Imagining a Chinese electoral college

by Jacob Stubbe Østergaard

So we’re all under lockdown because of the pandemic. What’s this a perfect time for?
Thought experiments.
That’s one thing even a pandemic can’t prevent us from doing.
What I would like you all to ponder with me to day is:

What if China had an electoral college?

What would it look like if China had a two-party system like the USA and had presidential elections with each of the 32 provinces* choosing a number of electors proportional to their population? What would the map look like? What would be China’s red provinces? What would be its blue provinces? Which would be the coveted “swing provinces” where the candidates would expend most of their campaign efforts?

China has continually stated that they do not wish to adopt any such Western system of governance, and even the US itself has long been debating whether or not to abolish the electoral college in favor of direct elections. But that shall not prevent us from carrying out this thought experiment. That’s the cool thing about thought experiments.

For the sake of this experiment, we’re making the following assumptions:

1. We’re assuming the political line of division is the same as in the USA. There’s a red party and a blue party. The red party represents conservative and nationalistic values and appeals more to older and rural voters, whereas the blue party represents progressive and international values and appeals more to younger and urban voters.
My assessment of whether each province would be a red province or a blue province is thus mainly based on the province’s education level, wealth, degree of urbanization, and dominant economic sectors; all of which are also strong political indicators in the US.
If, by some far-fetched turn of events, China were really to adapt a two-party democratic system of government like the US, the line of division between the two parties would likely be different, reflecting the particular cultural, geographical and economic realities of China. But this is difficult to say anything definitive about and ultimately impossible to guess.

2. On the technical side, we’re assuming that the electoral college works the same as in the US: 538 total electors with each province electing a number proportional to its population but the minimum number being 3. Each of the 538 electors represents about 2,7 million people on average.

3. I have included Taiwan in the thought experiment. I’m thinking if we’re already imagining that China is democratic, it’s also easier to imagine it reunited with Taiwan. Hong Kong and Macau (with its population of only 600,000) are lumped together for a total of 3 electors.

*China has 32 first level administrative divisions, but only 23 are technically provinces. The rest are 4 municipalities and 5 autonomous regions. Taiwan is considered (by the People’s Republic of China) to be one of the 23 provinces, whereas Hong Kong and Macau are considered “special administrative regions” (SAR) and not counted among the 32.

What would the map look like?

Here’s what I believe the map would look like:

The Chinese electoral college map

We can see some major similarities with the US here, as well as some major differences. Let’s take a look at what the map tells us about some of the political realities (or rather, hypotheticalities…) of the Chinese electoral college:

There’s a geographical divide, just like in the US, but it’s even clearer in China. The thriving coastal provinces to the East have higher urban populations, higher education levels and economies more centered around technology and services. The Western provinces are poorer and more sparsely populated. But China has only one coast to the US’ two.

Population density correlates with preferred party, just like in the US. The less densely populated provinces tend to be red, and the densely populated ones tend to be blue.

The map is inherently gerrymandered against Blue. Four of the biggest cities in China have their own administrative division. These areas would be likely to vote Blue by huge margins, which means a lot of blue votes will be wasted. In the US, New York City and Chicago paint the entire states of New York and Illinois permanently blue. The blue paint of Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Tianjin hardly spreads beyond the city limits.

Guangdong is China’s California. Complete with a “bay area” around the Pearl River Delta, Guangdong is the California of China: the most populous province, the largest economy, the primary technology hub, culturally independent and located far from the capital. To the south of Guangdong, Hainan is China’s Hawaii; a tropical island with a strong tourism sector.

Shanxi, Henan, Anhui and Jiangxi are China’s Appalachia. Not very far inland from the booming coastal provinces, we find a long belt of poor, landlocked provinces. Despite China’s hukou restrictions which make domestic migration cumbersome, many young people depart these provinces in favor of big cities in other provinces, leaving behind societies which area becoming more and more obsolete in the greater scheme, just like we’re seeing in states like West Virginia and Kentucky in the US. These provinces would all be very likely to vote Red.

The Northeast (Liaoning, Jilin and Heilongjiang) are China’s “rust belt”. A few decades ago, the Chinese Northeast was driving the country’s economy with its enormous manufacturing sector. This is where China builds cars, ships, airplanes and many other heavy industry products. Now, as the Chinese economy is transitioning from a production economy to a consumer economy and Southeast Asian countries with lower wage levels are beginning to be competitive in the advanced industries, the Northeast is no longer the flagship of the Chinese economy.

Race is not a thing in imaginary Chinese politics. China is home to 56 officially recognized ethnic groups. However, since the largest of them makes up 92% of the population (in the US, it’s 61% or 73% depending if you consider “white” and “latino” the same or not), ethnic differences would not be important in Chinese party politics on a national level. Race/ethnicity would only be important in three provinces: Tibet, where only 8% belong to the majority Han Chinese, Xinjiang, where only 45% are Han Chinese, and Yunnan, where 67% are Han Chinese.


