With the success of Eric Prydz and Rasmus Faber, Swedish house music is hot right now. But there's more than just great house music coming out of Sweden...
Sweden – that’s where Abba come from, right? Yep, and Roxette, Ace Of Base, IKEA, Sven Goran Eriksson, Ulrika Jonsson and a whole host of scary thrash metal combos. Their music scene is renowned across the world for producing great pop stars, rubbish middle of the road indie bands and shoddy, whoary old rockers. So why is iDJ doing a feature on Swedish dance music?
Partly because those oft-used cliches and stereotypes are more tired than a Gatecrasher gurner after a 12-hour Tiesto set, but mainly because Sweden is now home to one of Europe’s fastest-developing dance scenes. Because Swedish bands, producers and DJs can be found making waves in almost every genre and sub-genre of dance music, from hip hop to house, broken beat to techno. And because Sweden is home to some of the most in-form record labels around right now.
In the last half-decade, there’s been a constant trickle of great electronic music from Scandinavia, and particularly Sweden. Even discounting the seminal early ’90s anthemic house antics of Stonebridge, the last few years have seen Swedish house hit fabulous new heights.
There’s the chart-topping big room frolics of Eric Prydz, the tough, heads-down beats of Steve Angello and Sebastian Ingrosso, the funky and soulful vibes of wunderkinds Axwell and Rasmus Faber and the jazzy grooves of Physics.
Then there’s the unstoppable techno throb of Adam Beyer and Aril Brikha, the deep ’n’ jazzy exploits of Gothenberg’s Hird, Swell Session and Plej, and the Stockholm-based beat science of Raw Fusion’s Beatfanatic, Red Astaire and 12th Floor.
And that’s before we get to the genre-bending electronic fusion of Hakan Lidbo. Suddenly, the trickle has become a flood – Swedish dance music is on the up.
So just what’s going on, exactly? Why has a relatively small European country (in terms of population at least) started to challenge the UK and US in the production of quality dance music?
“Because Sweden rocks!” jokes Martin Brodin, owner of leading Swedish electronic labels Deeplay Music and Deeplay Soultec. “I think it’s a combination of factors, for example in Sweden we don’t have that many clubs, so people who are into electronic music stay home producing music instead. Plus, many Swedish kids have great computer skills and practically everyone has their own computer.”
Gothenberg producer Andreas Saag, best known as Swell Session, has a different take. And, like Brodin’s explanation, it starts at school: ”A friend of mine from London said he was always interested in music, but his parents wanted him to just finish school and get a job. In Sweden that would all be different. Somebody would have encouraged him.
"Many of the artists, musicians and producers I know have been musically encouraged and educated since their early school years. Add this to the introduction of Reason, Fruity Loops and other ‘dance music for dummies’ software and the result had to be a massive stream of music.”
And there’s certainly a lot of music coming out of Sweden. Amazingly, the country is the third largest exporter of music in the world behind the UK and US. Since the pop boom of the 1970s, Swedish artists and record labels have been looking abroad for success. Today’s wave of dance producers are no different.
Balance of trade
“The early Swedish producers that made an international name for themselves, like Adam Beyer and Stonebridge, understood that they needed to hook up with UK, German or US labels and distributors because there is no market in Sweden,” says Hakan Lidbo, himself one of the most successful underground producers the country has produced in recent years. “The new producers do the same – they go for the markets where it’s still happening instead of sitting there complaining that the local scene is bad.”
This is perhaps where Sweden differs from the UK, and the key difference in attitude between producers from the two countries. Whereas British DJs and producers start whining when the club scene isn’t quite as strong as they’d like, their Swedish counterparts just shrug their shoulders and get back in the studio.
“I think I’d compare the Swedish house scene to the Swedish football league,” muses up-and-coming house producer Axwell, whose ‘Feel The Vibe’ single is set to drop on Data later this summer. “There are a lot of massive players that come from Sweden, but the actual league sucks, so everyone is playing in other leagues around the world!”
Rasmus Faber, another of the now famous ‘Swedish house mafia’, agrees: “The club scene is quite small compared to many other countries, but the environment for making music is great. There are lots of talented and skilled musicians, vocalists, songwriters, and producers, many with a great level of technical skill.”
