Sep 23, 2013

Affective landscapes

Affecting landscapes

Popular music and environmentalism in a Nordic context

by Nicola Dibben

It’s a sunny day in September 2010 and I’m meeting Björk for the first time – invited to her London flat to discuss a project I might get involved in (it turns out to be what’s later named Biophilia). She starts telling me about it but at a certain point becomes a little distracted – she says she has just learnt that a major hydroelectric project in Iceland that she’d been protesting about is going ahead. Her dismay is evident.

Dreamland feature documentary trailer

Björk’s opposition to the Kárahnjúkar Hydropower Project was widely publicised at the time, and part of a more widespread struggle over the value and meaning of the natural environment in Iceland. High profile musicians attracted international attention to the environmental movement, bringing together protest against government conceptualisations of natural resources as private property that could be sold, and their association with villains of the 2008 banking collapse, and actions which directly promoted sustainable businesses and renewable energies to benefit the Icelandic nation. As I’ve argued elsewhere, music also helps construct ideas of nature and landscape: Icelandic music has been central to Iceland’s global presence and identity, providing it with a distinctive Icelandic as opposed to Nordic identity. In my research for this project I investigate how this distinctive identity has been mobilised by the environmental movement, and continues to shape debates around Iceland’s economic development.

So far, so good, but an inspiration for my current project was provided by the work of Icelandic geographer Karl Benediktsson on the role of photography in creating an emotional response to the affected wilderness areas. He argued that the aesthetic experience provided by documentary photography of the landscape and wildlife in the area mobilised people to care about the natural environment. Karlsson’s insights into the visual arts reminded me of the role and importance in sonic arts not just of representation (the way Icelandic popular music represents and thereby constructs a version of the natural landscape), but of affect and immersion. Listen to fans of Björk or Sigur Rós (another internationally renowned Icelandic band involved in the environmental protest) and the thing that stands out is their affective experience with this music. It also brought me full circle to the beginnings of my academic interest in Icelandic music – a case study of a Björk track used to investigate how music can be understood and experienced as if it offers a particular subjectivity and construction of emotional experience (Dibben 2006). Benediktsson’s insights sparked a connection: the affective experience of music undermines the dualities which typify approaches to the environment. It’s this idea which drives the project.


Benedíktsson, Karl. 2007. ’Scenophobia’, Geography and Aesthetic Politics of Landscape. Geografiska Annaler: Series B, Human Geography 89: 203-217.

Dibben, Nicola. 2006. Subjectivity and the Construction of Emotion in the Music of Björk. Music Analysis, 25: 171–197. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2249.2006.00237.x

Sep 22, 2013

Radical nationalism

The music of radical nationalism in the Nordic countries*
The curious advent of positive radicalism

by Benjamin Teitelbaum

My contribution to Popular Music in the Nordic Countries examines curious musical products of post-skinhead radical nationalism.* Skinheadism came to the Nordic countries from Britain, often via the United States and Germany. The movement gained its recruiting prowess in large part because of its musical output. This was especially true in Sweden, which is the epicenter of radical nationalism in the Nordic countries, and once one of the largest producers of radical nationalist* music in the world. There, skinhead music genres like white power punk and Viking rock enjoyed consumption levels nearly unheard of in other western nations: A 1997 survey showed that almost one out of every five boys in Swedish secondary schools listened to white power music “sometimes or often.”

However, skinheadism would crash towards the end of the twentieth century, thanks to hate-speech laws, online music downloading, infighting among radical nationalists, and insiders’ growing dissatisfaction with the hooliganistic nature of their activism.

I follow the creation and reception of nationalist rap and reggae—two genres long considered the musical antitheses of white anti-immigrant movements. Though I highlight some insiders’ fierce opposition to rap and reggae, I also show how others regard these genres as particularly appropriate for the nationalist cause. As an individual connected with the reggae project says,
We see nationalism as an ideology of love, not as a hate ideology that many others see it as. It is about love for your own people, but also love for there being many different cultures that can be experienced. [...] But there are a lot of influences of this, first and foremost in hip hop in Sweden, but also in part in reggae. [...] [Reggae is a genre] with an eye towards the Self, but even love for the Other, but not at the same time - from a distance quite simply. But nonetheless love, I mean, reggae is very - it is like the music genre of love.
This narrative is subject of detailed analysis in my chapter.

