The name Gävle doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue of most Britons but it has had quite an influence on my appreciation of contemporary music in recent years. So I jumped at the chance of taking
in an album release party in Gävle, which is in Sweden, about 70 miles north of Stockholm.
To put this little adventure into some perspective it is said that Sweden is the world’s most successful country musically as measured by chart hits per capita and other such academic ratios. Within Sweden the town of Gävle is considered to be the music capital by many people, rather than, say, the much larger Stockholm or Gothenburg. Which makes it one of the most happening places in the world, I suppose.
No one is quite sure why. It might be the fact that there is a popular music school in town and that many pupils choose to stay around after graduating. There might be as many as 100 pro-level bands or solo artists in a town of 80,000 people; about the same size as Crewe. And just about every genre you can think of is covered.
Some of these bands/artists have already featured in TMB such as Ida Long, Twiggy Frostbite, and Jenny C, along with electronic outfit Baron Bane, whose album release party this was, for their third album, appropriately named III (not ill, as some people have mistaken it for, including me at first). The previous album, five years ago, was LPTO (LP2)…you get the idea.
The event took place at Sound Society Studios which the Baron Bane personnel jointly own along with another amazing musical alumnus, a polymath genius called, Rikard Sjöblom. It attracts musicians from across Sweden and beyond while being humbly situated in a converted ex-factory on a forlorn industrial estate at the edge of town that took me most of Saturday afternoon to locate, on foot in a blizzard. Boldly wielding a brolly, in a thoroughly English style, (no Swede would ever do that, they would quickly lose face) I soon found out what frostbite is, as my fingers turned to dry twigs.
It speaks volumes about this town that on the way back there for the show in the evening (in a taxi this time, with the charming Jenny C and her guitarist Par) we passed two venues where full blown gigs were already under way. As soon as our show was over a few in the crowd dashed off to another album release event on the other side of town – a grindcore band called Gadget this time – that had been timed not to clash with ours. This coming weekend there’s a further one and the weekend after that another two. The town churns out singles, EPs, albums and live shows like the confetti and balloons that rained down on us during the final number tonight.
The studio is the most distinctive setting I’ve ever seen for an event like this. The open plan hall was arranged so that one set of keyboards (played by Christer Jäderlund) is the floor centre piece while another keyboard set plus bass guitar (the dreadlocked Rasmus Diamant) and drums (Petter Diamant) are in an open studio room behind us. Meanwhile, perched up on a couple of balconies are guitarist Stefan Aronsson and singer Ida Long, who doubles as Baron Bane’s main vocalist. It’s like a three-dimensional theatre-in-the-round in reverse with most of the audience (some of them were up on another balcony) up very close and personal with the performers. It’s quite surreal at times, when you’re not sure who you should be watching and the constant shifting of audience posture is like an aerobics class.
Getting the sound balance right was a work of art in itself, and apart from the opening songs where the guitar wasn’t too audible where I was, they did that. But of course, they are engineers after all.
‘Swedish style’ also means that even though the event focused on a particular album not all the songs performed were from III. A Spotify playlist for the event has been created and it is here, along with identification of which album each track is from.
It is the inventiveness of this performance that I found particularly attractive as well as its intimacy; though it must be said that Baron Bane has form in that department. At one time they all sported masks; they’ve used mime artists and managed to set fire to part of the set on one occasion, gaining national publicity. One of the last live performances they gave was in the town’s railway museum where they were given free rein to perform on and in the old engines while the audience wandered around the exhibits.
Tonight we’re limited to a pre-show video recording the making of the album, some visuals on the ceiling and the aforementioned balloons and confetti but anything else would be superfluous as the set itself provides the eye candy.
I think it’s fair to say that III is mellower than previous albums and EPs. We’ve reviewed two tracks already; one that was played at the event (By the Waves) and one that wasn’t (Hail to the Night), and it also contains what is probably the most chart-friendly one they’ve come up with to date, in ‘Wait for You’.
At the same time there is something anthemic about many of their songs and they don’t disappoint on III. Where both ‘How Does It Feel to Let Go’ and ‘The End’ (complete with both brass and acoustic guitar, an unusual addition) fall into that category, and personally I’m delighted when two of their best known anthems close out the main concert, namely ‘My Slow World’ and ‘And the Flare’ will Spark; both from LPTO.
On those two tracks in particular Ida Long’s voice is shown to be even better live than on recordings (even though she actually lost her voice a little towards the end). She screams out “What if there is no tomorrow?” in ‘My Slow World’ and oozes sexuality with “I’m the flare in your eyes tonight; Burning, breeding inside of you” while sheer power gushes out of the combined synths and guitars in ‘And the Flare’, enough to pin you to a wall if you had the benefit of one to be pinned to. All of it supported by Petter Diamant’s beautifully simple but meticulous percussion.
The only disappointment for me is that Ida Long, a professional dancer, stands back in the final climactic but non-vocal section of ‘And the Flare’. Would it detract from the music? Possibly, but I’d wager it would rather add to it.
The real shame to me is that there are so few live performances like this. To be fair, these guys are businessmen and women and they have businesses to run. If I heard it right they rehearsed this show in just one day. You would be hard pressed to believe that had you been there and it only hints at what they could achieve if they could devote more time to the project. Moreover, live shows are incredibly rare outside Sweden: an odd one or two in Germany, France, Switzerland and the Czech Republic and a one-off visit to London in 2007.
Part of the reason for that is that Scandinavian bands tend to avoid the UK because of the sheer weight of competition here from home grown ones. But competition is a good thing isn’t it? Keeps everyone on their toes. That’s my belated New Year wish: let’s see you guys on the road. A change is as good as a rest, as the saying goes. Plus, my wallet can’t handle too many trips like this!
** Pictures come courtesy of Anders Thyr **
© D J Bentley, 2016
A selection of other Gävle based performers, with sample links.
The Deer Tracks: https://open.spotify.com/track/3aoZbI3OgNrJASzIv7z1o0
Twiggy Frostbite: https://open.spotify.com/track/0IWDs2IsfarlUS7LQuY9GL
Rikard Sjöblom (solo project Gungfly): https://open.spotify.com/track/59BExhwUZ0t6ZFBMLMK5kg