Welcome to the 12th and First Birthday edition of Nordic Music Scene, a monthly section within 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.
This month we’ve got two TV talent competitions involving Norwegian and Swedish artists at either end of the experience spectrum, some new collaborations, Sweden’s answer to Neil Young, a summer Icelandic Festival with better side-trips than you’ll get at Butlins, and a cracker from Sasha Siem, who was previously Frigga, who was previously Sasha Siem (though unfortunately not the video that goes with it).
In this edition: dÁrc, Sasha Siem, ViVii, Augustine, MALMØ, Secret Solstice Festival (Iceland), Ängie, Sol Heilo TV competition, Åsa Larsson TV Competition, Paria, Jackie Charles, Chain Wallet, Kakkmaddafakka, Sigrid, Daniel Norgren, Simon on the Moon, Insomniac Bears, Misty Coast, In Caravans, Peter Bjorn and John, Grandmaster Flash and Sophie Mutter are amongst this year’s Polar Prize laureates, Elias Boussnina ft. Lil Halima, Pom Poko.
Sections this month: New Singles/Singles from previously featured artists/EPs/Albums/News.
Singles, EPs and albums are now rated out of 10.
All the editions of Nordic Music Scene are stored under ‘Features’ on the GIITTV website or can be located by searching the website for ‘Nordic Music Scene’.
If you like it, please tell your friends about it. If you don’t, tell me!
(Sweden) dÁrc- HUMAN
dÁrc is a collaboration between central Sweden-based Ida Long, whose album ‘Rainbows & Tears’ was reviewed in GIITTV in January 2018, and David Lehnberg, who is half of the celebrated duo the Deer Tracks, and who produces his own work on the Lamour label, which specialises in ambient electronica. Last year I described his contribution to the Lamour collaborative album ‘Musik tillägnad Bertil Enstöring vol. 1’ as “more industrial than that of Eno; more ‘Music for Spaceports’ than ‘Airports’”.
Living in the same small city it was almost inevitable they would get together at some stage even though Ida Long’s work should be classified as intelligent indie pop, in the Kate Bush mould, quite different from Lehnberg’s. They actually did so during 2018 and appeared together for the first time at the Gefle Gas festival in June 2018.
‘HUMAN’ is the first single from their debut album ‘Collider’, which is scheduled for release (independently) on March 1st 2019. It is about “connection” and how we are all longing, and searching, for something more.
The song is not dissimilar from Ida Long’s typical style though it perhaps has a simpler melody and dispenses with a bridge altogether, but it shifts distinctly into dance territory, which is familiar to her, in the chorus (she is a professional dancer).
A promising first effort, which augurs well for the album
‘HUMAN’ was released at the beginning of February and since then another track, ‘For the Young’ has also been released, this one featuring a heavier and more dance-oriented contribution from Lehnberg, together with two others that we haven’t had time to assess.
(Sweden) Augustine – Luzon
Here’s a debut single from 22-year old Gothenburger-cum-Stockholmer Augustine. No explanation of his moniker is offered. There was a philosopher, (Saint) Augustine of Hippo, in the 5th Century, (Bob Dylan sang “I dreamed I saw St Augustine” and Dylan is one of this Augustine’s influencers) and a Benedictine monk called Augustine who became the first Archbishop of Canterbury in the following century. Take your pick, I suppose. It’s a classy name but does this Augustine make equally classy music?
Augustine explains some of the underlying themes of ‘Luzon’ thus; “I attach myself to artists, films and stories where the darker side is exposed and feels unpolished, just as life is. My music is based on the love and feelings I have carried on, mainly through my own weaknesses such as anxiety, inadequacy and social phobia and I’ve always been quite introverted, so it’s special to be able to share it.”
He continues, ‘Luzon’ was written while sitting by my window in Stockholm on a sunny day, playing the instrumental and singing melodies straight into my MacBook’s microphone. It is about letting go and daring to be light-hearted and in love for a second. It’s a nostalgic, weird little love song.”
On the video he adds; “I wanted the music video to feel like a nostalgic, romantic holiday memory. The whole project is film-inspired and when we wrote ‘Luzon’, trailers from films like ‘The Rum Diary’, ‘Talented Mr Ripley’ and ‘Island In The Sun’ rolled on repeat in the background. There’s something so beautiful yet gloomy about those ‘60’s Caribbean environments, which we found inspiration from when we were producing the video.”
The song was recorded in his bedroom with a variety of electronic equipment which somehow replicates the brass bands that are commonplace in my neck o’th woods. After getting chapter and verse on the background to the song I feared it might bomb completely but he’s good at capturing atmosphere, both in song and film.
An accomplished first effort, and sufficiently different to attract attention.
‘Luzon’ is available on all platforms 1st February 2019.
(Norway/Germany) Jackie Charles – Time Travel
This one is in at a pinch as Jackie Charles is a Berlin-based band having just opened a studio there, but it is the spawn of the Norwegians Kaja Bremnes, Andrew Steingold (guitars) and Mesut Gürsoy (drums).
