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Iconic Pop: The Ten Singers and Bands Leading the Female-Fronted Nordic Music Revolution

Iconic Pop: The Ten Singers and Bands Leading the Female-Fronted Nordic Music Revolution

30 June 2013, 15:30

This week, Swedish duo Icona Pop scored their first Number 1, becoming the nineteenth Swedish band since ABBA in 1974 to make it to the top of the UK charts.

While Sweden has a central place in the music world – not least as a source of outstanding production and songwriting talent – there’s been a steady charge in the last eighteen months for savvy, female-fronted, progressive pop from the entire Nordic region. An army of talented musicians and singers are following in the footsteps paved for them by the likes of Robyn, Lykke Li and Niki & the Dove, finding an audience who crave a zeitgeisty sound that cocks a nod to the last three decades of urban music (and beyond) while never forgetting how big songs need to glitter explode the dance-floor too.

Maybe it’s also the organic side of the Nordic disposition – an emotive connect that bridges the gap between the synthetic and organic, whether the outcome be euphoric or melodramatic; passionate or tragic.

Riding along with the journey of Icona Pop’s ‘I Love It‘ – first released thirteen months back – we’ve seen the industry and public lapping up female-fronted music from Nordic shores in an unprecedented way. NONONO – who debuted their first release on our very own Best Fit Recordings label this month – got snapped up last week by Warner Bros. This November also sees the first ever Ja Ja Ja Festival take place at London’s Roundhouse, marking the biggest coming together of Nordic music the UK has ever seen.

The ten artists we’ve chosen below represent the best mix of the new talent currently coming out of that region. While Sweden continues to dominate as a centre of production, its close neighbours offer up their own innovative takes on popular music, bringing with them home-grown influences alongside foreign ones. These are the women who we think will changes the landscape for forward-thinking pop music in the next twelve months.

10. Mercedes (DK)

Who: Mercedes Seecoomar
Hometown: Christiania, Copenhagen, Denmark but resident in London
For fans of: Elliphant, MØ, M.I.A, Lady of Rage
Key track: ‘Live In The Speaker’
Connect: Facebook | Twitter | YouTube

MercedesIt’s early days for emerging Danish talent Mercedes Seecoomar. Raised in the infamous Christiania district of Copenhagen on diet of 80s hip hop, she was immersed in Beastie Boys and Public Enemy which was given a fragmented nod via last year’s ‘Airwave Hustler’.

The follow-up ‘Live in the Speaker’ sees a jarring early-90s Death Row production added to the mix alongside an utterly perfect lift from Eddie Murphy’s Coming to America.

The attitudal side of the young Dane is her trump card: it’s a liberal confrontationalism borne out of her upbringing and influences. She’s cultivating a fine pedigree too – collaborations with the like of Tim Powell (Girls Aloud, Sugababes), MNEK and Si Hulbert (Ceelo Green) mean we’re pretty excited about what might come next.

By Paul Bridgewater

9. Sirena (SE)

Who: Sirena
Hometown: Stockholm, Sweden
For fans of: Noonie Bao, MS MR, Charli XCX
Key track: ‘Love Is Not’
Connect: Facebook | Soundcloud | Tumblr

SirenaWe don’t know a lot about Barcelona born, Stockholm-based singer-songwriter Sirena but she was signed by Noonie Bao for her 2ManyFreckles imprint with Universal, which can only be a good thing.

Debut release ‘Love is Not’ has shades of Lykke Li’s more melancholic work with a much greater pop sensibility that retains everything we love about Swedish production. An immaculate first step for a burgeoning talent.

By Paul Bridgewater

8. Phantom (FI)

Who: Hanna Toivonen, Tommi Koskinen
Hometown: Helsinki, Finland
For fans of: SBTRKT, Portishead, The xx
Key tracks: ‘Scars’, ‘Kisses’
Connect: Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | Soundcloud

Photo by Pyry Antero

Finnish duo Phantom have crossed our paths a fair few times in the last 12 months. They played the JaJaJa club night back in September 2012 and then graced our Record Store Day vinyl release in May with signature track ‘Scars’ – endorsed by The xx, who posted it for their fans.

Makers of an eerie, ghostly take on electronic pop, Hanna Toivonen and Tommi Koskinen bring with them an intellectualism and grasp of mood that we’re used to seeing from a lot of the exciting music coming out of Finland right now.

Toivonen’s vocal stretches between wispy, breaking rasps and a powerful restraint that hearkens back (perhaps via her Jazz studies) to the likes of Billie Holiday.

By Paul Bridgewater


7. Tove Lo (SE)

Who: Tove Nilsson
Hometown: Stockholm, Sweden
For fans of: Icona Pop, Pixie Lott, Ke$ha
Key tracks: ‘Habits’, ‘Run On Love’
Connect: Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | Soundcloud

Tove LoStepping out of the shadows as a songwriter for others (Girls Aloud and Icona Pop just two groups benefitting from Tove’s skills), the Stockholm based musician is responsible for crafting out the definitive break-up song of 2013 with ‘Habits’. A cathartic, tear stained pop behemoth that’s relentlessly addictive as it is devastatingly heartbreaking.

‘Run On Love’, Tove’s recent collaboration with Lucas Nord, was positioned more towards the dancefloor. Its mixture of euphoria and sadness totally indestructible: Katy Perry meets Daft Punk. On steroids.

Currently holed up in the studio working with a bevvy of producers – including Elof Loelv (Mikky Ekko, Rihanna, Niki & The Dove) – new material from Tove Lo is imminent. Be excited.