How an election would go down

Just like in the US, most of the provinces would be safely in the hands of one party before the election. Let’s do a list.

The blue provinces:

Hong Kong

The blue provinces consist of the self-governing city provinces, the progressive islands of Taiwan, Hong Kong and Hainan, the rich coastal provinces which host high-culture cities like Nanjing, Hangzhou and Xiamen, and finally Hubei, which is included because it has a large proportion of urban population and the (well, normally) thriving megacity of Wuhan.

The red provinces:


The red provinces consist of the “appalachian” Eastern inland provinces, the rural Western and Southwestern provinces, the remote and barren provinces of Gansu, Ningxia, and Qinghai (China’s Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming, if you will…), as well as Heilongjiang in the Northeast.

It’s complicated:

Inner Mongolia

These provinces would all be likely to vote Red but they are a bit less predictable. Inner Mongolia actually has a reasonably high urban population, despite being known for its endless steppes and nomads. Tibet, Yunnan and Xinjiang all have very rural populations and rural cultures which would normally be associated with voting for Red. However, especially in Tibet and Xinjiang, the large non-Han populations might want to vote for the less nationalistic of the two parties, since many of them don’t identify with the nationalistic vision of China. The reason I’m putting them in the red roster is because I think it’s more likely that most of these non-Han citizens would simply choose not to vote. We have to remember that they are a very small voting bloc on a national level so it’s unlikely that either of the two parties would take any interest in them in a national election.

The swing provinces:


As election day closes in, this is where we’ll find the hungry Chinese media trailing the imaginary Chinese presidential candidates.

Liaoning and Jilin are like the American swing states of Michigan and Wisconsin: Struggling industrial powerhouses in the Northern part of the country which may swing either way in an election. As the economically largest of the two and home to the two major cities of Shenyang and Dalian, Liaoning is Blue’s to lose. Conversely, being somewhat more focused on agriculture and with a less urban population, Jilin is Red’s to lose. We’d see presidential candidates having rallies at steelyards in these provinces, promising to keep the wheels turning and the jobs from seeping Southwest.

Southwest of the Northeast lies the capital, Beijing, and around it lies the important swing province of Hebei. Hebei province has one of the largest economies in China, and it’s nicely split between primary, secondary and tertiary sectors, with the best high-tech jobs being sucked up by nearby Beijing and Tianjin. Still, given that Hebei is very densely populated (outside its mountainous areas) and economically fit, it’s Blue’s to lose.

On the face of it, Hunan is a rural province which should vote Red. But Hunan is always hard to predict. It has produced a completely disproportionate amount of A-list celebrities of Chinese history, including the ancient minister of the glorious kingdom of Chu, Qu Yuan (who is celebrated each year at China’s Dragon Boat Festival), Zeng Guofan who crushed the Christian cultist Taiping rebellion, and communist party stars Liu Shaoqi and Zhu Rongji. Oh, and Mao Zedong. But Qu Yuan is particularly important. The kingdom of Chu perished over 2000 years ago but that’s no eternity in Chinese history, and there’s still a slight “different than the rest” culture in Hunan. Like Colorado, Utah or New Hampshire in the U.S., it’s a province whose politics might not follow clearly from its map location. Still, it’s Red’s to lose.

Finally, we have the biggest swing state – the Florida of China in that sense – Sichuan. With its 31 electors and its 80 million very diverse voters, this is where you can expect a month-long campaign siege and nailbiting recounts. Sichuan’s diverse geography of mountains in the West and forests and farmland in the East means all kinds of industries are present. The capital, Chengdu, is becoming one of China’s main electronics and IT hubs as well as a regional financial center. Sichuan is the closest you get to a microcosm of all of China, and that makes it the perfect swing state. But at the end of the day, its high proportion of rural population means it might lean towards Red.

A red victory

Now let’s take a look at how an election may play out. Here’s what a red victory could look like:

The Chinese electoral college map (red victory)

Red’s candidate has claimed Sichuan and Hunan and also persuaded the Northeastern swing provinces that his conservative approach will reinstate their past glory days. The blue bloc is huddled along the Chinese coastline.
Once elected, the red president would need to deliver on promises made to his rural base to mitigate the effects of the fast urbanization that is currently propelling the Chinese economy towards the strata of the developed nations but at the same time causing desolation in rural areas. At the same time, the red president would need to keep more progressive and urban swing state voters in places like Chengdu city, Hebei and Liaoning convinced that his conservative approach won’t stifle economic development or hinder their lifestyles.

