It was only a few weeks ago that Webcuts and half of Gothenburg invaded Slottskogen for Way Out West, but this weekend it was Stockholm’s turn for the charming Popaganda to lift my post-festival blues. Popaganda started as a free festival in 2002 at the university campus in Stockholm. After five years the festival was canceled due to conflicts between the student union and the organisers but was resurrected in 2008 with a change of venue to Eriksdalsbadet a public bath in central Stockholm. Since then the festival has focused on Swedish and international acts and has been graced by artists such as bob hund, Lykke Li, The Hidden Cameras, Camera Obscura and MGMT.
Popaganda Day One – 27 August 2010
This year we were presented with a fine mix of domestic and foreign indie and electronic bands as well as some coordinated swimming on both days. The first band on was Navet (The Hub). The group have just recorded their debut album in the reclusive island of Fårö where Ingmar Bergman used to live. Navet’s music and performance are a lot more approachable than Bergman’s movies luckily being electro pop to the core with the keyboard steering the direction and singer Julia’s crisp vocals following right behind. Even with one member short the band still put on decent show and the forthcoming single “Hello hello” showed a lot of potential. While First Aid Kit’s lovely Söderberg sisters might not consider themselves as “exotic” since they live ten minutes away with the tube they sound like the daughters of June Carter. Klara, on guitar, has a powerful voice while Julia, on keyboard and cither, has an equally beautiful, if slightly softer, tone. They complement one another well especially on new song “I Just Need a Friend”. Their love for country music was demonstrated by Gram Parson’s “Still Feeling Blue”, which were followed by two other covers, their now famous interpretations of Fleet Foxes’s “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” and Fever Ray’s “When I Grow Up by Fever Ray” (Karin Dreijer Andersson is their neighbor). The girls finish with a new song “The Lion Roars” which if I didn’t know better could’ve been another Fleet Foxes cover.
I have to be honest here — dance pop is not my thing, give me a good guitar riff to techno beats any day, however while Familjen (The Family) might not have got me over to the dance floor just yet, especially with “It began in Hässleholm” (Johan T Karlsson’s home town) a repetitive techno song that was first out of the gate, I was still pleasantly surprised by Johan and his friends. Johan’s lyrics are unexpectedly catchy live and his joy of performing was contagious. His friends included Andreas Tilliander and two well-known faces from the Swedish music scene Martin Sköld, the bassist player in Kent, and Markus Krunegård, solo artist and singer in Laakso. Towards the end Johan seemed a bit out of breath but when their first hit “Det snurrar i min skalle” (“My head is spinning”) started it got him and everyone else twirling.
Popaganda differs to Way out West in that it pleases a younger crowd (being cheaper no doubt helps) and during the first few hours of the festival I felt like I was part of a big sister program. However as the sun started to descend our favorite Scots came out and the grown-ups gathered for their treat. Belle & Sebastian started with a new song, “Didn’t See It Coming” with Sarah Martin on lead vocals, but was soon followed by “something for the old people” which was the early B&S classic “The State I Am In”. According to Stuart Murdoch the band didn’t quite know what to play, so they opted for a mix of songs since they felt they were among friends. Favorites like “If You’re Feeling Sinister” were definite crowd pleasers but it was the new song “I’m Not Living In the Real World” that became the sing-along tune thanks to Stevie Jackson who taught the audience the complicated “ooohh oohs” of the song. The only thing that was disappointing was the guest appearance by Linnea from Those Dancing Days since you could barely hear her voice in indie-country classic “Lazy Line Painter Jane”.
Robyn has gone from being a cute teen star in the 1990s to the queen of Swedish pop and the embodiment of a professional singer. Since she was playing in her own backyard (she went to school five minutes away) I expected something a little extra and while a great concert was delivered it lacked any special guests or extra oomph. Beginning with “Fembot”, a cute song about how robots also have feelings, she let her music speak (or sound) for itself. She didn’t exactly stand still much of the time and for the harder edged “Don’t Fucking Tell Me What to Do“ she let go of the microphone and just danced and shadowboxed the whole song through. How I wished I was in her shape or had half of her energy. Robyn ended by thanking Stockholm and “With Every Heartbeat” you got the feeling that all of us there just want to say thank you Robyn.
Popaganda Day Two – 28 August 2010
Saturday began with The Concretes but I just couldn’t wake up and the band has always been better on album than live so I walked to the small stage where Vit Päls (White Fur) were about to start. I didn’t need to worry about being sleepy for long because it turns out that Vit Päls are like a strong cup of coffee in the morning, their energy was revitalising. Their lo-fi-pop is filled with witty lyrics and this is a band that should be seen in a live situation. Carl Johan Lundgren is one of the most charming singers I’ve seen for awhile but the band work as a whole with everyone in tune and engaged the entire time. “Kärleken bryr sig inte” (“Love Doesn’t Care”), an unreleased upbeat song was an instant favorite and had everyone singing along. Carl and the others didn’t really want to leave and after a short 30 minutes the stage crew had to tell them to stop to everyone’s disgruntlement.
Shout Out Loads are veterans when it comes to Popaganda having played four times at the festival and according to singer Adam Olenius the band had been waiting all summer for this night. This didn’t really come across during the show but the band delivered a competent mix of songs from all three albums. Highlights such as “Very Loud” and my personal favourite The Cure influenced “Tonight I Have To Leave It” came quite early. A nice touch was a version of Band of Horses’ “Is There a Ghost” translated into Swedish. Maybe Adam is getting a taste for singing in Swedish since he also translated the end verse of “Impossible”.
Popaganda is without a doubt the festival with the best looking audience I have ever seen. The hipsters and indie kids of Stockholm take fashion seriously, just like the evening’s next band Hurts. In their tailcoats and black suits the Manchester boys looked like a young Depeche Mode that had been groomed by the stylist on Mad Men. A more handsome band would be hard to find. It is not just looks though. Hurts starts out with the dramatic “Silver Lining” which brought you back to the ‘80s, whether you liked it or not, with their heavy use of synthesiser and infectious melodies. With their debut album, based on there performance at Popaganda we can expect more keyboards, dramatic songs, some choirs and perhaps even a power ballad or two.
If Hurts is the best looking band of the festival then The Magic Numbers are the friendliest. The two set of siblings had huge grins on their faces and seemed at home as soon as they clambered onto the stage. Starting out with three oldies “This is a song”, “Take a chance” and “Forever Lost” was a real treat and it continued in that pleasant manner, but sometimes things got a bit too comfortable. Still while The Magic Numbers didn’t surprise neither did they disappoint. To help interpret the Roches’ “Hammond Song” members of Shout out Louds, The Concretes and First Aid Kit came on to lend a hand but by then it was time to head over to the small stage for some cool Brooklyn youngsters. While Neon Indian looked good and sounded good, their songs blended into one another and after awhile my thirst took over. I thought I’d be back in jiffy but oh, how foolish! I was in the land of permits where alcohol was served in a closed off area. The queue to get into this inner sanctum was roughly forty metres long and by the time I had the first sip of my drink Neon Indian were rounding up.
To finish off this year’s Popaganda a blend of disco, a touch of pop and a dash of soul was served in the form of Hot Chip. After seeing trendy people all day it was refreshing to see Alexis Taylor in his white PJs, bright yellow jacket and glittery cap. What was he thinking? Well he doesn’t have to look cool, he just is cool. Hot Chip’s selection for the night was a good mix of old and new, including “Over and Over” and “Take It In”. Due to a lesson learned on Friday night I left before the end to avoid being stuck and queuing with 12 000 other people trying to get out and so Popaganda was over as the festival summer of 2010.