* I use the term radical nationalism to refer to organized opposition of multiculturalism and interracialism. These actors may be white supremacists, ethnic separatists, or cultural ultraconservatives. And though ideological differences among radical nationalists may in some senses be profound, all share a belief that immigration constitutes an existential threat to the native white populations of the Nordic countries, and most have strong organizational and personal ties to a 1990s musical subculture.

Retrologies: From the ABBA museum to prog rock

From the ABBA museum to prog rock

by Lars Kaijser and Sverker Hyltén-Cavallius

The other day we went to the ABBA museum in Stockholm along with a group of heritage studies students, in order to discuss popular music as a form of cultural heritage. The museum opened in May and has attracted a lot of visitors. Björn Ulvaeus of ABBA has been a prime mover in the establishment of the museum and has together with the other band members donated and lent several items, from hand-written notes and instruments to clothes. These fragments, together with the sound of ABBA’s music, images of the rural musical circuit of the Swedish 1960’s against a birch forest backdrop and a selected home interior of band members, together form a home-woven fabric of a recent Swedish past.

The deal table of manager Stickan Andersson with five identical chairs around, and the room in the Stockholm archipelago where for example “Fernando” was composed, completes the image of an un-hierarchic, informal and nature-loving Sweden.

ABBA has been a part not only in the creation of a late modern Swedish cultural heritage, but also in a transnationally disseminated popular imagery that throws Scandinavia into the kind of exotic gaze that we call Borealism (originating in the empirial European self of countries such as Germany and France). A visit to the ABBA museum and the adjacent Swedish Music Hall of Fame enables one to reflect on the variety of what could be described both as a Swedish sound, an affective register and as a set of Swedish musical pasts.

In our project we look at different sets of fragments – what we refer to as retrologies - associated to the Swedish progressive music scene of the 1970s. ABBA and the progressive movement, once extreme opposites on a national popular music continuum, today seem to tell similar stories of a mythic bygone Sweden. 

Below is a picture of the authors at the ABBA museum


Musical Enactment of Compassion in Moments of Crisis

Musical Enactment of Compassion in Moments of Crisis
The Memorial Ceremony for the 2011 Utøya Massacre

by Jan Sverre Knudsen

My contribution to the anthology «Popular Music in the Nordic Countries» explores the role of popular music in the official memorial ceremony held in Oslo one month after the terrorist attacks on the Government buildings and at Utøya July 22nd 2011. This ceremony had an impressive lineup of some of the most known and beloved Norwegian popular music artists as well as contributors from Denmark and Sweden. Although it responded to a local happening in Norway, it was clearly an event engaging with a transnational Nordic consciousness – broadcast live to all Nordic countries and with invitees including royalty and heads of state from the entire region.

My first notes and chapter drafts mainly dealt with the ceremony in view of politics and the reception history of particular songs. Still, the more I engaged with this material, and not least, the more I talked to people who had attended the ceremony, it became clear that a comprehensive understanding also would need to bring up other aspects. A turning point in this respect was my interview with the producer of the event, Stig Karlsen, at the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK), department of entertainment. I was told that in the planning process representatives of the Norwegian government had explicitly asked for a ceremony that primarily addressed the needs of the audience in the hall at Oslo Spektrum, which consisted of many of the bereaved families and others affected by the tragedy.

According to Karlsen, who regularly produces the popular “Top-20” shows, this entailed a focus he was unaccustomed to as a producer of mass-mediated music entertainment. He was much more familiar with the idea of constructing a musical product with the potential to “reach out through the television screens”. Instead, the production team had to focus on shaping an atmosphere at the venue itself which could provide an adequate space for sorrow, grief and compassion. This was not about entertainment or about catering to an audience of dedicated fans. As many attending the event could testify, it appears that this approach was successful; they felt that the whole atmosphere was marked by the producers’ respectful and compassionate attitude to them as mourners.

