We kick off 'Sounds of Scandinavia' with a look at 20 upcoming Swedish artists to know right now.
In our latest series feature focused on music, Sounds of Scandinavia, we’re showcasing some of the upcoming talent this part of the world has on offer. Home to musical sensations ABBA, Icona Pop, Fever Ray, José González and more; Sweden is the third biggest exporter of music after the U.S. and the UK. At the forefront of exhilarating and cutting-edge music, this Nordic country is constantly birthing vibrant new acts.
We’ve handpicked 20 eclectic acts across a range of genres: indie rock bands including shoegaze duo I Break Horses, minimal house producers such as Axel Boman, rap collectives featuring teenage rappers like Yung Lean and a number of powerful chanteuses pushing the feminist music movement forward. In alphabetical order below, these rising Swedish artists are transforming dark winter days into anthemic, infectious pop music.
1987 is the solo project of songwriter and producer Victor Holmberg, who’s part of electro duo Montauk (responsible for Say Lou Lou productions). Inspired by a wide spectrum of genres, he brings together elements of pop and R&B. His emotional vocal outcries – sung in Swedish – are touchingly delicate. Now signed to Parlophone Records, Holmberg is working on his debut album. Watch the beautiful video for standout track "Michelle," directed by legendary Swedish director Marcus Söderlund and check out his SoundCloud.
With her first offering, "Waiting," Alice Boman crafted a world that’s equal parts fragile and uplifting. She signed to Adrian Recordings and Happy Death to release her debut EP Skisser, (translation: Sketches), and her follow up EP, II. Both are stunning displays of her ability to combine delicate song structures, intimate lyrics and tender vocals. The Stockholm singer-songwriter is amongst one of the vocalists leading the female-fronted Nordic revolution and sets the scene for what’s to come in this list. Listen to her music now via her SoundCloud.
Based in Stockholm, ANAYE is a hip-hop duo creating colorful raps and videos for the Internet generation. Made up of MayDar and Beastie, they attended the same music school and have been producing diverse music ever since – they released their EP, PU$$Y Palace, last year. In their words, their mission is based around the three B’s: “Beat-Making, Ball-Breakin’, Booty-Shakin’." What attracted them to hip-hop was the straight-forwardness of it; they see themselves as talkers with strong opinions and have stated that the genre allows them to express and address issues that others don’t. The amicable, animated duo is proof that, counter to the dark electro-pop, there’s room – and interest – for playful, colorful rap music. Click here for an audio-visual sample and check out their SoundCloud.
2010 landed Boman his big breakthrough with his EP Holy Love, which included the hugely successful "Purple Drank," released via DJ Koze’s imprint Pampa Records. Yet it wasn’t until last year with the release of the Black Magic Boman EP and his debut full-length Family Vacation that he started to fully integrate himself into the international house scene. The releases solidified the Swedish producer’s talent in crafting melodic beats adorned with glossy disco sounds and reverbed vocal samples. He’s since remixed for John Talabot, DJed across the world, appeared on Boiler Room twice and made notable podcasts for XL8R and BIS Radio, alongside James Holden. Listen to him over on SoundCloud.
Beatrice Eli has been garnering quite some attention with her straightforward lyrics, genre-crossing production and wonderfully unambiguous videos. While her soulful vocals are reminiscent of the '60s, the production is sharp and modern and together they accentuate her spacious synth-pop sound. Eli attended music school to study soul singing and has had lengthy stays in London; the UK dubstep and grime scenes have certainly found their way into her work. Eli feels particularly connected to the feminist music community in Sweden, which is steadily establishing itself. Her debut album Die Another Day dropped via Razzia Records on October 22. Stream her debut EP, It’s Over, on her Soundcloud.
DNKL ("dunkel" meaning “dark” in German) is noir-pop at its most intimate. The enigmatic three-piece from Gothenburg are producing deeply atmospheric lo-fi indie pop and their debut single "Hunt," with the haunting, half-whispered vocals of singer Claes Erik Strängeberg, is a seductive introduction into their world. The tracks and videos they’ve released so far are as dark and beautifully eerie as each other. Check out both videos for "Hunt" and "Battles," which intimately deal with torment and beauty.
26-year-old Frida Sundemo was training to be a doctor when she released her debut album in 2010, Dear, Let It Out. Putting her life-saving skills on the backburner, she’s since released a series of glistening electro-pop songs, released her EP Indigo in 2013 via Parlophone and a five-track, Lit Up By Neon, dropped earlier this year. Singles "Indigo" and "Home" are accompanied by aesthetically vibrant videos (life-sized rabbit, anyone?) and perfect for the approaching wintery months. Check out the pop crooner’s SoundCloud.