The band has become well known as on the European continental underground scene, their sound determined mainly by synths and guitar replete with reverb.
The idea behind the song, which was recorded at The Scorpions’ studio somewhere outside of Hannover and mixed/mastered at Propeller Studios, Oslo, is that “reality isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and sometimes living in the past is better than being in the present. Haven’t you ever wanted to travel back to a time when things were less complicated and you felt safe?”
Well, yes, the 1960s weren’t bad but it all went downhill from there. They’ve had all sorts of ‘isms’ applied to them, including existentialism and nihilism and if they wanted to convince the listener that life is meaningless they make a pretty good fist of it in ‘Time Travel’.
That’s being a bit hard on them, to be fair. It isn’t a bad song but it does tend to drone on a bit with a plodding bass line and at almost six minutes it is too long. Not so much dream pop as slumber pop. The lyrics are better but don’t quite make up for the dullness of the music.
Jackie Charles play The Islington, London on April 19th.
(Sweden) Daniel Norgren – The Flow
New to NMS but not to the music business by any means is Daniel Norgren, who has been writing and performing since 2006 and who used to play home-made instruments when he first began. He’s released seven albums and an eighth, the 10-track ‘Wooh Dang’ will be released on Superpuma Records on April 19th, recorded live and entirely on a 16-track analogue rig, and produced and engineered by in a 19th -century textile farmhouse in the woods of southwest Sweden.
Who said A.I. had taken over the music business?
Someone on YouTube compared Norgren’s vocals to Neil Young, and I agree with that analogy. In a way the song is a little like Cyrus Reynolds’ ‘Foraker’ in NMS #10, in that it unfurls slowly and you can almost smell the nature and fresh air. At 6:42 in length it runs the risk of becoming soporific and might not be appropriate to a live performance for that reason, but just about gets away with it as a recording.
The album was recorded with Daniel’s old friends, Anders Grahn on bass, Erik Berntsson playing drums and Andreas Filipsson on guitar and whistle.
He starts a Swedish and European tour on April 27th which again has only one UK date, at Bush Hall, London on July 31st. Come north lad, smell the fresh air. Not.
(Sweden) Simon on the Moon – Lied 2 U
Swedish artist and producer Simon on the Moon, from the town of Kungsbacka, south of Gothenburg, released his new single, ‘Lied 2 U’ on February 15th. It is a track he put together out of working closely and sharing a studio with Frank Ocean producers Jarami and is the second release from forthcoming EP ‘Milk’ which will be released in March.
He’s had considerable success already on Spotify charts with his previous single, ‘Hooked’.
While this variety of funky electro R&B isn’t my first choice listening he clearly knows what he’s doing. Ideal for BBC funk and soul jock Craig Charles to get his teeth into.
(Norway) Insomniac Bears – Passing Trains
Insomniac Bears is a grouping of established Norwegian musicians; the multi-instrumentalist Marius Ergo (Lukestar, Kaospilot & Snöras), Rumble in Rhodos-singer Thomas Bratlie Haugland, Team Me frontman Marius Drogsås Hagen and songwriter/violinist Magnus Moriarty. Since their last release they have also included Axel Skalstad (Krokofant) on drums as a permanent member.
This shifting combination of players has motivated the group to explore new sounds and ambitious arrangements. They’re certainly strong on melody and the guitars, while forceful, are never permitted to steal the limelight over the whole concoction. It’s distinctive stuff, a pop-rock amalgam.
‘Passing Trains’ is, as the band explains, “about learning how to find your place and carve out a space of security in a world that offers only perpetual instability. I found that interesting because the image of trains, or ships, passing in the night suggests fleeting acquaintanceship and instability.
Following the debut single ‘Scenic Drives’ in 2017, and the release of their ‘Hypercolor’ EP in 2018, ‘Passing Trains’ is the first track to come out of the studio sessions with producer Lars Horntveth (Susanne Sundfør, Kimbra, A-Ha). I hear a little of A-Ha in the song.
(Denmark) In Caravans – Maybe
When I searched for In Caravans in Facebook I was presented with a sales site for second hand ones somewhere in the Midlands, which tells me young Mr Zuckerberg still has some work to do on his protégé. Eventually I found them and was immediately attracted by the revelation that they are from Aarhus, which I’ve learned is the happening place in Denmark, especially for alternative music (our favourite Lydmor is from there), and also they have the support of Aarhus-based Tapetown Studios, which is one of the fastest growing communities for alternative music and culture in the Nordics.
That said, I was a little disappointed by this track, because it starts off with a lot of psych-swathed promise but then peters out into a middle of the road drifter with the simple guitar riff returning periodically over repetitive lyrics. Not a bad song, just one that doesn’t quite live up to that initial promise.
