The festival landscape in Sweden has been heavily re-drawn over the last decade. Classic festivals like Hultsfred, Arvika, Peace and Love, Emmaboda, and also Bråvalla, have closed down (and some have resurged in new shapes, with mixed results), and the main competitors are stadium/arena shows, or concerts at amusement parks like Gröna Lund in Stockholm or Liseberg in Gothenburg. Pay 290 SEK [app. 27€] and see all concerts the whole year, including several international acts that would normally be great headliners at festivals (e.g. Smashing Pumpkins, Wiz Khalifa, Bastille, Saxon, Lenny Kravitz and even Sting) as well as every Swedish artist one can imagine. For sure, this is great for the audience and for the parks, and the artists have greater control over their production than on a festival. But it means that the position for festivals have been severely changed.
Park Sounds in Huskvarna provides an alternative and shows that it’s still possible to do something different. One day, focus on Swedish artists with a few interesting international ones, and mix the genres in a nice setting and several indoor stages.
On paper the lineup showed many similarities to last year, it’s a pretty eclectic bunch of acts that are on the poster, but every single one of them are interesting. Last years’ headliner The Hives might be a bit more interesting and appealing than 2019’s Teddybears, but they share similarities in approach, and they are both the perfect festival closing acts. The synth duo Kite and metal/post rock band Cult of Luna both provide much anticipation from me, among many of my friends as well as people online. A fingerspitzengefühl (callback to last years’ great review!) in a mix of genres which has been the case in all editions of the festival as well as precursor Popadelica.
The first band of the day was also on of the main attractions; Annikas Norlins project Säkert! It’s 12 years since the eponymous debut album, with fan favourite “Vi kommer dö samtidigt”, and quite a lot has happened in the sound, from a more poppier sound with jangly guitars to a fuller, more rock-oriented sound, but the raw and touching lyrics are just as moving now as then. Norlin has an impressive ability to capture and describe moments in her and other peoples lives and transfer them into anthemic songs.
Norlin starts the concerts with “Snooza” and explains that she was not supposed to do as much shows this summer, but last years’ great experience at a concert in Huskvarna made her change her mind. It is fair to say that the audience adores her, she speaks directly to many of them, and the atmosphere is so intimate and palpable at times that it feels like it an acoustic small concert for just a few persons, despite it being perhaps 800 persons there and seven persons at stage. That is especially clear in “Allt som är ditt” (a song about sexual abuse and rape) or the magnificent “Dian Fossy” about the birth of her child. Both songs stir up emotions among the audience, and several persons around me are basically crying. It’s a pretty strong experience to be part of that.
The setlist is a mix from all records, although relying heavily on the latest. One of the strengths is her talks between the songs, everything from telling stories about how her younger friends were complisulting (check out urban dictionary if you don’t know what it means, loser) her about being “so funny despite being so old”, leading to the song “Det ska hända dig med”, nodding to her younger, female backup singers.
A great start, that is for sure! Following is Swedish MaidaVale, signed to Linköping based label The Sign records, a band playing psychedelic rock, and a band that in my opinion grow considerably live. The songs move into a quite groovy sound, something that can be compared to Phish, where the beat just moves on and on, and after a while you just stand there nodding your head without thinking about it, and all of a sudden five minutes have gone by.
The setlist is mostly made out of songs from the latest release, “Madness is Too Pure” and they provide a great show for the considerably large audience at the smaller of the two stages at the festival.
The third act for the day was Junior Brielle. Two brothers from northern Sweden looking like they stepped right out of 1995 onto the stage. They have in a short time period gained considerable attention from the Swedish music press, and one of the most prolific journalists described their sound as the lovechild of Little Jinder and Joakim Berg in Kent. It is beat driven songs with somewhat 80’s sounding synths and Swedish lyrics.
There is something thrilling in their brotherly dynamic, being six years apart, and of course the parallels to the Gallagher brothers are difficult to overlook, and (older brother) singer Gabriel have borrowed more than a few moves from Liam Gallagher. There is something performative over the dynamic, that there should be some sibling fights just because. But I love that, it is just thrilling, and they are in general a great contrast to the Swedish music climate today.
