apocalypse Dudes from Bitzcore and reissued them as digipak CDs with additional video footage from the recent Res-erection show at Quart. Turbonegro appeared in an episode of Viva La Bam during Season 1. The band plays their concert at Bam’s West Chester home. Their single, “All My Friends Are Dead,” was also used in some episodes of the show.
Turbonegro played 22 U.S. dates in the spring of 2003,culminating in two U.S. shows at The Troubadour in Los Angeles, the first of which sold out in under an hour.
The band released its highly anticipated album, the second installment of the Apocalypse trilogy, Scandinavian Leather in 2003, complete with artwork of a skull Ouroboros from legendary Revolver-designer Klaus Voorman. A U.S. tour with Queens Of The Stone Age proved that the American Turbojugend contingent had grown completely out of control, and almost 150 shows later, Turbonegro finished the Scandinavian Leather campaign by selling out the House of Blues in Los Angeles two days in a row in December 2004.
While Scandinavian Leather was recorded at their own Crystal Canyon Studio in Oslo, Turbonegro decided to bring in Steven Shane McDonald as co-producer for Party Animals. This follow-up to 2003’s Scandinavian Leather and the last installment in the Apocalypse trilogy was released throughout Europe on 9 May (in Norway 2 May). It continued the 1970s and 1980s glam metal and hard rock-influenced party-oriented deathpunk sound that was first introduced on Apocalypse Dudes. Party Animals was followed by intense touring throughout Europe and, in October, they visited the U.S. A collection of remixes and rarities appeared in 2005 as Small Feces.
Turbonegro went on tour again in 2006 to mostly European locations. In summarizing the band, Happy-Tom said, “Most rock ‘n’ roll bands start as a riot but end up as a parody. We started up as a parody but ended up as a revolution.”
On 8 March 2007, the new single “Do You Do You Dig Destruction” was released in Norway. The single was from the album, Retox, released on 13 June 2007.
On 10 July 2007, Turbonegro was one of the warmup bands, alongside HIM, at Metallica’s headlining concert at Valle Hovin Stadium in Oslo, Norway.
The band toured Europe in late summer in 2007, including an appearance at Download Festival and 10 intimate gigs in the United Kingdom.
The Turbonegro official site was completely redesigned for the new album release, and the new site debuted on 11 June 2007.
On 27 October 2007, Rune Rebellion played his last live show with Turbonegro in Stavanger, Norway, and subsequently left the band. He said, “The decision was made this summer, realizing I hadn’t had time off at all from work or touring for three years.” Despite his departure from the position of rhythm guitar, he was still closely collaborating with the band by running their label, Scandinavian Leather Recordings and managing their itinerary.
On 3 March 2008, it was announced that Chris Summers had been asked to leave the band. He had already been gone from the band for six months due to a broken foot. On the band’s website, they announced that, “[due to] personal problems and a focus on other projects, we have been forced to ask drummer Chris Summers to resign from Turbonegro.” Chris’ replacement was announced to be Vikings drummer Thomas Dahl, who had been filling in for Chris since he broke his foot.
In early 2008, guitarist Euroboy also announced that he and Happy-Tom were working on a new album tentatively titled Tumours. They continued their Retox album tour throughout 2008 and 2009, and on 7 August 2008, Turbonegro celebrated the 10-year anniversary of Apocalypse Dudes by performing the entire album at the Øya Festival in Oslo, Norway.
After the band finished their Retox world tour, the band announced through the Turbojugend-Forum that the band has gone on hiatus for an unknown amount of time.
Hank von Helvete’s departure and replacement (2010–2011)
On 9 July 2010, Norwegian newspapers announced that Hank had left the band. Subsequently, in early December 2010, news broke that a new band featuring Hank von Helvete on vocals had been formed, called Doctor Midnight & the Mercy Cult, with an album to be released in 2011.
Euroboy stated in an interview with “Lydverket” that Turbonegro would appear with Tony Sylvester as the replacement for Hank von Helvete for the first time in Hamburg on 15 July. Former member Rune Rebellion also rejoined the band as rhythm guitarist, while Rune’s replacement and former keyboardist Pål Pot went on to become a part-time member, due to family and working commitments.
Release of new album “Sexual Harassment” (2012)
On June 13th, 2012, “Sexual Harassment” was released through Label “Volcom Entertainment” with “I Got a Knife” and “You Give Me Worms” being the first singles released. Different opinions came out from the fans after this material was released.
Release of new album “ROCKNROLL MACHINE” (2018)
Turbonegro’s new album ”ROCKNROLL MACHINE” will be let loose on the World February 2nd, almost to the day 20 years after the release of their now classic ”Apocalypse Dudes” album, and will be preceded by the title track single, due for release November 24th.
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