Welcome to the second edition of Nordic Music Scene, a monthly feature on God is in the TV that is dedicated to reviews and news of artists from Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Iceland and their associated territories, focusing on indie artists and labels.
In this edition: Joan Baez, Gefle Gas Festival & Conference and Joe Hill Memorial Award; Marianne Sveen; Susanne Sundfør; Siv Jakobsen; RÅNDA; ALMA; MØ; Tove Styrke; Stefan Aronsson; Magnus Carlson; boerd; Boys; Patrik Jean; Ivar Bjørnson; Einar Selvik; Band of Gold; ORKID; Aurora; Pom Poko; Sigrid; Lxandra; Sol Heilo; Marie Dahlstrom
Sections: News/EPs/Singles/UK Festivals/Gig previews/Gig reviews
Joan Baez receives Joe Hill Memorial Award; second Gefle Gas Festival officially launched
Joan Baez with Gefle Gas/Joe Hill Memorial Award founder Claes Olsen
At the first concert of her Fare Thee Well Tour, at the Waterfront venue in Stockholm at the beginning of March, the renowned American folk singer and activist Joan Baez was presented with the newly established JOE HILL MEMORIAL MUSIC AWARD, rewarding the sold-out venue with a special performance of the classic song ‘The Ballad of Joe Hill.’
Joan Baez singing ‘The Ballad of Joe Hill’ at the Woodstock Festival in 1969
So who is Joe Hill? You’d be forgiven for not knowing, many Swedes don’t, but he is a hugely significant figure in the music universe. A son of Gävle, about 100 miles north of Stockholm, Hill, born Joel Emmanuel Hägglunde, migrated to the USA in 1902, making his way across the country and becoming a labour activist through membership of the Industrial Workers of the World movement. He became a songwriter and cartoonist for the IWW, releasing popular songs such as ‘The Rebel Girl’ and ‘The Preacher and the Slave’, in which he first coined the phrase “pie in the sky” in the line “you’ll get pie in the sky when you die”. He has come to be regarded as an icon of the workers’ movement in the U.S., the father of protest music and the Bob Dylan of his day.
In 1915 he was executed following a controversial trial for murder (some say he was “fitted up” by bosses and even by one of the unions) despite local and international appeals for clemency, two of which came from the then-President Woodrow Wilson. Joan Baez released her song about Hill, who has been described as “the last Swedish hero”, in 1970. In it, Hill replies to her statement, “But Joe, you’re ten years dead”, with “I never died”, and in a way he didn’t. His life and death have also inspired books and poetry.
The JOE HILL MEMORIAL MUSIC AWARD has been established to commemorate him. The prize draws attention to people working in the music business in the spirit of Joe Hill and is based on his values. The artist’s work in the field of music life is in focus, but in the selection of the laureates, the artist’s community commitment and cultural policy action are of great importance.
The jury’s citation read, “For nearly 60 years, the American singer Joan Baez has been an indomitable voice in the fight against injustice and oppression…and her community commitment is as genuine as her musicality, making her an extremely well-deserved laureate of the first Joe Hill Memorial Music Award.”
This year’s laureate winner will be announced on April 5th. The award show will be held at the GEFLE GAS/Indie Sweden Music Festival and Conference, which will be held on 1st and 2nd June in Gävle (the original name of which is Gefle). 2017 was the inaugural event and it is held in converted administrative buildings and two gasholders which were once the town’s gasworks.
Gävle is possibly the most musical town in the country per capita with over 100 professional and semi-pro bands and solo artists, in a population of 100,000.
The two gasholders that host the main performances
Band applications (Swedish artists only, the event becomes international in 2019) opened on 5th March and the first headline act announced is veteran singer-songwriter Thomas Di Leva, who has released 22 albums during a career stretching back to 1982. Others already booked include cult band The Pillisnorks, Ida Long, akb (Anna–Karin Berglund), Fool on the Planet and Coma Nurdil.
Katzenjammer’s Marianne Sveen appears on “The Voice of the Century” on Norway’s tv2
Anything you can do, I can do better, appears to be the mantra of ex-Katzenjammer star Marianne Sveen. Shakespear’s Sister’s Marcella Detroit is remembered for her appearance on the British ITV programme Popstar to Operastar in 2010, coming third when many thought she should have won it.
