Welcome to Nordic Music Scene, which is dedicated to reviews and news of artists from Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Iceland and their associated territories, focusing on indie artists and labels.
The new OMAM album is out, Jenny Hval announces one, Patti Smith picks up a very Swedish award, the fabulous Swan/Koistinen (Finland) EP gets an arty video, and a Swedish maker of ambient electronica stars in Manchester.
In this edition: Elias Boussnina, The Switch, Esther, The Ghost of Helags, King Kross, KAKKMADDAFAKKA, Sandra Andreis, Ellen Krauss, Plàsi, Velvet Volume, Øya Festival preview, Patti Smith awarded the Joe Hill Memorial Music Award 2019, Swan/Koistinen share Tekla Vály EP film, Of Monsters and Men, Jukka Nevalainen decides not to return to Nightwish, Klara Lewis at Queens of the Electronic Underground, Jenny Hval.
Sections this month: New Singles/Singles from previously featured artists/Albums/News
Singles, EPs and albums are rated out of 10.
(Norway) The Switch – What if?
A new buzzword here. Sophisti-pop. That’s how the septet The Switch is being described. Their single ‘What If’, released on July 6th, predates their fifth album, Birds of Paradise, scheduled for September 27th.
The Switch was formed in 2010, made up from members from Oslo’s jazz, indie, art-rock and folk scenes. They started out playing pretty regular pop rock, thinking that Norway, and Scandinavia in general, produces an overflow of “eclectic and hyphenated quality (sic) music”, so someone had to deal with the basic stuff. Slowly but surely the songs got more ambitious, the arrangements followed, and the production value had to step up…
Their M.O. since 2014 has ranged, album by album, over psychedelia, pop, prog and classic pop rock, the latter of which, The Switch Album was a Spellemann (Norwegian Grammy) winner in the indie category.
For Birds of Paradise they “tried to make a musical universe with slightly different laws of nature than real life. A bit less gravitation. The air is thicker. It’s hyper realistic, but also unreal.”
The track ‘What If’,” pays homage to the modern man-child’s fear for getting his sh*t together. Think early-Wild Beasts with the charm of Mac DeMarco’s ‘Salad Days’…The other side of the divide between me and the world might not be worth the trip”.
Peter Vollset, the lyricist of the band says, “The lyrics are questioning the oft-repeated notion that “proper” adult life is boring and miserable and that protesting or postponing this is just childish and selfish. At the same time, the not quite proper adult narrator isn’t exactly a beacon of self-love and sunshine themselves, so who knows you know?”
God, the unknown unknowns. My head’s starting to hurt now but there’s more to come.
Having informed us that the Grammy-winning The Switch Album was an example of “get-to-the-point storytelling” the PR continues (about the new album) with a quote from lead-vocalist Thomas Sagbråten and co-author of the bulk of it. Here goes. “From budding seeds to the overarching themes of this viridescent volume, the septet hones something every-bit stylistically varied, surrealistically inclined and tactile, like a brightly plumaged exotic bird lost in the upper stretches of the northern hemisphere.” Hmmm. Yessss, as Paxman used to say on Newsnight.
I’m afraid that crosses my personal red line and it’s the sort of stuff that can easily turn me against a song before I’ve even heard it. Perhaps make me bin it.
But I didn’t. It’s not a bad song as it happens, musically undemanding with thoughtful lyricism. The sort of thing you might play in the background when you’re taking tea and scones on the croquet lawn while Wimbledon is rained off and Sir Cliff is still too distraught to lead a sing-a-long. The best analogy I can come up with is a superannuated Peter Bjorn and Jon.
But leave the brightly plumaged exotic birds in the aviary, please.
(Sweden) Esther – Kvällsgäst
July seems to be the month for “mesmerising debuts” what with young Coco despatching knackered old Venus in straight sets in Round 1 at Wimbers. Then along comes Swedish teenager Esther, whose own debut is being spoken of in the same breathless tones as those of Sue Barker, having just released her “astonishing” single ‘Kvällsgäst’, immediately singling her out as “a major artist to watch”.
