A new concert series based in Berlin is offering up-and-coming bands from the Scandinavian countries a package to tour Germany. Does this influx of new talent suggest a sudden wave in popularity for Nordic music?
Yes, there's ABBA - but Scandinavia is a musical hotbed in ways some might not expect. Sweden, for example, can boast acts such as The Knife and The Hives. Norway has exported clinical electro like Röyksopp and bubblegum pop from A-ha, while Finland, hotbed of heavy metal, produced Nightwish and Eurovision winners, Lordi.
Even Denmark, home of the now legendary annual Roskilde Festival, has racked up its fair share of hits with Asteroids Galaxy Tour, Aqua and The Olsen Brothers all coming from the tiny sovereign state.
Digital-era musicians from the North have more ways than ever to present their latest tracks to a global audience via platforms like Bandcamp, Soundcloud and Myspace. But the sheer volume of music on offer often makes it harder for the best stuff to break through, particularly for bands not from a country immediately associated with pop music.
Help is at hand for Scandinavian musicians thanks to Nutzl Nordic and Mads Ronbjerg, heads of Berlin-based label Für Records, who started the concert series Nordlicht Klub (Northern Lights Club) in January with the specific aim of bringing new Scandinavian talent to Germany.
The event, which is held twice monthly, has its Berlin base at Privatclub. From there, bands are taken on one of two tour routes. The first, dealing primarily with cities in the East, takes in Dresden, Magdeburg and Cottbus; the second heads west via Rostock, Dortmund, Öttingen and Osnabrück.
"I used to work with a lot of Danish and Swedish bands at my old job in Copenhagen," explained Ronbjerg, talking about the origins of Nordlicht Klub. "It's good to have a niche and be really good at that. And of course there are some really good bands from Scandinavia. The quality is high."
The concept of bringing bands to Germany for a ready-made tour package is one which is very attractive for musicians not familiar with Germany's club landscape and with no contacts to local venues.
"The bands are always very excited about the possibility of touring in Germany for the first time," said Nutzl Nordic, adding, "It's important for me too because I like the contact not only to the bands but also to the audience. Rather than sit in the office all the time, at shows I can see how well something works."
Appearing at the latest installment of Nordlicht Klub were two bands from Denmark; Death Valley Sleepers and Den Fjerde Veg. Tobias Winberg, lead singer with Death Valley Sleepers, sees the opportunity to tour Germany as useful.
"We're really a small country, and so it's hard to break out,” he said, "The audiences in Germany are really open-minded and interested in the music. I guess in Denmark we are a bit more like standing in the back of the venue with our arms crossed. I don't like it, but that’s the way it is. So I really like touring in Germany because you can really feel the difference."
"Denmark has a really mellow sound and if you're not part of it, it can be hard to be in the middle of the scene," said Tobias Winberg
Both bands played in front of a suitably open-minded crowd at Privatclub and the response to seeing new music from Denmark was positive.
"It's cool. I like the place, I like the music,” said one student.
Another added: "When it comes down to rock I guess Scandinavia always tries to be a bit American but with the European touch, and that's what I’m drawn towards. It's very different to English rock. It has this folk touch of American music, but that's derived from an obviously European culture so that's what I’m looking for."
This clubber, with obligatory beer and cigarette in hand, may well have inadvertently answered the question, "What is the Scandinavian sound?" Even among experts, it's a tough one to define.
"I don’t think there is a specific Scandinavian sound that you can instantly identify," said music producer Mark Reeder, "Most pop music from Scandinavia is usually some kind of imitation of something that's come from the UK and so usually has this tendency to sound either American or British. As a producer, I'd be stumped to make a Scandinavian-sounding record. I wouldn't know how to do it.”
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It's a sentiment even echoed by party organizer Mads Ronbjerg: "I think the Scandinavians are very good at stealing from the Americans and the English. But they do it in a clever way!"
So with a sound heavily influenced by British and American rock and no distinctive sound of its own, is Berlin really experiencing a wave in popularity of Scandinavian music? Elsewhere in the city, Florian, who works at one of the city's most popular record stores, Space Hall, doesn't think so.
"I don't think there’s any great craze for Scandinavian music,” he said, “Of course we have lots of it here and lots of it is very popular but most people are looking for good music and they don't care where it's from. I don't think there is a special Scandinavian scene.”
Nutzl Nordic and Mads Ronbjerg have thus far brought fourteen bands over from Scandinavia to tour Germany, and the series is set to run throughout the rest of the year.
"After the spring, we will see which cities were really good, and we will try to focus on those cities and then we will try out some new ones,” said Nutzl of their future plans, "We are also talking to a new Danish furniture design company and they are really interested in working with us, so we are thinking of maybe exporting more than music in the future."