Sveen, who is generally acknowledged to have been the best of a bunch of top singers in the Oslo-based quartet, may have no operatic ambitions even if some Katzenjammer songs, such as ‘Virginia Clemm’ came close to that mark, but she appears confident enough that her vocal standard merits the accolade of ‘Voice of the Century’.
Ranged against nine other mainly Nordic artists (William Hut, “Elg” Elgenes, Chris Medina, Nosizwe Baqwa, Guri Schanke, Eirik Søfteland, Daniel Owen, Jannike Kruse and Frida Ånnevik), who each have to perform a song from each of ten decades of music, Sveen’s first effort was Aretha Franklin’s 1967 hit ‘Doctor Feelgood’.
Sveen’s version appears below, followed by an original epic live one from Aretha Franklin in 1968.
The programme doesn’t do revolving chairs but there are plenty of nodding heads.
And I think this interpretation of Massive Attack’s ‘Teardrop’ is sensational.
The first of six “semi-finals” begins on 6th April and the final will be held on 18th May. Sveen was getting good odds to win it, based on her adaptability to different styles, but was voted off following her performance of ‘Sugarfoot Rag’ by Ella Fitzgerald on 24th March.
Which begs the question, just how good must the others be?
Unfortunately, the programme is locked to Norwegian TV viewers, unless you’re a tech wizard…
Susanne Sundfør wins Nordic Music Prize for the best album of the past year at by: Larm
Susanne Sundfør’s sixth studio album ‘Music for People in Trouble’ lifted the Best Album prize at this year’s by: Larm festival and conference, which was held across central Oslo at the beginning of March 2018.
Photo: Raphael Chatelain
A statement proclaimed “The jury wanted to reward an album that is both a bold departure for her but confirms a fantastic talent. (It is) stark and beautiful, containing both strong classic songs and experimentation. Of all the shortlist, we felt this is simply best album taken as a whole showcasing an amazing voice.”
‘Music for People in Trouble’ is something of a throwback to the simpler melodies and arrangements of earlier albums and stands in contrast to the synth-pop grandiosity of its predecessor, ‘Ten Love Songs.’
‘Undercover’, from ‘Music for People in Trouble’
The album rated a score of 80/100 (‘Generally favourable”) on Metacritic, based on 12 reviews and an 8.5/10 user score based on 52 ratings (as at 4th March, 2018).
The Nordic Music Prize is an annual award for the Best Nordic Album of the Year and is unique in being the only music prize to celebrate talent from all five Nordic nations. Inspired by the British & Irish Mercury Prize, it was introduced in 2010. It was initiated at by: Larm, the most important conference and showcase event for the wider Nordic music industry.
In holding The Nordic Music Prize, by:Larm says it has several aims: firstly, to create even stronger unity across the region’s industry; secondly, further to increase international interest and awareness of what the region has to offer musically, and thirdly to refocus on the full-length album as an art form.
In August 2017 a Nordic Jury, consisting of Arnar Eggert Thoroddsen (Iceland), Audun Vinger (Norway), Ilkka Mattila (Finland), Niklas Elmer (Sweden) and Ralf Christensen (Denmark) selected their 12 favourite albums from the Nordic countries.
This year’s 12 nominated artists were –
Denmark: Katinka, Solbrud
Finland: Kaukolampi, Astrid Swan
Iceland: Björk, Högni, Alva Islandia
Norway: Kim Myhr, Susanne Sundfør
Sweden: Fever Ray, Mwuana, Yung Lean
Strangely, it is not a Nordic jury that decides the winner. That decision, which took place during by: Larm, fell to an international one, consisting of Jeanette Lee (Rough Trade Records), Jude Rogers (The Guardian), Vincent Clery-Melin (Domino Records) and Stuart Maconie (BBC). Not only are they “international”, all four organisations are British. Make of that what you will! (The American DFA Records usually provides a judge but appears not to have done this year).
Two “Honourable Mentions” were given, to Yung Lean for ‘Stranger’ and to Kim Myhr for ‘You, I, Me’.
Previous winners have included Jónsi (Iceland), Goran Kajfes (Sweden), First Aid Kit (Sweden), The Knife (Sweden), Mirel Wagner (Finland), Band of Gold (Norway) and Jenny Hval (Norway).