She was discovered by Pontus Winnberg when he heard her playing at the Haven music festival in Copenhagen, forming a mutual song-writing partnership almost instantly. Music seems to have always been in Esther’s blood – her father is Crille Olsson, a well known composer, and her childhood home was filled with musical instruments that she picked up at an early age, first playing the piano at six and taking up drums a couple of years later, becoming a fixture in Stockholm’s music community, and collaborating on multiple recording sessions as a performer and co-writer.
‘Kvällsgäst’ roughly translates as “Nightly Visitor” and is the second song she wrote, coming to her suddenly and all at once before a show. It isn’t intended to be creepy, rather “more like a friend coming over to talk,” she says.
Visually, and sonically up to a point, she reminds me of Polly Scattergood and the work she was producing as a teenager. It has an ethereal feel to it in the early part, occasioned as much by the synthesiser, which sounds very similar to the ‘Stranger Things’ web TV horror series theme tune. Then there’s an interesting interplay between synthesiser and vibraphone. But after that it tails off into relative blandness compared with what has gone before despite her assertion that she has “a fire burning inside me”.
A debut not quite as dramatic as Coco’s but there is clear promise for the future here.
(Denmark) King Kross – Blackout
We haven’t had a debut single for a while, and here is one from King Kross, whose choice of subject is one that seems to crop up frequently in Nordic music, being bullied and treated differently because you are seen and looked upon as an outsider.
They describe themselves as “the king of the outsiders”, with “a crusade to voice all the unheard” and which has “a determined goal to become the next Robin Hood.”
They say, “‘Blackout’ is crazy in the sense that it is about going black over how crazy the world has become. The song is constantly changing between “I” and “we” which makes it a little disoriented as well, but that is the way we want it. We don’t want it to be too easy and giver everything up right away.”
It has been lying around since they began, in a demo version, and it has also been a live favourite.
‘Blackout’ starts off as fairly standard bass-dominant alt-rock track with vocals to match and undemanding lyrics but it gains momentum as it goes along, picking up an electronic element from around three minutes which peps it up and by the time the guitars come in it’s a different song altogether.
Not bad at all for a debut effort and from a band that has only played live, nothing recorded, for the last two years. ‘Blackout’ was released on 12th July on Celebration Records
(Sweden/Italy) Sandra Andreis – Summertime
We receive all sorts of submissions at NMS but I never expected to encounter a Swedish/Italian actress (with Japanese roots). Certainly not one doing covers of 1930’s classics. Now that is different.
Sandra Andreis who is better known for her work as an actress in both film (Venice Film Festival award-winning ‘The Reunion’) and television (the European series ‘The Sandhamn Murders’), describes her journey of creating her EP ‘Raising My Standards’ as a personal face-off with the gender norms pervading so much of music, especially the jazz of her youth.
A re-worked ‘As Time Goes By’, the classic tune from Casablanca, was already released as a single, on International Women’s Day (March 8th), to great acclaim in her native Sweden.
The second one is Gershwin’s ‘Summertime’ in which she updates the iconic song from Porgy and Bess. It was released in June, followed now by this video.
She says, “With its deep roots in American spirituals ‘Summertime’ has been standard fare for decades and across generations. Updating it at a time when human rights, and specifically women’s rights, are once again being put to the test, in a way I had hoped I wouldn’t experience in my lifetime, feels important. My fight to ensure my daughter will never be forced to endure these inequalities continues.”
“Just like children’s books and laws, music needs to be updated. Summertime is one of the most beautiful lullabies I know, and my version draws from the pure, raw female power that has born and bred generations. The original is sung by a woman comforting a child that isn’t her own, wishing for her to grow up under the best possible circumstances free from oppression.“Your daddy’s rich and your mama’s good-looking”.
My reworking of the lyrics is simple but effective – a woman is no longer reduced to her looks, taught that her appearance is crucial to her survival. I also grant the child in the song a voice, allowing her to demand attention. That constant and complex exchange between parent and child – to nurture and be nurtured. The difficulty in adapting to various roles over the course of a lifetime. There is something both beautiful and heartbreaking in that tension.”
I’m no musical expert and I stand to be corrected on this but I believe she’s succeeded both in keeping it in its original A Minor key (there have been several re-workings of the original in a Major key) and jazzing it up at the same time as well as the lyrical timkering.
Two comments. (1) If everyone explained their songs in detail like this the world would be a better place. (2) I’d like to see her try out some original material of her own.
