Having released 21 albums since 1982, Swedish veterans TWICE A MAN have never been ones to shy away from serious issues. The trio’s superb 2015 song ‘High in The Clouds’ confronted the prospect of environmental armageddon aided by the eerily beautiful voice of Karin My.
Having ventured down the ambient route with ‘Cocoon’ as a kind of interim solace following the release of the ‘Presence’ album from which ‘High In The Clouds’ came, TWICE A MAN have literally come out of the woods and found the world in a state of corrupt turmoil.
Like a delayed ‘1984′ with misinformation and paranoia everywhere and eugenics being pushed through the backdoor by right wing governments using the current pandemic crisis as a smokescreen and capitalism as its reasoning, TWICE A MAN highlight this increasingly dystopian situation emerging in front of everyone’s eyes on ‘On The Other Side Of The Mirror’.
Led by Dan Söderqvist with Karl Gasleben and Jocke Söderqvist providing the dark gentle storm of sound, the opening ’Breath’ exudes brooding industrial moods and sombre vocals, with chilling string machines enhancing the melancholic alienation.
But ‘Fireflies’ utilises ethnic percussive flavours and the return of Karin My to feed the claustrophobic air with Lampyridae acting as deadly symbolism for the end of future dreams.
The sinister gothic militarism that accompanies ’Rain of Shame’ is deeply fitting; fuelling a combustive atmosphere, Söderqvist realises “this is not my world, this is not my time”. However, a variation in tempo and construction time again makes a highlight of ‘Naked’ with its penetrating basslines and swirling dramatic overtures that echo imperial phase DEPECHE MODE.
The shortest track on the album at four minutes, ’Growing’ sees TWICE A MAN emulating Gary Numan but in a more abstract psychedelic fashion with a sound that also recalls ‘New Head’, OMD’s unusual collaboration with Simon Fung of CHINA BLACK from 1996.
Closing with ’Modern World’, this is another warning in the vein of ‘High In The Clouds’, an orchestrated epic featuring another heavenly Karin My vocal as a dense cacophony of textural guitars, haunting high register synths and thunderous drumming points towards a deadly apocalyptic darkness.
Perhaps more organic and even heavier in tone than ‘Presence’, ‘On The Other Side Of The Mirror’ however reflects a world “where fear is the face of reality”; it is not an easy listen, offering observations and ambiguity rather than answers.
Is there light at the end of the tunnel? Maybe there is, but that light could actually be an oncoming train! “Your future dreams are fireflies, you see them through your children’s eyes.”
With ‘The Silence’, KARIN MY released the first truly great song of 2019.
Swathed in beautiful synths and embroiled in wonderful melancholy, her gorgeous vocals evoked a forlorn abandonment like a Nordic Mary Hopkin.
For the follow-up, the tearful double-header ‘Time To Go’ and ‘Voices In The Wall’ dealt with personal loss and touched the heartstrings. The latest in her series of acoustically derived electronic songs is the dreamy observation of ‘World From Orbit’.
Stating that “From a distance, I see it all, I’m everywhere. I’m not a part of anything. Just an observer”, KARIN MY is an experienced self-taught musician who has largely remained in the background for most of her career. The Swedish chanteuse kindly spoke to The Electricity Club about the making of her singles quadrilogy and much more…
You have a comparatively traditional music background, so how did you first become interested in electronic music and who are your favourite artists of this type in particular?
I have as far I can remember always been fascinated by the sound of electronic devices, but it wasn’t until I was about eleven years old that I got my first “electronic experience” so to speak. A friend of my mother’s gave me five KRAFTWERK LPs (from ‘Autobahn’ to ‘Computer World’) and l remember the moment I first listened to them, sitting on the floor listening to something that took me to another world. I was deeply touched and scared at the same time, to me the music sounded almost like it wasn’t created by humans.
Shortly after that, bands like TANGERINE DREAM and DEPECHE MODE came into my life. The electronic snowball effect rolled on after that and filled my life with beautiful and inspiring music from bands like ELEGANT MACHINERY, DIVE, DE/VISION, APOPTYGMA BERZERK, VNV NATION, IRIS and KITE just to mention a few.