To me, this focus highlights the notion of the live music performance as a tool for affording a relevant space for coping with emotions. Becoming more aware of this aspect also had an influence on my own research approach as I found it essential to deal with accounts of audience responses during the event itself, responses that were not plainly noticeable to the television viewers. This involves the heart-rendering emotional outburst from a bereaved father as well as the spontaneous reaction of large parts of the audience during the final performance, when they rose to their feet and joined in with Sissel Kyrkjebø’s singing of “Til Ungdommen” (To the youth). As I discuss in my chapter, the event obviously had wider connotations – of national consolidation, of transnational Nordic understanding, and of defending policies of multiculturalism and inclusion. Still, these must all be understood in relation to the basic idea shaping the event: the musical enactment of compassion for a grieving audience.

Sep 19, 2013

The London gateway

The London Gateway
The business dimension of internationalization in Nordic popular music

by Fabian Holt

last night I interviewed a London-based music professional who manages Nordic artists with global careers. We talked about his twenty-five years of experience in bringing Nordic artists into markets outside the Nordic region. The interview backed up some of my ideas about the music industry and other cultural industries as a dimension of globalization in popular culture. People that write about the internationalization of music scenes tend to write about it from the perspective of experience and media culture. But music industry professionals and their organization of markets have important functions in shaping music cultures in the global era. Also, it was interesting to hear his description of how Scandinavian music scenes have become much more international in less than fifteen years. (Although none of this is controversial, I am not revealing the person's name, primarily to focus on the general perspective rather than this individual situation)

I then started to write this fieldnote about London as a gateway for Nordic music. The city is the most important gateway in Nordic music export. It's the place where many artists from the Nordic countries go when they want to reach audiences outside of their immediate home territories, including neighboring countries. However, London also has other functions. It provides a key to understanding how the Nordic music scene is becoming part of the global village.

A key point is that the London-based professionals specializing in the Nordic market have developed relationships with and influenced the mindsets of Nordic artists. These London professionals are not simply taking Nordic talent out of the region and into British and North American markets. They are not simply curators and gatekeepers. They have gone to shows, talked to musicians, and contributed to the development of new business networks in the Nordic countries. In the words of my interviewee, the current networks are relatively new:

One of the problems with Scandinavia twenty-some years ago was that there was no business infrastructure. There were few managers and a lot of them were bookers who pretended to be a manager who had never done anything outside of Scandinavia. Not for any other reason than they were worried because they had never been beyond that. Even though there had been Abba, arguably one of the biggest acts in the world ever, there was very little experience of international acts.
Sweden and later Iceland developed music scenes with aspirations for international careers before other Nordic countries, but they foster different cultural environments. Whereas the several of the Swedish stars from Abba to Roxette and First Aid Kit play American- and British-style music that blend in with artists coming from the United Kingdom and the United States, the Iceland scene and later the Faroese and Norwegian scenes, but to some extent also the Danish scene have fostered environments in which it is valued to have a slightly more distinct Nordic identity. While Sígur Ros might be perceived as a form of world music, it is generally not marketed as world music, and Teitur's music has subtle elements of American roots aesthetics, but it is not really American-style music like First Aid Kit. Efterklang from Denmark similarly identifies with local natural envirnoments in their videos, but is also neither world music nor American-style music.

De-emphasizing place identity is to some extent a form of de-essentialization that creates new freedoms for Nordic artists not to necessarily be cast in the Orientalist gaze of world music.  Interestingly, international brokers of Nordic music say that they know when to break an artist as national (Danish or Norwegian, for instance), regional (Nordic or Scandinavian) or not to bring up place at all. The Nordic label is increasingly associated with 'quality music', but it is not used in all situations. Place identification in media culture might always have been a little superficial and flexible, but it is clear that the Nordic label is not a dominant one. It is possible for Nordic artists to reach audiences in other parts of the world without a strong element of exoticism (if you are interested, Philip Bohlman is writing a chapter on the concept of Borealism as a form of Orientalist gaze on the Nordic region within the history of the European empire).