(Sweden) Ellen Krauss – On the Bus
No, not On the Buses – that was Reg Varney. This is the musically self-taught (since the age of four) outspoken 18-year old Swede’s first release through a partnership between BMG Recorded Music and indie label, Tiller Inc.
She previously released her debut single and LGBTQ acceptance anthem, ‘The One I Love’, picking up a million streams in a couple of months, on top of praise from music icons like Carly Rae Jepsen when she was awarded ‘Rookie Artist of the Year’ at the Denniz Pop Awards in Sweden.
Speaking of the video here, Director Gemma Lin said, “We wanted to make a vibrant video for ‘On the Bus’ to compliment Ellen’s colourful style and personality” and Ellen adds, “The video really captures the feeling of wanting to escape an unrequited love. Perhaps being drunk or daydreaming on the bus”.
She drew inspiration from diverse artists such as Ed Sheeran, King Princess, Dire Straits, and Bruce Springsteen. Well you can certainly hear Sheeran in this but I’m not sure about Dire Straits and the Boss.
The PR came with a ‘Scandi-Pop alert’. It might have been a ‘Sigrid-Pop alert’ as she’s yet another artist with, apparently, a similar style to the Norwegian princess. But as the song progresses she shifts away from Sigrid-land as she finds her hook, a catchy melody clothed in the unusual line “When I see you on the bus I’ll be drunk as fuck so I don’t have to look at your face”. (Of course Sigrid wouldn’t sing that and neither should Ellen if she seeks UK airplay). And her vocal changes to the slightly raspy one of one of my favourite Scandi-artists, Sol Heilo.
Ellen isn’t going to be challenging the metaphysical poets for lyrical dexterity any time soon but it’s a likeable, tuneful song which will undoubtedly win her many young fans.
Ellen Kraus will be releasing more music throughout the year, with her first EP currently in the works. She also just made her U.S. live debut recently, in Los Angeles at the Hotel Café.
(Denmark) Velvet Volume – Pretty in Black
This band has quite a history. It seems they wrote to several Danish festival organisers asking for a chance to play even though they’d never played live to a paying audience. One, of them, Grimfest (no, I’m not joking but isn’t that festival name so appropriate to the land of Scandi-Noir?), took up the challenge and they went down well.
Attracted to the simplicity and brutality of the rock genre, the siblings Noa, Naomi and Nataja were brought up on The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, and Siouxsie & the Banshees (presumably by way of their parents) and later on, Jack White, George Michael and Haim.
Their sound has been described as recalling Veruca Salt, The Donnas and with a dash of Sleater-Kinney in the vocal range.
Velvet Volume’s debut album Look, Look, Look! was released in 2017 prompting Nettwerk Music Group to sign them up. Since then they’ve played a succession of European festivals such as Reeperbahn and Eurosonic.
I’ve given them a big build up so what to make of the track and accompanying video? Well, they live up to their name that’s for sure. The riff’s fairly simple, and the bass player gets through more work than the guitarist. There’s a decent guitar break though and there’s a fair sprinkling of attitude. And yes there is a dash of both Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein in the vocal.
If basic, pounding rock and roll is your thing you can’t go wrong here.
Singles from artists previously featured in NMS
(Denmark) Elias Boussnina – Summertime Blue
Soulful Danish-Tunisian hip-hopper Elias Boussnina cropped up in NMS #12 in a duet with Lil Halima, who is making waves around Scandi festivals this summer.
This time he’s on his own with ‘Summertime Blue’ a lighter subject than the previous ‘13th Floor’ and “reflecting on the magical moments of a perfect summer, stimulating a contentment that feels impossible to replicate.” It seems like he’s talking about the summer of 2018, which reached tropical temperatures for weeks on end in Scandinavia as well as in Blighty before the typical Nordic winter set in, making him yearn for those halcyon days.
It was produced in collaboration with Lauritz Emila Christiansen, who has worked with David Guetta, and Oliver Cilwik.
Elias was previously a rapper, under the moniker of Yung Coke. Now he couldn’t be further away from it as he is announced as the model for Calvin Klein by Storm Copenhagen, one of the highest-profile concept stores across Scandinavia and Europe.
More to the point this track, which has an attractive beat, is so chilled it’s like an ice lolly. Late night barbecue music. More Prosecco anyone?
