Despite stereotypically possessing humble attributes, the music industries in Norway, Denmark, Finland and Iceland might understandably begin to develop envious green faces if Sweden wins the Nordic Music Prize for the fourth consecutive time this year. Last year’s triumphant The Knife with their album Shaking The Habitual succeeded First Aid Kit’s The Lion’s Roar and Goran Kajfeš’s X/Y, and placed the Swedes at the top of the glacier podium with three winners in the award’s four-year history. Let’s have a look at the nominees and why they have the potential to take the 30,000 Krona crown.
Firstly, in the Norwegian corner we have the seemingly premature inclusion of Emilie Nicolas with her debut album Like I’m A Warrior. Despite performing in Brighton at The Great Escape Festival in April, Nicolas has a relativity low profile in the UK, partly due to the fact that the album isn’t released on the British shores until May 29.
However it’s been receiving praise in the Norwegian media for its mirrored personality of emotions, which schizophrenically switches from heartfelt vulnerability in “Grown Up” and “Nobody Knows” to confrontational recklessness in “Fail” and “Charge”. Yet the dual-personality is magically sellotaped together with an airy range of electronic effects and a powerfully dazzling voice that illustrates her educational background in the influential Norwegian Jazz scene.
Contrastingly, Emilie Nicolas’s compatriot Todd Terje already has a recognized reputation across Europe. Celebrated as the king of remixes, it’s taken a decade for the DJ to actually release his own album of original material. The sarcastically-named It’s Album Time, is a surprising, clever and enthralling nostalgic journey into space-age synths, funktastic energy and exotic electric jazz fusion which soared closer to the sophisticated lounge of French duo Air than the bass-pumping of fellow Norwegian Martin Tungevaag.
For a country commonly drenched in gothic metal (Nightwish, Lordi) and experimental folk (Lau Nau, Paavoharju), the Nordic Music Awards have decided to demonstrate Finland’s excellence at Urban music. Congo-born Gracias is a welcomed addition to the rise of poetic rappers with substance and draws immediate comparisons to Roots Manova for his utilization of 1990s underground hip hop beats accompanied by spacious dub textures. Rap music hasn’t won the award yet but the well-crafted Elengi has a great chance of breaking the trend.
Like Gracias, Folk blues musician Mirel Wagner also has origins in Africa and embodies thought-provoking and honest lyrics in her nominated second album When The Cellar Children See The Light Of Day, but unlike Gracias, she sings softly rather than raps. Despite having a very normal childhood, there is something sinister about Mirel Wagner’s sadistic perspective on life that makes her intriguing and brings out a personality in an album that only has minimal instrumentation. Her sombre outlook is clearly inspired by PJ Harvey, Laura Marling and Emily Haines and it wouldn’t be surprising if it hypnotizes the jury to vote for her.
It was hard to ignore the free-spirited electro pop of Karen Marie Ørsted a.k.a MØ in 2014 with a promotion campaign that demanded attention through six singles and two of which provided the soundtracks to television commercials for Acqua di Gioia (“Pilgrim”) and Kopparberg (“Waste of Time”). Her faultless album No Mythologies To Follow is exciting, full of variety, Grimes-esque inventiveness and the theme of young adulthood’s insecurities could emotionally connect with the panel.
It might be third time lucky for punk rock outfit Iceage whom have now received the most nominations for a single act and might finally go home with the trophy with the album Plowing Into The Fields of Love. The destructive Danes are acclaimed by critics for their pioneering technique of pairing orchestral intensity with the slurred and drunken vocals, as well as disorientated drums associated with authentic punk.
The Nordic Music Prize began in 2010 is inspired by the format of the British award, the Mercury Prize and one characteristic it copies is the inclusion of an experimental and occasionally improvised ensemble within its nominees. The Nordic alternative to Portico Quartet are Selvhenter, an all female orchestra (saxophone, trombone, violin and drums) with an ambitious juxtaposed vision that extreme noise can be paired with free jazz and rock on their second release Motions of Large Bodies. If the decision to award the chaotic surrealism of Shaking The Habitual is a good example of the open-mindedness of their verdicts, then experimental collective Selvhenter have a great chance.
Iceland perhaps has the most contrasting set of nominees. The extreme fuzziness and distortion play of The Pink Street Boys and their semi Icelandic-language album Trash From The Boys is a wild experience. It experiments with the analogue nature of garage rock and noise core whilst maximizing the gritty rawness to surprising levels. On the complete opposite end of the scale is the happy-go-lucky Prins Póló, with his album Sorrí, whose gimmick of wearing paper crowns in promotional videos makes him seem humorous and free-spirited. The fact that he is singing cheeringly to lyrics about society in a Scandinavian language could be an advantage.
The less successful Scandinavian countries have to challenge themselves against the dominant Swedish trio, whom have already established themselves in the music industry to some extent. What also links the trio of artists is the theme of departure. After a period of soul-searching, Lykke Li pours the woes and contradictions of heartbreak on her balladry third album I Never Learn, which is her most intimate and personal release yet.
Neneh Cherry’s first solo release for 18 years, Blank Space is a reaction to the death of her mother and is centred on the impulsiveness of opportunism and the lack of true knowledge. Her numerous collaborations along the way have built a mish-mash of inspirations that make her album multi-layered and unpredictable. A business departure between Grammy-Award winning contemporary hip-hop brothers has allowed for Lorentz from Lorentz & Sacharias to create his first solo album in Kärlekslåtar, which was nominated for his convincing switch to electro-laced R&B moods and his honest heartfelt lyrics about love.
This year’s twelve nominees are slightly more recognizable for non-Scandophiles than previous shortlists, which is a testament to the rising force of exported Nordic music and albums nominated from other countries could give Sweden a run for their money this year. The partisan logic is in the hands of a jury of music industry innovators and we’ll have to wait for the results of the awards at Norway’s conference By:Larm on Thursday, March 5. Visit the Nordic Music Prize website for further information here.
Words by Matt Hobbs // Edited by Ayo Adepoju