The quality of electronic music appears to be very strong in Sweden at the moment, why do you think that might be?
I’m wildly guessing here, but maybe it’s the fact that since the 90s, we’ve had a lot of talented artists in the electronic music scene, who over time have evolved and fine-tuned their skills. Maybe right now they’ve all reached a point of maturity which makes both the productions and the performances stronger. Because we´ve been doing this side by side throughout the years, we have been ageing together to reach this point. Or maybe it’s just something in the water.
The Electricity Club first spotted you doing backing vocals on ‘High In The Clouds’ by TWICE A MAN, how did this collaboration come about?
I was doing a small gig with my guitar, playing some electronic covers in a basement café in Gothenburg, I came in directly from the streets where I used to busk for surviving. Dan Söderqvist was in the audience that evening and after the gig, he asked me if he could use my voice for the next TWICE A MAN album. We gave it a try and liked what we heard, so we decided to continue working together, both in studio and live on stage where I’ve had the honour of being their guest voice on several occasions.
Your time in music goes back further than that in the band NEMO, whose song ‘Voices In The Wall’ you revived for a solo single?
Yes that’s very true. My interest in music started early. I sang Dan Andersson and other folk songs as soon as I was old enough to talk. Later on, as the restless teenager I became, I played every instrument I could lay my hands on, often terribly, but I had fun and learned a lot.
From the money I got picking strawberries, I bought my first piano. Then I found a drum kit in a garage, got it for free and spent one year torturing the neighbours, but at least I got good enough to play drums and sing in a jazz n’ blues band, with some good old silver foxes. I then bought my first cello, learned how to use it and that was a long-time dream coming true.
At this time, I also wrote my first Swedish lyrics which I many years later translated to English and used for my music. Then I met Carl Lundgren, became the female voice of NEMO and finally started to learn about the process of creating the electronic music that I loved so much.
You twinned ‘Voices In The Wall’ with ‘Time To Go’ in a rather emotive video presentation, was this two party story based on personal experiences?
Every story I tell has a grain or a mountain of truth to it. I was surprised though, how hard it was to watch the video. I didn’t expect that. I watched it three times, first to celebrate that we were done, then to see our work and to focus on the details, and then once again just to watch it. I think it’s really well made and I’m so grateful to the girl who acted the young part in the video, but I prefer not to watch it again.
The quadrilogy started with ‘The Silence’, a truly striking song and video.
Thank you, it makes me really glad that you think it is!
How would you describe your creative process, from composition, arrangement, production and visuals?
I’ll try to describe the creative process as briefly as I can, or this will be a never ending story.
The visuals for this song started as a dream, literally. I saw what later became the video when I was sleeping and made some sketches of it. When I wrote ‘The Silence’ on my acoustic guitar, we realised that the dream and the song belonged together. We spent the spring and summer building the abandoned winter city which serves as the setting in the video.
I was then filmed on a huge white fabric, dragging the sack back and forth for days, with a person standing on a ladder throwing fake snow at me. This was the hottest summer in Stockholm since forever, so me struggling in the video in that winter outfit is not fake. Then I was super imposed into the city.
Creating the musical part of ‘The Silence’ can best be described as a constant search for the most beautiful and mood setting sounds that were hiding inside the machines, to match the sounds of the acoustic instruments.
It would be fair to say that your music has a very melancholic tone, does that reflect you as a person, where your life is your art?
Yes, in some way. The music reflects one part of me that I most of the time carry on the inside, but in the name of art, I have all the freedom I can wish for to let it out, without it being a heavy burden for anyone else. At the same time, I’m genuinely happy for all the beautiful things out there and I easily get emotionally touched in a good way as well.
The new single is called ‘World From Orbit’, what is that about?
As I see it, it’s about someone’s silent wishes, to exist just as a floating thought, far from the difficulties that we for some reason choose to live with. To see it all from a distance and dream about making it better. Even though it’s sad to have to live with such wishes, I think this is also a song about hope.
The monochromatic video for ‘World From Orbit’ is very Olympian, what does the burning star symbolise?