On stage they have brought in a live drummer (Wilma Wall from former band En Drös Poeter), adding more dynamic to the sound, as most of the songs are basically backtracks along with Davids bass. “VM 94”, with borrowed lyrics from Karin Boye’s poem “I rörelse” sounds magnificent live, as does my personal favorite “Dovas”. They have no time getting of stage after the set, and goes straight into the encore of “Forever & Ever”, which ends up in a smaller fight with a thrown water bottle and a loogie between the brother. As it should.
After Junior Brielle follows Lion of British Beth Lowen (an act that is impossible to google – I ended up at the Lion King soundtrack, and having a great afternoon anyway of course). The sound is rock-oriented, with some 80’s inspiration, which is especially true for Lowen’s raspy voice. They emerged on the music scene last year with debut single “Self Control” (one of the strongest songs live in my opinion) buy is yet to release the full-length debut. That is yet again a sign of how the festival organizers keeps an ear to the ground (or probably a speaker or headphones to be correct) to pick up-and-coming artists. Lion is a strong live band and the audience is really dedicated (and seem slightly sheepish when Lowen complements them on how good they look).
Next up was Kite, one of the, objectively speaking of course, best Swedish bands in recent years, although they seem to constantly be a bit underrated. They hail from the same region (Småland) as Huskvarna and it is clear that one can be prophets in his own hometown judging by all the Kite-t-shirts, and the hype and the reaction from the audience. They have come back from a hiatus following singer Niklas Stenemo’s illness and sold out three shows in Stockholm in a few minutes earlier this spring. Stenemo was previously a part of bands like The Mo and Venus Outback, but it was when he met up with Christian Berg (to whom I once tried to sell Messed!Up’s editors analogue synthesizers via text, drunk at Reading Festival, without his knowledge – sorry!), previously in Strip Music and legendary Yvonne, when all pieces came together, and they found a way of creating a synth-oriented sounded based around Stenemo’s characteristic vocals.
In Huskvarna they put on a great show with a truly dedicated audience, with cliched fists in the air and cheers that never seem to end. They have some technical difficulties, as Stenemos in-ear monitors seem to malfunction considerably, and that might be the reason for not performing an encore. Another interesting aspect of their shows are the light shows, which is built “in-house” by collaborator Gustaf Lerne, and it provides a completely different setting compared to other bands.
The setlist is a mixture from all the records, but a rather surprisingly low-key history. It is in no way focused on their biggest hits, although opener “True Colors” and “Dance Again” are among their biggest songs (both in terms of success and sound), but no “Jonny Boy”, “Ways to Dance” or “I Give You the Morning” shows an impressive self-confidence to direct the show in the way the like to themselves, without compromises. It is a truly cohesive show by a band we hope to see more music from soon.
British Queen Zee followed Kite, contrasting the heavy, dark synth-oriented sound, with great punk rock. Front person Zee is just a fully-fledged performer, with David Bowie-esque makeup, starting with kicking out one of the monitors in the photo pit (our photographer Martin Wilson almost lost his knees in the incident). Songs from the eponymous debut album makes out the majority of the setlist, with personal favourites “Loner” and “I Hate Your New Boyfriend”. Great show, like getting a vitamin injection at the perfect time!
Time for another main attraction of the festival: Cult of Luna. Well, at least for many at the festival. It is clear that they do not share much audience with Säkert! for example, and the crowd might be a bit smaller than on Kite, but those there are super dedicated, and I have friends that went to the festival only to see them.
They have been on hiatus for a few years, but returned without saying nothing. It should be said, I have all the respect for them, especially for their drummer Thomas Hedlund (whom also records and tours with for example Deportees and Phoenix), but it is not my cup of tea. But it is a tight performance, with two drummers on stage, and I can at least make out “The Silent Man” as show opener. But, the ones that are into them had a good time, and that what matters.
Spielbergs from Norway closed up the smaller stage, performing live in Sweden for the first time. They released debut LP “This is Not the End” earlier this year, but opened the show with the eight minutes long post-rocky “Ghost Boy”, which sounds quite different compared with the LP’s more punk rock oriented sound. The Japandroids-influenced “We Are All Going To Die” ended a great show.
Teddybears were closing the festival and it is truly a spectacle. It´s been awhile since I listened to them fully, but one gets reminded of how many hits they have had over the years. “Ahead of My Time”, “Yours to Keep” and “Punkrocker”, to mention a few, although one could have asked for a few more bangers. But it is a pretty uplifting end to a great festival.
Photographer: ©Martin Wilson