Elias will continue to release new music throughout 2019 and performs at Denmark’s Wonderfestiwall (what a great name) in August. No UK dates right now.
(Sweden) The Ghost of Helags – Autobahn Lullaby
Electronic-pop duo The Ghost of Helags, from Sweden but now recording in Berlin on Snowhite Records, featured in NMS #10 and #13 but I’m more than happy to have them back.
Their music is typically otherworldly but this lullaby is slowed right down and is quite sumptuous, giving singer Teresa the opportunity to wow us with a wonderful vocal, together with some nice harmonies from her oppo, John Alexander. There’s none of that “Berlin grit” they’ve spoken of previously to filter the Swedish dream pop here. The only filtering that’s gone on would be of what appears to be a couple of glasses of scotch.
The subtlety of the synth and vocal backing is marvellous.
Previously I said she’s conjured up a passable Kate Bush but on this track no comparisons are needed with anyone. My only gripe is the lack of a middle eight; I reckon most songs need one or they can become monotonous. (Though this one doesn’t).
The video is quite cute, using techniques to suggest age, as if it’s looking back on a period before the “tomorrow that I’m ready for”. It was filmed in the village of Lagga, near Uppsala and the cow that makes a cameo appearance at the end is called Ole.
(Norway) KAKKMADDAFAKKA – Frequency
Norwegian indie-poppers KAKKMADDAFAKKA also make a return, not with a brand new song – it’s on their album Diplomacy (on the oddly-named Bergen Mafia Records) which was released earlier this year, but with a new video for ‘Frequency’.
The last song of theirs to pass through NMS, ‘Naked Blue’ was a mellow affair and this shoe-gazey Scandipop track is very much the same.
They’ve described the album’s themes as including “relationships, tales from Bergen and mental health.” Presumably this one falls into ‘international relationships’ where they are both on the same frequency. There’s definitely nothing ‘Lost in Translation’ here.
It’s a track which would be less accessible in the winter but is spot on for summer listening. ‘Naked Blue’ was written during last summer’s heat wave and I strongly suspect that this one was, too.
I’m still waiting for singer Axel Vindenes to do a duet with the female sound-a-like Ellie Linden of Das Body. Now that would be something.
(Sweden) Plàsi – Bright
Following the release of his folk single ‘Mystery’, Swedish songwriter, musician and producer Plàsi returns with a new offering, ‘Bright’, released through Canadian label Nettwerk Recordings.
It is the second of three singles to be released from his forthcoming EP ‘Mystery’, ‘Bright’ is another delicate indie-folk melody, the sort of thing that always goes down well at this time of the year. It won’t test you musically or lyrically but so what? That isn’t what it is about. It’s a feel-good love song, it’s the summer time and the weather is fine.
Plàsi says, “As with the first single ‘Mystery,’ I’ve tried to capture a special feeling and afterwards describe it with sounds. ‘Bright’ is an emotional high, when you’ve reached a climax and are embracing it.”
This sort of easy-listening music is very popular. The release of his debut album ‘People’ saw Plàsi getting over 25 million plays on Spotify alone.
(Iceland) of Monsters and Men – Fever Dream
I think it’s fair to say that a lot of people have been waiting a long time for Of Monsters and Men (OMAM) to deliver their third studio album. It’s been four years and seems longer. Indeed it is two years since they posted on social media “Third album, let’s do it”! It was starting to look like a case of ‘Little Talks.’
Speaking of which, that song, from debut album My Head is an Animal is their benchmark, their yardstick, their leitmotif. The most streamed Icelandic ditty of all time to date (and possibly for ever) it was symbolic of an album of happy and ostensibly fairytale indie folk music with memorable tunes but with dark, foreboding lyrics. Lyrics that depicted monsters (and men) fighting over dystopian futuristic cities built out of lava fields, pet dragonflies, polar bears and ‘the creatures of snow’ taking down the invading Queen Bee and her men (in one of the most conspicuous ecological metaphors of all time), battles with grizzly bears in the outback, the loneliness of old age in their frozen land. And suicide.
The album also introduced to the world ‘Songbird’ Nanna Bryndis Hilmarsdóttir’s unique voice, which croaks and fades on the last syllable of a line so you sometimes can’t quite make out what she’s saying.
