Some Nordic Bands

In the past, whenever I thought of Nordic music, what came to mind were bands like Bathory, Mayhem, Burzum, and the like. You know the score – lunatic pagan Satanists who delight in baiting trendy people and burning down churches, part time musicians who end up killing each other or serving long terms in prison. But lately it seems like there is a whole new spirit to the music of the north, and a whole new slew of surprisingly good-natured Nordic bands. Lately I’ve found myself going to surprisingly many gigs by bands from greater Scandinavia. And you know what, I’m beginning to think the Nazis were right after all, and the and the Nordlanders are the true Overrace. But only in a musical sense – it’s a pity Hitler’s gang spoiled everything by invading foreign countries and killing people instead of forming indie bands.

It all started with my weekend of perky Swedes. First of all I went to Dublin’s Temple Bar Music Centre to see Soundtrack Of Our Lives. As you know, these are the space-pop phenomenon who are sweeping the world. They are fronted by a beardy chubster in a kaftan, and the rest of the band look like they¹ve all escaped from a charitable home for the terminally attractive. They are an appealing prospect live – Mr Chubster leaps around the stage giving good frontman, while everyone else in the band gives it loads as well. I was reminded a bit of seeing early Suede on stage – you have a band where everyone acts like they’re the front man. This kind of thing goes well with their poppy space rock, oh yes. Another amusing thing about the gig was the way every Swedish girl in Dublin seemed to be there. The concentrated raw power of their mad for it energy was kind of terrifying. I was sorry that the only Swedish phrase I know means “You are a Lesbian”, not the best conversation starter.

I’ve had SOOL’s most recent album, Behind The Music, for a while, a non-birthday present from my old friend and quaffing partner Andrew Farrell. And it had never really engaged with me as being that good. But at the gig I amazed myself with the amount of songs I recognised from the album, and since then it has become a favoured listening experience.

Anyway, two days later Rener and I saw The Hives play an open-air gig in the courtyard of Dublin Castle. Somewhat annoyingly, we had bought tickets for an indoors Hives gig, but they were then mysteriously added to the bill of a concert by Muse, a widely disliked band. First up on this open air festival style event was awful Irish band The Revs. The Revs are not a good band, combining all that is bad about one dimensional third division punk and sports metal. Still, they are young and were obviously living the rock dream playing on a lovely big stage, and the kids loved them. The kids don’t know shit, of course, but it seems somehow churlish to begrudge The Revs their fifteen minutes of fame merely on account of their awfulness. I would be slightly happier if their fifteen minutes of fame did not involve me having to listen to them.

Next up were The Hives. The Hives are G*R*A*T*E. It is a bit trendy in some quarters to scoff at them as some kind of karaoke punk band, a kind of Nordic Revs with better dress sense. There’s only one thing to say to people who hold that kind of opinion – The Hives are Law, you are crime. Live they do pretty much what you’d expect – the lead Hive jumps around like a hyperactive puppy (© David A. Simpson) while the rest of the band look sharp and play hard. One thing that you only really notice with the Hives when you see them live is they’re not all the kind of svelte Nordic elves you might have expected – the bassist and second guitarist are actually hulking chubsters. But they used their larger size to add extra weight to their stage presence, the bassist in particular applying an almost Sparks-esque air of studied impassivity to his demeanour.

You know the way The Hives credit all their songs to their mysterious and unlikely named svengali, one “Randy Fitzsimons”? One theory often advanced is that actually they are some Bill Drummond front, based on his imaginary Lapp punk band The Fuckers. My own new theory is that actually the bassist is the genius behind The Hives, putting the muppet out front because of his more girl-friendly looks. Or maybe the drummer: when the band had finished he came out front and menaced the audience. Scary.

Then there was a hiatus before Muse came on. During this an odd event occurred. We noticed a gaggle of girls charging over towards someone shouting “Look! It’s him! It’s him!”. Who was the object of their attentions? None other than Munter from The Revs. I bet he was thinking “it doesn’t get any better than this”.

Eventually Muse took the stage. For such a hated band they were actually not that bad, though not really the kind of thing I would get that excited about either. They had a lot of the bad points of goth music – the overblown pomposity and ridiculous sense of their own importance – and none of the good points, whatever they might be. But they did give good show, and if I hadn’t seen them after The Hives I might even have been impressed enough to stay for all of their set.

Some weeks later I saw popular Icelandic band Múm playing in new trendy venue Spirit, conveniently located just around the corner from me. Actually Spirit is just ye olde Music HQ only without issues of Hot Press stapled to the wall in between exhibits of Bongo’s kecks. First on the bill was some local outfit – Goodtime John or something like that. They were entertaining enough. Amusingly, I was sitting beside their biggest fan who kept bellowing out her approval at the end of every song.

After a bit Goodtime John went away, and eventually we realised that the people messing around with equipment onstage were actually Múm. As you know, Múm comprise two twin sisters and a few blokes. They play a variety of instruments (guitars, drums, organ, bass, that thing with keyboards you blow into, xylophone, accordion, etc.) and combine these with various types of programmed electronic sounds to make an interestingly textured sound. Live they did that thing of swapping around instruments between songs, and there was a bit of everyone playing every instrument at least once type antics going on. I know Múm mainly from their first album, Yesterday Was Dramatic, Today Is Okay (only recently acquiring their second, “Finally We Are No One”), which is mainly all instrumental. They did more in the way of singing at this gig. The twins handled all vocal chores, demonstrating that they are graduates of the Isobel Campbell Academy Of Vocal Delivery.

They’re an amusing band to watch. Although much of their music is very electronic and wouldn’t be out of place on a Warp compi, they look very indie. You know, they look kind of shy and barely acknowledge the audience. You sense that maybe they find the whole live thing incredibly nerve-wracking. Yet any nervousness on their part doesn’t affect their playing, which remained very together. Even when they seemed to be having problems with their kit they still managed to avoid embarrassingly long gaps between their songs. There is an affecting charm to their music which seeing them live only accentuated.

Somehow I suspect Múm will not be murdering each other or burning down churches.

written by The Dirty Vicar, July 2002