The strange world of Scandinavian R'n'B

Why does modern R 'n' B work?

There's no denying that for a pretty massive slice of the music-buying public it does the job, but it's just possible that, like so many successful styles, it hinges on a contradiction: when it's most effective it sets undeniably saccharine-smooth vocals against jerky, collapsing beats. Think “What About Us”, think “Jumpin Jumpin” - quite a collision when you mull it over. And it would be easy to forget that 10 years ago R 'n' B meant Whitney Houston or, if you wanted to get particularly racy, her erstwhile husband Bobby Brown, such has been the change in the genre, but for a band of Nordic acolytes the groove of contemporary urban dancefloors is still the sound of the future, and has provoked them into cobbling together a strange new brew indeed... times more experimental than the so-called avant garde

Skweee, or “Scandinavian Conflict R 'n' B” to give it it's full title, is a genre and a movement that's emerged around the (respectively Swedish and Finnish) labels Flogsta Danshall and Harmonia. Surfacing mostly on 7” vinyl, the sound is a mismatch of boogaloo electro(nics) and modern, Timbaland/Neptunes-style glitch/bling, seemingly created on equipment available well before you'd ever heard of Timmy and Pharrell.

Crucially, whilst recent electronica artists such as Push Button Objects and Kaman Leung have certainly mined a similar furrow to the skewed and stripped-back, yet domineeringly chart-friendly funk of Missy and Aaliyah, skweee artists stand out due to their lo-fi production methods. Fuzzy-felt 8-bit synths and crunchy, bit-crushed drum hits dry-hump your ears like Rodney Jerkins trying to craft Beyonce a hit with only an N.E.S. and a minidisc to hand.

In terms of musical heritage, it's clear that the strides taken to make the top 40 at times more experimental than the so-called avant garde (recall the first time you heard the 'DnB that's not DnB' of “Get Ur Freak On” or the well-nigh Miro-esque use of space in “Grindin”?) have been a major influence on the skweee sound, but there are other correlates within the electronic canon. Dabrye and Diamond Ice have been melding queasy robotic jiggy funk for years, and, in a more rhyme-focussed environment, acts like Anti Pop Consortium and the various sum of their parts have also shown the overground/underground dialogue to be a firm 2-way process.

Furthermore, despite being very much a scene that has grown from local roots, there are other international players to be found by those who care to seek that draw from the same sonic palette, such as Glasgow's Rustie and Portland's Gouseion. UK electro hero EDMX has contributed to their releases as well, cementing the battle lines of the sound.

It's important to realise, though, that emotionally engaging music can never rely purely on rhythm and percussion to relate its message, and because most skweee music is instrumental there's a definite need for that sense of human depth to come from a different source, without the honeyed “Ooh yeah bay-bee” of what is now trad R 'n' B. This is accomplished straight out of left field, and in spades, with the fusion of retro, nostalgic gamer sounds, replete with those warm tingly memories of childhood, into the cold machine tick of modern cut-up soul music. Listeners of a certain age will find it impossible to hear the sqoinks and blips which help to define skweee without triggering a little release of endorphins, as images of end-level bosses and narratively questionable mushrooms fly by. There can be no doubt that such histrionics can grate at times, but for the most part the skweee massive get the balance just about right.

This, then, is the mathematical theorem which skweee has pulled off - taking the omnipresent sound of now, subtracting the busty marm with lovin' on her mind, adding in an injection of mid-range emotive pull, and retaining the algo/rhythmic bounce that feeds energy into the beats. And as they do, the iconoclasm of Darkchild et al shifts from being hyper-current to a relic of the past, a mere reference document, or better an ingredient, in a wholly new sonic stew. The great thing about the sound of the future is that it always hasn't been made yet. Isn't that why we love music?

Snapshotty ish:

...there's a definite need for that sense of human depth to come from a different source

Rigas Den Andre: Creator of the finest slab of skw*** wax thusfar, the Flogsta Danshall 7” “Too Low For Show/No Class”, this Stockholm resident is a good early call for 'one to watch'.

Metske: Contributor of the highlight on Harmonia's “International Skweee” (2008), “Free Shape”, a useful primer for the Conflict RnB novice in your life.

EDMX: Needs no introduction for an self-respecting electro-head. One of a select few non-Scandinavians to rep for the Nation of skweee.

Slow Hand Motem: Not so much the joker in the pack as the Rick James in the crackhouse, this Canadian adds slutty, lazy rap (of sorts) to the mix.

Daniel Savio: aka Kool DJ Dust, his tunes seem to wear the Timbaland/Neptunes influences on their sleeve more than most. By no means a bad thing...


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