The second album, Beneath the Skin, attempted to do just that, to show a more personal side to their song writing although they weren’t able to escape the call of the Icelandic fable entirely. The lyrics suggested they were singing about themselves and their experiences though rather than those of imaginary characters and they experimented with far more complex musical arrangements. As I noted at the time they had put away childish things but in doing so had lost some of their immediacy.
And so, to ‘Fever Dream’, and what is something of an experiment for OMAM, with the two lyricists, Nanna and Ragnar (Raggi) Þórhallsson coming at their songs from an individual perspective rather than a dual one and, according to Nanna, a more feminine touch generally.
The first track and first single to be released from it, ‘Alligator’, had given us a glimpse of what we might expect, with an absence of acoustic guitars, a powerful all-electric presence, a pounding bass line helping spell out the melody and Nanna singing of feral dreaming and 22 women on the banks of a stream (it might reference the 2015 film about WW2 comfort women for the Japanese army, it’s hard to tell but it wouldn’t surprise me). Visually, on an early video they looked harder, more focused, and with none of the larking around that has typically accompanied OMAM videos, while Nanna had adopted the shorter punky black hair style of a Joan Jett or Chrissie Hynde.
It is difficult to reconcile this thumping rocker with say ‘Mountain Sound’ or ‘Love, Love, Love’ from the first album; it could be a different band altogether. This video suggests their visual proclivities though haven’t changed one jot.
‘Ahay’ showcases Raggi in the lead vocal role with Nanna providing backing. It’s another first for OMAM, a standard pop song (though there are more to come), but on an altogether higher plane. Nanna has spoken of her desire to bring energy and a sense of empowerment to the album and the presence of Rich Costey as producer, who has also worked with Muse and Fiona Apple, is telling. Costey has introduced a degree of bombast, notably in this song, without it becoming insufferable.
‘RóRóRó’ is a strange song in that its verses could have been lifted out of either of the two earlier albums (“I’m tired and I think I want to go home” laments Nanna) while its big choruses are more representative of this album. Yet again drummer Arnar Hilmarsson demonstrates that he can be relied on for an innovative beat.
In ‘Waiting for the Snow’ a slow ballad that could easily become cloying Nanna mulls over the ‘mountains’ that creates for herself which she has to cross, but which “grew bigger than me” presumably meaning they were to a degree imaginary, she is merely crying wolf to herself and there are bigger things to worry about. Get a grip, girl. The fact it doesn’t become syrupy is down to some distractive effects such as distorted backing vocals and drips which don’t always work, but they do here.
‘Vulture, Vulture’ has the two of them back in the mountains (much of the action in OMAM songs is there, or in the woods or at sea) shouting down into the valleys below. On this occasion Raggi’s laconic vocal delivery is in a head-on car crash with some of the more overt delivery by Nanna of any song she’s sung as they struggle to tackle negativity in their lives. In a way it’s a natural successor to ‘Little Talks’ but without the kick-ass killer melody.
‘Wild Roses’, in which Nanna’s croaky disappearing voice pays us a brief visit, is the equivalent of ‘Beneath the Skin’s’ ‘Organs’, a slow-building folk power ballad, though it isn’t as powerful. It is full of imagery though, from the opening line, “Wild roses on a bed of leaves in the month of May” to breathing vines to high-flying moths in the sky. There are a couple of interesting incursions from synthesisers and an auto-tuned voice which could be Iselin Solheim of Alan Walker’s ‘Faded’ fame. Then towards the end it picks up into a typical OMAM big finish and the first introduction of brass, which suggests the presence of the ever-popular Ragnhildur Gunnarsdóttir in the touring line-up. In any case, how could they play ‘Little Talks’ without her?
‘Stuck In Gravity’ opens with a synthesised soundtrack that could belong to the film ‘Gravity’, before Raggi weighs in with an attempted impersonation of Lee Marvin singing ‘Wandering Star’. You’re a tenor, lad, stay in the zone. It’s quite a heavy piece lyrically and I was shocked that at 30 he’s already thinking about his mortality. There are various noises-off, synth parts and guitar reverb, which are annoying, but as it progresses and Nanna joins on vocals it shifts gear into a forceful anthem. (Incidentally, there is a repeated line, ‘(My) Head is still an animal” in this song, which is worthy of further investigation.
