Velvet hammer of the gods 


Scandinavian design has always been noted for its organic beauty and its lack of ostentatious ornamentation. Straightforwardly stylish with clean, smooth lines, it doesn't matter if it's a chair or a bowl, the basic tenets of post-war Nordic art have remained true to a vision of airy elegance.

Scandinavian music is a different story. A substantial network of death-metal bands and various rock anomalies (Turbonegro and The Hives) have helped establish an image of Scandinavian rock as a raw, frenzied free-for-all without the slightest twinge of elegance. (No, the suits on The Hives don't count.) Yet recently a clutch of artists from Norway have begun to generate a buzz with a swank, bohemian style that's as futuristic as a next-wave Nokia and as simply hip as an IKEA couch. Of these artists, it's been the atmospheric electronic pop of Röyksopp that's gotten the most attention.

"Some people have a different perception about the 'Norwegian hype,'" says Svein Berge, who, along with Torbjorn Brundtland, is the Norwegian electronic duo Röyksopp. "When the major labels started paying attention `to what we were doing`, the press started to pay attention too, saying that it's the 'real Norwegian scene.' Norway's problem -- in terms of musical history, which doesn't really exist -- is that ever since a-ha, Norway has basically been producing copies of what's been going on in the U.S. or the U. K. If you make a copy, it can never be as good. You'll always be behind the trend."

Now, Röyksopp -- and other artists such as Erlend ¯ye (and his Kings of Convenience) and Sondre Lerche -- are the trend. Few of these new musicians share a sound (though, if anything, it edges toward the folksy pop of Lerche), but they do represent forward musical motion for a country with a pop scene typically identified with "Take on Me."

In particular, Röyksopp's "Melody A.M." album has acted as a heavy-lidded revelation. Originally released in Europe in 2001, the success of "Poor Leno," the groove-centered lullaby that functioned as the album's lead single, caught American attention and the album was finally released in the U.S. in late 2002. Though most of the other tracks on "Melody A.M." hew more toward a retro-electronic sound that echoes the Francophone-lounge craze, the combination of open-chord melodies and bubbly, morning-after synthetics proved to be just enough to make people think twice about whether eating gravlax (salmon cured with seasonings and a liquor made from caraway seeds) is such a bad idea.

"It's been a good thing, in terms of getting people's attention," says Berge of being identified with a scene. "After the success of "Melody," we have seen, in retrospect, that it's an asset coming from Norway. Apart from A-Ha, nobody thought that interesting music could come from Norway. My theory is that if we, for instance, came from London or New York, I'm not sure if our music would have been received the way it has been."

The enthusiastic reception to "Melody A.M." has prompted Röyksopp to undertake their first American tour. "We don't have any intentions to break the market," says Berge. "We just want to go for the laughs and go and have a look."

The duo will be expanded to a trio with the addition of a bassist for their live shows. Berge insists, however, that audiences shouldn't come expecting to see Röyksopp jamming out.

"Our set is a bit more untidy and uptempo than the album," he says, "but we keep the backbone of the songs on sequencers so we can loop them. We consider ourselves producers, rather than musicians. We can't just pick up a guitar and throw something out, so the best way to do it is to have fun on stage and hope the audience likes it. If they don't, we'll just stand there and look like clowns."


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