A blue victory:

Here’s what a blue victory might look like:

The Chinese electoral college map (blue victory)

Blue has held on to the key provinces of Liaoning and Hebei and also convinced considerable chunks of the rural populations in Sichuan and Hunan that they will be part of the bright future Blue that is building. The red bloc has been consigned to China’s peripheral backwater provinces.
Once elected, the blue president will need to make sure the country doesn’t get split in two, with the coastal provinces charging ahead while the inland provinces get left behind. While delivering technological progress and liberalization, he will have to make sure the Sichuan and Hunan countryside and the laid-off factory workers in Liaoning and Jilin also benefit from the gains made.

As fanciful as this all is, it still makes for an interesting thought experiment. And whatever one’s opinion about the electoral college, everyone must admit it makes for exciting elections with a pleasant abundance of strategic considerations!

How do you think a Chinese electoral college scenario would play out? How would you run your campaign as a red or blue candidate in China? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


A Secret Music Scene in an Apartment

  – by Jacob Stubbe Østergaard

Back in the 00’s, I was part of a secret, underground music environment that very few know about. Just like other music scenes – such as the gothic scene of London in the early 1980s or the techno scene of Berlin in the early ’10s – it had a creative core consisting of a few key bands. As with all such environments, bands would sometimes exchange members, clash together in new constellations and roll away into arcane spinoffs.

Any memorable music scene has a geographical centre. The London goth scene had the Batcave, Berlin techno has Berghain. My secret 00’s music scene also had one undisputable centre, at which dawn would often shed its light on empty bottles, broken guitar strings and people sleeping in the corners after a long night of jamming and general drunkenness.

This, however, marks the end of similarities between the music scene whose life I am about to reveal to you and normal music scenes.
Wait, there is one more thing;
It felt just like any other bustling, creative environment. The ideas emerging from minds interlocked, the ebb and flow between personal emotions and musical creations, the interpersonal relations being played out in the form of song lyrics and soundscapes – all of that was there. And, to quote Marc Almond, however young and delusional we were “the laughter and the tears were real”.

Now I guess it’s time to come clean about the main difference between this music scene and others: The entirety of the environment comprised about 10 people. Four at the core, two more attending regularly, and about four irregular visitors.
The epicentre of it all – our Batcave – was my friend’s apartment in Tilst, suburban Aarhus, Denmark. And when I say suburban, I really mean suburban. We’re talking grey concrete blocks full of broken destinies, engulfed by terminal silence, grass and delinquent youths on scooters. Nothing short of the Mumbai slum would have been unlikelier than Tilst as the setting of a cultural melting pot. And yet there we were, getting drunk and making songs.

The scene endured for three years, from 2005 to 2008; for as long as Hans Christian Andersen – that really is my friend’s name – held custody over the suburban apartment that became our spiritual home.

Now, allow me the exquisite pleasure of presenting to you the people of the Tilst scene and the many strange bands they conceived:

Hans Christian (H.C.) – the host and spirit guide of the whole thing. A heavily introverted, much too thoughtful guy, officially diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome and unofficially with a severe nostalgia for the age of British post-punk. An apathetic anarchist and a sort of involuntary poet/philosopher. Touched a music instrument for the first time in 2004.
Favorite band: Manic Street Preachers.
Instruments: bass, computer generated noises, occasional guitar

Jacob (me) – a tall, somewhat awkward guy with a flair for over-the-top dreaming and being unluckily in love. With a love for romantic poetry, Kafka and melancholic 80’s synth-pop, I was H.C.’s brother in youthful elegism. I’d usually get even more drunk than the rest, and a lot of the metaphors I put in my song lyrics would become the objects of future facepalms.
Favorite band: The Cure
Instruments: keyboard, vocals and really shitty guitar.

Søren – the indie kid of the crowd. Søren had a sense of style, which was something otherwise unheard of in this community. He sported sunglasses and smoked cigarettes and composed minimalistic lyrics about culture, alienation, boredom and despair. Also diagnosed with Asperger’s and overthinkingly hateful of modern society.
Favorite band: some obscure indie outfit none of the rest of us had ever heard about. Hated The Cure.
Instruments: guitar and vocals

Thomas – the guy everyone knew everyone from. Fostered on britpop and men singing in tenor who can’t quite decide if they’re happy or sad. Being extroverted and very friendly, he deserves a lot of the credit for putting all us antisocial kids in a room together and making us compose. Thomas and I bonded over Hermann Hesse and romantic poems and too much love in our hearts. I guess that’s what it’s like when you’re a teenager. We were actually in our twenties but nobody paid any attention to that.
Favorite band: Somewhere between Beatles, Manics, Mew, Travis and The Cure
Instruments: guitar, keyboard, vocals