‘Sleepwalker’, a duet, offers a pleasant laid-back middle of the road melody which could belong to any of dozens of male-female duos trying to break into the charts. But I suspect it is one of those songs which, while not hitting the spot immediately, will grow to become a favourite. Just listen to it twice to see what I mean; you hear so much more the second time of asking.
‘Wars’ is held together by a dream of a bass line and the jangly synths that have made their way increasingly to the fore as the album progressed. It’s the most danceable track I can remember them coming up with; even Hilmarsson’s drumming belongs on the dance floor. Come to think of it, it’s the only one. I must remember to check the sleeve notes to see if James Murphy has hijacked them like he did with Arcade Fire.
‘Under a Dome’ takes OMAM back into poignant ballad territory, but with the arrival of a heavy synthesised backing, industrial level guitar reverb, doom-laden percussion and vocoder-ed lyrics there’s too much going on. They might have been better just strumming their acoustic guitars, which haven’t had a look in so far.
‘Soothsayer’ completes the album and with its 1980’s feel and melody, and little guitar licks, could even be an ABBA song in parts. Only twice before on the album (‘Wild Roses’ and ‘Stuck in Gravity) did they come anywhere near the trademark big OMAM finish. I thought they might do it on this one but it seems to trip over some of the hurdles along the dash before collapsing in front of the finishing line.
So we have an album which starts with a rocking track the likes of which is never repeated and which fizzles out with another that promises a grand old OMAM finish but withers on the vine. In between, the band experiment with all manner of sounds, mainly electronic ones. Some of them work very well, others don’t. The arrangements aren’t as complex as those on the previous album, which does make it more accessible.
The one constant is the vocal interaction between Nanna and Raggi, which is invariably marvellous.
Unfortunately, try as they might, they haven’t nailed that killer melody, they didn’t find another ‘Little Talks’ or ‘Crystals’ from ‘Beneath the Skin’. That shouldn’t really matter but some of their original fans may be disappointed.
I suspect this album, like ‘Beneath the Skin’, will require a lot more than a couple of hearings for its quality to sink in but I can’t get away from the nagging suspicion that they may have tried a little too hard to find a new direction here when perhaps one wasn’t even required.
‘Fever Dream’ was released on July 26th, on Republic Records.
(Sweden) Klara Lewis at Queens of the Electronic Underground, The Ritz, Manchester, 20th July (Manchester International Festival 2019)
For MIF19 BBC Radio 6 Music’s Mary Anne Hobbs brought together five female electronic artists for ‘Queens of the Electronic Underground’, “an evening of pioneering sound and breath-taking visuals” in the venerable old Ritz, probably Manchester’s longest-serving venue.
Hobbs, who had curated individual electronic performances including Holly Herndon and Haxan Cloak at MIF17, said, “Powerful women have a prominent place in this year’s MIF programme. For Queens of the Electronic Underground I have brought together some of my favourite female artists from across the world who will show you what the future looks like; Jlin, Holly Herndon, Aïsha Devi, Klara Lewis and Katie Gately – if you don’t know these women already, they will leave an indelible mark on your life.”
It is the first time these five are known to have played on the same bill, anywhere.
Klara Lewis, the 26-year old minimalistic, dark Swedish musician-composer brought her ‘theatre for the ear’ to the city and was first onstage, unfortunately performing in front of only a couple of hundred people. The latecomers missed what for me was the most audio-visually pleasing set of the night. If it goes to YouTube make a point of seeking it out and give yourself 45 minutes of delight. From the moment it began it was evident it would have been perfect music for the Laurie Anderson ‘To the Moon’ virtual reality experience taking place nearby. They should get together.
The best description I can come up with is a powerful choral drone. Visually it looked as if she’d flown an actual drone, or perhaps it was an aircraft taking off and ascending, over a large urban area, to the sound of the word ‘leaving’(?) repeated over and over as the choral sound rose to a crescendo. At first I thought it was Reykjavik but its size and the presence of smokestacks put that idea to bed.
As the video progresses strange things start to happen. The lights of buildings and streetlamps appear to transform into burning coals, even lava. Cumulus clouds appear, or are they birds? How can clouds ‘flap’? Then they turn into long red serpents. Later, the city turns into a Manhattan-like forest, then skyscrapers that are giant chimneys, a set of curtains and finally a futuristic space city with windows that look like faces.
