Monday, May 30, 2011

A-ha, Norway Has a Thriving Music Scene

Although a-ha—and their ubiquitous 1980s song “Take On Me”—remains Norway’s largest musical export, the music industry in Norway has started to distance itself from the animated music videos, Members Only jackets and traditional folk music of its past. Even its reputation as a death-metal loving Nordic country is dissipating—although, that genre will always hold a special place in most Scandinavian’s hearts. Over the last year or so, I’ve been introduced to several great bands and artists that hail from Norway and thought I’d share a list of some of my favorites for you all to explore. Some of these may be familiar to you, but perhaps you didn’t know they came from Norway. And some will be completely new. Each band’s musical style varies wildly from the next, but they are all excellent in their own way. Give each a listen sometime:

Moi—Relatively unknown as an artist, Moi gained recent fame in Norway for her rendition of Kaizers Orchestra’s “Hjerteknuser”—or, “Heartbreaker.” In late 2010, Norway’s P3 radio station held a competition to see who could come up with the best version of “Hjerteknuser” having only seen the musical notes and lyrics that Kaizers Orchestra wrote: listening to the song before creating your own version was forbidden. Moi dominated. And every time I hear it I’m reminded of my time here over Christmas since her version of the song ruled the radio waves then.

Jokke—The late Joachim “Jokke” Nielsen was an incredibly talented, but also deeply tormented, Norwegian songwriter who gained fame in the 1980s for his lead work in the rock band, Jokke & Valentinerne. Well-written and funny, most of Jokke’s songs revolved around alcohol and other such accessories to the rock lifestyle. If you like bands like Rusted Root, or other bands with a folksy lean, you might like Jokke. Check out “To Fulle Menn.”

BigBang—We are venturing into more familiar territory with BigBang. A South by Southwest regular, and frequent US-tourer, BigBang is often described as being the best live band in Norway. I’ve seen them live, and can’t disagree. With a style varying from heavier rock to much lighter stuff, BigBang is very accessible. Check out “Saturn Freeway.”

Röyksopp—This techno duo from Tromsø—which is in the extreme north of Norway—has gained some fame in the United States with their hit, “Remind Me.” Mostly for electronica fans, Röyksopp’s stuff is technically innovative and musically brilliant. Check out “Remind Me” and “Happy Up Here.”

Datarock—Both musically and lyrically gifted, Datarock combines a great electronic sound with comedy, melody and style. They have gained significant international commercial success, and feature in several video games including: FIFA 10, The Sims 2: Free Time and the Madden series. Check out “Fa fa fa” and “Amarillion.”

Kings of Convenience—My favorite of the Norwegian bands, Kings of Convenience features Erlend Øye, a singer/songwriter who has his hands in numerous other projects including the band, The Whitest Boy Alive. With a style similar to Simon & Garfunkel or Elliott Smith, Kings of Convenience emphasizes soft guitar, soothing vocals and pleasant harmonies. The lyrics are smart and poignant. Check out everything that they’ve done. In a not-so-subtle jab at the heavy metal industry, they ascended to prominence with their 2001 debut album, “Quiet is the New Loud.” Indeed.

Also sample: Kaizers Orchestra, DumDum Boys, Susanne Sundfør and Postgirobygget.

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