Genius of Time
Alexander Berg and Nils Krogh make up deep house duo Genius of Time. They rose to wider, international prominence when John Talabot’s DJ-Kicks Mix album included the collaboration with member Alexander Berg. Together, they produced the exclusive "Anagrama" under the moniker Tempel Rytmik. Claiming Berg is “one of the most talented people I’ve ever met,” Talabot’s mix also featured the duo’s hit track "Juno Jam" of their 2013 EP of the same name. The Juno Jam EP was released earlier this year via Gerd Janson’s Running Back label and is a brilliant display of the duo piecing together dynamic house beats with warm tribal bass sounds. They also run their own-imprint Aniara and hold semi-private nights in Gothenburg to build up the electronic scene there. Check out their Boiler Room Berlin set.
Stockholm based HNNY may have come onto the scene quietly last year, but the sparkling synths and warm thuds of his tracks have since been getting all the attention. The deep house producer released a handful of tracks including the infectious "Sneeze" and "Boy" - accompanied by a video of Winnie The Pooh engaging in psychedelic activities- and "No," a house rework of all-time classic R&B jam TLC's "No Scrubs." He’s released an eclectic collection of tracks via Clone Records, Local Talk and Studio Barnhus, (run by Stockholm based Kornél Kovács and Axel Bowman), DJed in clubs around the world and appeared on the Boiler Room Stockholm takeover late last year. Listen to more music on his SoundCloud.
I Break Horses
Stockholm-based Maria Lindén and Fredrik Balck make up shoegaze duo I Break Horses, who have been creating hugely atmospheric lo-fi pop since 2010. Both their albums, 2011 debut Hearts and sophomore album Chiaroscuro released earlier this year, are stunning displays of coarse beats, tinkering sounds and Lindén’s sultry vocals. The two-piece accompanied M83 on some of their American tour this year and have lead fans and to draw comparisons with Grimes and Forest Swords.
Stockholm based Jonathan Johansson music transcends language: he sings in Swedish over melodic pop productions and fully manages to immerse the non-native listener. Originally from Malmö, Johansson made his debut in 2005 with the album OK, Ge Mig Timmarna (Ok, Give Me Hours), which garnered some positive reviews but little attention. Making use of an old Yamaha DX7 synthesizer, Johansson spent some time refining and crafting a sound that’s reminiscent of early '80s synth-pop.
He signed to independent Swedish label, Hybris Records and in 2009 dropped album En Hand i Himlen (A Hand in Heaven) to much greater success. His latest album Klagomuren is an intimate affair and tracks "Centrum" and "Stockholm" are fine examples of his dreamy melodies, accentuated by his native Scania accent. Check out Johansson’s ode to the capital city here.
Karin Park grew up in very religious family in a tiny Swedish town and spent some of her youth in a Japanese military school. It’s this unusual upbringing that’s responsible for the goth-pop sounds on her most recent album, Highwire Poetry. She worked closely with her brother David (drummer in her two-man band) on the record and Barry Barnett and Christoffer Berg took over the production aspects – they’re known for their work with Fever Ray, The Knife, Massive Attack and Little Dragon. The album was met with rave reviews and Park’s already won four Norwegian Grammys. For 2013’s Eurovision, she wrote the song for Norway, for which they received the country’s best-ever result, landing them fourth place in the competition. She subsequently sang guest vocals on Maya Jane Coles’ "Everything" and is able to count David Bowie and Massive Attack as her fans. Watch the video for Restless here.
Made up of Kate Akhurst, Hampus Nordgren Hemlin and Markus Dextegen, Stockholm-based electro-pop collective Kate Boy has been creating extremely catchy pop songs since 2011. The native Australian’s breathy vocals decorate the bouncing, synth-based beats that are handled by former members of Swedish producing trio Rocket Boy. Their moniker – “Kate” taken from frontwoman, “Boy” from the trio's former project - is intentionally androgynous and represents the fourth fictional member of the band: an enigmatic, creative force/figure that stars in the video of their track "The Way We Are." Citing Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush as their influences, they’re keen to update the music of the '70 and '80s with today's technology. They write and produce everything together and play each other’s instruments. Their self-produced full-length is still set to drop this year; let's hope it happens before the year turns. Until then listen to "Open Fire," their huge new single released just a few weeks ago.
In 2009, female rapper Mapei was doing big things for the world of hip hop in Sweden: she released her debut EP, Cocoa Butter Diaries, appeared at SXSW and began working her debut full-length with electro duo Justice. But then she disappeared off the scene as quickly as she came onto it. She moved to Brazil, eventually coming back to try her hand at pop – and wholly succeeding. Her breakthrough hit, "Don’t Wait," was iTunes’ Single of the Week and produced by Magnus Lidehäll (subsequently responsible for the single that made Seinabo Sey famous - also on our list). The track went onto receive the remixing prowess of a number of notable musicians including Kingdom and Chance The Rapper. She supported Lykke Li on her most recent tour. Signed to Downtown Records, the American-born, Swedish-bred singer’s debut full-length, Hey, Hey, dropped in September and is a strong, genre-defying effort.
