Music for all
“I listen to a lot of different things – there is so much great music out there,” says Joel Wästberg – aka Gothenburg musician sir Was. Joel, who grew up in a small village near Volvo Cars’ hometown, released his debut album ‘Digging a Tunnel’ in March 2017. Joel plays a multitude of instruments on the album, which also features field recordings captured from around the world.
One track features the sound of a busker playing bagpipes on a street in Spain. “I just happened to walk by the guy, so I recorded it,” Joel says. “A couple of months later I was sitting in the studio experimenting and I threw it into a track and thought ‘wow, this works perfectly’.”
If the experimental, multi-layered music of sir Was is a reflection of Joel’s outlook, it can also be viewed as a reflection of the progressive, open approach to music in Sweden. “Music is something that everyone – anyone – can do in Sweden,” says Joel. “It doesn’t matter what your parents do or earn, you can go and borrow any instrument and have access to music teachers.”
Subsidised or free vocational music education is available to all Swedes – an important factor in making a nation of just 10 million the world’s third-largest exporter of music. And Dr Johan Söderman, a senior lecturer in musical education at Gothenburg’s Chalmers University of Technology, says that the informal style of teaching is crucial. “Often, education has a beginning and an end, but in Sweden it goes on for your whole life. “People study music in a more democratic way – it’s like a study circle, rather than having a teacher who stands out in front of you.”
Nelly Daltrey, one half of Gothenburg alternative rock duo Pale Honey, says: “We have a very forgiving attitude here in Sweden. Society is very protective. So when people sit down with an instrument and make music, they’re not driven by the thought they have to become the next big star. They just have the feeling that they must do something creative, surrounded by people who believe in them.”
A creative environment
A unique sense of place also shapes Swedish creativity. “There’s a lot of space here in Sweden,” says Josefin Öhrn, of Swedish psychedelic rock band Josefin Öhrn + The Liberation. “I think that gives you a sense that there’s something much bigger than yourself. And that creates its own energy.”
The group’s hypnotic music and creative process have been influenced by their Swedish environment, says Josefin’s bandmate Fredrik Joelson. “People spend a lot of time outside in Sweden and I think that’s conducive to music,” he says. If long summer days and expansive landscapes are one source of inspiration, Swedish winter nights are another, representing the perfect opportunity to hunker down in the studio. “When it’s dark and cold it’s so easy to just stay inside and create things,” Fredrik says.
For Pale Honey, the Swedish environment is inspiring yet it doesn’t define their music. “It’s hard to know how we would sound if we weren’t from Sweden because I’m born and raised here, although of course it affects our personalities and how we do things,” says Tuva Lodmark. “I think that many people here in Sweden, or all over the world for that matter, do their own thing and that’s why they become successful.”
A generation of innovation
In Sweden, creativity doesn’t just stop in the making of music, but also in the way music is consumed. Spotify, the music streaming company founded in Sweden, has changed the way we all listen to music. Soundcloud, another global success story in music streaming, was also set up by Swedes.
Dr Johan Söderman doesn’t think it’s a coincidence that Sweden is a leader in developing music technology. “Firstly, students in our schools are encouraged to work in more informal ways, working more collectively – to have great ideas,” he says. “And you can also connect it to the fact that in Sweden we all had personal computers growing up in the 1990s because of a government funding system that meant people could pay for a (subsidised) computer directly out of their salary.”
Or, as Kornél Kovács, one of Sweden’s leading house DJs and producers, puts it: “We’re pretty good at computers up here. Staying indoors and ‘nerding out’ on something – whether music or developing technology – is something that’s highly encouraged.” Global trends are also picked up on quickly and adapted in Sweden, suggests Kornél: “I'm not the first one to say this but you can look at the big Swedish success stories like ABBA, or more recently Max Martin, as perfected, streamlined versions of innovations like disco or R&B.”
“Music is important. It can really make the difference to the time you spend in your car”
VITO DI FONZO
Lead engineer, audio
Built for music: the Volvo XC40
“Sweden is a very inventive country,” says Vito Di Fonzo, lead engineer, audio, at Volvo Cars. Vito helped develop the audio systems for the XC40 – systems that use innovative technology to deliver precise, powerful sound. For him, the end result matters more than the means of getting there. “If it’s good you’ll feel it,” he says. “Music is something that everyone can relate to. We all know which music we like, and even if you’re not an expert you can tell whether the sound quality is good or not.”
Every XC40 has an air-ventilated woofer – a type of bass speaker – mounted behind the dashboard. This unique unit delivers exceptional sound quality, yet avoids the need for speakers mounted in the front doors that take up valuable space and can cause items in the door bins to rattle.
For the top-of-the-range sound system, Volvo Cars collaborated with Harman Kardon – one of the world’s leading audio brands. Hans Lahti, principal system engineer at Harman International, explains that the system’s 13 speakers create a beautifully balanced sound, while the sound levels are adjusted automatically and a noise compensation function adjusts sound according to road noise. There’s also an air-ventilated subwoofer, built into the rear wheelarch of the car, that provides rich, detailed bass tones. If that all sounds a bit technical, the benefits are more straightforward. “It creates an enjoyable sound that you can listen to for hours on end without getting tired,” says Hans.
“Music is important in Sweden,” says Vito Di Fonzo. “And it’s important for the XC40. We understand that music can really make the difference to the time you spend in your car.”
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The Defiant Pioneers
Bound by sound
1966 was quite a year for music. The Beatles, The Beach Boys and Bob Dylan all released groundbreaking albums that completely transformed the cultural landscape. But while Lennon and McCartney and their contemporaries were busy reinventing the way music was made, a classical music enthusiast called John Bowers was focusing his attention and expertise on reinventing the way we listened to it.