By Rich Thane

6. Samaris (IS)

Who: Áslaug Rún Magnúsdóttir, Jófríður Ákadóttir, Þórður Kári Steinþórsson
Hometown: Reykjavík, Iceland
For fans of: Pascal Pinon, The Knife, Burial, Massive Attack
Key tracks: ‘Góða tungl’, ‘Stofnar falla’
Connect: Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | Soundcloud | Official Site

Samaris photo by fritz hendrik IV & fiona cribbenThe fragile electronica of Icelandic trio Samaris brings together post-dupstep clicks and glitches with 19th century Icelandic poetry, which informs much of the lyrical content delivered by Ákadóttir. Against this backdrop, her vocal (a more gentler tool in her other band Pascal Pinon) becomes utterly hypnotising and unforgettable – matched against Magnúsdóttir’s clarinet and Steinþórsson’s haunting downtempo electronics.

When we first saw them back at Iceland Airwaves in 2012, we said they were “unlike any band coming out of Iceland” and that hyperbole probably applies on a much larger scale now. Signed to Sugarcubes’ former home One Little Indian, their debut self-titled long-player gathers together their Iceland-only EPs to date and drops at the end of July.

By Paul Bridgewater

5. Frida Sundemo (SE)

Who: Frida Sundemo
Hometown: Gothenburg, Sweden
For fans of: Robyn, Vanbot, Loney Dear
Key tracks: ‘A Million Years’, ‘Home’
Connect: Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | Soundcloud | Official Site

Frida SundemoWhilst Frida Sundemo is – to all intents and purposes – another up and coming hopeful emerging from the ever effervescent Swedish pop landscape, there seems to be something more organic at play throughout her melodies and chord structures.

If you were to strip away the thrusting percussion and glacial sounding synths of recent single ‘A Million Years’ and imagine the song in acapella mode, you’re thrown deep inside a classic melody akin to the orchestral folk of fellow Stockholm songwriter Loney Dear. Sundemo’s yearning vocal glides over subtle chord changes that makes the electronic elements of the song that little bit more human.

by Rich Thane

4. Farao (NO)

Who: Kari Jahnsen
Hometown: Norwegian born, London based
For fans of: First Aid Kit, Gemma Hayes, Tuung
Key tracks: ‘Skin’, ‘Forces’
Connect: Facebook | Twitter | Soundcloud

FaraoFarao – Norway’s Kari Jahnsen – is one of the few artists on our list pulling together the folkier side of pop with an undertone of pop sensibility.

Fitting then that her sound finds her hooking up with Tunng’s Mike Lindsay, who brings the psych leanings of contemporary folk to the fringes of Jahnsen’s music. The tracks that made up her first EP were recorded over in Reykjavík back in February, with the extra-talented Jahnsen playing all instruments bar percussion on the release.

By Paul Bridgewater


3. Alice Boman (SE)

Who: Alice Boman
Hometown: Stockholm, Sweden
For fans of: The National, Ryan Adams, Frida Hyvönen
Key tracks: ‘Waiting’
Connect: Facebook | Tumblr | Soundcloud

Alice Boman“I want you more than I need you, and I need you so bad”. The opening, fragile lines of ‘Waiting’ – the first introduction to Swedish newcomer Alice Boman – instantly arrest the senses. Reminiscent of The National at their most intimate, Boman’s sweet and tender vocal cracks over a bed of stark and claustrophobic production – hissing and crackling, as if being beamed in through a century old gramophone.

Signed to Adrian Recordings, Boman released her debut EP Skisser (translated: Sketches) in Scandinavia last month with ‘Waiting’ the first official track to be lifted from it. Doubtful you’ll hear anything more intricately beautiful in the foreseeable.

By Rich Thane

2. Linnea Olsson (SE)

Who: Linnea Olsson
Hometown: Halmstad, Sweden
For fans of: Rebekka Karijord, Ane Brun, Anna von Hausswolff
Key tracks: ‘Dinosaur’, ‘Ah!’
Connect: Facebook | Twitter | Official Site

Linnea OlsonLinnea Olsson’s darting orchestral pop recalls Kate Bush at her most fragmented but there’s echoes of more contemporary Nordic voices in her pseudo-husk of a vocal.

Her mastery of the cello – mashed through a series of FX and loop pedals – is nothing short of outstanding and taps into its ability to convey dark melancholy and tragic yearning alongside euphoric resolution.

She performs with perfect unity of vocal and instrument, pushing the limits of what we expect from modern pop music.

By Paul Bridgewater

1. MØ (DK)

Who: Karen Marie Ørsted
Hometown: Copenhagen, Denmark
For fans of: NONONO, Kate Boy, Niki & The Dove
Key tracks: ‘Pilgrim’, ‘Waste Of Time’
Connect: Facebook | Twitter | Soundcloud


MØ is no stranger to the pages of Best Fit. Over the course of nine short months Karen Marie Ørsted has been projected from blog fodder to genuine chart botherer and shows no sign of letting up.

Lazy references to the ‘Danish Grimes‘ aside, the reception to Ørsted’s fluid genre-defying grooves has been nothing short of bewildering, but it’s with her live performance that the young Copenhagen-based artist really shines. Possessing an energy so embracing and downright ballsy, her on-stage persona is pure and filled with knife edge drama that doesn’t let up for one second. And of course, it helps that her songs are just as impressive.

Mixing a dizzying amount of influences and reference points (Wu-Tang Clan to Fever Ray, Santigold to Lykke Li), Ørsted manages to emerge sounding unique and completely in control of her own world – a world that we very much want to be a part of.

Initially signed to Chess Club Records for debut single ‘Pilgrim’ and follow up ‘Waste Of Time’, MØ recently inked a deal with RCA Records with a full length expected later this year.

By Rich Thane

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