Thursday, November 29, 2007

Parallel Universe

Last weekend, witnessing the mosh pit and an attempted stage-dive at the Harvey Williams gig in Gothenburg, my mate – such a veteran of indiepop he even sang on a Sha-la-la flexi and has grown to hate most indiepop over the years because it (quite accurately, I suppose, if a little unfairly) isn’t reggae enough – turned to me in a state of bewilderment and spluttered: “This is a parallel universe.”

There is some truth in that statement, as the Swedish audiences in both Malmo and Gothenburg displayed both a reverence for and an utter joy in seeing one of the elder statesmen of the indiepop era play some old classics.

I noticed, however, a strange paradox, that while a special affection exists for “English and Scottish” (looks like the Helen Love Swedish tour will never happen, then) indiepop, great music closer to home is either overlooked or not celebrated enough.

Perhaps part of the attraction of UK indie for Swedes might be a feeling of “authenticity” and romance due to its geographical provenance; indeed, part of the attraction of indiepop in general may be that while producing some truly great music it remains an underground, marginalised movement.

Sweden seems to be turning out an ever-increasing number of superior indiepop acts and many of these bands are getting serious attention in the UK – this week (and sometimes it does seem like every week there’s a new Swedish band to rejoice over) it’s Lacrosse. I sensed, though, in Sweden a measure of if not resentment then certainly indifference towards or even ignorance of some lesser-known Swedish bands.

Two of the best pop songs of the year, Doom di Doom and Sweet Careless, can be found on The Isolation Years' latest ep, Snoose Boulevard. This is the kind of pop music that calls for public holidays and national celebrations such is its boundless brilliance.

Agent Simple, whose Shaking An Egg ep was recorded at home, sounds like I’m From Barcelona after the party’s over – numbers reduced by 90%, a dour demi-monde of leather jackets and cigarette smoke in which the greatest music in the world is the louche hook of the Mary Chain's Sometimes Always – but with just as much crazed invention. They should be held up as a shining example of everything that can be great in pop music (they claim to play, among other instruments, “pianos, maraccases, eggs, sambagobells, claves, cabasas and - of course – tambourines").

I expected that Swedes I talked to would be into this music as much as I am. That they’d prefer to listen to Glasgow’s Zoey Van Goey (and Foxtrot Vandals is a great record) for example, points as much to a notion that many indiepop fans have a tendency to look for the obscure, for the foreign, to add to the romance of the package as it does to the music from any one country being better than the other.


The Boy and the Cloud said...

I can see the point you're trying to make. But these days it's easy to feel more estranged to a band from your own country than a band from the other side of the world. that bands from the asian indiepop scene have more fans in europe than back home is a telling example. i've met the people in most of my favourite bands from the uk, but i've never met anyone from agent simple or isolation years.

i haven't heard the isolation years track you mention, but i've always found them dull and tedious, the typical record reviewer's band. like listening to keane or something in england. agent simple i love though.

i don't necessarily prefer bands from the uk, it's just that swedish bands that get noticed there are always the wrong ones, sometimes it seems completely random. (i didn't see a good band at 'sounds of sweden' for the whole year i was in glasgow). the exception is a few people like spiral scratch, who actually know which the GOOD swedish bands are.

like liechtenstein, days, tellus about the moon, the bridal shop, twig, the electric pop group, fibi frap etc.

let's take some bands i like from the uk (including wales!): the royal we, wake the president, the school, horowitz, pocketbooks, the parallelograms. it doesn't have anything to do with site specificity, the reasons i prefer them over isolation years are things like sound, production values, aesthetics and enthusiasm. of course there are imagined 'sounds' like the sound of glasgow, but is there a sound of stoke, cardiff or newcastle?

and why, if these bands are so popular, do they never play here? (helen love did play some years ago actually). the long blondes coming over to play here is as boring as irene touring the uk.

i think your sampling of the swedish pop kids was more than a bit biased, as it's only a handful of people who know about zoey van goey or the school after all. something i'm hoping to change!

Fire Escape said...

The other three songs on the Isolation Years ep don't sit easily with me (I think I detect some - shudder - jazz going on there) but for the sheer pop invention of the two stand-out tracks, they are a cut above and a world away from something so pedestrian as Keane.

I don't like all the Swedish bands you mention; similarly, I don't find much to favour in some of the UK bands you tip. That is, of course, simply down to personal taste. However, I think that there is something definable as the 'Glasgow sound' simply because of the weight of history and influence of indiepop in that city, as well as the sharing of band line-ups, which can be heard in the current music (who was it that produced Zoey Van Goey? Stuart Murdoch. The bassist? Bob Kildea).

It isn't at all imaginative to propose that through association with like-minded souls, through sharing band members, to having the established acts stay in the city for their careers and thereafter, that there is something such as the Glasgow sound which is intrinsic to the Glasgow scene.

That Cardiff or Newcastle, for example, don't have a 'sound' is because there isn't a dominant indiepop tradition in those cities, so music from those cities, and many other places around the world, will be influenced by the Glasgow sound, for example, rather than being part of the Glasgow scene.

My sampling of Swedish pop kids was totally unscientific, you're right. Good luck in turning on people to your favourite sounds - wherever those sounds come from - in Malmo.