Out of this fertile creative environment has emerged various clusters of producers, many sharing studio space, session players or vocalists. Perhaps the most famous example of this was the much-vaunted ‘Gonkyburg’ scene in Gothenberg, which was driven by a shared love of jazz and the then-emerging sound of broken beat.
Acts like Plej, Quant, Hird and Swell Session broke through at the same time, leading many magazines to wax lyrical about an exciting new scene. Except in true Swedish style, it wasn’t really a scene – though there was plenty of friendly collaboration.
“The good thing is that a lot of people met, inspired each other and helped each other to get contacts to get their careers going,” Andreas Saag says. “It was like a football team full of talents – sure everyone enjoyed playing together, but in the end everyone was just thinking about getting ahead and playing in the ‘big leagues’. Now everyone is going their own way and that’s a good thing. Maybe others will tell you different, but for me Gonkyburg is no more.”
Down in Stockholm, there’s a burgeoning ‘anything goes’ hip hop/funk/soul scene that in many ways mirrors the development of ‘Gonkyburg’ some years back. Labels like Soundscape, GAMM and Mad Mats’ Raw Fusion are making their mark internationally with an exciting and dancefloor-friendly blending of styles.
Unlike the deep synths and jazzy leanings of ‘Gonkyburg’, the ‘Raw Fusion’ sound – which initially came to prominence at Mad Mats’ club night of the same name – is authentically black-sounding. Certainly, many of the records emerging from the scene don’t sound remotely like they were made by blond, blue-eyed Scandinavians.
“That’s the reason for our success, I think,” Mad Mats says. “We’re a Swedish label that doesn’t sound Swedish. Usually you think of pop, rock or lounge music when you talk about Swedish music, but Raw Fusion and Jugglin’ are all about various black rhythms. From an outside perspective I think we come off as quite exotic and different than other Swedish labels.”
Stockholm is also home to many of Sweden’s acclaimed house producers, including local legend Stonebridge. Stone first rose to prominence in Scandinavia in the late 1980s with the launch of SWEMIX, Sweden’s answer to DMC. It was later renamed Remixed Records, and survives to this day – making it arguably the oldest dance label in Scandinavia.
But it was in the early ’90s that Stonebridge really made his mark, becoming an in-demand remixer after his anthemic take on Robin S’ ‘Show Me Love’ became a global smash. Arguably, it was Stonebridge’s success that laid the foundations for the current explosion in Swedish house.
“When I first started, there was no house scene to speak of whatsoever,” Stone reveals. “There were two DJs, Rene and JJ, that first got into house around 1988. SWEMIX was the first organisation in Sweden to focus on this sound. It was an inspiration to other DJs and it made them feel proud of their country more than anything. We showed fellow DJs that it could be done on an international level.”
Now Swedish house producers are some of the best-respected and most-travelled around. Stonebridge continues to lead the world in poppy, crossover house, while Eric Prydz, Rasmus Faber and Axwell are all arguably amongst the hottest producers in the world right now, with Steve Angello, Sebastian Ingrosso and S.U.M.O not far behind.
Not that we could forget MAW fave Marcus Enochson or Jerome Sydenham-collaborator Tiger Stripes (AKA Mikael Nordgren), also known as Afrobeat bloke 12th Floor on Raw Fusion. Oh, and did we mention the tougher, techier stylings of Zoo Brazil, John and Jesper Dahlback and Tony Senghore?
“I think it was just our time, I guess,” says Patrik Larsson of Swedish record label and artist management agency Lights Out. “A lot of producers happened to make a bunch of tracks around the same time, got them released and boom, the hits were there.
"The success of many of Sweden’s top house producers has shown the world that we are not just good at producing pure pop acts or rock groups. There’s nothing new about this, though – we’ve been delivering some really good techno for the last five, ten years.”
Ah yes, techno. It should of course be remembered that there was a time when Sweden was more famous in dance music circles for its techno than anything else. These days, many of us on this side of the North Sea take the likes of Adam Beyer, Cari Lekebusch, Aril Brikha and Henrik B for granted, though their continuing contribution to techno shouldn’t be underestimated.
Today Beyer and Lekebusch in particular are almost treated as respected elder statesmen of the global techno scene – and deservedly so.