However, when the Soundcloud track ends it takes you into what I presume is another one from their forthcoming ‘Sunken Streets’ EP, namely ‘Under the Trees’, which is more consistent and with a satisfying guitar break-cum-jam.
(Denmark) Elias Boussnina ft. Lil Halima – 13th floor
Elias Boussnina released his debut EP ‘Shameboy’ on February 15th via Universal Music Denmark. This track, ‘13th Floor’, is, like the rest of the EP, concerned with the destructive impact of infatuation and addiction, whether to something or someone. Elias teamed up with a collection of respected producers, including Pitchshifters (Chris Brown, Jada Kiss, Wale, Future) for this lead single.
Of Danish-Tunisian descent, Elias Boussnina speaks English, Danish, Arab and French. He grew up listening to hip-hop and American soul, and first found success in 2015 under the moniker of Rap artist Yung Coke.
Reflecting on ’13th floor’ he explains, “this song centres around the feeling of being in deep water, losing control, and dreaming of living in a world where you don’t have to deal with the consequences of your actions.”
As a piece of soulful hip-hop it works well and even better with the inclusion of the delicate voice of rising 19-year old Norwegian-Kenyan star Lil Halima, which was added after Boussnina observed there was “something missing”. Indeed she almost steals the show. Her own EP ‘for the dark days’ has also been released, in fact on the same day.
Singles from previously featured artists
(Norway/UK) Sasha Siem – Holey Wholly Holy
Holy Moly, the Anglo-Norwegian Sasha Siem returns with ‘Holey Wholly Holy’ taken from her third album…ahem…‘Holy’ due out on 26th April 2019 on Tiferet Records, and her first new material under her own name since 2016’s ‘Bird Burning’.
Sasha has been reviewed twice before, in NMS #7 and #8, but unless you’ve a good memory you won’t recall it because on both occasions she was using her nom de plume FRIGGA, who is some sort of Norse goddess.
In a nutshell I described ‘FRIGGA’’s two reviewed tracks as “psychedelic” and “hippie-like”, while pondering her impressive history, which includes studying music and poetry at Cambridge and Harvard Universities, and writing music for the London Symphony Orchestra, The Royal Opera House, and the London Philharmonic Orchestra. And she was the youngest person to receive a ‘British Composer Award.’
Her latest single is described as “a journey of exploring and overcoming the past,…a celebration of life and restoration, encapsulating the full spectrum of our human experience,…no matter how many mistakes we’ve made or how much darkness we’ve encountered or how broken we may have felt – ultimately, we are whole, Holy even,” which sounds rather grand. It was written in Brooklyn, New York and produced in London.
Seriously though, it appears she suffered from abuse and violation as a young woman, darkening her view of the world. She responded by “opening one Pandora’s Box after another”, facing her demons and ultimately curing herself, achieving “wholeness” or even “holiness”.
You can tell already that this isn’t your regular Scandi-pop and if you needed any more proof, the accompanying video, directed by Kevork Aslanyan and filmed in Budapest (where else?), follows a couple who retreat to a hotel room to reconnect emotionally, physically and (mainly) sexually after a dark rupture in their relationship. A little bit like Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie in ‘Don’t Look Now’ and some of the clinches are pretty similar. “They have tried everything but find it impossible to bridge their differences,” Sasha says.
To be honest, the video isn’t up to much and most of it is barely more than a piece of low-grade soft porn. It looks like a school media class project with the theme of sex, drugs & rock ‘n roll, and is only enlivened by the occasional fleeting appearance of Sasha’s pretty visage and a slightly dramatic ending.
I am increasingly attracted to her writing though. There’s a clever little word play on “dark matter” and “no matter”, the orchestration works well as you’d expect, the chorus is powerful and catchy enough to attract mainstream recognition, and she has a good voice. There’s no sign of psychedelia or hippie-dom here.
Reading the Press Release, Sasha has been compared to Björk, Joanna Newsom, and even – ridiculously – Fiona Apple by the music press.
I hear none of the above, especially Apple, but as I have said previously I do hear strains of Julia Holter, or at least what Holter can be when she isn’t writing the musical equivalent of quantum physics. But first and foremost I hear Sasha Siem.
(Sweden) ViVii – Love, Love, Love
ViVii return with another single taken from their eponymous debut album which will be released on March 15th through Stockholm label Dumont Dumont.
ViVii is a band I’ve always found it easy to listen to. The duo’s previous single, ‘And Tragic’, which was featured in January’s NMS, spent three days at #1 on the Hype Machine chart, which conversely I find hard to say because “music” and “hype” are oxymoronic in my book. But you can’t deny them that achievement.
This one, ‘Love, Love, Love’, may be a little too sugary for some listeners but again Caroline Jonsson’s harmonies with her husband hit the sweet spot and as ever they find and nail a tune.
(Denmark) MALMØ – Frostbite: The Inevitable End, Part I
A daunting title from the Aarhus-based five-piece, fronted by Maria Malmø (or Malmoe), who writes all the songs. When we last reviewed them (NMS #6), it was an acapella song from Maria on her own, filmed at a frozen lake in Switzerland.