We did that scene by illustrating the lyrics literally, (“…a star, shining down on all the children”) so that’s what it is, a shining star. But I’m sure there can be many more fantastic interpretations of that, it’s up to each and every one. I have to mention I was surprised afterwards when I was looking at the video and got especially touched by that scene, seeing it as a mother’s warm and safe utero carrying a new life, and got a bit emotional.
For many years, you have been in the background doing backing vocals or cello for acts like MACHINISTA, CARBON BASED LIFEFORMS and FAKE MOSS, so how does it feel to be at the front? Are you enjoying the experience with all the attention that entails?
Thank you, it feels very good, like a piece of a puzzle that falls into its place. I am very grateful for all the artists I’ve had the honour of working with during all these years, amazing people and musicians each and every one, and it’s exciting to finally release something of my own.
The attention generated so far is both heartwarming and inspiring. Some people seem to have been touched by the songs and sometimes share their own stories with me and tell me I am brave; I wasn’t expecting a response like that.
You are getting to work with a lot of great equipment of all vintages for your music, so what is your favourite synth and why?
This was a really difficult question and I hope I don’t make all the other synths sad by choosing only one. But using the Korg PS3200 is like opening a door to another world and I feel honoured to have some of her sounds on my album. The special one I’m referring to here is called “Bettan” (short for Beatrice) so I guess she’s a lady model.
What’s next for you?
I’m continuing the work on the album which hopefully will be released in late 2019. Prior to that a digital EP featuring remixes by different artists will also be released. I’m also doing a wedding concert for Gasleben of TWICE A MAN and Anna Öberg who are getting married this summer. Recently I also got a request from a legend about working together on his next project, to which I of course responded “yes”.
The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to KARIN MY
Rusty Egan is forever going on about “young synths”, but The Electricity Club just needs artists to be good, which brings us to the Swedish songstress Karin My.
Following hot on the heels of ‘The Silence’ which was the first truly great song of 2019, ‘Time To Go’ is another marvellous melancholic slice of Svenska synth with melodic points of access in the tradition of ABBA, dressed with sparkling electronics and featuring an eerie middle eight vocal ad-lib.
Continuing the harrowing story previously told in ‘The Silence’, the sad visual accompaniment for ‘Time To Go’ is again hauntingly directed by Millfield.
Reflecting the trauma of personal loss and bereavement, the video is appended by a largely acoustic rework of ‘Voices In The Wall’ by electro-goth combo NEMO who Karin My was lead singer for and had herself initially released as a solo single in 2008.
In this version, she comes over like a Nordic Mary Hopkin, the one-time Mrs Tony Visconti who did backing vocals for Bowie’s ‘Sound & Vision’ and whose hit ‘Goodbye’ written by Paul McCartney was covered in fine synthpop style by fellow Swede COMPUTE.
An experienced self-taught musician, Karin My has largely remained in the background throughout most of her career, having provided backing vocals on three tracks for TWICE A MAN’s 2015 album ‘Presence’ and contributed to two covers on Cold War Night Life’s ‘Heresy: A Tribute To RATIONAL YOUTH’ compilation in 2016.
With her honest spirit in her traditionally derived songs, her synth driven inclinations coming from a love of LUSTANS LAKEJER, DEPECHE MODE, RATIONAL YOUTH, MESH and KITE exude a quality in modern electronic pop music that touches the heartstrings like Norway’s Susanne Sundfør.
There is more to come in 2019 from Karin My and The Electricity Club cannot wait.
But with ‘The Silence’, she releases the first truly great song of 2019. Swathed in beautiful synths and embroiled in that wonderful Nordic melancholy, her gorgeous vocals evoke a forlorn abandonment just as winter sets in and confronts the dilemma of whether to give up…
The eerie snow laden video directed by Millfield cleverly utilises a miniature set and has haunting echoes of ‘Den Lille Pige Med Svovlstikkerne’, the famous short story by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. In it, our heroine embarks on a chilling journey which sadly has no happy ending.
With roots in the folk tradition like Vince Clarke, Karin My composes using an acoustic guitar, a fact exemplified by a 2008 solo single ‘Voice In The Wall’. But with a profound love of LUSTANS LAKEJER, DEPECHE MODE, RATIONAL YOUTH, MESH and KITE, her Korg MS20, Roland Juno 106 and Moog Little Phatty will usually find a way onto her productions.