Waiting in the wings to replace them at the top of Swedish electronic music tree are freaky electro producer Tomas Andersson and minimal techno bod Andreas Tilliander – two names you’ll almost certainly be hearing more of in future.
So where next for Swedish dance music? With their house producers taking the world by storm, their techno dons smashing up dancefloors, and their funk soul brothers providing killer beats and breaks, things are pretty hot right now for the denizens of Gothenberg, Stockholm and Malmo.
In almost every genre and sub-genre of dance music – bar, strangely, drum & bass – there are Swedes leading the field (and we haven’t even touched on the odd, downtempo electronic antics of The Knife, current darlings of the indie press and broadsheets).
But can things get any better? “Yes!” Martin Brodin answers emphatically. “You haven’t seen the best of Swedish dance music yet. Things are going to get better and stronger for years to come. So keep your ears open!” Don’t worry, we will…
A-Z of Swedish Dance Music
Steve Angello - Member of the ‘Swedish house mafia’
Axwell - Rising soulful/funky house starlet. Another of the ‘Swedish house mafia’
Aril Brikha - Icy Detroit techno, Swedish-style
Beatfanatic - AKA Beatconductor, Jazzconductor. Has released tracks on Raw Fusion and his own Soundscape label. Debut album ‘The Gospel According To Beatfanatic’ is out July 25
Jeff Bennett - Deep and dubby tech houser who recently released an album, ‘Jeff Bennett’s Lounge Experience’. Owns and runs Kung Fu Records
Adam Beyer - Legendary Swedish techno don. Owns the Truesoul label
Cloud - Brother of Chris Berg (AKA Hird), now releasing on the UK’s Exceptional
Jesper & John Dahlback - Tech house brothers who’ve each carved out successful solo careers
Damn! - Sweden’s funkiest live band. Also known to operate as the backing band for the country’s leading rap star, Timbuktu
Dibaba - Quirky electronica and electro-pop producer. Check his new album, ‘Songs For Good Lives’, on Deeplay Soultec
Ernesto - Former Gothenberg starlet now living in Birmingham. Just released ‘A New Blues’ LP on Exceptional Records
Rasmus Faber - House dude most famous for dancefloor smash ‘Ever After’. Owns Farplane Records and is recording an album for Defected
Hearin’ Aid - Straight-up hip hop combo on Raw Fusion’s Jugglin’ sister label
Hird - Gothenberg native who headed up the ‘Gonkyburg’ sound but has since moved on. Look out for a 12” on DNM, ‘Moving On Remixed’, this month
Sebastian Ingrosso - Another member of the ‘Swedish house mafia’, releasing on Subliminal
Jol - Another ‘Gonkyburg’ pioneer. Currently in the studio
The Knife - Oddball band whose ‘Deep Cuts’ album has been a critical and commercial success, selling 40,000 copies in Sweden alone
Cari Lekebusch - Legendary Swedish techno veteran
Hakan Lidbo - Acclaimed underground producer who’s recorded for labels as diverse as Force Tracks, Paper and Mantis
Martinez - Danish-based Swede whose tech house has been causing a stir with iDJ’s Jez Torrance, among others
Physics - Producers of deliciously deep, jazzy, musical house on Deeplay
Plej - Gloriously deep, jazzy house from Gothenberg. Check their ace ‘Electronic Music From The Swedish Left Coast’ LP on Exceptional
Eric Prydz - ‘Call On Me’ star causing a bit of a storm with his big room beats
Quant - ‘Gonkyburg’ originator and esteemed nu-jazz producer
Red Astaire - AKA Freddie Crueger. Hip hop/beats producer renowned for the quality of his bootlegs and remixes
Andreas Saag - AKA Swell Session, Stateless. Gothenberg producer currently working on his second album for Freerange Records
Stockholm Cyclo - Broken beat and ‘boogie tech’ act on Beatfanatic’s Soundscape label
Stonebridge - Veteran house producer famous for his mixes of Robin S. Recently released a successful crossover album on Hed Kandi and had a chart smash with ‘Put ’Em High’
S.U.M.O - House duo best known for their Afro-centric ‘Rebounces’. Currently working on their debut album
Tony Senghore - Exiled Swede currently pushing electro-house flavas
Zoo Brazil - Tough and chunky housers (AKA Laid)