Melodic Swedes heading for world domination

It is summer in Ireland and an incredible song comes on the car radio. An infectious whistled melody and some rattling maracas casually meander into the vocals as the car winds its way along a mountain road. Two voices begin to sing about the early, tentative stages of a relationship.

There is something very familiar and vaguely Nordic about the whole thing. When the song fades out the DJ confirms my mounting suspicions: “That was the fabulous Peter Bjorn and John with ‘Young Folks’, currently the most requested song on Irish radio.”

Currently the most requested song on Irish radio! The rental car almost winds up floating in a picturesque lake. Peter Bjorn and John are regulars on the Stockholm live circuit. I have seen them perform several times but had no idea that their music led a duplicitous life of its own beyond the shores of this oblong land.

Mind you, it is not the first time Swedish musicians have sprung such a surprise. Last year Gothenburg guitar man Jose Gonzales was all the rage from Galway to Gloucester with his cover of The Knife’s Heartbeats. At that stage few people outside of Sweden had any idea that the song that launched a million colourful rubber balls in a Sony commercial was in fact a cover version.

But now The Knife too have broken into the Anglosphere, and you are nobody in the indie clubs of Blighty if you are not tuned in to The Concretes or Radio Dept.

Speaking of The Concretes, it is that band’s former singer Victoria Bergsman who plays the dulcet female lead in the relationship drama that is ‘Young Folks’. “I like a duet to be built up as a conversation and we all really liked Victoria’s voice,” says Björn Yttling, speaking to The Local from outside a club in York, where the band are due to play later that evening.

He describes the band’s latest UK tour as “very good”. The success of ‘Young Folks’ has certainly done their popularity no harm. “We’ve had a few sold out gigs and the crowds seem to know the songs,” says Yttling, the band’s bassist, producer and expert whistler. Meanwhile their star continues to rise and the British press has identified the band as one of the main attractions among the latest batch of successful Swedish music exports.

“Everyone is asking why we make such good music in Sweden. I think that maybe the major labels weren’t picking up the good stuff here and a lot of excellent bands ended up on smaller labels. There it is quite non-commercial, and people get to develop at their own pace. Artists usually record before they have a decent contract. Jose Gonzales is a good example of that,” says Yttling.

The band has been together since 1999. Peter and Björn already knew each other well, having played music together for 8 years. When John came along the trio of northern Swedes was ready to hit the studio. Björn shed his two dots and an internationally pronounceable band was born. Second single ‘Failing and Passing’ gave an early indication that they were headed for great things. A solid debut album in 2002 was followed by a second full-length offering, ‘Falling Out’, in 2004.

Continuing the tradition of releasing albums at two year intervals, this summer saw the release of ‘Writer’s Block’, the band’s third album and one that could well push them within earshot of the greater listening public. Any fears that the album would fail to match the magnificence of ‘Young Folks’ are dispelled from the moment the laser hits the disc and ‘Objects of my Affection’ comes hurtling through the speakers.

It is a fine album all round and the band are already chomping at the bit to get some new songs recorded. Yttling in particular clearly loves the studio. Apart from producing the likes of Nicolai Dunger, Robyn, his own band, and many more besides, he also does a sideline as Yttling Jazz. So while the lure of the tour is all fine and dandy, he is keen to be back among his beloved knobs and buttons.

With the slightest hint of regret he tells of how the band has been nominated for an MTV award, and how ‘Young Folks’ is doing very well in Australia and has made the top ten in the Finnish charts.

“We wanted to get into the studio and record an album this fall but our plans have been delayed due to success.”


What are the best concerts in Sweden this autumn?

Now that Sweden has lifted its audience restrictions for public events, The Local's Paul O'Mahony lists his recommendations for the best gigs to attend over the coming months.

Crowd at a music concert in Debaser, Stockholm
Crowds return to Stockholm venue Debaser after pandemic restrictions on events were lifted. Photo: Pontus Lundahl/TT

Sweden’s musicians, concert promoters and venue operators have struggled to varying degrees through the pandemic. One surefire way to help get them back on their feet is to give organisers and artists the financial reassurance they need by pre-booking concerts. 

Of course these recommendations only apply if you feel safe attending large events; remember that you should stay home and take a Covid-19 test if you experience any symptoms that could be linked to the virus, even if vaccinated. And make sure to check with organisers if there are any specific coronavirus requirements you need to be aware of. 

