Somewhere: Nordic Skweee
- Words: Matt Earp
Surveying the “conflict R&B” sound of Scandinavia.
Bubbling up from the hot springs and fjords of Scandinavia, a crazy sound called skweee is flying out of drum machines and synthesizers. Fat, chunky bass blurts that seem like they’re tumbling over themselves are mixing with brittle beats that could have been made by a group of manic eight-year-olds let loose in the Korg factory. Described as “synthetic funk” or “conflict R&B,” this magical musical land of skweee lies somewhere between hip-hop, R&B, electro, dancehall, and 8-bit. And, as the mid-tempo genre pioneered by a bunch of Finns and Swedes takes off, its sound is now touching down in Norway, Spain, England, and the U.S.
“Scandinavia is traditionally known for dark, serious, and melancholic music,” says skweee artist Mesak. “Think of polished Swedish techno or Finnish avant-garde folk. Skweee is something quite opposite: it’s funky and danceable, but still a bit stiff.” Fredrik Mjelle (a.k.a. Beem) adds: “To me [the music] is about playfulness and attitude. It’s about making people want to move and have fun…. If people are hearing hotel lounge [sounds] in my music, they should turn the volume up a bit and try to play some air synth to it!” That playfulness is characteristic of this scene, a trait reflected in the names of many of the scene’s anthems (including “Rick James is Dead” and “Skweee Like a Pig”).
Producer Daniel Savio coined the term “skweee” in 2007 when he was testing the limits of his Roland Alpha Juno-1 synth, trying to squeeze every last ounce of juice out of it while making his “Bubble Bump” 7-inch. That same year he turned heads with his World’s 1st Skweee Mix mixtape (under the name Kool DJ Dust), which is still worth tracking down. But for the last three years the entire genre has rested solidly on two labels: Flogsta Danshall and Harmonia. Flogsta was started in Stockholm by Frans Carlqvist (a.k.a. Pavan); its inaugural release in 2005 was a 7-inch called “Punt Kick/Crank Up" which collected his wonkybleeps and bloops. Four years later the label has released 11 seven-inches and two CD compilations called The Museum of Sound. Meanwhile, across the Baltic to the east, Helsinki’s Harmonia label, (run by Randy Barracuda and Mesak, who is half of Mr. Velcro Fastener) has followed the same format, with several single releases and two superb compilations, Harmonia Presents: Skandinavian Skweee Vols. 1 and 2. Virtually every artist in the scene—including Rigas Den Andre, Claws Costeau, Boyz of Caligula, Beem, and Eero Johannes—is represented by one of these two labels.
Events like Helsinki’s I Can Skweee Clearly Now, Bergen's Basstronomisk Institutt, and Stockholm’s Skweee Marathon showcase live performances, and the unique sound and antic-filled concerts have started to elicit international attention, especially from the dubstep world. (Many artists consider the skweee soundclash showcase at Sonar 2008 to be the highlight of the scene so far.) Late 2008 saw Mike Paradinas’ groundbreaking British indie label Planet Mu release Eero Johannes’ self-titled debut, which sounds gloriously like Timbaland getting in a fight with Arthur Russell.
Big things are happening in 2009 for skweee artists, starting with the birth of Oslo’s superb dødpop label. So far, they’ve released two genre-pushing 7”s with tunes by Norwegian’s Beatbully, Melkeveien, and Sprutbass. March’s big event was the release of Savio’s Dirty Bomb LP on Flogsta, and he’ll be touring the States this summer in support of the album, thanks to U.S. skweee enthusiasts DJ Staypuft and Kid Logic. Mesak and Randy Barracuda will be out in the States as well. With this kind of momentum, it may not be long before Barracuda is granted his ultimate wish: “To play Easter Mass at the Vatican!”
A quick sampling of some of our favorite Skweee events and tracks
Skweee Like a Pig party in Turku, Finland
Pavan + Easy + Mesak live at Spasibar, Oslo, Norway
Randy Barracuda & Mesak "Black Vaseline" (Eero Johannes remix)
I Can Skweee Clearly, 2007 tour with Mesak and SLA
- September 18: New Forms Festival 2014 with Oneohtrix Point Never, Hieroglyphic Being, Helena Hauff, Madlib, and More
- September 24: Decibel Festival with Marcel Dettmann, KiNK, FaltyDL, John Roberts, Steffi, Simian Mobile Disco, and More
- October 15: Amsterdam Dance Event with Four Tet, DJ Koze, Jon Hopkins, Karenn, Ben UFO, Floating Points, MCDE, Talaboman, and More
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