Stockholm’s jazz scene puts up a fight

The sixties were a golden age for live, improvisational music in Stockholm. Back then clubs like Gyllene Cirkeln attracted American jazz icons almost nightly and there was tight collaboration between international and Swedish artists. A lot has changed since then and most of it for the worse.

If you walked into the Gyllene Cirkel on a cold autumn night back in 1962 you might have caught jazz-legend Dexter Gordon together with some of Sweden’s finest rhythm men like Sture Nordin and Rune Carlsson as they played in the ABF-building’s smoke-filled ballroom. Back then artists played week long gigs where dozens of different jazz musicians would gather to exchange ideas and inspirations from both sides of the Atlantic.

Over the years though, the live music scene in Stockholm has changed dramatically as the forces of big-business, pop-culture and modern society have done their best to stamp the remaining life out of modern musical development.

At the end of 2005, Mondo, a popular venue for improvisational music, declared bankruptcy after it lost its liquor license. A few months later Lydmar Hotel, a well-established scene for jazz, soul and hip-hop, was forced to close its doors after the building owners decided that a bank office would be a much better use of the space than a legendary center for creativity and performance.

“The Stockholm live-music scene is almost dead and it seems as if everyone is doing their best to try and kill it off,” says Ingmari Pagenkemper, who before it closed was responsible for booking acts like The Jungle Brothers and Isaac Hayes to the Lydmar Hotel. But there are signs of hope with recent rumours that Stockholm’s Debaser club might take over Mondo’s business.

Likewise, Pagenkemper has now started working as producer at Södra Teatern. She is involved in two international musical projects and hopes to eventually start booking individual acts to that venue. But there are still many challenges facing the live-music scene in the Swedish capital.

“Audiences have become lazy and spoiled. People get their entertainment through the Internet and TV, so it is increasingly harder to get them to go out and buy a ticket if they don’t know exactly what to expect,” Pagenkemper says.

As always, the necessary evil that keeps the ship floating but can also run it into the rocks, and send it to the bottom of the ocean, is money.

Venues take big financial risks when they book new or upcoming artists. A few mistakes can bankrupt a place. For this reason, according to Pagenkemper, a lot of venues have chosen more mainstream acts over lesser known artists because there is a greater chance they will make a profit.

This is what has happened at the Stockholm Jazz Festival whose recent headliners include stars like Stevie Wonder, Jonny Lang and Lauren Hill. This year’s festival will put artists like Kayne West and Sting under the “jazz” headline.

Pagenkemper is well aware that events like the Stockholm Jazz Festival need to be run as businesses but she doesn’t agree with the way they are managing the music. “They think this is their way to reach a new generation and new target groups. I think it is necessary to find new audiences but they are going about it the wrong way. It is a disaster for the improvisational music scene”.

Pagenkemper sees collaboration as the way to breathe life and inspiration into the live music scene.

“At Lydmar one of my passions was to bring foreign artists together with Swedish producers and musicians, where they could exchange ideas or go into a studio together. It was greatly appreciated by both foreign artists and Swedish producers alike”.

This is the same concept that Gyllene Cirkeln used back in the sixties when Stockholm was a European center for live, improvisational music. With international and local artists constantly exchanging ideas the music and creative scene in Stockholm blossomed.

While today’s music scene is suffering, it is not yet dead. According to Pagenkemper there are good promoters and good venues in Stockholm. The Glenn Miller Café for example, is doing a fantastic job of offering new music while Mosebacke, which does not have as much jazz as it used to, is still offering a lot of high-quality concerts and independent artists.

Berns has also begun to offer a wide range of not-so commercial jazz, soul and R&B and finally Södra Teatern is promoting world music, spoken-word and jazz.

So despite the setbacks at the Lydmar and Mondo, many on the music scene are hopeful that Pagenkemper will continue to put her experience of forming collaborations between top international artists and Sweden’s young, creative minds to good effect.

David Francisco

Photo on homepage: Bajofondo Tango Club & Luciano Supervieille at Södra Teatern

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‘Don’t wear bright colours’: Eight tips on how to dress like a Swede

Swedes have an international reputation for dressing well, with Scandi style a popular trend outside Sweden. The Local asked Swedes and foreigners living in Sweden to try and figure out the best tips and tricks for how to dress like a Swede.

'Don't wear bright colours': Eight tips on how to dress like a Swede

Black is best

When asking several Swedes their top-tips on how to dress like a Swede, many agreed – wear black.

Young professional Tove advises to keep it “all black, minimalist”. Uppsala newspaper columnist Moa agrees: “Wear a lot of black clothes and DON’T wear sneakers or ‘comfortable’ shoes, like running shoes, with dresses.”

Black is a neutral colour and, in general, if you get the neutral colours right you have got a long way in following the Swedish style. 

Neutral colours and a lot of knitwear is a good starting point. Photo: FilippaK/

Stay neutral 

Sweden might be saying goodbye to hundreds of years of neutrality by joining Nato, but Swedish fashion maintains its strong neutral stance when it comes to colour combinations.

Generally speaking, in autumn and winter Swedes tend to wear darker colours, as Sharon put it: “lots of beige, grey, black and ivory knits or wool. Jeans black or any shade of blue. Black tights with white sneakers for skirts and dresses”.