Ole – Ole’s idea of a fun night out was getting drunk alone while playing computer games and then going into town to search for rooftops and backyards to put up notes with dadaistic slogans on them. Ole had less hope than most of us, and thus also less despair. The world seemed already to have gone to the dogs in his view. He spoke rarely, but when he did, it was either wise or twistedly funny. He was a lighthouse on the surreal art side of it all.
Favorite band: Red Warszawa
Instruments: none/spoken word/improvised percussion

Johan – Johan actually played in a widely successful band at this time. He was a skilled guitar player and a childhood friend of Thomas and H.C.’s. He was altogether too positive for all the unhealthy nostalgia and the subversive drinking, so he would only visit sporadically, contributing good spirits and real musical ability.
Favorite band: Radiohead, Arcade Fire, Rufus Wainwright
Instruments: guitar, keyboard, vocals

Those were the various protagonists. But there was one thing we all had in common: Strikingly, our shared feeling of being a bit misplaced in the world was, for every one of us, counterpointed by a passion for surreal and nonsensical humour. OCD/C recited cookie recipes and played them backwards. I played a toy saxophone filled with white wine for The Immoderate Past. Jean Claude Verdammt rapped the full text of a random article from the German Wikipedia. Much of it was just about being as crazy as possible.

And then there was the one band every one of us listened to: Manic Street Preachers. Perhaps it is no coincidence that it is Richie Edwards who originated the quote ”boredom and outrage go hand in hand'”

The first band was Novalis (members: Thomas, H.C., Jacob). Novalis was a big thing. Novalis was a serious band. Novalis was made of enormous, vague dreams and infinite youth. It was going to be the greatest band in the world. Measured strictly on the amount of whiskey we drank while making ambitious plans, we certainly were one of the greatest bands in the world. We also did very well in terms of producing pretentious lyrics. The only matter in which we were decidedly lacking was the matter of playing music. That was our weak point. It took us two years and countless evenings of drinking and dreaming before we finally got around to recording two songs in 2006. They were very bad, but in a good way: They completely failed to be what they wanted to be, but one vaguely sensed that if they had actually been what they wanted to be, they would have been good. Novalis never played to anyone. Songs with pretentious titles are bubbling around in the great swamp of the past:

Vinyl Solitude,
Live / Evil,
Too Drunk To Die…

Novalis just sort of fizzed out, ending in early 2007 when Thomas moved to Copenhagen and Jacob suffered carpal tunnel syndrome from attempting to type the alphabet in less than two seconds. But I guess we never officially split up. … Hey guys? Wanna finally make that legendary album?

The ensuing outpour of musical creativity was fueled by the creative energies gradually set free by the demise of the excessively ambitious, inspiration-devouring monster of Novalis.

In the wake of Novalis, H.C. and Søren formed OCD/C. OCD/C did not take anything seriously. They had started off by going to the music store and buying a whole goodiebag of weird toy instruments. Nevertheless, they quickly produced the biggest hit of the entire scene: “Goth-kaffe” (Goth Coffee) – a song about drinking coffee that’s as black as your lonely heart because after all, “it’s hard to stay awake when all you want is to die”. Goth Coffee was captured on an epic live recording starring Thomas on keyboard. At the end of the recording, a doorbell can be heard, then H.C. proclaiming amid laughter: “Oh shit! Somebody’s gonna complain about the noise.” But it was only yours truly, having kindly waited to ring the bell until the music had stopped.
Goth Coffee would become a meme in the community. It was “remixed” several times and it formed the soundtrack to many of our drinking binges. We even played an English version live over the phone to H.C.’s British friend so he could get a piece of the awesomeness of the lyrics.

After Goth Coffee, OCD/C became altogether crazier. They produced songs like the fast-paced, 6-minute horror of “Ungarns Nationalsang” (“Hungary’s National Anthem”), which asks how to buy a submarine and somehow rhymes that with a reference to extreme amounts of vaginal fluids. Then it segues into a 3-minute outro that is probably the stupidest and funniest thing in the history of music. Along the same lines, “60 Akkorder og Lim i Albuen” (“60 Chords And Glue In The Elbow”) keeps every promise made by its title.

But there was also room in OCD/C’s repertoire for the more placid “Rock and Roll Kvaj” (“Rock and Roll Dork”) about idol posters mysteriously disappearing in the same ways as the stars depicted on them.

OCD/C also produced about 36 forgotten songs for the vaults and about as many different curry dishes in H.C.’s kitchen.