This is a prediction in four parts with each one representing “a different way by which the world could collapse if we don’t change our behaviour.” And they’re back on the ice again, this time in Greenland where the video was filmed after MALMØ’s appearance at the Arctic Sounds Festival.
The video concludes with an even more daunting “as predicted by MALMØ” but I wasn’t sure just what it was they were predicting. If it was melting arctic icecaps then perhaps ‘Frostbite’ isn’t really the right title and the line “winter came too soon” not the most ‘appropriate.
However, I was saved by a PR note which explains, “Imagine that the seasons stop changing. Winter arrives but never leaves. Ice and snow cover the entire globe – a man-made ice age that we have created but don’t know how to rewind. We have hidden ourselves so deeply within that we don ́t know how to find our way out. The ‘hounds of winter’ are out. There is no going back. It won ́t be long now … The Inevitable End.”
Ah, so, a reverse global warming approach in which everything freezes, which makes for a change.
There is a nice touch at the end of the video where the terrain seems to contract and roll up into a globe.
The song is delivered in an evocative manner, the strings are particularly effective, Maria quickly grabs and retains your attention, and the harmonies are top class.
The forthcoming ‘Inevitable End’ EP will follow 2018’s debut album ‘We come from the Stars’ and its three UK singles.
(Sweden) Ängie – IDGAF
Hmm, ‘IDGAF’. I wonder what that stands for? With Ängie’s track record it could only mean one thing. She last turned up in NMS #3 with a single ‘Here for my Habits’, from her debut album ‘Suicidal Since 1995’. You get the idea.
Ängie burst onto the scene in 2016 and shook the world with her debut and conservatively titled single ‘Smoke Weed Eat Pussy’, followed by ‘Housewife Spliffin’ and ‘Spun’. The British newspaper The Sun declared her to be “our new favourite pop diva”, while for Pink News she was “Sweden’s answer to Miley Cyrus.”
As I said at the time, there are no half-measures with Ängie and little is left to the imagination. ‘Here for My Habits’ is a song about her earlier experiences with dealers, many of whom tried to hit on her.
In this instance,’ IDGAF’ is her fingered salute in response to whatever the world throws at her.
The tune, for what it is, isn’t the reason for listening to this track, nor the irritating male voice, which sounds like it came straight out of Compton or Watts. Rather, the clever word play in the verses. “Everything’s surreal, kiss my scars” is priceless.
But then, the chorus is just “I don’t give a fuck” repeated, times eight.
A public comment on the video, below reads:
“Ängie creates freely, while expressing raw, true emotion through her music, videos and style…and she isn’t afraid to be herself. Mainstream is a bunch of bullshit to me! They are all mindless little zombie sheeple who sell themselves out for money instead of staying true to themselves.”
I venture to disagree about “mainstream” but there are many people who seek out the alternative and judging from her support on YouTube and global fan clubs she isn’t doing too badly out of it either.
(Norway) Misty Coast – Loophole
As followers of NMS will know, Misty Coast, which appeared in NMS #11, is a dream pop-shoegaze fusion of Linn Frøkedal and Richard Myklebust (previously part of the Norwegian noise rock act The Megaphonic Thrift). The Bergen-based duo recently released their second album ‘Melodaze’, which, the band themselves has described as their “Berlin rebel album”. Their debut album in 2017 attracted a Norwegian Grammy nomination, which is not to be sniffed at.
The duo now presents ‘Loophole’. In my review of the previous single I said that there was an element of the other, more famous Frøkedal’s (older sister Anna-Lise’s) work in the track, albeit lacking the striking melody she can conjure up, and was considerably dreamier.
For the sake of repeating myself pretty much the same applies here. The drum-heavy ‘Loophole’ eventually picks up a powerful and distorted guitar riff, which collectively start to make their mark on the second or third hearing.
The video was filmed in the extravagantly decorated BarBarista in Bergen, which doesn’t look like the sort of place you go if you’re counting calories but which provided a suitably surreal backdrop.
(Norway) Chain Wallet – World I used to call mine
Chain Wallet make a quick return to these pages following their debut here in NMS #10, having released their second album, ‘No Ritual’ on February 15th on Jansen Records, which was written in a cabin on a Norwegian beach.
I’ll say this for them, they write about serious subjects. The single ‘No Ritual’ concerned the introspective and confused mindset of the millennial as a precursor to the album.
This time out, on the new single ‘World I used to Call Mine’, the band explore the human urge to find order in chaos, saying “the song is about somebody on a quest for a cosmic plan. It is supposed to portray the final phase of a rite of passage, the incorporation ceremony into the new world, but something goes horribly wrong.”
Could be Theresa May and the backstop I suppose.
