It all began with Abba, who went on to become Sweden's second-highest export earners after Volvo. From electro act The Knife, punk rock band The Hives and The Cardigans, Scandinavia has always been a fertile ground for pop music. With Robyn back in the UK charts, among the new crop of female singer-songwriters are the Swedish Lykke Li and the Norwegian Ida Maria.
Last month the 10th by:Larm took place, Scandinavia's largest music festival devoted to showcasing only bands from Scandinavia, Iceland and the Faroe Islands. This year 1,500 acts applied to play the festival, now recognised as the international platform for music fans and the industry to discover the hottest new Scandinavian acts.
Peter, Bjorn and John, an indie pop trio from Stockholm, made cult status in the UK in 2006 with their single "Young Folks", which the NME named as their second-best track of the year. They are no strangers to collaborating with their talented Swedish neighbours: "Young Folks" features vocals from Victoria Bergsman of indie pop band The Concretes, and most recently they produced Lykke Li's debut single, "Little Bit", out on Moshi Moshi.
Oh Laura are another promising band. The five-piece from Stockholm had a hit in Sweden with their debut single, "Release Me". Their singer, Frida Ohrn, has already established herself as a leading local chanteuse, also recording an album with the jazz rock musician Bo Sundstrom. Recalling his first impression on hearing Ohrn sing at a gig, guitarist Jocke Olovsson was "amazed" by her voice, while Jorgen Kjellgren has said: "It's why we started and it's why we keep going."
But although it's the pop songs such as "Release Me" and their second single, "It Ain't Enough", that have the potential to take them to the top of the UK album charts when they release their debut, A Song inside My Head, A Demon in My Bed, it's the handful of less direct songs ("Call to Arms", "Black'n'Blue", "Killer on the Road") that give an edge to the band. Oh Laura are impressed by the number of indie-pop bands in Stockholm, which include Shout Out Louds and girl teen band Those Dancing Days. It's what prompted singer-songwriter Ida Maria to leave Norway to live in Stockholm.
It takes a while to track down the 23-year-old songstress, who has been out celebrating her drummer's birthday. Dressed in the fur coat and with the low, dusky, drawn-out tones of a 1940s actress, she says, as she nurses a hangover with a pint of beer and comforting traditional Swedish food: "In Norway you tend to play all kinds of music like electronica and jazz and heavy metal, but here it's indie pop and that's it. It's like an indie mafia."
Maria's song "Oh My God" is a loud, expressive pop hit in opposition to Norway's exports, such as the acoustic melancholia of Kings of Convenience. "All bands coming from Norway are quite dark in a way or melancholic. I didn't want to make depressing music because I didn't want to make people sad. I want to make people happy. All people from Norway go around with a depression all their lives because they've probably got too little vitamins in the blood or something.
From the age of 14, Maria built up her musical influences with help from a local doctor who lent her Bob Dylan and Janis Joplin records. "I'd just borrowed the [Joplin] record from my doctor and I thought, this is a revolution. When I listen to Bob Dylan I just want to quit," she says. Comparing Maria's voice to Joplin sends a smile rippling across her face. "I couldn't figure out how to sing like that. Some whisky and some beer later..."
Until she was diagnosed with synaesthesia, the condition which causes the senses to clash, Maria thought she must have been "disturbed", but she turned it to her advantage in writing songs. "When I listen to music I see patterns and colours. I realised I can use it for a good purpose. You can decide to write a yellow song. A yellow song is a very high-pitched tune. I don't want to have ugly songs. Maybe it's why my songs are sugary, because I decided to take all the minor chords and brown, dark red, grey and green out and just go yellow and red." "Louie", she states, is her distinctive yellow song. And what is "Oh My God"? "Black and white," she answers without hesitation. "Easy! It's a very simple song with ice-cold riffs."
How does she go about writing the perfect pop song? "Iggy Pop once said if you really press together and really hard, the centre of what you're doing is really compact like a diamond and you can put it anywhere and it will still be beautiful. So I try to find a centre. I look for the absolute pure instant. When you write a good song you know instinctively and you're euphoric for a day."
Oh Laura's album 'A Song Inside my Head, a Demon in my Bed' is out on Monday on Cosmos; Ida Maria's single 'Stella' is out on Monday on Waterfall/RCA; her debut album is out in JulyReuse content