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A New Band a Day investigates the secret of Scandinavian pop

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Producer Will Producer Will | 14:11 UK time, Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Scandinavian pop success


After a few years, even the most addled music blogger can spot distinct patterns in the new music world - male singers' fringes, for instance, tend to get increasingly ludicrous as their careers take off - but the most determinedly conspicuous generalisation that most bloggers make is this one: Scandinavian bands seem to make better pop songs than everyone else.

Indeed, the second band I ever wrote about on A New Band A Day were Scandinavian: The Alibies, hailing from a complicatedly-named town called Ylivieska, Pohjois-Pohjanmaa in Finland.

They make the sort of contorted, laptop-derived electro-pop music that, in itself, isn't so unusual: if you close your eyes and throw a punch at a fashionably scruffy bar you'll bloody the nose of an 'electronic musician' these days. However, like many of their Scandinavian bedfellows, The Alibies' firm grasp of pop melody sets them aside from the majority.

Why is this? Do those cold, bright winters drive musicians inside, where a bounty of ABBA, Roxette and The Knife box-sets hammer the knack for crafting killer pop hooks into them? Or is it more complicated than that?

I asked Johan from new Swedish pop-curios Lissi Dancefloor Disaster to reveal the secret, and was stunned by the answer.

Lissi Dancefloor Disaster's songs are frenetic, colourful and abstract - and yet have the catchy choruses, poppy charm and bouncy basslines that would allow them to slot happily into your local radio station's playlist.

Johan thinks what sets Swedish bands' music apart is... a series of government initiatives.

“What I truly believe does make a difference is that in Sweden you get a lot of support, both technically and economically, to work and to develop your relationship to music.

“In Sweden there is a thing called Studiecirklar, which are kind of study groups - a way to get economical support from the Swedish government for practising and rehearsal.

“When Lissi Dancefloor Disaster were touring in Europe this summer the Swedish state paid for our travel and hotel costs. This system makes it makes it easy to focus on the music. You don't need to work part time jobs and stuff.”

And – let's reflect on this for one moment - it's the unique economic generosity of the Swedish government that has allowed the band to focus on what matters the most: their songs. If you're in a band, you may want to pick your jaw up from the floor, brush up on your Swedish and plan your emigration right now.

Johan explains how this money allows the band to work hard and probe the boundaries.

“We want to experiment and create something new, both technically with how we work, but also from a melody perspective. And we also like to take something that already exists but to put it into a new context so that you listen to it from a new perspective.”

Of course, it's not all about money – there is the small matter of Sweden's enviable pop history lingering in the background. Does this help or hinder a band's musical ambition?

“It helps! Everyone I know that is into music has got a friend of a friend who is sister to someone in the Hives or knows someone who used to hang out with the people working with Abba.

“Sweden is a small country with a population of about nine million and still there are so many successful bands and artists. You get the feeling that it’s really possible to become something within music if you only practise and have fun and keep at it enough.”

So, about that secret behind Scandinavia's penchant for perfect pop: there is no secret. It's a result of hard work, a positive attitude and knowing the right people, just like in any other business.

Except that, of course, in Sweden, these specific businesses are given a handy leg-up by a thoughtful government. And if you lived in a country like that, wouldn't all your songs be filled with gleeful choruses too?


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