laugardagur, mars 24, 2007
San Francisco Chronicle on Nordic Rock (2002)
The bands that came in from the cold
Nordic rock is among the hottest around
November 20, 2002
The Icelandic Society of Northern California holds its annual Thorrablot, a traditional feast, in March. Thirty-year-old ex-pat Halldor Fannar says the event, like so many customs all over the world, is something of an amusement to the country's younger generations.
"The specialty is old, really bad food," he says with a laugh. "Stuff like pickled shark."
And the entertainment? It's accordion-based, "almost like lounge music." What do his peers think of it? "They think it's pretty goofy," he says.
These days they take their popular music pretty seriously in Scandinavia. And the rest of the globe is taking notice: The innovation of Reykjavik's Sigur Ros and the high energy of Sweden's Hives have the music world heating up about the bands that came in from the cold.
Lately, Bay Area Nordics interested in their homeland's cultural exports have enjoyed a bounty of tour stops by their favorite bands. Sigur Ros, the contemplative rock band that has been an inspiration for England's groundbreaking Radiohead, plays Saturday at the Warfield. Sweden's Beatlesque sextet, the Soundtrack of Our Lives, headlines an all-Skandi triple bill (with countrymates Citizen Bird and Norway's Cato Salsa Experience) tonight at Bimbo's.
Other groups, including Sweden's all-girl rock group Sahara Hotnights and the Icelandic rap-rock band Quarashi, have also made recent visits.
With a cosmopolitan, well-educated, largely English-conversant public, Scandinavia is a ripe breeding ground for U.S.- and British-style culture. And with the U.S. independent rock 'n' roll scene lacking much in the way of ingenuity right now, its audience is hungrily scouring the shrinking global village for something different.
From the International Noise Conspiracy to Mum -- which is to say, from chaos to quietude -- the current crop of bands emerging from rock 'n' roll's latest flash point runs the creative gamut. Sweden, once known almost exclusively to the rest of the free world as the home of ABBA, supports an entire industry of bubble gum pop, with producer-composer Max Martin luring the big three of teen pop -- Britney Spears, 'N Sync and the Backstreet Boys --
to his studio in recent years.
But that's hardly representative, says Fannar, a computer-gaming techie who moved to San Francisco from Iceland during the dot-com ascent six years ago.
"The joke is that we have some of world's best and worst music," he says.
As is so often the case with musical hotbeds, Scandinavia -- Sweden in particular -- has been tagged with a distinctive "sound." The success of the Hives, the crackling garage-rock band that melds the best ideas from four decades of the genre, has brought peripheral recognition for such groups as Division of Laura Lee, the Hellacopters and Finland's Flaming Sideburns.
But the reality is far more diverse. At home in Iceland, Fannar says, it is impossible to overstate the impact of Björk, the experimental pop princess. Few outsiders can name a single other Icelander, he says, despite the fact that the country can claim, for instance, a Nobel laureate (the late novelist Halldor Laxness).
Fannar, whose latest obsession is the impressionistic electronic act Mum, isn't especially smitten with Björk. "It's good music for her target audience, " he says diplomatically.
Whatever the style, Scandinavia undoubtedly turns out a high percentage of musicians. Like Detroit's grim class divisions or Seattle's relentless rain, the pop proliferation of the Scandinavian countries is often credited to the region's bitter winters and protracted darkness.
"Things to do outside are very limited," explains Fannar, who moved to California in part for the rock climbing and mountain biking. "The consumption of entertainment is really high. It's dark six months of the year. You need it. "
In recent years that resourcefulness has attracted some well-known admirers,
many from England. Oasis' brothers Gallagher, huge fans of Soundtrack of Our Lives, recently hosted the group on a European tour. Blur's Damon Albarn, the drum-and-bass producer Goldie and members of the electronic punk group Prodigy have all made Reykjavik their home away from home.
One reason for the appeal is that Iceland, with just 300,000 residents, keeps its celebrities honest. A few years ago Fannar went home for Christmas; on a night out at a local pub, he sat down at the bar next to Bjork.
"There she was, no bodyguards, just doing her thing," he recalls.
Celebrity in Iceland, he says, is no big deal. He laughs: "Everyone in Iceland thinks they're a superstar anyway."