October 6, 2008

Skweee: the Future Sound of Scandinavia



Sometimes new sounds emerge from the most unlikely places. Croydon helped spawn dubstep; Bolton the Blackout Crew's donk. Now it's the turn of Scandinavia, home to a new hybrid known as Synthetik Skandinavian Funk or "skweee". Yet what sounds like some awful novelty dance craze is in fact a curious mix of instrumental R&B and minimal techno. According to Fran Carlqvist, founder of Stockholm-based skweee label Flogsta Danshall, the nickname is simply reflects "how it sounds", echoing the use of high-pitched, squeaky sonic effects.

Most skweee tracks have so far appeared on limited edition 7- inch singles released via Flogsta Danshall and Finnish label Harmoenia, though there's now a UK release for one of the first full- length skweee albums, Eero Johannes's (pictured) self-titled debut on Planet Mu. Minimal yet melodic, tracks such as "Lipton Service Boy" have a fluid grace, though the cringeworthy title of Timbaland- like confection "We Could Be Skweeeroes" suggests the Helsinki- based graphic designer should hang onto his day job.

Fellow Finn Sasu Ripatti is more wordly, having been constructing off-beat, experimental techno since the late-Nineties behind the obscure alias Vladislav Delay. Luckily, he also has a more approachable side. New album Convivial (Humme), released under the name Luomo, is positively outgoing, featuring a swinging collaboration with Chicago house veteran Robert Owens ("Robert's Reason") and surprise appearance from Scissor Sisters frontman Jake Shears on "If I Can't".

There's an indirect Scandinavian connection to the debut from Windsurf - San Franciscan duo Daniel Judd and Sam Grawe. Debut album Coastlines (Internasjonal) taps into the expansive cosmic disco sound pioneered by Norwegian producers Prins Thomas and Lindstrm. Indeed, Thomas himself has dubbed Windsurf's sound "Tangerine Dream's Edgar Froese meets Steely Dan", a breathless description which nonetheless captures the retro warmth which envelops "Moonlight Sun" and handclap-assisted funk of "Cracking The Cube".

Where Luomo and Windsurf generally ride a smooth, sinuous rhythm, Brighton-based Maltese duo South Central plug into the abrasive Euro- rave of Justice and Digitalism. On new collection The Owl Of Minerva (Egregore) their music is positively disorienting, from a cascade of liquid synth riffs and stuttering rave beats of "Aeon" to the lo-fi Atari take on LCD Soundsystem, "Machine".

South Central's approach is echoed in the upstart electro of Berlin DJ Alex Ridha, aka. Boys Noize. Ridha made his name through remixes of Bloc Party and Feist. A new two-disc survey of the label he founded in 2005, BNR Vol 1 (Boys Noize) shows he's just as adept working with a raw drum track, as on the brilliantly chopped-up edit of "Siriusmo".

Masterminded by Gabriel Olegavich, the London producer who honed Lady Sovereign's early sound, electro-punk four-piece Spektrum can be equally galvanic. New single "HotSteppa" (Stop/Start) is a febrile cluster of novelty bells, wolf-whistles and whooping fairground effects, underpinned by a jerky electro beat.

There are increasing signs, especially on the New York fringes where rock, rap and electro merge, that dance music is diversifying. Brooklyn hipster Kotchy's quirky blend of house, hip-hop and rock currently earning him comparisons to Pharrell. The A side of discotised single "She Made It Easy" (Civil Music) exhorts listeners to "dance buck naked"; the B side is a breezy Bruce Springsteen/ Fleetwood Mac mash-up titled "Bruce Fleetwood".

Another product of the Brooklyn scene, art rock collective Gang Gang Dance, take an even more radical approach. Their rock/rave genre-collision "House Jam" (Warp) may quote from club culture but doesn't feel defined by it. It's left to Spank Rock producer Alex Epton, under his pseudonym XXXchange, to take it to the dancefloor, hyping the synth stabs and running Lizzie Bougatsos' Kate Bush- meets-Karen O vocal through a Daft Punk-like filter. Unlike skweee it doesn't have a name yet. But it still sounds electrifying.

Various Artists

In Order To Dance



Cherry-picked singles collection from the Belgian techno label's Nineties heyday. Run by Renaat and Sabine Vandepapeliere, they took their prancing horse logo from Ferrari and youthful stable of aspiring techno producers from across the globe - including Cornish prodigy Aphex Twin, represented here by the radiant "Analogue Bubblebath". Their defining moment remains rave anthem "Dominator" by Human Resource, an inhuman surge of subbass driven by a bizarre autoerotic rap which announces repeatedly: "I wanna kiss myself."


Just A Souvenir



A virtuoso bass guitarist, Tom Jenkinson is part Jaco Pastorius, part Mark King. He's also a virtuoso with a sampler, pioneering the "drill and bass" style of breakbeat jungle beloved of labelmates such as Vibert and Richard James. It's a fine line between virtuoso and show-off, and for all his high-speed riffing and skittering breakbeats it's the abrupt shifts of mood and ear for the unconventional which elevate his eleventh album above the merely ordinary.

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