The Immoderate Past had the same line-up as OCD/C with Søren on twee vocals and guitar and H.C. on bass and artificial sounds. The band name was found by opening a random page of a beat poetry anthology. The Immoderate Past was Søren’s brand of serious. It wasn’t going to be the greatest band in the world. It was going to be politely, quietly good. The Immoderate Past happened in the daytime. I’d arrive at H.C.’s flat in the evening, they’d play me their latest creation and then we’d degenerate and get drunk and philosophical. But The Immoderate Past did maintain the conceptual devil-may-care randomness that seared through everything in that apartment. One lyric was improvised on MSN Messenger with each band member taking turns to write a line in the chat. Another song featured samples of ready-made “sci-fi sounds” from the internet, slowed down 10 times. That song also contained lyrics which epitomized The Immoderate Past:

“People in buildings
lost in culture
asleep in rigidity
We should be happy
and we are happy, aren’t we?
Or aren’t we?

“Cracked Vinyl” and “Twee Tea” celebrated the stereotype of the awkward wallflower in big glasses and with a record under his arm, unable to communicate except through song references. It wasn’t far from home.

The Immoderate Past appropriately produced a 9-track DIY album complete with hand-cut liner notes.

Broken Starlight Lovers happened during the nights. It was a concept band, formed by H.C. and Jacob after the fall of Novalis. After the eclipse of futile youth. After everything.
It was incepted one legendary night when I sat down with a bottle of cherry wine (a favored cheap booze) outside the glass panes of an Aarhus concert venue. It was the muffled beat from inside; The sight of the happy people mutedly talking; The timeless calm of the river passing by in front of me, oblivious to human turbulence. I had a vision. “We’ve got to go to your place and write a song!”, I announced to H.C. We got on the next bus to Tilst. Once there, we turned off all the lights, lit a few candles and put on the gloomiest gothic music we could think of, then started writing lyrics (which was quite difficult in the dark. This was before tablets.) To the sounds of Closer, Pornography, Bela Lugosi’s Dead or whatever it was, I wrote for hours and across six pages. Then we sat down to jam. “Let’s make it really long and repetitive and emotional”, I said, something like Doors’ “The End”. So we drunkenly jammed in E minor and A minor for a long time, he on bass and I on guitar. Then we fell over.

The first line went: “The streets are wet with tears of the broken starlight lovers”. H.C. suggested we use that for a name. Being Broken Starlight Lovers, we hoped we’d pre-empted accusations of being “too much”. We were beyond too much. We were kitsch. But I secretly meant every word…

In the morning, I’d arrange the lyrics and sing them, improvising, over the jam from yesterday. And there was our first song. It was the age of MySpace, and going live with a band required one recording, one picture and 10 minutes on the internet.
We repeated the concept: Drinking, darkness, music, lyrics, long repetitive jams. We’d both write lyrics and then mix them together afterwards. It was Dionysical. It was emo. It was a bit much.
We were going to be the flag-bearers of everyone who didn’t fit in. We were going to be the national poets of the republic of misplaced dreamers, nothing less. I imagined an infinite community of lonely souls with each one mind, each one window, each one dark street to walk, not knowing we’re all in it together. I wanted to call them all to arms like an army of ghosts. Not in reality, of course. Only in my mind.
It didn’t occur to me then, but in hindsight, I understand that I had my community of lost souls right under my nose there in that Tilst apartment.
Five more nights and we had an album. Each song was about 8 minutes long, mind you. Always half ironic and half painfully true. If only I had been able to play the guitar even half well.

I’d like to think that we played out each other’s hidden selves. I could never have said what The Immoderate Past said, and all the more so they spoke for a side of me that was otherwise mute. Likewise, Thomas and Ole could never have said what Broken Starlight Lovers said, but I believe we expressed something that was adrift in their mind-seas all the same.

Broken Starlight Lovers was just one of three duos formed by H.C and Jacob. Another was the shoegaze duo Shelfflowers. The basic idea here was to pile so many layers of overdrive guitar on top of each other that everything would become one blob of noise. We were going to out-My Bloody Valentine My Bloody Valentine. Everything had to be a world record of something.

We’d start with a pretty random beat, then H.C. would add bass. Then he’d get in the studio (his bedroom) and play through the song. Then he’d hand the guitar to me and I’d play through it. And so on until we had at least ten layers. Then I’d launch my voice into the maelstrom….
Shelfflowers mainly became a world record of drunk vocals and pastiche German kraut lyrics: “Eins, zwei, drei, vier / Die Zukunft lebt nicht mehr / Vier, drei, zwei, ein / Jetzt sind wir alle allein”, all layered three times and then sent through shoegaze purgatory: the burning lake of distortion and the bottomless abyss of reverb.

We’d usually fall asleep to Mercury Rev. H.C. in his bedroom and his guests dispersed on mattresses on the living room floor. I loved waking up on that floor, always spaced out with a buzzing in my head. Then I’d walk through dead quiet suburbia and wait for the bus by the local dive bar, now fast asleep. The apartment was so far from everything else that it seemed like an island. You had to make a journey to get there. What happened there closed in on itself and mutated from within. Of course we brought our lost love images and our existential anarchism in from the outside, but that was all.

