Well, that slid right in and out of my brain with zero traction. It’s like sparkling seltzer water for the mind. This kind of bubbly ambient pop has become its own very lucrative market, since companies discovered it makes great background music for showcasing shiny lifestyles. That’s probably not Brian Eno had in mind when he conceptualized ‘music you don’t have to pay attention to’. In his case it was some kind of an elevated artistic statement. Nowadays it’s big money. The Norwegian duo Royksopp are leaders in the ambient pop field today, because evidently there’s something in the air up there that makes people want to compose frosty electronic soundscapes.
The Scandinavians are good at a few things: knitting warm socks, salted fish, liberal democracy, and electronic dance music. (Other things too, probably.) There must be something about all those long dark nights in the numbing cold that makes people want to trance dance. Admittedly, my understanding of the culture comes from two sources: children’s literature and Stieg Larsson novels. So I imagine that life in Scandinavia is filled with magic, Moomins and murder. You won’t get much of a better idea of what Sweden – for example – is like listening to ambient electronic music like Royksopp, but in a place where the nights hardly ever end, the nightclubbing must be good.
You might remember this song from such important cultural events as… a T-Mobile commercial from sometime in the early 2000’s. Really. Judging by the YouTube comments, a lot of people remember it from just that, and some have even spent the past decade searching for it. Well, T-Mobile fans, your search is over. It’s Royksopp, from the 2001 album Melody A.M., which is considered quite a classic in the annals of Scandinavian electronic music. This obviously beggars a conversation about how art and commerce have melded together into a new state of hyper-capitalist sensory-surround pop culture. It wasn’t that long ago that no serious artist would ever consider selling their music for commercial use, because it would disgrace them as an artist. It was called ‘selling out’ and anyone who did it was seen as a greedy hack who should just go jump off a bridge in shame. Remember when The Rolling Stones sold Start Me Up to Microsoft in the 90’s? They were one of the first major artists to license their music, and it was a real scandal. Well, now they have more money than God, and yesterday’s scandal is today’s best practices. Now, it seems like, if we have to see ads and watch commercials – and we do, oh, how we do – we can at least expect to discover some cool new music, and it’s a great way for artists to break out and get themselves out there, since nobody makes any money selling records anymore. Everybody wins! Hooray for terminal-stage capitalism!
Do you like chillwave music? Okay, no one ever admits to liking chillwave music, not least because they’d be hard press to define what it is. But if you’re susceptible to those curated playlists with names like “Smooth Jazz for a Rainy Day” or “Music to Study To” you probably like chillwave. It’s basically a musical Instagram filter, and don’t knock it. It’s a proud tradition tracing its heritage all the way back to Brian Eno’s ambient soundscapes. Brian Eno actually didn’t invent the idea of boring music for boring places but he gave it a little gravitas and most-modern irony. Today we’re all in the business of curating the perfect musical ambiance for ourselves, and there’s a rack of composers writing music specifically for that purpose. I’m pretty sure that most of what ends up on those ‘rainy day’ playlists is composed by anonymous hacks, but there are some talents in the atmospheric soundpool who achieve real cultural relevance, at least in their native Scandinavia. Such as Royksopp, whose moody electronic compositions are some of the most acclaimed moody electronic compositions. They also make electronic compositions that are more dance-floor friendly, and they’re frequent collaborators with Robyn, which places them in a very hip echelon. And sometimes you just really need just the perfect music for drinking tea on a chilly fall day.
Do the Scandinavians excel at dance music because their nights are so dark and long? What can they do but dance the darkness away? If Robyn and Karin Dreijer are any indication the future of electronic music, at least, is a Swedish woman with a laptop and fine collection of outre costumes. Honestly we should all move to Sweden and become club kids. There, as Robyn’s music implies, we will find release, self-expression, and robot love. It’s been mostly all quiet on Robyn’s front lately, though there’s a Twitter rumor of a new album in the works. In the meantime, there’s collaborations like this one with Royksopp, and others that apparently never leave the shores of Sweden.
Where has Robyn been hiding since she dropped the Body Talk collection 2010? If, like me, you’ve missed her, here’s something to hold you over for a few more years. An EP with Royksopp isn’t what I was expecting (though I probably should have been) but it’s enough of a treat. Robyn has collaborated with the duo before, so it’s no surprise they work together like an old team. Between the three of them, Do It Again may just be the most cerebral contribution to electronic music since Eno made elevator music upscale. It comes in typical Scandinavian high style, from the steely simplicity of its beats to its mesmerizing accompanying videos. Robyn, as usual, looks and sounds like a creepy alien and a lovable pixie in equal measure. Sure, I’d like her to laser focus on making dance pop for the cognoscenti again, but these dreamscapes are cool too.