Skweee. Where to start… what does it sound like? First and foremost it sounds like… well: ‘skweee’. It’s onomatopoeic, you see. At least that’s what skweee pioneer Daniel Savio had in mind when he coined the moniker – squeezing every last squeak out of aging equipment. And that’s where the story starts; Scandinavia alighting on an electronic genre it could truly call its own. Three or four years ago veteran Swedish DJ Pavan hit on the sound, and called on local like-minded folk to join him. Savio was one of the first. But, as is the way of such evolution, the electronica melting-pot of Scandinavia simultaneously threw up, ahem, skweeejays away across the border: in Finland Mesak and Randy Barracuda, now two of the scene’s most influential names, formed Skweee label Harmönia, that and Pavan’s own label Flogsta Danshall forming the two initial bastions of ‘Scandinavian synthetic funk’.
Skweee is perhaps the missing link between chiptune and dubstep – its protagonists reinterpreting instrumental hip-hop and funk beats through lazy groaning 8-bit equipment, and thus stripping the former of its pomposity and the latter its computer-associated frivolity. There’s a lot of potential there, and it has started to show. Pavan tipped 2009 as the year for Skweee to explode, and sure enough its stripped-down funk strains can now be heard crossing over into the increasingly popular dubstep scene, last year Flogsta and Harmönia artists competed against each other in the annual ‘Skweee-off’ at Barcelona’s huge electronica showcase Sónar, and, more pertinently, skweee practitioners and labels can now be found far afield from the sound’s original base. One of the latest countries to add an exclusively skweee label to the roster is Norway, whose Oslo-based dødpop can already boast releases in the double figures – mostly in what has come to be seen as skweee’s signature 7″ vinyl format – since its formation last year.
It is testament to the swift expansion of the skweee genre that dødpop co-founder and label manager Robert Lorenzo is able to make the cocksure proclamation that dødpop represent ‘Skweee 2.0. Rough, rugged and raw’ – when many are still unaware that skweee 1.0 exists, but then Lorenzo is bullish about skweee’s potential. ‘Skweee is unlike anything else that is out there right now – it’s unique’, the man spearheading Norway’s skweee assault asserts, ‘we wanted to bring something new to the table, that’s the reason why we started to experiment with the genres… I think we’ve managed to establish a skweee scene in Norway.’
The next step in that establishment will take place at this year’s Numusic festival. dødpop will be there, playing live as a collective that includes Norwegian skweee artists Beatbully, Melkeveien and Sprutbass, and the heavyweights behind Harmönia are also making an appearance – Randy Barracuda and Mesak collaborating as Boyz of Caligula – a live outfit that the label claims showcases the ‘heaviest sides of both producers’. At the same time as the festival in Stavanger a ‘Skweee night’ in Oslo under the Numusic umbrella will present Daniel Savio, one of skweee’s most successful proponents Eero Johannes, Norwegian Flogsta signing Easy and, again, the dødpop collective.
Because there are relatively few skweee practitioners – some fifty, largely in Scandinavia – there is a lot of cross-pollination and interaction. Artists from Flogsta and Harmönia regularly collaborate and compete, dødpop have joined them for live shows and releases. ‘Everyone knows each other, and we’re almost like family’, observes Lorenzo, although as he sees it this doesn’t restrict the evolution of skweee; ‘the community does have an impact on the music, but it’s important to remember that the skweee scene is made up of a variety of artists who differ in their styles, backgrounds and preferences. Nobody sounds alike, and everyone is influenced by different types of music.’ Numusic is a special occasion for the ‘family’, however. The Harmönia representatives are celebrating Randy Barracuda’s album release, and dødpop are in the midst of their first full-length release, dødpop vol.1, and both promise a live show to remember. Boyz of Caligula are bringing Swedish vocalist Michael Black Electro along, transforming skweee’s normally instrumental sound with ‘lots of soulful singing’, and whilst Lorenzo admits that ‘skweee isn’t for everyone’, he casts dødpop live as ‘quality skweee, a celebration in the name of modern funk, and music you can dance to. Because a lot is improvised, it’s hard to predict what will happen. We just try to have fun with it.’
And fun seems to be the running theme when it comes to skweee. From Pavan’s first skweee record ‘Punt Kick’, through a collaborative vision first shared by Randy, Mesak, Pavan and Savio in a drunken haze, to the annual skweee-off; the high-pitched synths that overlay skweee’s funk rhythms are all about having fun. Pavan may have predicted skweee’s mainstream breakthrough this year, but when it’s this much fun underground, Robert Lorenzo is sceptical about the genre’s potential ascent. ‘Skweee is starting to get a lot of attention, which is good, but personally we’d like for the music to remain in the underground for a while longer’, he admits, ‘the most important thing for us is the music. And as long as the music remains off the radar, it’ll hopefully be free from being exploited.’ Pop is dead, long live dødpop.
Dødpop and Boyz of Caligula are performing as part of the Numusic festival at Tou Scene 2 on September 12th at 22:00 and 23:00 respectively, and Numusic’s Oslo-based ‘Skweee Night’ is on Thursday 10th of September at The Villa.
First published on nomusicmedia.com, 2009