Coming up: top gigs in Sweden over the next few months 

As a regular gig-goer, live music is the one thing I’ve missed most over the past year and a half. So it is with some excitement (and, I’ll admit, a degree of trepidation) that I prepare to go see Norwegian band Pom Poko this Friday at Hus 7 in Stockholm. Their melodic art-punk album Cheater sparked the year into life on its release in January. They’re also playing Plan B in Malmö on Saturday night

Plan B is also the venue when Squid hit Sweden with a thrilling dose of post-punk on October 15th. Tickets remain available for the show at the time of writing (an absolute steal at 120 kronor), though that’s sadly not the case in Stockholm where their October 16th gig at Melodybox sold out a long time ago. (Although you can sign up to be added to a waiting list). 

Another artist well worth checking out in October is Gothenburg guitarist and singer Amanda Werne, better known as Slowgold. Her live shows are great and she is embarking on a Swedish tour on October 8th. 

Emma-Jean Thackray, one of the UK’s most interesting jazz artists, will be at Fasching in Stockholm on October 15th

For the best kind of sonic assault, Anna von Hasswolff’s band Bada are scheduled to play in Stockholm, Malmö and Gothenburg in late October. 

Have any of you ever seen Gothenburg electronic veterans Little Dragon live? I haven’t but might check them out in November when they swing by Malmö, Stockholm and Gothenburg

Amason are also heading out on the road for a Scandinavian tour in November. If you haven’t heard Amanda Bergman’s voice in a live setting before this will be a treat. 

The inimitable Sibille Attar released her superb second album A History of Silence at the start of the year and she’s finally getting the chance to play her eighties-inspired gems live at Slaktkyrkan in Stockholm on November 18th

Cassandra Jenkins long lurked in the background as a musician in touring bands for people like Eleanor Friedberger and Purple Mountains. But this year’s album An Overview on Phenomenal Nature has really established her as an artist to be reckoned with in her own right. She’s coming to Södra Teatern in Stockholm on November 26th

Always popular in this part of the world, The Jesus and Mary Chain return to Sweden for dates in Stockholm and Gothenburg at the end of November

Wry Finland-Swedish indie outfit Vasas Flora och Fauna have some of the funniest (Swedish) lyrics and catchiest tunes around. They’ll be in Stockholm and Gothenburg the first weekend of December

UK experimental rockers Black Midi are also playing Stockholm and Gothenburg on December 4th and 5th. So prepare to travel if you want to catch both them and Vasas Flora and Fauna. 

As if that wasn’t enough, Bob Hund’s annual ‘week 48’ show also takes place on December 4th. But that has been sold out for ages so no decisions to make there. It is also worth noting though that Sweden’s hardest working band has also written a musical that’s going to be performed in Helsingborg (October-November) and Gothenburg (November)

Bonus: For a post-Christmas pick-me-up try to get down to Little Simz at Slaktkyrkan on January 14th if you’re in Stockholm. The UK rapper’s new album Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is one of this year’s best releases. 

Selected artists playing Sweden in 2022: Henry Rollins, Sarah Klang, Yann Tiersen, Mogwai, Pearl Charles, Wolf Alice, Lloyd Cole, Lord Huron, Future Islands, Josh Rouse + Vetiver, Tricky, Snail Mail, Porridge Radio, Aldous Harding, Shame, The Kooks, The War on Drugs, Echo and the Bunnymen, Kings of Convenience, Fontaines D.C., Alex Cameron, Lucy Dacus, The Divine Comedy, Mdou Moctar, Iggy Pop, Chubby and the Gang, Sparks, Belle & Sebastian, The National, Sharon Van Etten, Teenage Fanclub, Tindersticks, Suede, Viagra Boys, Pavement. 

For bigger arena shows, Ticketmaster covers a lot of the bases. Big-name acts with gigs in the offing include Ed Sheeran, Zara Larsson, Whitesnake and, lest we forget, ABBA

And that’s just a fraction of what’s going on. Tour schedules are busier than ever now that artists are finally getting back on the road. To keep track of what gigs are coming up I can recommend checking in with Luger, FKP Scorpio, and Live Nation. Follow your favourite venues too: sometimes they cut out the middleman and do their own booking and promotion. I also use the Bandsintown app, which comes with the added bonus of receiving messages from your favourite artists which let you pretend to be their friend. 

Enjoy the gigs, and stay safe! 

Paul O’Mahony is editorial product manager at The Local. In his spare time he plays the best new indie and alternative music as host of the Signals show on Nerve Music.