I have no idea what Lewis is trying to say with this show; there’s almost certainly an environmental message in it but it made for “an immersive journey into the future”, another tag applied to this show by the MIF and got it off to a great start.
Patti Smith awarded the Joe Hill Memorial Music Award 2019
The American artist Patti Smith has been awarded this year’s Joe Hill Memorial Music Award. The award was made at a private ceremony in connection with her concert at Stockholm Waterfront.
The award was founded in 2016 to commemorate the singer and union activist Joe Hill, who was born as Joel Emmanuel Hägglund in 1879 in Gävle, Sweden, and executed in 1915 in Salt Lake City, USA.
The prize is awarded to musicians who work in the spirit of Joe Hill in both music and community engagement, and cultural policy.
“In these times, it is more important than ever to highlight and remind us of Joe Hill’s thoughts, ideals, and commitment” said Patti Smith in a press release, adding “I know Joan Baez has previously received the prize, so I’m extremely proud and grateful for this. The prize and image of Joe Hill I will put on the wall in my work studio!”
The Joe Hill Memorial Music Award has previously been awarded it American protest singer Joan Baez, the Swedish-Kurdish music group Koma Nurdil and the Swedish artist Stefan Sundström.
During the last two years the award has been made during a Festival, Gefle Gas, which is having a ‘fallow year’ in 2019.
This year’s prize was created by Eva Österberg and presented at Stockholm Waterfront by the jury President Claes Olson. The jury’s justification was read by artist Sofia Härdig whose song ‘Silence’ was previewed in NMS#14. The jury participants were Claes Olson (Chair), Anders Wesslén, Sofia Hedén, Bengt söderhäll, Anna-Karin Ferm, Anna Lindholm and Magnus Pejlert.
Patti Smith with Claes Olson and Sofia Härdig.
The jury’s justification for this year’s laureate is as follows:
‘They call Joe Hill, “the man who never died”, and more than 100 years after his shameful execution his flame still burns. Among his last words were, ”Don’t waste any time mourning. Organise!”
The Joe Hill Memorial Music Award draws attention to people working in the musical area in the spirit of Joe Hill and whose own principles are based on his fundamental values. Not only in her music, but in all her writing, performances and art, Patti Smith stands for the same values that Joe Hill sacrificed his life for: solidarity, equality, brotherhood, sisterhood, humanism, freedom, and hope. ”We all have a responsibility”, Patti Smith once said when asked whether she felt that she had a special responsibility as an artist.
For all the inspirational strength Patti Smith gives us through her work, she is an extremely well-deserved Laureate of the Joe Hill Memorial Music Award 2019.’
”The people have the power… The power to dream, to rule / to wrestle the world from fools… I believe everything we dream / Can come to pass through our union / We can turn the world around / We can turn the earth’s revolution / We have the power / People have the power!”
(Finland) Swan/Koistinen share Tekla Vály EP film
Astrid Swan and Stina Koistenen released a joint EP, which was featured in NMS #15 and which is their collective response to their medical ailments in the form of a four-track record, an art pop symphony for two voices depicting life with chronic, incurable illness.
The songs, co-composed by Swan and Koistinen, recorded and produced by Swan, are made of hospital atmosphere, human voice, electronics, piano and Canadian pop visionary Owen Pallett’s string arrangements.
Now Tekla Vály has made and released a 17-minute film as the visual accompaniment to the EP.
While the music is exact in its narrative about being diagnosed, hospitalised, and then learning to live as a chronically ill woman and beyond, the film operates on an emotional terrain, which comes to the truth from a wholly different place – magical realism.
Vály says “I wanted the videos to be dreamlike like life itself. Life and dreams are born from moments, glimpses, colours, light and moods that, as an experience in our minds, are linked together as a puzzle and a series of events that create a story. The themes of the EP are tough and difficult topics, so I wanted to focus the film on the power of life and the momentum of beauty.”
The EP itself is superb and this film complements it perfectly.
(Norway) Jenny Hval announces new album
Norwegian multidisciplinary artist Jenny Hval has announced her new album, ‘The Practice of Love’, due September 13th via Sacred Bones. The Practice of Love expresses the connection between life and creating art in a specific way – an umbilical magic about relating to others, finding empathy and a common language through speaking, singing, writing together. In conjunction with this announcement, she presents the album’s lead single, ‘Ashes to Ashes.’