Watch this video of a Danish and Icelandic artist that met each other when they were touring in Canada as support acts for the Faroese artist Teitur. A London manager helped organize this tour. The couple is now married, by the way. The video can be watched in HD.

Sep 17, 2013

New book

by Josh Green

Perhaps the best way to introduce a new book on popular music in the Faroe Islands is with a brief that story has to do with what I learned about the nature of island life and island music, in particular, while in the Faroes and during the process of writing.

Towards the end of my first month in the Faroes, my “language and culture” class took a trip to the tiny village of Trøllanes, which lies at the northern tip of one of the Faroes' more remote and least populated islands. We took a ferry ride across the fjord from Klaksvík, the Faroes’ second largest town, and arrived on the island of Kalsoy, population about 100. We drove through four or more mountain tunnels, some of which connected to empty and uninhabited valleys. After the last tunnel we emerged above Trøllanes, a town of about 6 houses. Despite my best efforts at steeling myself against romanticizing this seemingly "remote and out of time" place, I couldn't help but feel a bit like I'd reached the end of the world. Here we met Mikkjal Joensen, the famed Faroese blacksmith who runs a shop and museum. After a smithing demonstration, I spoke with Mikkjal in somewhat broken English about my plan to study music in the Faroes and told him that I looked forward to meeting the Faroese country star, Hallur Joensen. He smiled and told me he knew Hallur very well and that I should tell him 'hello from Mikkjal' when I meet him: Mikkjal and Hallur used to play in a rock band together in their younger days.

Amused by the close interconnection of people across the archipelago and how often it is that music connects them, I strolled with our group around the village's few houses. One of them, I learned, stands empty most of the year. A few of us peeked inside and found an enviable and fully equipped jam space. It was starting to seem like it would be quite hard to get away from music anywhere in the Faroes. In some ways, I think my experience at Trøllanes makes for an apt metaphor for the Faroes and the Faroese music scene as a whole. First, it shows how even in some of the world's more ostensibly out-of-the-way places, music flourishes and forges connections between people. Secondly, as anthropologists and others have been cautioning for some time now, it reinforces (for me) the idea that nowhere can we treat cultures as isolates. The discussions of Faroese metal and country in this book attest to this, as well as to some of the ways in which people make music meaningful and useful in their lives as they are making it their own.

My new book, Music-making in the Faroes: The Experience of Music-making in the Faroes and Making Metal Faroese, was published earlier this year. Print version 188kr (DKK), e-book 90kr (DKK).

Sep 13, 2013

Marketing a Small North Atlantic Society

Musical Marketing of a Small North Atlantic Society
A New Alliance between Business and Politics in the Faroe Islands

The chapter that I am preparing for the volume Popular Music in the Nordic Countries focuses on the Faroe Islands. It has been fascinating doing field research in a small society that receives little attention in mainstream international media but has a rich cultural life that puts many of the issues that occupy the modern world into perspective. The Faroe Islands are in a remarkable process of creating rethinking its place in the global village.

In a 2008 Faroe Business Report article on “nation branding” in the Faroe Islands, author, entrepreneur, and musician Elin Brimheim Heinesen commented on the marketing of the islands:

Our traditions in arts and crafts are held in high esteem and I believe their continuance is extremely important...There are strong currents driving opportunities in our direction: foreigners see something new, different and unspoiled in our culture. At the same time, we have up and coming Faroese music artists gaining audiences around the world.

The following year, the Faroese Minister of Trade and Industry spoke to the crowd at an event intended to foster and promote the burgeoning music industry in the islands about the importance of “personal branding” for aspiring professional musicians, adding that

One can say of the Faroe Islanders that we are very supportive of the creative and performing arts. Indeed we are very proud of our music which is an expression of who we are and what it means to be Faroese.