Birds of Doom featured Ole, Jacob and H.C. I think Birds of Doom was founded at 7 PM and split up at 4 AM, then had a one-off reunion about a year later. We made two songs. The first was a goth/eurodance mashup featuring Ole on improvised drums, mock goth lyrics (“My soul is so black that black itself has dyed its hair with my soul”) and a eurodance refrain at the end proclaiming “Gloom gloom gloom gloom, I want you in my tomb”. Good times. The second was an ode to a diabolical wine produced in a very prosaic Aarhus suburb. You can hear me breaking a key on the piano on the recording.

Ole’s musical contributions amounted to the vocals on Søften-Vinen (The Søften Wine), and two guest performances for The Immoderate Past, one on glockenspiel and the other reciting a poem called “Do Angels?”, written by H.C.
Mysterious Ole’s soothing voice saying: “Don’t fall. Don’t fall to pieces. Don’t fall. Don’t fall to pieces. Don’t.” was something of value.

I can really only speak for myself, but I certainly did need to be reminded not to fall to pieces. I was letting my hair grow very long and untidy, not caring a lot about my beard either, and was epically and hopelessly in love with a woman called Ursula. I studied literature at the university but only showed up to half of my classes. I’d much rather walk around the outskirts of town writing song lyrics about Ursula while being drunk either on coffee or alcohol. I got a reputation for being “that guy who walks around in the night writing poems”. I had a long black coat perfect for the role.
It would all have been acceptable at 17 but I was 22. I was misplaced. And I made the most of it.

The apartment had a rehearsal room (the indoor balcony), a studio (H.C,’s bedroom) and a lounge (his living room) where we would drink and watch films. H.C. happily provided this sanctuary. But he did not stop at that. He would also often provide food that we’d cook together, and his fridge was always full of beers that we were welcome to drink as many of as we wanted. And we did. He and his father regularly drove to Germany to import large amounts of cheap beer which the entire music collective then lived off. The suburban block flat, the old ladies we’d sometimes meet on the stairwell, and the numerous crates of dubious beer driven here in the back of a car: It all formed a staggering contrast to our aspirations to critique of modern culture, my pantheistic dualism and the idealism of our deities Richie Edwards and Ian Curtis. Somewhere in the gap between these extremes, our absurd humour sprouted and blossomed. Thomas, H.C. and I would sometimes amuse ourselves by flicking on a Polish soap opera and dubbing all the lines.

On new year’s eve ’07/’08, H.C., Ole, myself and one of H.C.’s other friends celebrated at H.C.’s place. At midnight, we decided to enter the new year by complete darkness and Joy Division. We turned off everything and put on Decades as loud as possible.
One hour later, Ole accidentally broke H.C.’s couch during a daring dance move. We were jumping madly around to Danish eurodance sensation Dr. Bombay with the kind of abandon only possible when you’re with someone you’ve explored backyards with, sung Cure songs with, slept on the floor next to.
H.C.’s other friend left soon after, probably scarred for life.

DJ Salinger was what H.C. was up to when he was alone. He layered strange, programmed drum rhythms and nearly random voice samples on top of each other but also played keyboard and effect-swamped guitar, giving it a semblance of music. “Hepburning Red Ivanszawa Cat Powerpop” proved he was funny and “Love Will Rip-off Your Heart” proved he was musically talented.

Somewhere around the same time, H.C. got a new grammophone and we found out that James from Manics’ voice, when played at 45 rpm, sounds exactly like Lene from Aqua. So we instantly created our Manics/Aqua mashup, “The Everlasting Candyman”. Good times. Unfortunately we weren’t able to properly synchronize our added eurodance beat to the original drums so it’s not quite listenable.

That was funny in a more conventional way, though, than the last duo formed by H.C. and Jacob in the Tilst years: Jean Claude Verdammt. This band appeared when, during a Broken Starlight Lovers recording session, I shouted “Er I der, Roskilde?” (“Are you there, Roskilde?”) to test the microphone, and H.C. replied to this by producing a noise ostensibly meant to resemble the cheering of a crowd but sounding more like a goat being shoved into a barrel. We looped these two sounds over the foreboding chords of an 11-minute BSL epic, and we had a track.
There was no way it was a BSL track or a Shelfflowers track, so we had to form Jean Claude Verdammt right there and then. 10 minutes on MySpace and there we were. Jean Claude Verdammt only got together again to record “Die Adlige Gute” – a random German Wikipedia article rapped to a death jazz beat with frantic guitar and stomp.