Siv Jakobsen nominated for ‘Best International Record’ at the Unsigned Music Awards
Photo Credit: Jorgen Nordby
Norway’s Siv Jakobsen’s debut album ‘The Nordic Mellow’ has been nominated for Best International Record at this year’s Unsigned Music Award with the winner set to be announced at The Great Escape in Brighton, on 16th May. Ahead of that, Siv has announced a live album for release on 27th April, which was recorded at the Rockefeller venue in Oslo in November 2017, with a full band and string quartet (she often plays solo acoustic shows). She also shared the first track, a cover of Dolly Parton’s ‘Jolene’ on 23rd March, one that showcases her vocal abilities to the full.
Siv works extensively in the UK because she feels there is a more conducive atmosphere here to singer-songwriters like her. She is an exponent of melancholia and soulful frustration, right up there with the best of them and with a hauntingly fragile quality to her voice. Her lyrics portray the disharmony in her private life – notably on the song ‘Berry & Whythe’, about her time as a lost soul in Brooklyn’s trendy but isolating Williamsburg district.
She will shortly be unveiling details of new UK tour dates, the headline show of which will be at St Pancras Old Church in London on 4th June, followed by the Timber Festival in the East Midlands, 6th to 8th July, which is claimed to be the only international forest festival in the UK.
ALMA releases mixtape ‘Heavy Rules’
Finnish pop powerhouse ALMA released the mixtape ‘Heavy Rules’ early in March, via Casablanca Records / Universal/ Virgin EMI & PME. Heavy Rules mixtape is a collection of six tracks, including stellar features from fellow Nordic mavericks MØ (Denmark) and Tove Styrke (Sweden), as well as American sensation Kiiara.
Heavy Rules Mixtape Tracklisting:
- Dance For Me feat. MØ
- Good Vibes feat. Tove Styrke
- Fake Gucci
- Chit Chat feat. Kiiara
Thanks to the critically acclaimed EP ‘Dye My Hair’ (based presumably on her own experience) and singles ‘Chasing Highs’ and ‘Phases’ ALMA has garnered over 170 million combined Spotify plays, and topped iTunes charts around the world. She landed on the prestigious BBC Music Sound of 2018, received the award for “Best Finnish Act” at the MTV EMA awards, and was named an “Artist to Watch” by VEVO DSCVR.
ALMA – Chasing Highs
ALMA’s anticipated worldwide tour dates are on general sale.
Upcoming Tour Dates:
April 23 Chicago, IL Chop Shop
April 24 Toronto, ON Velvet Underground
April 25 New York, NY Public Arts
April 27 San Francisco, CA Rickshaw Stop
April 28 Los Angeles, CA The Echo
May 21 Glasgow, UK ABC2
May 22 Manchester, UK Club Academy
May 23 London, UK Heaven
May 25 Amsterdam, NL Melkweg Upstairs
May 28 Copenhagen, DN Lille Vega
May 29 Oslo, NOR Parkteatret
May 30 Stockholm, SW Debaser Strand
Jun 04 Hamburg, GER Mojo
Jun 05 Berlin, GER Columbia Theater
Heavy Rules links:
RÅNDA – Jerusalem
Photo: Tim Vågbratt
At the first Gefle Gas Festival in April 2017 (see lead story above for the 2018 festival) I was fortunate to see RÅNDA. They hail from Rättvik, a tourist town in central Sweden on the banks of Lake Siljan. Perhaps they were influenced by some of the bands appearing at the nearby Dalhalla, a huge outdoor auditorium, which is built in a disused quarry with its own pirate ship. I was equally fortunate to see Arcade Fire play there in 2010, an experience I’ll never forget. But the town is even better known as the “Nashville of Sweden.” RÅNDA is a sort of Swedish Mumford and Sons, with violin and banjo prominent and a harmonium and zither here. They even offered up a violin solo on that night last April.
Their latest single is ‘Jerusalem,’ which will be on a new album, to be released on 11th May.
It was written after a tour of Israel and Palestine that the band made a few years ago. The message that they wish to illustrate is the fact that we all suffer and feel in the same ways, no matter where we happen to be brought up. A powerful song and one you’ll return to.
Unfortunately what will not be on that album is a cracking cover of Roxette’s ‘It must have been Love’ which they recently recorded but they really should be known for their own material rather than covers.
