Hammer of the Gods
Come on feel the Nords
Like a giant, delicious lobster tail thrashing around in the North Sea encompassing the land of the midnight sun, quaint fishing villages, outstanding health care, and skyrocketing suicide rates the quintet of countries that make up Scandinavia provides a good chunk of SXSW's international meat. Historically, the region has brought us ABBA, Hanoi Rocks, Roxette, and Mortiis (whatever happen to that guy?), and this year offers another diverse palette of ice and fire, electronic and melodic for the most part.
What's Finland known for, you ask? Lenin took refuge there after the events of 1917 and then recognized its indie-ness from Mother Russia. Finland is also a leading exporter of Nokia cell phones. Of course, America's influence has already wafted over, supplying Johnny Cash-loving punks I Walk the Line and Vans-loving longhairs Disco Ensemble with Warped Tour fury, and fugitive metalheads Callisto with a fistful of Noir. Further down the alleyway, the Crash decapitates Eighties soft rock; Sister Flo forces white noise into New Age meditation; the cartoonish 22-Pistepirkko carves dreamy pop into the Velvet Underground; blond ivory-tickler Astrid Swan shakes down some redheaded Tori blues; and Helsinki "lady lumberjack" Irina Bjorklund pulls haunting sounds from her saw on latest Oh l'Amour, backed live by multi-instrumentalist Peter Fox, in a way that would make David Lynch drop his latte. Avant garde trio KTU cleans it up.
The permanent midnight of far northern neighbor Iceland, known for cuisine such as pickled ram's testicles and blood pudding, births equally glacial sounds: The dark throes of Bauhausophiles Bang Gang; the techno march of capital-repping weirdos Reykjavik! (whose influences include "religion, oppression, and alcohol"); the Sugarcubed swells of Mammút; and the geothermal warmth of free spirit Hera.
Norway, inventor of the paper clip and the cheese slicer, is a whole different beast with two backs. While a no-show last year, hopefully Oslo sextet Turbonegro's absence was due to a sudden, countrywide shortage of sailor hats and eyeliner. Their MySpace states, "New year, new beers" (dude!), and we can expect a follow-up to last year's Party Animals (dude!) this year. (Please, please, please more songs about pizza and erections.) Vice Records' 120 Days gets tranced out like it's 1991 on their latest eponymous CD, spilling neatly into the "new rave" niche slowly moving across the pond in a DayGlo blob. Surprisingly, it's not the Vicks VapoRub rave music of yore. Instead, the quartet offers the punishing ups and euphoric downs of their Kraut neighbors.
No stranger to raves, Sondre Lerche's upcoming Phantom Punch (Astralwerks) promises more melodi-pop from the golden-haired troubadour; biting at his heels are rustic guitarist Thomas Dybdahl and Magnet, aka Even Johansen, who has soundtracked breakups (The OC) and death (Six Feet Under), which lends a nice razor-blade aura to latest The Tourniquet (Filter). Speaking of tourniquets, Load Records instrumental trio Noxagt ties off industrial, letting the metal flow. Over the river and through the woods, it's Morrissey/Bowie devotees New Violators; sharp-dressed men the Real Ones; nite clubbers Sissy Wish; electro-sexxxy daft punkers Datarock (sample song title: "Nightflight to Uranus"); carnivalesque Nordic knights Grand Island; club diva Kate Havenik; recent Raconteurs tourmates Bigbang; Streets/Matisyahu hybrid Chris Lee (sample lyric: "It looks like it could get ugly. It looks like he plays rugby"); fjord-gazers the Lionheart Brothers; and hip-hopper el Axel, who admits It Is Wha It Is.
Nestled in the middle of this Valhalla is Sweden, birthplace of dynamite inventor Alfred Nobel, Ace of Base, and Ingmar Bergman. Here, it's about the good, the fair-skinned, and the glammy. Malmo's the Ark were a surprise hit last year, toe-touching off amps and falling somewhere between Seventies glitter and the Darkness' falsetto vibrato. Vains of Jenna jump forward into Eighties glam. Sahara Hotnights definitely aren't the "European Donnas" anymore; the slightly reconfigured quartet's latest single "Cheek to Cheek" is less rock, more polish.
