It’s been over a decade since Swedish electronic four-piece Little Dragon – consisting of front- woman Yukimi Nagano, drummer Erik Bodin, bass player Fredrik Wallin and keyboardist Håkan Wirenstrand – put out their debut self-titled record. In that time they’ve garnered a staunch following the world over drawn to their uniquely soul-infused synth-pop. After five critically- acclaimed albums, the Scandinavian group, who started out jammin after school, have now signed with Ninja Tune and have opted for a fresh format, resulting in their first ever EP: 'Lover Chanting'.
Nagano, whose tendency to tantrum-throw inspired the band’s name, explained the motivation behind the record: “Well, we’ve been putting out albums for such a long time. After our fifth album, we just started going in and writing without too much expectation on what we were going to produce. We’ve just had a new start with Ninja Tune so we’re kind of testing things.”
Speaking from the Gothenburg studio where they self-produced the record, she explained the particular appeal of an EP, which seems to follow a trend in the industry of putting out shorter bursts of material, more quickly:
“Sometimes with albums there’s this whole package that comes with the thing – which is great, I do kinda love that – but it was fun to release something in another format. Something a bit uptempo and feel-good. I like the spontaneity and the directness of it, everything is more immediate. It takes a lot longer mixing a whole album of songs. Everything is transformed with making an EP.”
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In particular, creating something airy and light-hearted felt like the right move for the band in our current angst-ridden climate, both as a way of making sense of things and as a kind of release: “I guess that’s part of different modes of writing and creativity – it’s one way of dealing with your frustrations and these kind of dark times we’re in,” Nagano explains. “You really are separated from your frustrations if you let them come out. Another way is also to get into a groove that makes you feel good, not just to forget all the bad things, but also to celebrate life. So definitely there was an element of that in this EP.”
It’s formed of just three tracks: funky-grooved 'Timothy', afrobeat-driven 'In My House' plus earworm title song 'Lover Chanting'. Nagano explains she wasn’t originally destined to sing on the latter, which began life with Fred searching for a wedding march inspired by a Swedish prog funk folk keyboardist called Merit Hemmingson: “The title song started only with Erik’s vocal. Lyrically I was thinking about other things than writing a love song. Then I thought, “oh hold on, maybe I do want to sing on this song” and so I added my twist.” The repeated refrain from Erik: “Do you wanna be my girl? I wanna be, be your man” gave rise to its name: “For me the song is kind is almost like a lovers chant, so that’s where the name comes from.”
Overall, the band state the sentiment is one of: “The force of love. Not only between two people but the force of love in this universe as the ultimate ecstasy. Whether that is while you’re dancing at a disco forgetting where you are or just staring at the moon on a clear night… a swim in the ocean, a glance at a stranger.”
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The force of love. Not only between two people but the force of love in this universe as the ultimate ecstasy.
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While the new EP marks as slightly different direction for the band, Nagano notes that any shift often comes about organically rather than consciously: “It’s not something we particularly try to do but rather it happens it naturally, as with everything. At times you reflect on life in one way then at a later point in a another way. It’s all about curiosity and feeling whatever you are doing at time.” Though she admits in the past she didn’t enjoy listening back to their material: “For a while, I never wanted to listen back to our earlier records. Now I have a little bit of distance so it’s OK.”
Their experimental and forward-thinking approach also means they’ve resisted sticking rigidly with a single genre, drawing on influences across hip hop, R&B, and soul, Nagano’s idiosyncratic vocals and use of deep synth bass, addictive melodies and dance beats providing varied colour and depth: “We’ve never fit ourselves neatly into a genre – we leave that up to the journalists – each song is quite distinct. We just go with our instincts: if it’s soulful, if the rhythm feels good. It's important to go follow your gut.”
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Scandinavia has long had a burgeoning relationship with the pop landscape reaching back to ABBA, Roxette, Ace of Base, The Cardigans plus pushing it in new and exciting places with contemporary artists such as Lykke Li, Sigrid and Susanne Sundfør. What makes it such a hotbed for creative talent, something in the water perhaps? “I don’t know what it is, there are just so many talented artists,” responds Nagano. “We do have it pretty well here: perhaps it’s that we have to time to reflect and write great songs.”
With Nagano herself of a mixed-heritage, born to a Japanese father and Swedish-American mother in Gothenburg, how does she see progress in diversity in the industry and how we perceive identity? “I think we have the same time of problem with expressing ourselves as we ever did but just now it’s in different ways. Identity is important at some stages and at some stages it’s very unimportant, because, who cares?”
She sees that an explosion in social media has transformed the modes with which artists present themselves and connect with fans: “In the beginning as a band we were just trying to do our own thing: making little videos, going on MySpace, having a blog. Now there’s there’s so much more you can do and I love it but I also I don’t want to be in that world constantly. So I think really kind of depends how you want to connect with people. In the past artists were more like imaginary entities you couldn’t touch, so it was much more part of your imagination of what they were like because you didn’t know. Now you know.”
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Identity is important at some stages and at some stages it’s very unimportant, because, who cares?
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Meanwhile collaborations have formed a crucial part of their output, including Gorillaz, SBTRKT and most recently BADBADNOTGOOD. Nagano reflects positively on these though concedes this does come with its challenges: “It’s been good and sometimes hard,” she tells me. “It’s so easy sometimes when you’re just sending files over the internet. Some projects I’ve had, it’s just taken me, you know, 10 minutes to do. Other times, I really love something and I put my whole heart into it and then it kind of ends up going under the radar. But there’s always something to gain, from going outside of yourself. We’ve been lucky because we’ve had the chance to work with a lots of artists from across different genres. There are sometimes though where you just can’t do anymore collaborations! At the end of day it’s about having fun and being creative.”
The visuals released with their music also continue to be key component for the artists, as Nagano notes: “It influences a lot, because if you don’t like the visual maybe you’re not going to like the track as much.” Their brilliant trippy cosplay-video-game-character-filled video accompanying 'Lover Chanting' was created with Jack Whiteley. Imagery with David Uzochukwu who followed the band over the last 18 months is to be released in a book.
This year has seen the band hit prominent festival stages and US gigs – Nagano with her two- year old along for the ride – including co-headlining Los Angeles’ Hollywood Bowl. After sell-out London dates earlier in the year at the Roundhouse, Friday saw them return to play one of the city’s foremost dance venues, Printworks.
The colossal uber-industrial space proved the perfect home for their sound, lit up as it was with multi-coloured strobes, casting a silhouette of Nagano’s metallic jumpsuit-clad figure, and an electric performance of tracks from their back catalogue, from dance-inducing 'Ritual Union' from the 2011 album, 'The Pop Life' from 2017’s 'Season High', 'Klapp Klapp' from 2014’s 'Nabuma Rubberband' and closing with their nostalgia- fuelled first ever released track Twice via a showcase of their new songs such as 'In My House'. Nagano’s edgy vocals soared and thrumming bass beats reverberated through the extent of the former printing house’s hall.
There’s a sense the new signing has given Little Dragon a new lease of life, with much more to see from the band in the coming year, already booked in for next year’s All Point East Festival alongside Chemical Brothers: “We’re excited to work with Ninja, we have a lot of ideas.”
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'Lover Chanting' EP is out now on Ninja Tune.
Words: Sarah Bradbury
For tickets to the latest Little Dragon shows click HERE.
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