Cast your mind back over the last half-century or so of music, and think of some of the catchiest and most (almost ironically, mind) popular songs. Chances are most of them were made by a Nordic artist. Alongside the big names such as ABBA or Bjork, there’s A-Ha (Take on Me), Europe (The Final Countdown) and more. Even the Crazy Frog (sorry in advance for plaguing your minds) was Nordic. And that great song that’s been featured in the Guardians of the Galaxy trailers, Hooked on a Feeling, is a Billboard No.1 cover song from the 1970s by Sweden’s Blue Swede.
But whilst all the above music was popular, little of it is what could be considered particularly ‘good’ (quality relative to its genre, not taste-wise). Yet now, there seems to be a new scene of avant-garde artists springing up in the region, each bringing their own sound and style, yet all producing consistently strong music.
Of Monsters and Men may have taken the crown as the most commercially popular, but Sigur Ros’ appearance on Game of Thrones likely brought them a substantial new audience. Those two already display the creativity the music coming out of Scandinavia has. Of Monsters and Men are certainly an indie-pop band, but there is still something different about them lyrically and melodically.
One only has to listen to Jonsi (the Sigur Ros frontman) singing in Hopelandic (Jonsi’s invented gibberish language) in his trademark eerie tone to realise they don’t fit into mainstream genres, despite their mainstream appeal and exposure (their earlier songs Hoppípolla and Sæglópur being the soundtrack to many an advert). And wandering briefly into the true mainstream, let’s not forget the current electro king Avicii, aka. Swede Tim Bergling, who has recently experimented with introducing bluegrass elements to his music with the immensely successful Wake Me Up.
Beyond these, the talent doesn’t end. Choir of Young Believers have put out some interesting material over their 3 albums and 1 EP, including the brilliant Hollow Talk, used as the theme for the equally brilliant crime drama The Bridge, which has given them huge exposure to new fans. Going slightly smaller, Icelandic band Árstíðir have captured a fantastic folk-based sound, which hopefully will carry further later this year, with a Kickstarter-funded new album expected imminently.
Then there’s melodic singer-songwriter Ásgeir, who mixes synth and folk-pop to create a more familiar sound than many of the other artists here. Post-rock band For A Minor Reflection and musician-cum-composer Ólafur Arnalds (incidentally the composer on ITV hit Broadchurch) offer further proof of the talent pool on display.
Last, but perhaps best, Johann Johannsson is one of the leading minimalist composers around right now, creating often simplistic, yet always incredible melodies, merging strings and synths seamlessly. Alongside his soundtrack to the 2013 film Prisoners, his 2008 album Fordlandia, so named after Henry Ford’s failed project in the Amazon, is one of his best moments; the final track, 15-minute epic How We Left Fordlandia, is a simply amazing piece of music.
Of course, critical appreciation of many of these artists may come down to personal taste, but they cover a fair portion of the musical spectrum, from classical and folk, to pop and electro, yet always retaining the creative spark and fresh take on their respective genres. Perhaps it’s a bit imperialistic to suggest the Nords are taking over musically, but there’s certainly a vast array of talent here just waiting to be discovered.