Towheaded sisters in spirit Ane Brun and Frida Hyvönen stretch songwriting in opposite directions. Brun's acoustic haunting finds her latest, Live in Scandinavia, tackling Jeff Buckley's "So Real" and PJ Harvey's "The Dancer." Hyvönen's piano-driven catharsis is both empowering and exposing, her latest Until Death Comes (Secretly Canadian) allowing the line "You said a girl like me was torture for you" to burn slowly. Brun buddy Tobias Fröberg is lost Somewhere in the City (Poptones) as he channels his inner Simon & Garfunkel; Mando Diao channel their inner Spoon on last year's 2-CD Ode to Ochrasy (EMI). Recent Sub Pop signee Emil Svanängen's Loney, Dear rides the wave of Shinsian success on latest shh-don't-wake-the-baby gem Loney, Noir. David & the Citizens electro-bubblegum snaps and pops, while the Faintest Ideas flop and jerk and power duo Johnossi grinds and snorts.
Finally, down south in Denmark birthplace of Metallica's Lars Ulrich and existentialist Soren Kierkegaard the Danes have been busy. Copenhagen's Blue Van laid down a scorching Sixties slab with last year's Dear Independence (TVT), on which the quartet brings back the stomp and hellfire while grinding organ and eschewing razors. Denmark's also packing the electro-zap, courtesy stuttering, innuendo-friendly dance duo Junior Senior, whose single "Move Your Feet" was included on the PlayStation version of Dance Dance Revolution. The Björk/Sigur Rós mind-meld of Under Byen's latest luscious tongue twister Samme Stof Som Stof is apparently a favorite of Rolling Stone's David Fricke, who declared them "probably the best band in the world" in 2003.
Mew's swirling ambience on last year's And the Glass Handed Kites (Sony) may have been overlooked due to the success of sonic twins/masked Swedes the Knife (sorry, haters, they're not playing), but the foursome's live show promises futuristic synthesis. Teitur, a singer-songwriter hailing from the rainy Faroe Islands, isolated in the Norwegian Sea between Norway and Iceland, already has a devoted fan base in the States without much play of latest orchestral storm Stay Under the Stars (Arlo & Betty). His next album is rumored to be in Faroese and will only be available in the Islands, so now might be a good time to catch him. Another example of Denmark's fickle tastes: The Kissaway Trail are staunch Beach Boys devotees; quartet Moi Caprice prefer the darker corridors and romantic suicide pacts; ambient quintet Slaraffenland get Devolutionized. Stick that in your fjord, and smoke it.
DENMARKThe Blue Van (Copenhagen) Bourbon Rocks, Wed., 1am; www.thebluevan.com
Funky Nashville (Århus) Uncle Flirty's Loft, Thu., 9pm; funkynashville.dk
Junior Senior (Copenhagen) Exodus, Sat., 1am; www.crunchy.dk/asp/default.asp?Band_Id=10&Release_Id=558
The Kissaway Trail (Odense) Buffalo Billiards, Sat., 1am; www.thekissawaytrail.com
Lack (Copenhagen) B.D. Riley's, Wed., 11pm; www.lackattack.dk
Mew (Copenhagen) La Zona Rosa, Sat., 10pm; www.mewsite.com
Moi Caprice (Copenhagen) Uncle Flirty's Loft, Thu., 11pm; www.myspace.com/moicaprice
PowerSolo (Århus) Friends, Thu., 11pm; www.powersolo.dk
Slaraffenland (Copenhagen) Mohawk, Wed., 12mid; www.slaraffenland.net
Teitur (Faroe Islands) 18th Floor @ Hilton Garden, Fri., 12mid; www.myspace.com/teitur
Under Byen (Århus) Emo's Main Room, Thu., 9pm; www.underbyen.dk
Vincent Van Go Go (Copenhagen) Uncle Flirty's Loft, Fri., 10pm; www.vincentvangogo.com
FINLANDIrina Bjorklund & Peter Fox (Helsinki) Copa, Fri., 8:20pm; www.irinabjorklund.com