Also adept at cello, percussion and dance, the multi-talented singer songwriter describes herself as having a “Strong body, weak heart in a constant radiant of love and tears”. ‘The Silence’ is the first of four songs by Karin My which are scheduled for release during the first half of 2019. With her honest heart in quality electronic pop music, she will be an artist to watch in the coming year.
‘The Silence’ is available on most digital platforms via Ad Inexplorata
Like Germany and the UK, Sweden has an established history in electronic music.
With a melodic tradition rooted in traditional Nordic folk music and the region’s long dark nights causing bouts of melancholy, the Swedes are more than well suited to stay indoors and further the art of synthpop.
In addition, Clavia Digital Musical Instruments, founded in 1983 and based in Stockholm, have emerged as a world leader in modern virtual analogue subtractive synthesizers with its distinctive red Nord Lead series.
Probably the most influential act to come out of Sweden are THE KNIFE. Their influence internationally on countless acts such as GAZELLE TWIN, GRIMES, AUSTRA, THE HORN THE HUNT and BECKY BECKY to adopt darker colours and mess with the very fabric of sound, has held a flag for inventive artful experimentation.
Meanwhile, COVENANT maintain an audience across the Atlantic for their resonant futurepop and ROBYN has become so much part of the mainstream that her songs are regularly murdered by reality TV talent show wannabes.
The iconic Energy Rekords provided a platform for modern electronic music in the country while today, labels such as Progress Productions, Labrador and Wonderland have maintained their support for domestic talent.
So what’s so special about Sweden then? Listed chronologically and then alphabetically from its UK perspective with a restriction of one song per moniker, here are The Electricity Club’s 25 SVENSKA SYNTH SONGS…
LUSTANS LAKEJER Diamanter (1982)
With a shortened title, ‘Diamanter’ was a more synth driven re-recording of their second single. LUSTANS LAKEJER were labelled Sweden’s answer to DURAN DURAN and like the Birmingham combo, Johan Kinde and Co were heavily influenced by JAPAN. Their third album ‘En Plats I Solen’ was produced by Richard Barbieri with Mick Karn popping up with his sax on three of its tracks.
Founded in 1980 by Eddie Bengtsson and Marina Schiptjenko, PAGE are often credited with bringing the more purer form of synthpop as pioneered by Vince Clarke to Sweden. Their debut single ‘Dansande Man’ was a frantically percussive excursion suitable for dancing to as the title suggested. Bengtsson and Schiptjenko were to become key figures on the Swedish music scene in many guises, as we shall see…
Originally released as a single via Eskimo, currently unavailable
With their name inspired by a JAPAN song, THE MOBILE HOMES were another Swedish band adopting purer synthpop colours . For their second single ‘Feeling Better’, they signed to Sonet, a Scandinavian independent who coincidentally handled the early publishing of Martin Gore and Vince Clarke. Eschewing the quirkiness of PAGE, THE MOBILE HOMES reflected the more pessimistic side of life often associated with Sweden.
An almost cartoonish trio originally comprising of Alexander Bard, Jean-Pierre Barda and La Camilla, ARMY OF LOVERS countered their outlandish visual presence with catchy electronic dance tunes influenced by the hippy musical ‘Hair’. While the epic ‘Crucify’ was the huge worldwide hit, the musically more subtle ‘Obsession’ offered a softer side while still maintaining the cinematic drama.
In parallel with PAGE, Eddie Bengtsson joined vocalist Alexander Hofman to write and perform some ‘Star Trek’ themed songs for a friend’s Trekkie themed birthday party. . Originally called MR SPOCK, the band name was changed to an acronym for ‘Star Pilot On Channel K’ after threats of legal action from Paramount Studios. ‘Never Trust A Klingon’ is still their crowning moment, a genius combination of deadpan vocals, bubbling synthpop and samples from Captain James T Kirk.