There is a distinctly 1980-90s Manchester sound here, especially in the opening bars when it could be New Order. Thereafter, and as the PR correctly identifies in my opinion, the Johnny Marr-like guitar sound stands out in what settles into a standard shoegaze production.
The track should be seen within the context of the album, which for a second time features a ‘conflicted protagonist’. In this one the anti-hero “is in a state of spiritual limbo, while reaching out and trying to establish new symbolic meanings”. The album is a post-apocalyptic dive into the mythical life of the millennial mind”.
(Norway) KAKKMADDAFAKKA – Runaway Girl
Norwegian six-piece indie-rock outfit KAKKMADDAFAKKA released ‘Runaway Girl’ on January 25th, taken from their forthcoming fifth studio album, (March 22nd on Bergen Mafia Records).
They are proficient at recording albums; there were back-to-back releases in 2016 and 2017, after which the band spent a year on the road, seeking “inspiration.”
I don’t always agree with Press Release statements but on this occasion one suggesting that ‘Runaway Girl’ feels more impassioned than the previous single ‘Naked Blue’ (NMS #10) is pretty accurate. That was a more laid-back affair while this one quickly gets into its stride, after a pointless intro that will have Spotify listeners quickly shuffling on to the next track, and picks up a strong melody underpinned by a pulsating bass line. There’s a depth to their sound which is pleasing as well.
I said last time that singer Axel Vindenes sounds like a male version of Das Body’s Ellie Linden and he does here as well, though not quite so much this time out.
Vindenes explains that “’Runaway Girl’ is the story of forbidden love, how some people feed off playing with others’ emotions”.
(Norway) Paria – Popsicle
You might recall Paria. She was in NMS #9 with ‘Tragic’, a little ditty about her Tinder date with a guy who turned up in an Austin Allegro that was falling apart and who took her on a road trip while indulging in an ego trip of his own.
This time she has a four-track EP, ‘Popsicle’, which was released on February 8th. ‘Tragic’ is one of the tracks on it. On ‘Disappear’, I thought I was listening to one of my favourites, the hugely under-rated Holly Palmer, in the opening verse. And that is a recommendation. Thereafter it is Scandi-pop but it isn’t, with R&B influences. ‘Summer Blind’ is more of a pop song with the strong multi-tracked vocal melodies that reoccur throughout the EP, albeit led by an acoustic guitar melody.
‘Casual’ is anything but and moves upbeat with a cascading chorus and it introduces the Middle East/West Asian influences that she is becoming known for and which continue in ‘Tragic’.
If I had to choose a top track out of this little group I would probably opt for ‘Casual’ which has all the makings of a European hit.
Paria found inspiration out of her move from Iran to Oslo, escaping the creative obstruction there, and has identified a unique style of her own by incorporating some of the flavour of her homeland while never overcooking it.
(Sample track ‘Disappear’)
(Sweden) Peter Bjorn and John – EPBJ
Ahead of their European Tour this month, Peter Bjorn and John dropped a new EP, aptly titled ‘EPBJ’, on February 22nd on INGRID via AWAL.
Peter Bjorn and John are perhaps best known for their timeless 2006 hit ‘Young Folks’, which was recently included in Rolling Stone‘s ‘100 Greatest Songs of the Century So Far’ and has racked up over 130 million Spotify streams and over 34 million YouTube views. Alongside fellow Swedish musicians including Lykke Li and Miike Snow, in 2012 the trio launched the artist collective and record label INGRID, which has a studio and office in Stockholm.
Recorded during the same sessions as their new LP ‘Darker Days’, the three songs featured on the EP – ‘Bones,’ ‘Darker Days’ and ‘Saying Goodbye’ – “showcase a softer and more introspective side of the band” according to the PR.
Well, I’d hardly call the catchy youth anthem ‘Young Folks’ a harder or one-dimensional song. ‘EPBJ’ is much of the same. It’s hipsterish at times without becoming annoying. It verges on Boy Band without ever quite crossing that particular Rubicon. The melodies are strong, their harmonies are pleasing and there’s enough complexity in the musical arrangement to distance it from any generic ‘pop’ classification.
The most impressive track is ‘Saying goodbye’ a gentle acoustic guitar-led track with a bridge that sounds like the massed guitar section at the end of the first side of ‘Tubular Bells’. And they have the ability to sample other artists seemingly without knowing it. The opening of ‘Bones’ could be Highasakite on ‘Camp Echo’ while ‘Darker Days’ channels Emerson Lake & Palmer circa. ‘Tarkus’. Fascinating.
I wasn’t sure I’d like this sort of music but I’m looking forward to seeing them now.
