The Null Device
Jude Rogers (who, I believe, co-edits the Smoke zine, along with Matt Haynes) has an article in the Graun about the recent explosion of Swedish indie pop, and how Sweden seems to have recently become the homeland of indie-pop (in the old-school, pre-Britpop/Carling/Xfm sense of the word):
"Things have always been very do-it-yourself here," says Angergard. "Labrador has never had a grand, ambitious plan. Partly because bands don't expect much in Sweden. They never think of the fame, or the money like you do in Britain; there's just not that attitude. Bands are more laid-back, they all have jobs and normal lives." Angergard pats his chest contentedly. "They just make music because it's a fun thing to do."Which sounds a bit like Melbourne; at least compared to hyper-competitive, status-conscious England. Of course, in England you do get bands in the old-school indie-pop tradition, though they're the exception rather than the rule, and when you mention "indie" to someone, you have to explain that you're not referring to the Kaiser Monkeys or some other hyper-stylised, massively commercial, aggressively success-oriented outfit.
What's noticeable about these Swedish indie bands is their ambition - not in terms of a rock'n'roll attitude, but in terms of them wanting to put more in, and get more out of, their songs. Johan Duncanson of the Radio Dept - a Labrador band who had two NME singles of the week with their last album and hope for more with their new one, Pet Grief - reckons that this difference is because Sweden's musical culture's less laddish than elsewhere. "So much indie music in America and Britain these days is very male, very urrgghh. Dirty, smelly, heterosexual music. We're less about getting drunk and more about sitting with friends, playing around with keyboards and guitars, finding different sounds and textures - making something exciting for ourselves."
Duncanson admits that it helps that the Swedish government is so supportive of the arts. Anyone can get money for guitar strings, or form a studiocirkel - a group of individuals who apply for government funding for rehearsal rooms. This encourages bands such as the Radio Dept to take the DIY ethos further. Bands who, in Duncanson's words, want to "go back to what indie used to be about, before it became a term that doesn't mean anything".Of course, this would never happen in Britain. There's no economically rational reason for the government to fund indie music, when corporate sponsors can do so, and additionally result with a more efficiently marketable form of "indie music".
Have these "old English indie principles" helped Swedish indie connect with indie kids here in Britain? It helps, obviously, that most Swedish indie is written in English - mainly, the bands say, because they have grown up with pop music being sung in English, or they have been Anglophiles themselves. Still, there are Swedish language bands such as [ingenting] (which means [nothing] in English) and Vapnet, who are getting record label interest over here, and who are regularly played at Brighton's Scandophile club night, Sweden Made Me. "It's mainly the sound of these records rather than the language they sing in," says the club's founder, Rob Sinden. "It's homegrown music, made in bedrooms, there's this whole DIY ethic. There's a pride about that, a real happiness about it, that appeals to English indie fans."
The Times has more details about the recent Banksy exhibition in LA, detailing the meticulous planning that went into it, and the businesslike canny behind it and the various recent stunts that primed the publicity pump for it:
Despite its studiously rough-and-ready aesthetic, last Thursday's party was the climax of an operation almost six months in its planning and preparation. Kari Johnson, Tai's handler, was first approached "a few months ago" to see if her entertainment elephant might be available as an exhibit.
First, a few weeks ago, his team distributed 500 defaced copies of the new Paris Hilton CD in 42 music stores around the UK -- a prank that made headlines. Then, the Friday before last, Banksy dressed a blow-up doll in the orange jumpsuit and black hood of a Guantanamo Bay prisoner. He deflated it, stuffed it into a backpack and went for a day out at Disneyland. Inside, he sat on a bench and quickly unpacked, inflated his unwanted installation with a pump, and fixed it on some fencing facing a blind corner on the Rocky Mountain Railroad rollercoaster ride. By the time Disney's in-house security team spotted Donald and Mickey's uninvited new friend, Banksy was long gone, but a cohort remained to record the reaction for the exhibition.According to the article, the planning has paid off in spades, with the exhibition taking an estimated US$4.5m, and doing what many British artists have tried and failed to—breaking America. The question remains of how much of his carefully preserved underground anti-establishment cool Banksy will keep now that most people have heard of his work by reading in celebrity gossip tabloids that Keanu and Brangelina bought pieces at an exclusive VIP premiere; and, indeed, how long he can remain both an outlaw street artist and a canny businessman selling to the establishment. (Surely it won't be long until local councils start suing Banksy Plc. or whatever his business entity is called for street-cleaning costs, if nothing else.)
The piece ends with a description of Banksy, whom the author met at a party:
Back at that party in June, what I found most telling about observing Banksy was not his appearance (dark hair, lightly bearded, nice trainers -- more I shall not say) but his behaviour. There were dodgems at this rather opulent do, and you couldn't get Banksy off them. While my girlfriend, son and I waited in the queue we watched as Banksy stayed resolutely in his ride until three five-minute changeovers had passed. Each time they did, he revved up afresh, electrically zooming with as much speed as possible into his fellow drivers. With each juddering impact, he grinned -- and then accelerated away at speed.