In Faroese business and politics, music is valued as a marketable resource and an essential element of national identity. At the time, musicians are making efforts to promote their music for broader international audiences. These developments play into a larger evolution in global cultural tourism over the past several decades. In the original 1976 edition of The Tourist, for instance, Dean MacCannell keenly observed that tourists had already begun pushing their way to the world's more remote locales in anticipation of the forms of authentic difference that they might find there (1976:186). The quest for those experiences and places imagined to be "authentic," or at least sufficiently "other," remains a motivation for many travelers. Jón Tyril, the organizer of the Faroes’ first major music festival called the G! Festival says the Faroese language often acts as one such important marker of authenticity for foreigners. Tyril explained to me in 2011 that “people are very occupied by authenticity and roots and all that, so it works perfectly to sing Faroese songs.”

Music and musicians have indeed begun to play an increasingly important role in the branding of the Faroes as they are repeatedly invoked as signifiers of authentic national distinctiveness. One might argue cynically that music may be made more innocuous and ultimately losing its unique capacity to sustain strong local communities as it becomes mediated as a global commodity, but another view is that those living in distant corners of Europe are motivated to make use of the resources at hand to differentiate themselves in the global market.

Faroese traditional and popular music now make up one of the most well-publicized aspects of the islands’ culture that is currently marketed to tourists. In sharp contrast to earlier touristic material, such as The Faroe Islands: Yours to Discover (Sansir 2010) which barely mentions music, recent brochures are replete with depictions of the islands’ music and musicians. In some cases, pamphlets are even dominated by music advertisement: the 2011 booklet The Faroe Islands: Take a Deep Breath (Sansir 2011a) features pictures and descriptions of the islands musicians on six of its sixteen pages, including the photo of singer Eivør Pálsdóttir on the cover. In other words, nearly 40% of that particular brochure is comprised of exclusively music-related material. Notably, this brochure figures very prominently on the Faroe tourism website ( 2013).

Even in less music-dominated brochures, however, a prevailing concern with the amount of space devoted to Faroese music is clearly evident. For example, in the 2013 booklet, there are four full pages devoted to solely pictures and images of Faroese music, and lesser textual or pictorial references to the islands’ music and musicians appear in some form on at least five additional pages, for instance, in advertising local music festivals (see Sansir 2013). One can find a similarly healthy representation of Faroese music in the touristic promotional films commissioned by the Faroese tourist industry, several of which discuss music exclusively (see Kovboy Films 2009). The tourism website also features music as one of its four main headers on its introductory page: under the banner “Live Music Every Day,” a brief description informs potential tourists that “Music plays a major role in Faroese culture. During the summer you are spoilt for choice as there are live conserts [sic] every day all over the islands” ( 2013).
As hopefully even this brief overview has suggested, entire nations, via their tourism industries, are often engaged in large-scale processes of “impression management” of a sort that are analogous to Erving Goffman’s (1959) discussion of the performance of self. Music and musicians appear to be playing an increasingly important role in this somewhat high-stakes field nation branding and marketing. Music has entered the global marketing of the Faroe Islands, and this is both more powerful and more complicated than many have imagined. The cultural sphere is not just a sensitive sphere; it is also a human resource before it can be an economic one, and the recent evolutions illustrate some of the complexities facing North Atlantic societies today.

Dahl, Johan. 2009; “Music Industry Event” (introductory speech).
Goffman, Erving. 1959. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. New York:DoubleDay.

Heinesen, Elin Brimheim. 2008. Interview with Búi Tyril. Faroe Business Report.
Kovboy Films. 2009. Faroe Islands tourism videos. Accessed 8 April 2013, available at
MacCannell, Dean. 1976. The Tourist: A New Theory of the Leisure Class. Berkeley:University      
of California Press.

Ritzer, G. and Liska, A. 2003. “McDisenyization and Post-Tourism: Complimentary
Perspectives on Contemporary Tourism”. In C. Rojek and J. Urry (Eds.) Touring Cultures:Transformations of Travel and Theory. London:Routledge.