..on par with Dala horses? Sweden's fastest growing music genre 'house music' has conquered the world and become another hallmark of Sweden.
It might be hard to imagine for some, but in the same way blue jeans and cowboy hats have come to epitomize country music in the United States, the familiar Swedish flag now proudly serves as a symbol of one of Sweden’s fastest growing music genres: house music. Earlier this year, Forbes declared house music as a “global phenomenon,” yet it is clear that strong national identities prevail within the international genre.
Electronic music has long been popular throughout Europe and has now come into its own in the western hemisphere, helped significantly by an eclectic group of distinctly Swedish artists, including well-known names such as the Swedish House Mafia, Eric Prydz, Basshunter, David Guetta, Ingrosso, Avicii and many more on the rise.
Earlier this year, in a nod to this cultural phenomenon, the Swedish government awarded the 2011 Music Export Prize to three DJs: Steve Angello, Axel "Axwell" Hedfors and Sebastian Ingrosso—collectively known as the Swedish House Mafia—in recognition of their iconoclastic work in not only music production but also their representation of Sweden abroad. Their rise and international accomplishments, including snagging a 2012 European Border Breaker Award and selling out Madison Square Garden within 20 minutes of sale, continue to point to the fact that this music genre has now ventured out from hidden warehouse parties and entered the stage as a recognized aspect of mainstream culture.
The rise of new music
Though believed to have originated in Chicago, what we now refer to as house music matured not in the U.S. but in the UK and Europe. For decades, British and continental music labels established party colonies in such popular vacation spots as Mykonos, Bali and Ibiza. Even today, these destinations remain synonymous with the trance, garage and electronica music industries.
However, over the past 12 years, I have personally witnessed how Miami has matured to become the new mecca for electronic music, hosting not one but three large-scale music events in the same month: the Winter Music Conference, the Ultra Music Festival and Embrace Miami. Initially, “Ultra,” which headlines several Swedish artists, coincided with the more established Winter Music Conference, but it has outpaced both demand and capacity to the point where it has completely divested and is today being reproduced in five new international locations. Crowds of “party pilgrims” trek from across the globe to listen and dance, but more importantly feel something digital and sublime in the same instance.
Whether you ask a member of the XY-generation or listen to a recently published report in Forbes Magazine, Sweden distinguishes itself as the nation that has consistently produced the top talent in this field.
Yoni Einhorn, a Chicago-based DJ on the rise, explains that to him and his fans, “[The Swedes] are just superior musicians—they captivate their audiences like no other.” Yoni began his career in Florida and now plays around the country at college campuses in association with the popular fratmusic.com. He is one of a number of new musicians who, like the Swedes, now hope to transform house music from a personal hobby to a career.
What is house music?
It should be noted that the genre attracts a most complex and collaborative community, with artists producing chart-topping tracks through the use of other artists’ work by means of remixes and mashups (one or more music tracks superimposed on another and fused by an overarching base). The repertoire of cultural references by the Swedish DJs is, in fact, very developed and quite impressive, ranging from contemporary pop and rock to classical and jazz. The use of these cultural allusions varies as some prefer to splice only part of a track, whereas others will base their work around a single recognizable melody which is repeated throughout their piece, as was popularly received when Stockholm-born Tim Bergling a.k.a. Avicii did “Levels” with the late Etta James’ "Something's Got a Hold on Me," a gospel-worship song.
The Swedish house model
Historically, music labels, such as the Britain’s Ministry of Sound, collaborated at home and abroad with large-scale music venues to essentially produce DJs and introduce them to crowds of thousands of vacationing youth. These media groups would then use their size and popularity to push CDs and annual collections onto the European markets through traditional music stores. The not-so-quiet rise of Swedish techies to international music celebrity can be attributed to one key factor: ease of talent to enter the market based on access to technology and an environment conducive to growth of musical talent.
With the advent of such technological advancements as Myspace, Kazaa, Napster and YouTube, lesser-known artists from smaller markets—such as the Swedes—were empowered to directly connect with interested listeners on an individual and communal basis circumnavigating the traditional music label. Strong national I.T. infrastructure as found in Sweden enabled aspiring DJs to share their talent with friends, local communities and fans around the world.
This ability to freely share and enjoy music is viewed as fundamental to Swedes, and in 2006, a group under the leadership of Rickard ”Rick” Falkvinge founded the Pirate Party and went on to receive over 7 percent in the 2009 European Parliament elections in Sweden.
Mixing and producing music in their parents’ basements and then performing them in venues at home in Sweden or sometimes not at all, the Swedish music producers went virtually undetected until they went viral.
Sweden’s rich musical tradition and litany of successful composers, producers, performers and cultural icons in the music industry set the stage for newer, more innovative forms to build upon long-rooted success. Yet it was not until international success that house as a genre was widely accepted in Sweden, and more importantly, that local talent was recognized. Many of these early DJs touted their nerdy and techie backgrounds as Basshunter did with the seminal ode to an Internet Relay Chat user, “Boten Anna” (known as “Now You’re Gone” in English).
Many of these homespun artists inherited the passion for the music from peers.
“Eric Prydz, ATFC, Dennis Ferrer, Freemasons, Bob Sinclar, David Guetta, and Axwell were the artists we looked up to in the beginning,” says Christian Markborn, a Stockholm native and contemporary DJ of many well-known Swedish house music names, who recalls the evolution of the genre in his hometown. DJ Markborn, as he was known, played at some of the Swedish capital’s top venues including Café Opera, Laroy, Sturecompagniet and Kharma. He explains that though house was initially perceived simply as "techno" as a distinction between its sound and the prevalent RNB and pop, “monster tracks produced by Swedish artists” helped establish the music as the unique and distinct genre we enjoy today.
This publication has already covered the individual success of some of the more prominent members of the music community and looks forward to the continued success of the Swedish DJs making us proud to party!
By Carl Löof
A visit to any of the following websites will give you a good sense of the new Swedish music phenomenon www.swedishhousemafia.com