“Swedes in general will wear black and navy together which I’ve not seen before,” she added.

However, as the weather gets warmer, things change, as half-British half-Swedish Erik explained: “in summer/late spring Swedes change shape and personality,” adding a bit more colour to their wardrobe.

“Lots of colours yet still somewhat monochrome,” he said.

Most Swedes don’t wear a tie at work. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Follow the news trend, drop the tie

Nils, a reporter and presenter for public broadcaster SVT in western Sweden, does not always wear a tie in front of the camera – and he said his colleagues on national news don’t wear ties either.

“It’s not a must,” he said.

A blue shirt, no tie, top button open, beige chinos and a grey dinner jacket is the look he chose when presenting the evening news a few weeks ago.

Nils Arnell presenting the news on SVT Nyheter Väst. Photo: Nils Arnell/SVT

On a day to day basis Nils, who stressed that he’s “not a fashion expert”, gave the following advice: “As long as you manage to dress in a neat style, you can get away with quite a lot.”

“A white t-shirt and an overshirt work well in most situations and look stylish.”

Stay classy, even in class

Engineering student Erik (not the same Erik quoted previously) recently returned to Sweden from a one-year exchange at Birmingham University, where he noticed a big difference in student style between the two countries.

“The first thing that comes to mind is that on university campus there are so many people wearing work-out clothes, at least where I was”, he said.

“In Sweden, it’s more common to wear jeans than tracksuit bottoms, compared to the UK”. 

It’s also common to see a difference in styles even between departments at Swedish universities. The law and economics departments, for example, tend to wear more formal attire with a higher number of students wearing shirts and polos than, say, social sciences or engineering students.

Many students seem to wear a toned-down version of what they might be expected to wear in their future workplace.

When in doubt, think Jantelagen!

Equality and conformity are important concepts when it comes to many aspects of day-to-day life in Sweden, including the clothes you wear.

This doesn’t mean you have to do exactly the same as everyone else, but more that being too flashy or over-the-top can be frowned upon.

This can be traced back to Jantelagen, “the law of Jante”, a set of 10 rules taken from a satirical novel written by Danish author Aksel Sandemose in the 1930s, which spells out the unwritten cultural codes that have long defined Scandinavia.

Jantelagen discourages individual success and sets average as the goal. It manifests itself in Swedish culture not only with a ‘we are all equal’ ethos but even more so a ‘don’t think you are better than anyone, ever’ mindset.

And this is seen in Swedes’ attitude to clothing, too. Flashy, expensive clothing with obvious logos or brands designed to show off your wealth breaks the first rule of Jantelagen: “You’re not to think you are anything special”.

‘Stealth wealth’

This doesn’t mean that Swedes don’t wear expensive clothes, though. They’re just not in-your-face expensive.

Felix, a podcaster from Stockholm describes it as “stealth wealth”, saying that Swedes would have no problem buying and wearing “a black jacket without any tags for 10,000kr”. 

Despite living in Sweden his whole life, he said that it’s not always easy to get the style right.

“I’m struggling myself,” he admitted.

He suggested taking a look at fashion blogger and journalist Martin Hansson for inspiration on how to dress. 

“Do NOT use bright colours,” Felix added.

Birkenstocks with socks. Photo: Carl-Olof Zimmerman/TT


Most of those we asked said that Swedes are a fan of white trainers, most commonly Stan Smiths or Vagabonds.

With the shoes being popular all year round for men and women, this can cause issues at house parties – as Swedes take off their shoes when they come inside.

This inevitably results in confused guests at the end of the night trying to figure out just which pair of white trainers belongs to them – and trying to find one missing shoe the next day because someone accidentally walked away with one of yours is more common than you might think. 

Vans trainers are also popular amongst more alternative crowds (black of course). At work, dress shoes are popular in the winter and loafers or ballerinas in the summer.

In the summer months, you’re likely to see Birkenstock sandals on men and women. Most Swedes wear Birkenstocks without socks – unless they’re off to do their laundry in their building’s tvättstuga.

Birkenstocks are also popular as indoor shoes all-year-round, both at home and at work. It is common to have a “no outdoor shoes” policy in gyms, schools and some offices. This is to avoid bringing a lot of dirt indoors, especially in the winter months when there is snow, rain, grit and salt on the streets.

H&M’s then-CEO Rolf Eriksen wears colourful socks at a press conference in 2006. Photo: Björn Larsson Ask/SvD/SCANPIX/TT

Don’t forget the socks!

As you often take your shoes off indoors in Sweden, your socks are visible.

This has led to an unexpected trend for colourful socks with interesting patterns, which are a great way to break the monotone of neutral colours and conformity by expressing your personality – in a lagom way, of course.

A pair of colourful socks or a playful pattern will get you noticed and likely be a conversation starter at a dinner party.

What’s your best advice for dressing like a Swede? Let us know!

This article is based on the responses we received from Swedes and foreigners in Sweden on what they think you should wear if you want to follow Swedish fashion trends.

If you have any tips of your own which you think we’ve left out, let us know! You can comment on this article, send us an email at [email protected], or get in touch with us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram: @thelocalsweden