This is the end of the story of all the bands. Except for one thing: The tributes. We made tribute songs to each other. It began when Johan and H.C. got together and wrote a sarcastic ode to Thomas: “Thomas The Reaper Boy”, describing Thomas’ unique ability to be a hopeless lost lover and a proficient womanizer all at once, like a freak offspring of Werther and Don Juan.

As a response to this, Thomas got together with H.C. and composed “Johan The Art Pussy”, a dark, gloomy song about Johan and how he was born in Baghdad and raised in Calcutta (which he wasn’t).

Myself, wanting a part of the fun, got together with H.C. (who seemed to hold everything together) to make a tribute to Søren. This turned out so bad, however, that we proceeded to delete it, which says a lot when you consider all the other weird shit we duly kept for posterity. There only remains Søren’s verdict on the song: ” – a crime against music”.

Then there was the stuff we did on our own, when the others weren’t looking. Søren & Fan was a novel indie project where Søren would invite his MySpace friends to submit lyrics which he would then turn into dreamy twee songs.

H. Munch Andersen was H.C.’s least accessible project, consisting mainly of strange noises with strange effects. It would be the predecessor of his still-active and actually good drone franchise, Lullabies For Insomniacs.

Jacky was the name of my post-Novalis insistent attempts to make the greatest songs in the world about stars and angels and skies falling down. There was White Flowers about the exquisite tragedy of being mortal. There was A Hymn To The Night with incoherent lyrics written during an absinth binge. All recorded in H.C.’s bedroom.

But all good things come to an end, and this thing was ended when H.C. had to move out of his apartment. What a blunt, practical end to a decidedly obtuse and impractical endeavour. H.C. relocated to a place that was far more central and in a much nicer neighbourhood, but nothing was ever the same. The Immoderate Past went on to make a great EP a year hence. Shelfflowers also gathered once more and a few more short-lived “bands” sprung up from a few more delirious nights. But the environment was gone. Søren and I then both moved to Copenhagen and formed a serious band there. H.C. formed a serious psychedelic rock band in Aarhus. But both of those bands have split up by now. Thomas got a degree in musicology but stopped writing songs. Johan has a successful pop duo with his wife. Ole is still quietly reigning over the nightside of Aarhus, seemingly oblivious to the living and dying of fickle dreams. H.C. is left to produce highly accomplished drone/psychedelic electronica and poetry books during his sleepless nights. And as for me, I now have a pop band called The New Wave. The lyrics are still pretentious.

The current inhabitants of that nondescript apartment in the dreariest of suburbs must be drinking their tea and watching television with no idea of the history they’ve inherited. I hope that perhaps, akin to what is said of buildings erected upon Native American burial grounds, they are sometimes haunted in their dreams by the sound of a toy saxophone, a verse of dualist poetry or the taste of coffee so black that it could nearly wake the dead.


You like music.
You like listening to songs.
But sometimes you just don’t have the time, right?
You’re already 20 minutes late and just putting on your coat and you’d really love to listen to a song before you go, but it takes 4 bloody minutes! So you end up putting on some song you like and only getting to listen to the slow fade-in and the intro. Maybe you find some excuse to linger a bit longer. Maybe your have to tie your shoes a bit tighter make sure for the third time that you have your keys with you. But it’s futile. Before the first word of the first verse is even uttered, you’re already running down the stair while the luscious tune plays on to an empty room.

So, what are you going to do?
Give up listening to songs when you’re in a hurry?
No way. That’s when you need music the most, to spiral your mood off or to put some stuff or other into perspective.
Sit down and listen to the whole long song anyway and be even more late?
Nope. That North Korean nuclear bomb is not going to dismantle itself. Los Angeles will be a crater unless you hurry up.
So, why don’t you listen to *a really short song*?

I mean really short. You may think Blur’s Song 2 doesn’t exactly drag on across several eras of history, but these songs are going to make it seem like it does. And yet, they aren’t intros, interludes or sound snippets. They are real songs with development and with lyrics that make sense.


5. Batteries Not Included (Sparks)
This miniature operetta dramatizes a traumatic real life experience. Within 45 seconds, it takes us from curiosity to joy to rage to melancholy. A true rollercoaster ride. Enjoy!

4. The Idiot (Gangway)
This 39-second beauty by the Danish masters of new wave is a live favourite. When Gangway played their only re-union show in 2006 in a small suburban café, they ended the show by playing this song and then storming out of the door.

3. Propaganda (Sparks)
After receiving complaints that Batteries Not Included (from their 2nd album) was way too long-winded, Sparks crafted this 23-second bit of history for their 4th album. Like the best of Sparks songs, the lyrics seem to be about history or politics or something completely unrelated, but you always get a strange feeling that it’s actually all about sex.