According to the PR, the album is “filled with arpeggiated synth washes and the kind of lilting beats that might have drifted from some forgotten mid-’90s trance single. Hval circles the issues of mortality with a kind of humane delight at play over layers of gauzy synth and syncopated beats. She intones: “Put two fingers in the earth / I am digging my own grave / in the honeypot / ashes to ashes / dust to dust.”
What I heard told me that she’s gone all Aurora. Listen for yourself. At least until, “I use to dream about fucking before I knew how”.
Apparently, following the horror and viscera of her previous album, Blood Bitch, which lingered in disorienting textures, samples and details (correct, I saw her live show, it was plain weird), ‘The Practice of Love’ sees the world from above and creates a landscape both realistic and imaginary.
“This all sounds very clichéd, like a standard greeting card expression”, Hval says, “But for me love, and the practice of love, has been deeply tied to the feeling of otherness. Love as a theme in art has been the domain of the canonised, big artists, and I have always seen myself as a minor character, a voice that speaks of other things. But in the last few years I have wanted to take a closer look at the practice of otherness, this fragile performance, and how it can express love, intimacy, empathy and desire. I have wanted to ask bigger, wider, kind of idiotic questions like: What is our job as a member of the human race? Do we have to accept this job, and if we don’t, does the pressure to be normal ever stop?”
(Norway) Øya Festival preview
Norway’s biggest outdoor music festival, Øya (it means ‘island’ because it used to be held on one), gets under way on 6th August through to 10th August in Oslo.
Billed as one of the, if not the greenest festivals in Europe (and it is wholly vegetarian, too) the event takes place conveniently just outside the city centre, in Toyenparken, easily walk-able from downtown and with its own metro station for those that can’t stagger that far. It’s also close to attractions like the Munch Museum and Grünerløkker, the city’s bohemian quarter, full of bars, cafes, and vintage clothing stores.
The festival is preceded by a club night with concerts in most of Oslo’s central clubs.
Toyen Parken has been the location since 2014. In Øya’s first year (1999) there were 1,200 visitors. Within a decade it had risen to 85,000.
This year’s festival sees The Cure, Robyn, Tame Impala and Christine & the Queens amongst the headliners, along with Norway’s own darling of the moment, Sigrid.
As usual there’s strong representation from the UK, including this year Idles, James Blake, Rex Orange County, Stereolab and ELIZA, as well as Ireland’s Fontaines DC.
I’m not going to tell porkies. It ain’t cheap. You could probably do two Eastern European festivals for the price of one Øya. I’ll be covering the entire thing for GIITTV and Nordic Music Scene and I’ve had to remortgage my house. OK, it isn’t that bad, and while airfares are high you should still be able to pick up an airbnb for £40 a night, possibly less. Go teetotal for a week though.
The attraction is, it’s one of the coolest events on the calendar, anywhere. And I’m not talking about the weather.
Further info on tickets and access to the website: https://oyafestivalen.no/en/info/tickets/
(Finland) Jukka Nevalainen decides not to return to Nightwish as drummer
On July 15th the Finnish symphonic metal band Nightwish and drummer Jukka Nevalainen issued the following statement:
‘Nightwish has begun working on their ninth studio album, set to be released during spring 2020.
Below you will find a statement from Jukka Nevalainen, who`s been the drummer in the band since the 1997 debut album ‘Angels Fall First’.
“It has now been five years since my difficult decision, due to severe insomnia, to step aside from the Vehicle of Spirit of Nightwish. This included the previous studio album and the tours which followed.
As I then expected, it turned out to be the right thing to do. These days I’m doing fantastic, and hardly ever need to deal with any sleeping issues. It also dawned on me that having more time to merely focus on band – related things happening behind the curtains made all the difference.
Having said this, I have decided not to push my luck by returning to the band.
My dear pal Kai Hahto will take my place as a full-time member of the band. I will continue to take care of the bands businesses in the background, and I’m very much looking forward to what other adventures life has to offer!
My sincere thank you-s for the band and the fans for the glorious time we shared! “’
Jukka Nevalainen special guest appearance in 2016
Main photo courtesy of Jukka Nevalainen’s Facebook Page