Swedish-born, Berlin-based synth-pop artist Molly Nilsson has quietly but confidently been building up a praiseworthy body of work. Since 2007, she’s been running her own label, Dark Skies Association, and has released a handful of full-length albums. Information online about her is scarce but in a rare interview we managed to pull up, she states that each of her songs tells a story, ultimately forming one narrative. Steadily releasing a series of socially clever pop songs since the get-go, each track is accompanied with a patched-together video – the result is both endearing and personal.
Growing up in a musical family, Swedish-Barbadian Naomi Pilgrim has been singing for most of her life. Her dedication certainly paid off; she sang as a back-up vocalist for Lykke Li, which gave her the inspiration to master her soulful take on R&B and electro-pop. Collaborating with producer Fredrick Okazaki, her first single, "No Gun," is a laid-back affair while the follow-up track, "Rainmakers," is fiercer and further emphasizes her powerful vocals. Released this year, her self-titled EP is a bold collection of sparkly yet smart pop songs – it’s not for nothing that she’s been dubbed the next Lauryn Hill by fans and critics alike.
Swedish trio NoNoNo is comprised of vocalist Stina Wappling and producers Astma & Rocwell. This is how their story goes: Stina had just returned from Brighton, with a degree in psychology, signed to Warner Chappell as a solo artist and it was there that she met the producing duo. Fast forward to the release of the hugely energetic "Pumpin' Blood" and they’ve got the Internet in a frenzy; equally catchy hits such as "Hungry Eyes" and "Jungle" follow suit and the summer of 2014 sees them dropping their debut album We Are Only What We Feel.
It may seem opportunities were handed to the trio on a silver plate but it’s actually what they turned down that brought them to where they are now. Their band name reflects a mutual philosophy of declining things to do what you really want. Directed by Joanna Nordahl, their latest video was released just last week and is a beautifully narrated tale of love, childhood and self-discovery.
Sad Boys / Gravity Boys
Amidst all the electro-pop outfits that are gracing Sweden, their rap scene isn’t as innovative as it could be. So we’re gonna introduce you to two rap collectives that are causing quite some noise in Sweden with their lo-fi, homemade raps and productions that are reminiscent of the early '90s (in their words, it's when the magic happened.) The set up here is a bit complicated so pay close attention. Sad Boys consist of rapper Yung Lean and producers Yung Sherman and Yung Gud. Rap collective Gravity Boys consists of Thaiboy Digital, Ecco2k, Bladee, Whitearmor and Yung Sherman. What both groups share is producer Yung Sherman. Now we’ve got the personal formalities out the way, here’s the buzz they’re creating: crew leader Yung Lean has had a row of success over the past months including "Kyoto" which has garnered over four million views. (In the words of one Youtuber, “He's no lyrical genius, hell, you can't understand him most of the time. But damn, there's something about it that's just so good.”) Yung Sherman’s responsible for production and squelchy beats on "Don't Go." Gravity Boys’ Bladee has released the debut album Rainworld and Thaiboy Digital dropped his mixtape, Tiger, this year. The life motto of the hip-hop millennial is “get famous or disappear.” In that case, listen to Gravity Boys’ full album compilation released last summer here.
24-year-old Seinabo Sey’s been active under different monikers for a while now but track "Younger" is her first solo effort – and it propelled her to the top. Norwegian act Kygo remixed the track and it landed them the number 1 spot on the U.S. Billboard Hot Dance Club Songs and number 1 on Norwegian VG-Lista. The Gambian-Swedish singer subsequently signed to Universal Music; her debut EP, For Madeleine, was released just this month. It features five tracks, which, over crisp and clean production, build and give way to her incredible, raw vocals. Just check out the video for "Hard Time" for proof.
Wildbirds & Peacedrums
This Gothenburg-based experimental pop outfit is comprised of husband and wife duo Andreas Werliin and Mariam Wallentin (the latter of which released her solo project Mariam The Believer last year and made our Top 10 Female Vocalists to Watch in 2014 list). They met in 2004 at Gothenburg’s Academy of Music and Drama and married a year later. The project was born in 2007 out of a frustration towards the institute’s rigid format and their desire to break free from its constraints. Comprised merely of drums, percussions and vocals, their musical set-up might be simple but their sound is emotional and hypnotic. Their debut album Heartcore in 2008 received the Årets Jazz i Sverige Swedish Jazz Act of the Year, which allowed them to fund their follow up album The Snake, released in 2009. Over the years they’ve supported the likes of Efterklang, Lykke Li, St. Vincent, Arcade Fire and Caribou. Watch the beautiful video for "Keep Some Hope" taken from their brand new album Rhythm.