Callisto (Turku) Uncle Flirty's Loft, Wed., 12mid; www.callistochaos.com
The Crash (Turku) Friends, Thu., 12mid; www.thecrash.com
Disco Ensemble (Helsinki) Uncle Flirty's Loft, Wed., 11pm; www.discoensemble.com
I Walk the Line (Helsinki) Lava Lounge Patio, Sat., 11pm; www.fireinsidemusic.com/iwalktheline
KTU (Pohjonen, Gunn, Mastelotto) (Helsinki) Uncle Flirty's Loft, Wed., 1am; www.kimmopohjonen.com
LAPKO (Helsinki) Uncle Flirty's Loft, Wed., 8pm; www.lapko.com
Lodger (Helsinki) Uncle Flirty's Loft, Wed., 9pm; www.lodger.tv
Rubik (Helsinki) Uncle Flirty's Loft, Thu., 12mid; www.rubikband.net
Astrid Swan (Helsinki) Light Bar, Thu., 8pm; www.astridswan.com
22-Pistepirkko (Helsinki) Uncle Flirty's Loft, Wed., 10pm; www.22-pistepirkko.net
ICELANDBang Gang (Reykjavik) Elysium, Sat., 11pm; www.banggang.net
Hera (Reykjavik) Creekside @ Hilton Garden, Thu., 1am; www.herasings.com
Mammút (Reykjavik) Uncle Flirty's Loft, Thu., 10pm; www.myspace.com/mammut
Reykjavik! (Reykjavik) Uncle Flirty's Loft, Fri., 1am; www.myspace.com/reykjaviktheband
NORWAYBermuda Triangle (Oslo) Co-op Bar, Wed., 1am; www.myspace.com/norwegianbermuda
Bigbang (Oslo) Co-op Bar, Thu., TBA; www.thebigbangweb.com
Datarock (Bergen) Emo's Jr., Thu., 12mid; www.datarock.no
Thomas Dybdahl (Stavanger) Central Presbyterian Church, Fri., 8pm; www.thomasdybdahl.com
El Axel (Oslo) Copa, Thu., 11pm; www.myspace.com/elaxel
Evan Seleven (Kristiansand) Lamberts, Sat., 8pm; www.myspace.com/evanseleven
Grand Island (Oslo) Uncle Flirty's Loft, Fri., 12mid; www.grandisland.no
Kate Havnevik (Oslo) Eternal, Thu., 9pm; www.katehavnevik.com
Chris Lee (Oslo) Copa, Thu., 11:30pm; www.chrisleemusic.net
Sondre Lerche (Bergen) Antone's, Thu., 10:30pm; www.sondrelerche.com
Lionheart Brothers (Oslo) Emo's Jr., Thu., 11pm; www.myspace.com/lionheartbrothers
Marit Larsen (Oslo) Uncle Flirty's Loft, Fri., 9pm; www.maritlarsen.com
New Violators (Trondheim) Emo's Jr., Thu., 9pm; www.newviolators.com
Noxagt (Iono) Spiro's Amphitheatre, Fri., TBA; www.noxagt.com
120 Days (Kristiansund) Flamingo Cantina, Thu., 10pm; www.myspace.com/120days
Real Ones (Bergen)Tap Room @ Six, Sat., 1am; www.realones.no
Sissy Wish (Bergen) Buffalo Billiards, Wed., 11pm; www.myspace.com/sissywish
Turbonegro (Oslo) Emo's Main Room, Sat., 12:45am; www.turbonegro.net
Wibutee (Oslo) Elephant Room, Thu., 10pm; www.wibutee.net
SWEDENThe Ark (Malmö) TBA; www.thearkworld.com
Marit Bergman (Stockholm) Uncle Flirty's Loft, Thu., 8pm; www.maritbergman.net
Ane Brun (Stockholm) 18th Floor @ Hilton Garden, Fri., 11pm; www.anebrun.com
David & the Citizens (Malmö) Uncle Flirty's Loft, Thu., 1am; www.myspace.com/davidandthecitizens
The Faintest Ideas (Gothenburg) Parish II, Fri., 11pm; www.magicmarkerrecords.com/tfi.html
Tobias Froberg (Stockholm) 18th Floor @ Hilton Garden, Fri., 1am; www.tobiasfroberg.com
Frida Hyvönen (Stockholm) Mohawk, Thu., 9pm; www.fridahyvonen.com
Johnossi (Stockholm) Uncle Flirty's Loft, Fri., 11pm; www.johnossi.com
Lo-Fi-Fnk (Stockholm) Beauty Bar Patio, Thu., 9pm; lo-fi-fnk.com
Loney, Dear (Stockholm) Emo's Lounge, Wed., 10pm; loneydear.com
Mando Diao (Borlänge) Dirty Dog Bar, Thu., 12mid; www.mandodiao.com
Peter, Bjorn & John (Stockholm) La Zona Rosa, Wed., TBA; www.peterbjornandjohn.com
Kristoffer Ragnstam (Gothenburg) Lamberts, Wed., 9pm; www.ragnstam.com
Sahara Hotnights (Stockholm) Blender Bar @ the Ritz, Wed., 12:45am; www.saharahotnights.com
Vains of Jenna (Falkenberg) Co-op Bar, Sat., 1am; www.vainsofjenna.com