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THE LOCAL GUIDE

MUSIC

Who is the shy Swede behind all those global smash hits?

You may not know his name, but you have definitely heard his music. This is Max Martin, the Swede behind your favourite pop hits and the winner of the prestigious Polar Music prize in 2016.

Who is the shy Swede behind all those global smash hits?
Taylor Swift, Max Martin and Katy Perry. Photo: Matt Sayles/Chris Pizzello/Felipe Dana/AP/Invision

1. He's bigger than Abba

Thought Swedish pop music was all about Abba? Think again. Max Martin may keep a low profile (he rarely does media interviews), but he is behind pretty much every pop song you've listened to in the past two decades, whether you're Swedish, American or Chinese. He has had an incredible 22 number-one hits on US singles chart Billboard since 1999 – more than Elvis Presley and beaten only by Beatles legends Paul McCartney and John Lennon – and has sold more than 135 million singles worldwide. Incredible.

2. Name those hits, please

Okay, we're just going to list his US Billboard number-ones for you: Britney Spears, 'Baby One More Time' (1999); 'NSYNC, 'It's Gonna Be Me' (2000); Katy Perry, 'I Kissed a Girl' (2008); Pink, 'So What' (2008); Kelly Clarkson, 'My Life Would Suck Without You' (2009); Britney Spears, '3' (2009); Katy Perry feat Snoop Dogg, 'California Gurls' (2010); Katy Perry, 'Teenage Dream' (2010); Pink, 'Raise Your Glass' (2010); Britney Spears, 'Hold It Against Me' (2011); Katy Perry feat Kanye West, 'ET' (2011); Katy Perry, 'Last Friday Night' (2011); Katy Perry, 'Part of Me' (2012); Maroon 5, 'One More Night' (2012); Taylor Swift, 'We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together' (2012); Katy Perry, 'Roar' (2013); Katy Perry feat Juicy J, 'Dark Horse' (2014); Taylor Swift, 'Shake It Off' (2014); Taylor Swift, 'Blank Space' (2014); Taylor Swift feat Kendrick Lamar, 'Bad Blood' (2015); The Weeknd, 'Can't Feel My Face' (2015); Justin Timberlake, 'Can't Stop The Feeling!'.

Enough said.

3. He is unbelievably hardworking

If there's anything Max Martin can thank his Scandinavian upbringing for, it's the Swedish work ethic. Before he starts writing for anyone, he talks to them, sees them live and finds out what's in their CD player or on their iPod. The recording process is where the real work is done, however. While working on 'Baby One More Time', he admitted that: “After a week I realized it sounded like shit. That's when you get psycho. That's when you get manic.” Two weeks of 18-hour days later, he and his production team had completely reworked the song.

4. He's a little bit scary (apparently)

Max Martin's quality-control regime means that only one idea in 300 gets to demo-recording stage. “You have to be a mass murderer and kill your darlings,” he has famously said. We assume he didn't mean that literally, but some artists have admitted they felt intimidated at first by his strict discipline – and his appearance. “I was scared of him,” Britney Spears has said of their first meeting when she was 15. “I thought he was someone from, like, Motley Crue or something.” However, most artists keep coming back to work with him, so we have a feeling he's a Swedish teddy bear underneath that rugged Viking look.


Max Martin being announced as Polar Music Prize 2016 winner. Photo: Maja Suslin/TT

5. He's a small-town boy

Born Karl Martin Sandberg in Stockhom in 1971, his upbringing was a far cry from life among the stars of music. He grew up in Stenhamra on Färingsö island just outside of the capital and worked for as a music teacher before making his name. He has said he's got Sweden's “public music education to thank for everything”, despite dropping out of high school to focus on his music career. Not too shabby a move, it turns out.


Färingsö island near Stockholm. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

6. He could almost have been an artist himself

Infatuated with his older brother's KISS cassettes, Martin was once the lead singer of the Swedish glam metal band It's Alive. They were dreadful. But Martin was already writing pop songs, songs that his bandmates had no interest in. He soon linked up with Dr Alban and Ace Of Base producer Denniz Pop and their first production collaboration was Wish You Were Here by Swedish country pop group Rednex.

7. It's not surprising he's Swedish

Sweden is the world's third largest music pop exporter, behind the US and the UK. A large part of the education in the state-funded school years is taken up with music and singing, and the focus on culture seems to have paid off. The Nordic country, which is just shy of 10 million citizens, has produced music wonders such as Avicii, Icona Pop, the Cardigans, the Hives, Ace of Base and the list goes on.


Swedish duo Icona Pop. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

MUSIC

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.

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