Sigrid – Raw
Norwegian break out pop star Sigrid continues her quest for world domination with a series of new material that is set to drop every week, the first track, ‘Raw’, released on 15th March in anticipation of a sold-out UK tour, followed by one in April of Canada and the U.S. She’s hardly been out of the news in recent months, starting with a Nobel Peace Prize performance in Oslo in December and embracing TV appearances on the Graham Norton show and Later…with Jools Holland in the UK and on The Late Late Show with James Corden in the U.S. She reached the top 10 in the UK charts with A-list single ‘Strangers’ and has a global reach of 185 million streams and two million sales of the EP ‘Don’t Kill My Vibe’.
Stefan Aronsson FAP – Sjunde Skylten
Stefan Aronsson is one busy guy. The Stockholm-based musician and entrepreneur is a songwriter, artist, mastering engineer and the founder of the independent Stupid Dream Records. His bands include the “arty-farty” cult “indietronic” outfit Baron Bane; Red Cell, an electronic pop collaboration with Jimmy Skeppstedt and Per Linnerblad; and Terminal Function, a tech-metal band.
As a side-project, he runs a minimalist experimental electronic project under the name of FAP, which has been issuing parts of a singles series ‘Metal på Svenska’ (Metal in Swedish). This is the latest from it, released on 13th March, ‘Sjunde Skylten’, which translates as ‘Seventh Sign’.
Magnus Carlson – Wait For Love to Grow
While he may not be quite a household name in the UK, Magnus Carlson certainly is in Sweden, where he is one of the best-known male artists, with 13 albums released to date, either solo or with his original indie band Weeping Willows.
He’s still going strong. He played 123 gigs in 2017, being watched by 250,000 people and winning two Gold Awards along the way. He’s played with the likes of Swedish House Mafia, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, Ane Brun, Kevin Rowland and Mani, and even won the title of Best Dressed Man in Sweden in 2017 (Elle magazine).
Recently, he recorded a thirty-minute special with Jools Holland and the Rhythm Section for Holland’s show on BBC Radio 2 on 26th March.
In some ways, he is rooted in the 1960s with his Soul, Northern Soul and Pop styles, along with some serious ventures into Jazz. And that is evident in his single ‘Wait for love to grow’, which was released on March 23rd via Cosmos Music, and which is the first to be taken from Magnus’ forthcoming UK solo album, due this summer.
boerd – Blind
Photo: Aron Pelcman
boerd, or Bård is similar to his peer Bonobo, a bass player and takes influence from his career playing double bass with the Swedish Royal Opera, Swedish Radio Symphony and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. His experience as a player in a significantly larger ensemble gives his classical/electronic music a unique vision, and his arrangements a focus that is not easily realised by the typical bedroom producer.
boerd has recently signed to Anjunadeep Records and will release his new Mini-LP, ‘Static’ on 6th April.
The new single ‘Blind’ is a song about a directionless relationship in which “you’re not always sure where you’re going or when (and if) you’ll arrive somewhere”, conveniently played out in this video, written, filmed and producer by boerd, as a road trip.
Another track has been released as we go to press, ‘Fragment II’, a song about “coping with the poor conditions and hard times life can throw at you and coming out the other end”:
Boys – End of Time
Swedish indie pop act Boys will release their debut album ‘Rest in Peace’ on 11 May and have shared the lead single ‘End of Time’ via Gorilla vs. Bear.
Boys is originally from Umeå in the north of Sweden. Nora Karlsson started working on her own songs at age 17 (‘End of Time’ is one that dates back to that era) but it wasn’t until three years later that she finally shared them with others, urged by her bandmates in HOLY, where she contributes guitar and backing vocals. Those first few home recordings were released in September 2015 as the ‘Kind of Hurt’ EP on Stockholm label PNKSLM (Punkslime) Recordings.
The album took a while to write as Karlsson got writers’ block after returning to live in Stockholm but picked up the pace in the summer of 2017. The song has a bit of everything – jangly pop, synths, a little psyche, a bit shoe-gazy. It starts slowly then undergoes a clever step/key change about a fifth of the way through and moves up-tempo.
The album is apparently quite varied, switching from garage to synth pop and into grand string arrangements and is a “universal story” of growing up and struggling to find your place in the world, of shitty jobs and death, of love and friendship.