PETER BJORN AND JOHN – DARKER DAYS EUROPEAN TOUR, MARCH 2019
Tue 5 London, The Garage
Wed 6 Manchester, Academy 3
Thurs 7 Dublin IE, Whelans
Wed 13 Wil CH, Gare De Lion
Thurs 14 Bologna IT, Locomotiv
Fri 15 Ljubljana SK, Kino Siska
Sat 16 Budapest HR, A38
Fri 29 Moscow RU, Izvestia Hall
(Norway) Sigrid – Sucker Punch
She seems to have been around for an eternity but it was only two years ago that Sigrid burst onto the scene with her debut EP, insisting that her “vibe” was one worth listening to. Since then she’s had massive publicity. Is it all justified? Get the lowdown on her debut album here: https://www.godisinthetvzine.co.uk/2019/02/27/sigrid-sucker-punch-island-records/
(Norway) Pom Poko – Birthday
Pom Poko released their debut album on 22nd February. Could it be any wilder collectively than the singles they’ve released over the last year or so? See here for the review: https://www.godisinthetvzine.co.uk/2019/02/25/pom-poko-birthday-bella-union/
They have also added more UK dates, later in the year. The full UK & Ireland schedule is listed below.
Sat 6 Apr – Whelan’s (Upstairs), Dublin IE
Mon 8 Apr – Hug & Pint, Glasgow UK
Tue 9 Apr – Castle Hotel, Manchester UK **SOLD OUT**
Wed 10 Apr – Lexington, London UK
Mon 14 Oct – Phase One, Liverpool UK
Tue 15 Oct – Hyde Park Book Club, Leeds UK
Thu 17 Oct – The Deaf Institute, Manchester UK
Tue 22 Oct – The Joiners, Southampton UK
Thu 24 Oct – The Hope & Ruin, Brighton UK
Fri 25 Oct – Clwb Ifor Bach, Cardiff UK
(Sweden) Grandmaster Flash and Sophie Mutter are amongst this year’s Polar Prize laureates
The Polar Music Prize, which was founded in 1989 by the late Stig Anderson, the publisher, lyricist and manager of ABBA, has announced its laureates for 2019. It is regarded as the musical equivalent of the Nobel Prize, there being no such prize for Music, only for Literature (one that Bob Dylan won three years ago). The award ceremony will take place on Tuesday 11th June in Stockholm in the presence of the Swedish Royal Family.
The Polar Music Prize 2019 is awarded to two individuals and a musical charity.
The first award is to the DJ and musician Joseph Saddler, better known as Grandmaster Flash. According to the Press Release, “Born in Barbados and raised in the South Bronx, New York, Grandmaster Flash created a whole new way of making music…and demonstrated that turntables and mixing consoles can be musical instruments. His adventures at the turntables…changed the course of popular music. Some 40 years later, the musical form and the hip hop culture that Grandmaster Flash helped to create, in the ruins of the South Bronx in the mid-1970s, have grown into the largest music genre, hip hop, in the United States and the world.”
The other individual prize is awarded to the German violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter, known as ’the Queen of the Violin’. “Growing up in a small village in the Black Forest, by the age of five it was obvious that she had an exceptional musical talent. At the age of 13, she auditioned for Herbert von Karajan. Over the years, several of the world’s foremost modern composers have written music especially for her. Anne-Sophie Mutter is not just one passionate and risk-taking musician – she is also a storyteller. As she herself said, “Music is only touching when it tells a story.”
The third prize is awarded to The Playing for Change Foundation, dedicated to providing music and arts education to underprivileged children around the world. In 2002, co-founders Mark Johnson and Whitney Kroenke created the movement from the shared belief that music has the power to break down boundaries and overcome distances between people. The organisation established the foundation in 2007 as a way to give back to the communities of the musicians they met along their journey. Since then, it has grown into a global project with 15 music schools and programmes around the world that have impacted the lives of over 15,000 children and their surrounding communities.”
Last year’s laureates were an equally eclectic bunch, namely Metallica and The Afghanistan National Institute of Music. Previous winners include Sir Elton John, Sir Paul McCartney, Pink Floyd, Peter Gabriel, Peter Sellars(!), Paul Simon, Patti Smith and Sting. (There are usually two; only once before  have there been three and in 2003 Keith Jarrett was Billy No-Mates).
The Polar laureates each receive one million Swedish krona (£83,000).
Nominations can be made by the public and in the true spirit of international co-operation Nordic Music Scene did just that. While ours was quickly and graciously acknowledged it was not amongst the winners. Better luck next time Fiona, you deserve it.
(Iceland) – Secret Solstice Festival announces Phase 1 line-up
Secret Solstice, which bills itself, not unreasonably as “the world’s most unique music festival” (except that something’s either unique or it isn’t, the ‘most’ is redundant), has revealed the Phase One line-up for its sixth edition this June 21-23, 2019 in Reykjavik, Iceland.
Performing in the Nordic country for the first time ever, Secret Solstice will feature (Led Zeppelin’s) Robert Plant & the Sensational Shape Shifters, Dutch dance music crossover superstar Martin Garrix, and Rita Ora as festival headliners across its three days in the capital city. The festival hosts 40 acts across dance music, electronica, hip hop, pop, and rock, and this time including the art-collective Pussy Riot (the U.S. based arm, not the Swedish one NMS/GIITTV readers will be familiar with).
