Scandi Synth: exploring Nordic minimal synth, coldwave, and synthpop

by Sabrina

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There’s an expression that everything is clearer in retrospect. I’m not sure what the expression is in regards to music, or the point at which haphazard trends morph into legitimate subcultures, but it does seem that avant-garde talent is better recognized when there’s been a lapse of time.

At least that’s the case with Minimal Wave. Minimal Wave is an interesting genre in that it’s more an umbrella term coined in hindsight than it is a unified movement. The term was pioneered by renaissance woman Veronica Vasicka, New York based DJ, photographer, and founder of Minimal Wave Records. Characterized by its use of analog synthesizers, DIY-recording techniques, and minimal musical structures, the movement comprises a vast array of genres, from synthpop, to synthpunk, to minimal synth and coldwave.

While most acts hailed from the UK, Belgium, and France, the northern Nordic neighbors had their fair share of talent. So I present you with the underground of the underground. The lesser-known talent in a once little-known movement, now resurrected. Because these Scandinavians are really good with synths.

For today’s lesson: Sweden.

TRES

If you ever self-released a 7” that never got picked up by a record label, don’t lose hope. It just might sell on Ebay almost years later for over 250€.

Aside from their Swedish roots, not much is known about Tres, its members, or their fate. In addition to a few mysterious demos, the group released this two-track EP, Smile on My Face, in 1985. It was never re-issued, instead making rare appearances in online auctions and uploaded into cyberspace for your listening pleasure.

While the title track is an upbeat synth gem, is eerily haunting, though catchy its B-side, Operator, is a true synth gem. Both are surprisingly polished. Is it Minimal Synth? Synthpop? Coldpop? It’s hard to pick a label. But easy to put on repeat

Lars Falk

Somewhat of a legend in the synth scene for reasons other than his music, Lars Falk was an early contributor to Swedish synth duo Twice a Man and he allegedly saved the day when guitarist Dan Söderqvist injured his hand. The band was set to warm-up for New Order in London, Falk stepped in, and the gig carried on as planned. Less legendary, but just as interesting, are his three solo albums, two released in 1988 and one in 1994.

Ausgang Verboten

Swedish teens were ambitious in the ‘80s. Ausgang Verboten started in 1983 as the project of 16-year old Patrik Book and his friends, playing local gigs around Malmö. In his own words, “I made the music by myself in my room at home, I was 15-16 at the time. And then I had Jesper Hanning who contributed with his vocals. And then I gathered some friends to do the concerts. We rehearsed for the concerts in my friend Jörgens apartment, he was one year older and had his own small apartment, just beside his parents place. That was our hangout.” In 1984 the band released an 8-track demo tape, Entertainment. Heavily influenced by Kraftwerk, the band embraced the minimal aesthetic. Their demo was re-released on vinyl by German label Genetic Music in 2004.

Schmaalhans Weltraum

This Swedish duo’s discography is comprised of solely four tracks—but there’s a lot of minimal-synth goodness packed into that handful of releases. Slightly more upbeat and danceable than much of their minimal wave counterparts, Schmaalhans Weltraum’s repertoire is sparse, but sheer analog-happiness. After releasing their 7” in 1991 and appearing on the compilation Faces and Images, Schmaalhans Weltraum was no more, releasing two tracks in the ‘90s as the band Blomma, instead.

Arvid Tuba

Arvid Tuba is a sort of wildcard here. Whether or not he falls under the Minimal Synth category is debatable—but this same strain of weirdness that makes him difficult to classify is exactly what accounts for his underground renown. A leader in the “demo” scene the man behind the moniker, Markus Arvidson remains somewhat of a mystery. He started recording cassettes in his native Falun and released his first demo at around age 15 in 1985. While making tapes throughout the ‘80s, he gradually broke away from his EBM/synthpop roots. The end result doesn’t fit neatly into any genre, but it’s the epitome of the DIY tactic done well. Arvidson performed regularly throughout Europe and Asia and made his lone TV appearance in 1992 with a homemade promotional video for the single Att Måla Med Svartsjuka. He then vanished from the scene, except for some limited releases in the late ‘90s, including some KISS covers. Why not?
Little is still known about Arvidson’s whereabouts and the his music remains obscure, but far from forgotten. Recently, Trentemøller played an edit of brilliant track The Seasons are Sitting on Chairs during his Boiler Room set at Strøm Festival 2013.

Arvidson’s first and last TV appearance. Promotional video for Måla med svartsjuka

Arvid Tuba live in his heyday. Shout-out to the guy with the killer dance moves in the front—he even has “TUBA” sprayed painted on the back of his jacket.

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