Patrik Jean – Loved You Once
Patrik Jean released his single ‘Loved You Once’, on March 9th. The song introduces the sound of the upcoming EP, which contains emotional songs about broken relationships and the different phases you go through getting over them. ‘Loved You Once’ describes the feeling of not recognising the person you once loved and takes you on a trip from frustration to relief (“I loved you once too many times”).
Patrik Jean is a Swedish artist and songwriter. During the last couple of years, he has written songs with artists including Felix Jaehn, Soleima and Sabina Ddumba. His latest venture was writing the winner single for Swedish Idol, which quickly reached number one on the charts.
Ivar Bjørnson and Einar Selvik – Hugsjá
Ivar Bjørnson (Enslaved) and Einar Selvik (Wardruna) are co-operating again with ‘Hugsjá’. Their previous collaborative album was ‘Skuggsjá’ and this new album brings together indigenous and contemporary thoughts, sounds and instruments to explore the distant history and traditions along coastal Norway. Hugsjá was first commissioned by, and performed at, the Bergen International Festival in 2017, as part a series of concerts named Nordvegen (“the northern road”); inspired by local history and traditions in each of the places visited.
The word ‘Hugsjá’ means to see with, or within, the mind – and it reflects the idea that one’s mind has the potential to see further than the eyes can reach.
Ivar Bjørnson said, “We started out by fusing our respective bands into a mammoth of a piece; and marching said mammoth on and off stage afterwards was not the easiest of tasks either. In that process, I feel we have invented a whole new genre“.
The 11-track album is set for release through Norwegian label By Norse Music on April 20th, 2018 and you can listen to the title track here –
Band of Gold – Well Who Am I
Another collaboration features Norway’s Nina Mortvedt and Nikolai Hængsle Eilertsen as Band of Gold who collectively create their own unique take on pop music, mixing soft rock, electronic and jazz. Band of Gold’s self-titled debut album surprised many in 2015 when it won the Nordic Music Prize against tough competitors such as Björk and Jenny Hval (see also the Nordic Music Prize feature, above). March 23rd saw the release of their highly anticipated follow-up album, ‘Where’s The Magic’ on Jansen Records.
The PR speaks of them “absorbing the sounds and sensibilities of classic artists such as Fleetwood Mac, without creating a feeling of overplayed nostalgia”. I wouldn’t argue with that but what really attracts me is the way in which in ‘Well who am I’ they manage to integrate a classic Arcade Fire ‘Reflektor’ James Murphy-influenced era beat (think of the tracks ‘Reflektor’ and ‘Afterlife’ in particular) with Eilertsen providing licks straight out of the St Vincent guitar manual. Like a Grammy-winning match made in heaven.
Mortvedt says, “’Well Who Am I’ considers how the brain works when in an obsession, making the smallest of details significant and amazing. It’s the yearning and irrational passion that you never get to live out. It makes you numb, feeling like you’re in a constant purple sunset”.
Lxandra – Dig Deep
Photo: Iiris Heikka
Lxandra is a label-mate of Norway’s Sigrid (Solbakk Raabe) on Island Records, who features in this edition. If you are a Sigrid fan, you will hear the similarity straight away (and as with ORKID, below). Not strictly Nordic, she’s from Berlin by way of the small Finnish island of Suomenlinna, Her previously released single was a gentle piano ballad ‘Hush Hush Baby’, a song that was originally a birthday present to her mother. Her new track ‘Dig Deep’ couldn’t be more different. Apparently, it was written long before the #Me Too and Time’s Up movements. Rather prescient. And precocious.
Elijah Fox ft. Marie Dahlstrøm – Not Over You
Danish soul singer Marie Dahlstrøm and American pianist and songwriter Elijah Fox have released this track ‘Not over you’, which followed Dahlstrøm’s ‘Nine’ EP from October 2017.
‘Nine’ was probably the most complexly-titled EP ever, reflecting the beginning of a new era, as shown in numerology. 2016 resonated to a Universal ‘9’ Year in numerology (2+0+1+6=9), the number of completion & endings, which is also Marie’s personal birth number 27th May (2+7=9). The Open University probably has a course on it. She also puts out some of the longest “Extended Plays” imaginable. ‘Gloom’ (2013) had 11 tracks.