The headliner for Saturday 22nd June is yet to be announced.
Apart from the big names, other artists to watch for include Norwegian rising indie act Boy Pablo, the Icelandic debut of dance music legend Mr. G (LIVE) and down-tempo groovers Morcheeba. I saw Morcheeba’s Skye Edwards when she performed a wonderful slowed down version of ‘What’s Up’ with its writer, Linda Perry (4 Non Blondes), and others at the Reeperbahn Festival last year and was greatly impressed by her professionalism.
You know a festival is that bit different when it never gets dark as is always the case at the summer solstice in Iceland. That’s 72-hours of non-stop daylight, which is why its subtitle is The Midnight Sun Festival. And when the main stage is called ‘Valhalla’, after the Nordic myth Hall of Slain Warriors, overseen by the god Oðin, where the warriors feast on slaughtered fresh boar every day, which actually seems a little tame for Iceland. All I can remember from my many visits there in the 1990s is shark, rams’ testicles and puffin (nice, but a little rich), washed down with paralysing 37.5% proof Brennivin. But how can anyone eat a puffin? I never got over it.
Apart from that there is a host of things to do when you aren’t taking in the music at the main site. Apart from the standard excursions to all the main tourist sites, most of which are within a day or even half-day tour of Reykjavik, it is possible to attend a show in an ancient lava tunnel or a rave inside a glacier amongst other such novelties. You might even bump into a regular artist at Secret Solstice – though not this year (so far) by the look of it – Soffia Björg – who is an ‘Inside the Glacier’ tour guide as well as a musician and who often puts on impromptu performances amongst the stalactites.
Soffia Björg drives home along Iceland’s equivalent of the M25
Early bird weekend passes for Secret Solstice 2019 are available from US$133 while supplies last with VIP passes on sale now from US$250 at www.SecretSolstice.is. New for 2019 are weekend youth passes for attendees 13-17 years old, available from US$99 as well as adult day passes for US$91 with children up to 12 years given free entry. For the high-end festival experience, Secret Solstice offers its limited availability luxury pass, Oðinn with added perks and amenities such as the Oðinn only pop-up lounge and viewing area, fast track, priority entry, backstage access, limited edition commemorative Óðinn festival pack, complimentary food and drinks at the festival, exclusive side event discounts plus more perks to be announced. Icelandic tour packages are also available to buy through the Secret Solstice website.
Airlines flying from the UK to Iceland include Icelandair (London Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester and Glasgow); easyJet (London Gatwick, Stansted and Luton, Bristol, Manchester, Edinburgh and Belfast); and WOW Air (London Stansted and Edinburgh). WOW Air has been a sponsor of the festival in the past, but its changed circumstances suggest it might no longer be.
The festival offers accommodation packages including hotels and hostels as well as airport – city transfers (30 miles). The festival campsite is right next to the festival site. If you prefer to do it yourself remember that while it is not quite high season it may still be busy. Iceland is maxed out tourist-wise although they are expecting visitor numbers to fall this year by as much as 10%. As well as a wide range of hotels there is a lot of airbnb style accommodation sharing now in and around Reykjavik but public transport is not great if you are based outside the city centre. There is no rail service.
The Phase two line up announcement is expected shortly. For the full line up as of now, see https://secretsolstice.is/line-up-2019/
Watch the Phase One Video HERE (via Facebook).
Breaking News. As this NMS is published Secret Solstice has announced that Black Eyed Peas and The Sugar Hill Gang with Grandmaster Melle Mel & Scorpio have been added to the bill along with Patti Smith who will headline the festival’s final night on the main stage.
(Norway) Another ‘Katzenjammer’ has a go at a TV singing competition
Last year it was the turn of ex-Katzenjammer singer and multi-instrumentalist Marianne Sveen to try her hand at a Norwegian television talent competition for established artists, a format that has been tried in the UK but not repeated recently. Sveen’s efforts were reported in NMS #2 when she appeared on ‘Voice of the Century’ in which the 10 competitors had to perform a song from each of 10 decades of music.
Our view was that Marianne had done more than enough to win but it wasn’t to be as she was voted off by the public towards the end following her weakest performance.
In March last year I interviewed Sol Heilo who until fairly recently had been the only one of the four ‘Katzenjammers’ to attempt a solo career or one in another band since Katzenjammer went on a (continuing) hiatus at the end of 2015. (She has since been joined by Anne Marit Bergheim, who is part of the band Telegram [see NMS #7]), and just recently by Marianne Sveen as Dandylion, a role she has resurrected, and who starts a tour of Norway, Denmark, Germany, Belgium and Holland in March.
Sol told me she had been approached for ‘Voice of the Century’ herself but had rejected it. Less than a year on and she must have had second thoughts about TV competitions because she has turned up in ‘Hver gang vi møtes’ or ‘Every time we meet’, one in which various artists sing each others’ songs but it seems on this occasion no-one gets voted out along the way. ‘Hver gang vi møtes’ is scheduled to conclude shortly after this NMS is published.