Available on the album ‘Five Year Mission’ via Energy Rekords
Founded in 1988, ELEGANT MACHINERY were another act who preferred a purer synthpop stance; they even covered SPANDAU BALLET’s ‘To Cut A Long Story Short’ in the style of Vince Clarke for an excellent 1995 Energy Rekords tribute collection of the same name. Many consider ‘Hard To Handle’ their finest song, an excellent blend of dance friendly beats and blippy melodies.
Formed in 1986 in Helsingborg, the Eskil Simonsson fronted COVENANT managed to gain a footing in both synthpop and EBM camps, achieving great success in North America from touring the alternative electronic club network established following the stateside success of DEPECHE MODE. Still going strong, 2016 saw the release of their ninth long player ‘Blinding Dark’.
Sibling duo THE KNIFE are probably the acclaimed electronic act to emerge from Sweden. Their uncompromising approach has won them many plaudits. But there was a time when with their experimentation came a tune too. The wonderful ‘Pass This On’ took Karin Dreijer’s unsettling pitch shifted vocals and placed them over brother Olaf’s soundtrack of primitive string machine and uplifting steel drums. Things got much darker after this…
Tired of her label BMG trying to turn her into the Swedish CHRISTINA AGUILERA, ROBYN took began taking an interest in the electronic movement closer to home. Inspired by THE KNIF, she collaborated with them to produce what is now possibly the key song which transformed Robin Miriam Carlsson into the successful independently minded artist she is today.
Available on the album ‘Robyn’ via Konichiwa Records
Best known as a member of the cult Swedish indie band PARIS, singer and keyboardist Emma Nylén had aspirations to produce something that was more decisively electronic. Her first recordings immediately showcased a catchy dance friendly sound as exemplified by ‘Rock D’Amour’. Subsequent albums ‘Closet Wanderings’ and ‘Nomme’ have maintained the standard, although EMMON is currently on a career break to raise a family.
Eddie Bengstsson’s solo project, also referred to as SMPJ, saw him unafraid to mine his Synth Britannia influences. ‘Allt Är Klart’ was an ULTRAVOX tribute and effectively a Swedish vocal version of the instrumental B-side ‘Alles Klar’. The hard, staccato synth bassline was borrowed from the original, but the track was bolstered by some superb whirring synths in the tradition of Billy Currie’s adventures with the ARP Odyssey.
Combining dual male / female vocals with a danceable electro goth backdrop, Anders Hagström and Yasmine Uhlin achieved success in Germany as well as Sweden with ‘Spiders’. ASHBURY HEIGHTS came out of hiatus in 2015 with a new female vocalist Tea F Thimé and a new album ‘The Looking Glass Society’ after a settling a despite with their label Out Of Line.
BODIES WITHOUT ORGANS or BWO saw PAGE’s Marina Schiptjenko teaming up Alexander Bard from ARMY OF LOVERS in a project that has probably come closest to exploiting the musicality of ABBA for the 21st Century. Fronted by the extremely handsome Martin Rolinski, the classic pop tradition of the original Super Swedes was more than obvious on the mightily bonkers ‘Lay Your Love On Me’ which they entered for Eurovision.
Producer Andreas Kleerup hit paydirt with ‘With Every Heartbeat’, a collaboration with ROBYN. A marvellous self-titled album followed with ‘Longing For Lullabies’ featuring Neneh Cherry’s sister Titiyo being the tearful highlight. Despite being driven with raw mechanical beats, the simple vocal melody was simple, almost keyboard-like going up and down the ivory scale in the best tradition of OMD while Titiyo’s vocal range made it a bit Agnetha and Annifrid too!
One established artist who made a volte face in the wake of THE KNIFE was KARIN PARK. It was on more her ROBYN-esque third album ‘Ashes To Gold’ that she sowed the seeds of her current electronic template. The synthpop disco of ‘Ashes’ fused electronic counterpoints and a live bass guitar with an incessant groove while Miss Park provided her enticing vocal presence.
Another act formed under the spectre of THE KNIFE, Stockholm duo Malin Dahlström and Gustaf Karlöf released ‘Mother Protect’ as a free download to launch NIKI & THE DOVE. Then came ‘DJ, Ease My Mind’; shaped by a ritualistic percussive mantra and whirring sub-bass, Dahlström’s witchy mannerisms provided the surreal scenario of what the Dreijers might have sounded like if they had decided to enter Eurovision.