2. You Suffer (Napalm Death)
If you just don’t have the patience for songs like The Idiot and Propaganda, this is the song for you. It’s not very good, but it’s so sexily short. And I do think something is expressed. Sorry about this one not having lyrics that make sense. Please focus on its amazing brevity.

1. Her Majesty (The Beatles)
Yes, yes, Beatles at number one, bla bla bla. I apologize. But this song is just so good. It spends 22 seconds delivering a condensed version of what every pop love song ever has been spending 4 minutes trying to say. It’s ironic and sincere at the same time, and even though it’s so short, it somehow feels like a real song. It was the last song on the last album The Beatles recorded. This was how they wanted to go out.


Everybody says I’m crazy about 80’s pop music. I’ve never been able to rid myself of that rumour. And of course that’s partly because I’m not fighting it, because… well, I’m not kidding anyone. I love 80’s pop.
So what’s the problem, then?
The problem is that whenever some god-awful song by Wham! or Phil Collins comes on the radio, people start pointing at me and going “Heey, this is just the kind of 80’s kind of music you like, isn’t it? Isn’t it?”. They often do a little dance while saying this. I’m not sure why.

But no, it isn’t the kind of 80’s music I like. In fact, I hate it.
80’s pop, when it’s bad, is really bad. While the 70’s were about legendary experimental music and boring pop, the 80’s was the decade when pop music began to really dare to explore and take risks. So, of course, it sometimes went horribly wrong.
But when 80’s pop hits were good, they were really, really good. To avoid the situation described above, I need to clarify. And this is what leads me to announce……… <drum fill> …….. Jacob’s TOP 10 COUNTDOWN OF THE GREATEST 80’S POP HITS.

That’s right. If any of these songs comes on the radio, you will do right to point towards me, because I’ll probably be skipping around out on the floor, looking moronic and feeling ecstatic. Or at least I’ll be humming enthusiastically and using my knees as a drum set.

Now, before we begin: it’s needless to say there were lots of songs released in the 80’s that were even greater than the 10 I’m going to count down now. But this is a list of the best of the big hits. The ones that everybody knows.

Okay, off we go!


Passion. In the 80’s, it finally became acceptable for women to identify as sexual creatures. What a liberation! – and yet of course, there was a dark side. Self Control balances on the perfect point between joy, dreams and pain.


They just don’t make them like this anymore. The flamboyant singer, the catchy chorus repeated again and again, the uncompromising build-up… The 80’s was also about letting yourself loose and going crazy.


If Pete Burns was flamboyant, there is no word to describe Boy George. Karma Chameleon is the sound of real summer happiness, from back when you didn’t need an excuse to feel as free as a butterfly on beautiful day.


All you need is a world class riff, a world class singer and a chorus that sends chills down your spine, and you’ve got yourself an immortal classic that still gets 80 YouTube comments per day 20 years later. ‘Take On Me’ is a world unto itself.


Some songs are remembered because they are kitsch, others because they are truly great. Somehow, 99 Luftballons is both. The in-your-face political lyrics. The feisty young woman from divided Germany. The victorious power-riff. The exceptionally pretentious ending. What’s not to love?


Razor-sharp pop songs or a singer so charming she could make death itself pay for her drinks is not enough to propel you to glory. You need both. Blondie has a whole litter of hits to show, but they reached their peak of ass-kicking when they detonated CALL ME!


Aside we turn, to the romantic side of the 80’s. A story of old times, shades of blue, the moon, the gunshots, the lamenting song and the music burning a fire. Take me far, far away…


Few 80’s hits sound as contemporary today as Running Up That Hill. “Haunting” is the word for this piece. It creeps up on you from all sides, surrounds you and then knocks you over. The downplayed arrangement sounds like a dragon waiting to break loose. There is a power in this song that makes you feel it could kill all the other 80’s hits if it wanted to, and that it’s merely sparing them because it has greater things to care about.


Shhhh….. Now it gets emotional. Now it gets grand. So grand we need to sing in a church, so the gods will hear us. No, seriously. This song makes me cry. It’s another side of the 80’s: the fragility of the technology-fuelled dreams. Will money really save us? Will progress come in time? What will become of us when the music stops and the light fades? However stupid their outfits look, this song is as miraculous today as it was in 1984. While those who sang it have grown old, the song itself has stayed young.


For number 1, there can be nothing held back. We need orchestra hits, cymbals, and rockets. We need a a religious theme, a pretentious video based on the seven deadly sins, and an epic dramatic breakdown in the middle. It’s A Sin is the perfect pop song. Intense from start to end, soaking with melancholy and yet making you want to dance and scream and shout. After It’s A Sin, there was really nothing left for 80’s pop to achieve. And musically, the 80’s really did end in 1988. Pop music turned new ways.

So, call me a music nostalgic, call me lost in the 80’s, as long as it’s these songs you’re thinking of. Cheers.