We need to talk about Denmark

Fun fact: Denmark has pretty much the most interesting and exciting music scene around.

This is a big statement but I stand by it and will gladly debate your [insert nation here] claim if you send your address in on a postcard. Remember, It’s just my subjective opinion; although one which constantly reaffirms itself with each passing listen and each related band to come out of this lovely country. A disclaimer; nationalism is a blight on the world, this is a given so to single out one geographic thumbprint over another is a) pretty lazy and b) gives tub-thumpers the opportunity to lord it over those who lost out. I don’t want any part of that. I just wish to comment on the bizarrely high hit rate I find in the Danish music scene (and by extension; Scandinavia).

’tis a lovely place.

I have a theory. We should accept that western-European popular culture all comes from a similar root (the awakening of youth culture in the late 50’s) and was developed by the same sense of desire for an identity distinct from the generation above. Each successive generation creating space to exist; sometimes peacefully, sometimes less so. Music was claimed back for the people (though this is a contentious topic that I will write about later) and the rules all came tumbling down across Europe fairly simultaneously. Golden years (wop, wop, wop).

The idea of ‘trend’ developed across the continent as a by-product of the attempt to differentiate yourself from the mass whilst still retaining a sense of community. By that I mean the social animal within us needs stimulus beyond the audible so we tend to clump together, we make our sub-cultures. It was all nice and organic. One thing lead to another at a fast but natural pace. Fed up with the endless musical shenanigans of Prog-Rock? Do something different. React to it. Find similarly minded people (who are likely to be your closest friends) and before you know it Punk is trending. Natural, like.

A supplementary theory of mine (backed up by trial and error) is that you make your most interesting work while you are still learning. Say you pick up a guitar for the first time and can play three chords poorly but still get an alright sound out of it. You write a song with these chords that ends up highlighting your mis-fingering and sloppy play style. You compensate for the cheapness of your instrument by working with it, channeling your frustration into your playing. It’s likely that the combination of sound you create will never have been heard in that exact combination and you accidentally become a pioneer in the field. Good for you! Your collection of nonfunctional chords are probably far more interesting than following the rules of harmony. Education in art is not necessarily a good thing; possibly, maybe.

Before you all rip this analogy apart remember that’s how it all started; Rock, Folk, Punk; all began with someone who didn’t know what they were doing working it out for themselves. This was us Europeans as a culture; fumbling about and learning as a collective right up into the 90’s. By this point the wealth created by the industry had been noted and the slow shift from profit as accidental extra to profit as sole aim became complete (hello, StockAitkenWaterman).

StockAitkenWaterman. Responsible for it all.

This hangs heavy on the British musical mainstream. I personally find the radio divided between unit-selling, Brit-school drones, identikit US imports and tame indie bands cynically selected to give an illusion of vitality to the chart. Get me not wrong, the flip side to this is that the Underground is stupidly vibrant; and the music scene isn’t too bad either (*boom-tische*)! My lament is that it is so fractured and vast that the talent is often washed away by the mediocre no sooner than it arrives. We seem collectively in denial that any good actually makes it past the first Brit-award winning album. That was me showing my colours a little, sorry about that. These axes won’t grind themselves.

So why do I find what I know of Danish music different? Well, it seems to have largely bypassed this excess by sheer dint of not needing global acclaim. The UK rushed ahead chasing after the dollar while Denmark (as ever) turned to us sweetly and said, “Dude, chill”. Why? Well, I believe that Danish artists still relish learning about themselves through music in a manner that is rare in the popular anglo-sphere. The simplest indication is that most Danish artists I know (and it’s quite a few) sing in English. Could you sing in a secondary language? Could you express yourself fully in another’s tongue? Possibly. I just think that even if conversationally fluent in English these artists must still be learning new words and phrases. The idea of constantly learning becomes tied to the creative process. Happy accidents must constantly occur. This is a fanciful notion but I have proof (of a sort)! You will hear about the band Kashmir many, many times as this blog develops but here’s a snippet of the making of their 2013 album, E.A.R.

Aside from the awesome recording set-up we see Kasper Eistrup (guitar/vocals) discussing the recording process. He tells us that he wanted to mention his favourite tree in the song and had to look up it’s English translation, thereby giving ‘Blood Beech’ it’s title. This is over 20 years since the band started and he’s still learning. So why does this matter? Well, as much as I used to deny it, lyrics are at the core of any good song. They function academically (telling us a story), melodically (vowels) and percussively (consonants). Eistrup is doing all of these things in a secondary language and still takes the risk in using words he’s unfamiliar with. Brave choice, that man. But it pays off and his lyrics are so.damn.interesting in all the ways. Yes, yes, Kashmir are an alternative rock band so are more likely to invest the time needed into lyrics than Demi Lovato. Though as comparison, have you heard any U2 or Coldplay lyrics recently? Have you heard the music? To me it is redundant because they don’t need to work at it. Kashmir do and the music is vibrant as a result. Danish bands do and the whole scene is vibrant as a result.

The smaller population and localised nature of the players involved has been a boon for Denmark in avoiding the bloated perils of the Anglo-American system. Of course elements of it still persist (‘Surfing the warm industry’ by Kashmir deals with music money men very succinctly) but the independent scene is a) better represented on mainstream channels (P3 is better than Radio 1) and b) has far greater space to breathe. Room for trends to exist peacefully. A chance to develop organically. Natural, like.

This is merely an introduction and deposit of opening thoughts before a dive deeper into what I know of the scene; but as the weeks progress I will hopefully shed greater light on Scandinavia because it is vast and unfettered and free in an age where the twin evils of capitalism and cool are trying any old trick to keep us subdued. We’ll probably all be learning more as a result.

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3 thoughts on “We need to talk about Denmark

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