Available on the album ‘Instinct’ via Mercury Records
Having issued their first album ‘:Adored’ in 1996 and their second ‘Have You Ever Touched A Dream?’ in 2004, ‘Silent Dawn’ was a single released as part of DAYBEHAVIOR‘s much vaunted comeback. The song was an exploration in laid back filmic pop and breathy continental vocals that wouldn’t have sounded out of place in Italian art movie. Indeed their most recent single ‘Change’ was also released in an alternative Italian language version, naturally titled ‘Cambiare’.
KITE have been called “Sweden’s best kept pop-secret”; Nicklas Stenemo and Christian Berg have undoubtedly been producing some of the best electronic pop of the last few years. Only releasing EPs, things started to truly come together on their fourth release ‘IV’. From it, ‘Step Forward’ with its sharp percussive drama and pentatonic overtones was the undoubted highlight. More recently, the duo have been commissioned to provide a song for a new Steven Segal film.
With Karolina Komstedt’s dramatically assertive vocal and a bursting bassline from Johan Angergård, CLUB 8 showed in a crisp 180 seconds with ‘Stop Taking Time’ that a danceable electronic tune didn’t have to be a journey into death by four-to-the-floor. Formed in 1995 as a more conventional pop act, CLUB 8’s most recent album ‘Pleasure’ celebrated 20 years for the duo.
MACHINISTA are seasoned hands, John Lindqwister was part of CAT RAPES DOG while Richard Flow was in VISION TALK with the late Krister Petersson. Their mantra is produce synthpop with a rock’n’roll edge. Like THE CURE gone electronic, or ALPHAVILLE crossed with SUICIDE, ‘Molecules & Carbon’ is both catchy and danceable with some suitably rousing elements too.
First launched via a set of mysterious viral videos with alphanumeric code titles, IAMAMIWHOAMI helmed by vocalist Jonna Lee and producer Claes Björklund premiered a delightfully odd cinematic electronic sound. From the second album ‘Blue’, the rich Scandipop of ‘Chasing Kites’ sees Jonna Lee hitting those ABBA-esque high notes with ablomb before adopting a huskier register for the second half.
Available on the album ‘Blue’ via To Whom It May Concern
A touching tribute to Messrs Clarke, Gore, Hütter and Schneider, JOHAN BAECKSTROM said “I guess I just wanted to reflect on the fact that there still IS a synthpop scene with some really great bands, both old and new. In another way, the song is sort of my ‘thank you’ to some of the artists that inspired me for several decades – some of them are mentioned in the lyrics, but far from all of course”.
Founded by Dan Söderqvist and Karl Gasleben, TWICE A MAN were the opposite to many Swedish acts in that they used synths and electronic effects for more sombre atmospheric soundscapes rather than performing outright pop. Still operating as a unit, their 2015 album ‘Presence’ featuring epic environmental message songs like ‘High In The Clouds’ showed their talents have not waned over the years and indeed have become more accessible.
Available on the album ‘Presence’ via Ad Inexplorata
After her inconclusive self-titled debut album in 2011, VANBOT aka Ester Ideskog had a rethink and started venturing into artier climes with the dreamy and enigmatic ‘Trooper’. With layers of vocals and rushes of lush synth, it started a journey towards the otherworldly template of IAMAMIWHOAMI. Her icy journey continues on her next album ‘Siberia’ which was written and recorded on a 17 day trip aboard the Trans-Siberian Railway.
REIN I Don’t Get Anything But Sh*t From You (2016)
Feisty, ambitious and not to be messed with, REIN has certainly caused a stir with Europe’s male dominated EBM scene. A true Rebel Girl as suggested by one of the highlights from her self-titled debut 2016 EP, even within the inherent shouty nature of the genre and Joanna Reinikainen’s debut song ‘Can’t Handle Me’ effectively being a mission statement, things are ramped up to 11 on ‘I Don’t Get Anything But Sh*t From You’. She’s an artist to watch for sure…