The Count and Countess of Swedish electronic pop are back-back-BACK!
Eddie Bengtsson and Marina Schiptjenko initially came together in PAGE as far back as 1980, releasing their first single ‘Dansande Man’ in 1983. Since then, the pair have parted and reunited on a number of occasions although both continued to make sine waves at home and internationally.
Their latest EP ‘Start’ comprises of three new songs plus a remix by Norwegian EBM trailblazers APOPTYGMA BERZERK. Having already covered Gary Numan’s ‘Tracks’ in Swedish as ‘Spår’ and paid an initial Numanoid tribute on ‘Utanför’ for ‘Det Är Ingen Vacker Värld Men Det Råkar Vara Så Det Ser Ut’, PAGE have gone the full hog with the ultimate homage to the imperial years of the man born Gary Anthony James Webb.
The appropriately named ‘Start’ remembers a time before ‘Dance’ ever happened with buzzing Minimoog basslines and swirling Polymoog strings coming over like a mash-up of ‘Tracks’ and ‘Metal’. Yes, there are machine music overtures but there is melody too, a skilful trait often forgotten with vintage Numan.
Photo by Simon Helm
‘Stör Ej’ goes a step further and as well as borrowing from ‘This Wreckage’, it actually samples the Compurhythm pattern from ‘Love Needs No Disguise’ halfway through. But despite the familiar aesthetics, this is a song that stands up on its own with a fabulous retro-futuristic tone.
Best of all though is ‘Nere För Räkning’, an urgent slice of pulsing synthrock with a piercing vibratoed lead line akin to the keyboard acrobatics of Billy Currie from ULTRAVOX who was part of the Numan band for the UK leg of ‘The Touring Principle’.
Assisted by Per Aksel Lundgreen, Stephan Groth of APOPTYGMA BERZERK provides a redux of ‘Krasch’ from ‘Det Är Ingen Vacker Värld Men Det Råkar Vara Så Det Ser Ut’. Now while the union with PAGE may seem unlikely, APop’s most recent long player ‘Exit Popularity Contest’ was a wonderful instrumental retreat into the territory of Jean-Michel Jarre and NEU! It showed that Groth had as much of a sweet ear for electronic melody as PAGE, even if it was usually hidden by noise and aggression. With an Italo-derived octave shift bassline replacing the more rigid structure of the album version, APOPTYGMA BERZERK’s rework greatly improves on the original.
Yes, this EP does party like it’s 1979, but that familiarity helps it to possibly be one of PAGE’s most immediate and accessible bodies of work in their long career. If you have never checked out the work of Eddie Bengtsson and Marina Schiptjenko before, then this release is no better way to start…
Formed in 1980 in Sweden by Eddie Bengtsson and Marina Schiptjenko, PAGE marked the entry point of synthpop into the Nordic country, leading to decades of producing the best pop acts in Europe.
Quickly influencing the masses and creating a cult following, the group released numerous singles before finally the first album in 1991; they have been active on and off since then.
Returning with their new album ‘Det Är Ingen Vacker Värld Men Det Råkar Vara Så Det Ser Ut’, which translates as “There’s No Beautiful World But It Happens To Look Like That”, the veteran boy / girl combo ensure that they are still very valid, even 37 years on.
‘Det Är Ingen Vacker Värld Men Det Råkar Vara Så Det Ser Ut’ promises its building blocks are based on a “classic pop concept”, and the opening ‘Krasch’ certainly fits the analogue blueprint of the Swedish essence. ‘Spottar Långt’ carries on the idea of simple, yet wholesome electronic noise, while ‘Lågger Av’ speeds everything up.
‘Sånt Som Inte Går’ introduces the feel of underground synth with an alternative sound, at times reminiscent of the works of GARY NUMAN. Talking of Numan, his ‘Tracks’, translated into Swedish ‘Spår’, finds its way onto the opus, as well as now soiled glam classic ‘Hello Hello I’m Back Again’ in the form of ‘Så Skönt Att Va Här’.
‘Låt Det Gå’ melodiously invites to the classic disco meets with extravagant synth while ‘För Någon’ rocks grit-tingly onto ‘Tid För En Kyss’, originally released in 2015. ‘Det Var Ingenting’ tells us that “it was nothing” with busy sequences and droning repetitive rhythms. The only track performed in English is ‘I Know You Know’, which closes the outing with the additional dose of ear friendly synthpop and a positive dose of dancebility.
PAGE are back with an album which will take you back to the classic years of synth with a twist. If Swedish is one of the languages you speak, you will understand the reflection on the things going on in today’s world. If not, you will revel in the classic signature sound of PAGE.
Not for everyone, this is a good, alternative take on synthpop, clearly very sought after since 1980.
‘Det Är Ingen Vacker Värld Men Det Råkar Vara Så Det Ser Ut’ is released by Energy Rekords as a CD with bonus tracks and vinyl LP, available from http://hotstuff.se/page/x-7640
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 as well as its digital stage pianos.
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. 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.
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.
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 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…
JULIAN & MARINA is a new Swedish pop collaboration between Marina Schiptjenko and Julian Brandt.
Marina – a famous Swedish art gallerist and style icon – is perhaps best known internationally as a member of the electropop band BODIES WITHOUT ORGANS (BWO), who had great success in both Swedish and European charts with hits such as ‘Sunshine In The Rain’ and ‘Lay Your Love On Me’. BWO once played in front of some quarter of a million people during a single event in the Ukraine.
However, Marina was also an electronic music pioneer in one of the first Swedish synthpop bands ever; PAGE. They formed in 1980 and are still active. She was also later part of electronic band VACUUM.
Meanwhile, Julian has been involved in several indie pop bands like BOBBY and was a member of the classic Swedish new wave / new romantic band LUSTANS LAKEJER who had their third album ‘En Plats I Solen’, produced by JAPAN’s Richard Barbieri.
It all started when Julian asked Marina if she would like to work on a song called ‘Moon & The Stars’. The end result was enjoyably dreamy and reminiscent of ALPHAVILLE’s ‘Summer Rain’. Soon realising that they shared the same views on music and complemented each other well, they quickly decided to form a band together.
‘Absence’ is JULIAN & MARINA’s debut EP, consisting of five tracks, with ‘The Knight’ as lead single. Inspired by classic French pop, great 20th century singers like Frank Sinatra and a love for electronic music, they have created their own sound – “electro crooner”. This tag suits the distinct sound of JULIAN & MARINA very well. The music is quite laid back, soft and very elegant with Julian’s very special soothing voice on top of it all.
Of the five songs on this EP, the more upbeat synthpop of ‘Blocking The Line’ and ’The Knight’ are the highlights. The EP also features an atmospheric electro lounge cover of a virtually unknown ELVIS PRESLEY ballad called ‘A House That Has Everything’ which featured in his film ‘Clambake’.
‘Absence’ is released by Pop On The Moon as a download EP and available now via Amazon and iTunes