The video below is from an early performance on the show and is a take on Natalie Imbruglia’s ‘Torn’.
In my view this represents what Sol Heilo is all about and why I rate her so highly (I chose her debut album ‘Skinhorse Playground’ as my Album of the Year in 2017, eventually gaining reluctant respect from those of my peers who bothered to listen to it). This song was always risky to cover because Imbruglia’s excellent version was Grammy-nominated and that’s how Heilo was going to be measured. To ’Katzenjammer’ it by lightening it and shifting it upbeat, using archetypal Katzenjammer instruments, and playing in the manner of a busker took considerable nerve; it could have gone badly wrong but it didn’t.
(In contrast a later performance, a cover of a song by Norwegian band Prima Vera, swung too far into Katzenjammer territory in my opinion, becoming something of a pastiche, while another song, by the veteran Lars Bremnes was covered apparently because it was ‘Katzenjammer-like’, which suggests perhaps just a little too much emphasis on the past).
The ‘Torn’ performance also reminded me of Sveen’s incredibly daring massed military drum interpretation of Massive Attack’s ‘Teardrop’ last year (which is also in NMS #2) and of just how collectively talented the much-missed Katzenjammer are.
Sol Heilo has been keeping busy with touring. She played at the Polarjazz Festival at Longyearbyen in the Norwegian Arctic Circle territory of Spitsbergen recently and undertakes a full tour of Norway in March and April, most of the venues having already sold out. Otherwise she has been playing in another band, with long-time collaborators Unni Wilhelmsen and Hanne Mari Karlsen and involving herself in musical contributions to, and direction of, animated films.
I think it’s fair to say though that what her many fans in Germany in particular, and in the UK, elsewhere in Europe and the U.S., would like to see if there isn’t to be the resurrection of Katzenjammer that many still yearn for, is more new material from her, backed up by foreign tours. No matter how good you are individually you have to keep in the public eye internationally or you are soon forgotten. Ask Duffy.
A toned-down, acoustic version of ‘America’ from ‘Skinhorse Playground’ at the Polarjazz Festival.
(Credit: Ebby Fey)
(Sweden) Åsa Larsson (and dog) in TV talent show debut
Never let it be said that NMS doesn’t bring variety to its pages. Central Sweden’s multi-instrumentalist Åsa Larsson, who also performs under the pseudonym of Resmiranda, a character from Swedish folklore, has appeared here on several occasions and for different reasons.
She is an ardent feminist and environmentalist, and one who has contributed enormously to a global singing congregation in support of the rainforest. She was a performer at the UK’s first ever women-only music festival last summer. And she has the rare skill of being able to write a song to someone else’s poetry (not to lyrics, which is comparatively easy).
I first saw her as the opening artist at a festival two years ago in which she played something akin to droning electronic organ meditational music, a sort of Anna von Hausswolff on valium, followed by a funky number she’d written about Lilith, Adam’s wife before Eve, which could not have been more different. She isn’t limited by range in any sense although social commentary is at the heart of many of her songs. I immediately appreciated her talent.
Essentially a mother of three (her husband is a music producer) music for her has taken a backseat to family matters but this month she ended up on Sweden’s equivalent of Britain’s Got Talent, seemingly on account of another intriguing skill she has, in the ability to engage in ‘Kulning’– the ancient and largely forgotten Swedish art of calling livestock (cows, goats, etc.) down from high mountain pastures where they have been grazing during the day. There is even a video of her doing it with two swans on a lake.
The premise behind this TV talent show performance is her ability to get a dog to harmonise with her. I reserve judgement on Wilhelm.
As with Sol Heilo above, I’m dubious about the value of these talent shows to genuine high-class performers but at least this appearance will have introduced her to the wider Swedish public and that seems to have worked, with 30,000 YouTube views in 24 hours. Because, wearing my amateur A&R hat, I’m convinced she does have talent and that she just needs a kick up the backside to get a career underway.
The video below is the real thing. ‘Sisterhood’ is one of the tracks planned for her debut album, which should be released this year. It is an example of how she can write a song around a poem, in this case one by well-known international environmentalist Claire Dubois. The song, with its rolling French accordion straight out of a village square bistro in Provence, its dulcimer (I think that’s the instrument), its sudden changes of direction, complex bridge and unusual ending, is lovely.
(Incidentally, see if you can spot the face of a young blonde curly-haired male Swede staring at you out of the stream as the video progresses. It comes into view at about 2:35 as the camera pans up. I wonder if anyone drowned in there?)
Åsa, do your thang, as the panel girl says. But at the same time I’d like to see you collaborating with others amongst the vast array of talent in your part of the word, just as Ida Long and David Lehnberg (see first item) have done as dÁrc. They are all from the same town.
Main photo of Sasha Siem courtesy of her website