Fortunately, there’s nothing so mathematically demanding on this laid-back smoocher, which befits somewhere like Ronnie Scott’s in London, where she’s played, or Matt and Phred’s in Manchester. She’s also just scored her first TV advert, for Mahabis Slippers on British TV.
Now UK-based, she just played a sold-out gig at London’s Sebright Arms (22nd March) but there are no other live shows momentarily.
ORKID – Wasted
No, it’s not one of the Gallaghers talking about the other. ORKID, (Matilda Melin) is from the far north of Sweden but is now a resident of Stockholm, whose modern pop aura contrasts with her schooling in classic legendary singer/songwriters like Nat King Cole and Sam Cooke.
In 2017, ORKID released three singles together with Stockholm label ART:ERY – ‘Soulmates’, ‘Only if you want to’, and ‘Running back’, amassing an impressive total of streams rapidly. This latest track, which is about hiding behind the comfort of one’s excuses – not getting bladdered – is regarded as her most radio-friendly yet, is punchy, anthemic with a strong hook and owes a little perhaps to the style of Sigrid.
AURORA announced as first headliner of Bushstock 2018
Aurora has been announced as the first headliner for this year’s Bushstock Festival which will take place at various venues in and around Shepherd’s Bush, West London, on Saturday 23rd June.
Aurora recently headlined an intimate sold-out show at London’s Hoxton Hall and speaking about her addition to the Bushstock line up she has shared: “I’m coming back to London really soon to play at Bushstock Festival in June. It’s going to be intimate and lovely. We’ll all become one beautiful organism. I’m looking forward to it!”
Aurora Asknes was Norway’s indie darling before and immediately after the release of her debut album ‘All my Demons greeting me as a Friend ’in March 2016, and her stage act, if you haven’t seen it, is dynamic, to say the least. She’s been usurped by the equally energetic Sigrid during the last year and that might be partly as a result of recording inactivity on her part. She’s released only one song since the album – ‘I Went Too Far – which concerns the excesses which young people will go to, to be part of a social network. Her second album is expected in autumn 2018.
Aurora – I Went too Far
Super Early Bird and Early Bird tickets for Bushstock 2018 are already sold out, General Admission tickets, priced at £30.00 (+ booking fee), were still on sale at the time of writing.
She’s currently touring America, with European festivals to follow and it looks like there will be no other UK dates until the second album is released, but she is a regular visitor here so expect a nationwide tour towards the end of the year.
Norway’s Pom Poko to play two pre-Øya Festival UK shows in London and Leeds
Known for their intense grooves, bouncy guitars, absurd riffs, crowd-pleasing vocal hooks and punky sweetness, Pom Poko have been attracting attention in the UK, notably from BBC Radio 1 DJ Phill Taggart. They’re an energetic live band, conjuring up an eclectic and energetic concoction of 1970’s disco riffs, and raucous rhythmic changes.
The Norwegian quartet released their first official single, ‘It’s A Trap’, in January 2017 and went on to be voted Number Five on the Norwegian music industry’s list of promising artists for 2017. Since then they’ve been busy playing festivals including The Great Escape here, and numerous Norwegian ones including Trondheim Calling, Øya, and Slottsfell. Pom Poko are Ragnhild Fangel Jamtveit (lead vocals), Ola Djupvik (Drums), Jonas Krøvel (Bass) and Martin Miguel Almagro Tonne (Guitar).
In preparation for another Øya appearance this year, joining what is looking to be a stellar line-up there this year, Pom Poko will play two UK shows:
- Birthdays, London N16, 18 April
- Live at Leeds, 05 May
(More dates may have been added by the time you read this).
Expect this, on an even more energetic scale (requires copy/paste):
Sol Heilo: Camden Assembly, London, 13th March 2018
In case you missed it, the review of ex-Katzenjammer vocalist, drummer, trumpeter and jack-of-all-trades Sol Heilo’s only UK show on her 2017 European tour can be found here: http://www.godisinthetvzine.co.uk/2018/03/17/sol-heilo-camden-assembly-london-13-03-2018/
In the next issue: The Vanjas (Sweden); Pole Siblings (Finland); Ängie (Sweden); ViVii (Sweden); Erja Lyytinen (Finland); Oscar Soul Experience (Sweden) and many more…