On 13 December 2014 Swedish producer and disc jockey Steve Angello performed at the ZoukOut Festival on Sentosa island, Singapore, an event attended by 40 000 dance music revelers from all over Asia and beyond. He is a former member of the superstar trio Swedish House Mafia, which, perhaps unintentionally but nevertheless very effectively, put Sweden on the world map by creating ‘Swedish House’ under Electronic Dance Music (EDM) genres.
The sound of Sweden is very much connected to the EDM category of artists as a dominant part of Sweden’s music export these days (which was previously dominated by pop music from Roxette, The Cardigans etc.) Though, the style for this fast-growing music genre cannot be distinguised as a Swedish sound (and where purists will debate if the description ‘House’ should be used as the common denominator), but rather as an international formula that works successfully among the mainstream crowds.
These Swedish EDM successes have also been recognized by the Swedish government. Artist, DJ and producer Tim “Avicii” Bergling, as well as Swedish House Mafia, were awarded the Music Export Prize in 2013 and 2011 respectively for their achievements in the music industry and putting Sweden in the international spotlight during the preceding years, and thus contributing to Swedish exports.
Regarding the rise to stardom of Swedish EDM musicians, the Swedish government attributed this to “ease with which talents enter the market and access to technology and an environment conducive to growth of musical talents.”
Thanks to EDM’s global popularity and the artists’ international successes, a wave of Swedish dance music artists have followed, and quickly gained international recognition, enabling them to embark on gigs around the world. Otto Knows, a recent visit to Singapore, was for instance recently brought to the attention of the dance music scene by Sebastian Ingrosso (Swedish House Mafia member.) Some could in fact surf on the success of EDM’s growing popularity into the mainstream and pretty much turn into overnight successes.
Today, the disc jockey performance is the equivalent of a live concert drawing big crowds, and is even capable of filling entire festivals, not to mention sellout gigs at huge stadiums on par with global superstars, like Madonna or U2! ZoukOut Festival speaks volumes in this sense, as it has grown into a large festival event, despite its focus on EDM artists only.
Swedish creative industries
Swedish producers/disc jockeys who have already made it on the world stage, or those who are beginning to make their presence felt through touring, have frequently been visiting Singapore for years now. And the Swedish Embassy in Singapore has in recent years capitalized on the visits by dance music artists from Sweden.
The Embassy has mapped out a scheme highlighting Swedish creative industries in Singapore, including arranging events and collaborating with Singaporean partners in film, literature, gaming, fashion and design and well as music. This is in line with directives and a special initiative by Minister for Trade Ewa Björling in 2012 to increase the focus on these industries, which offer great potential to promote “Brand Sweden” and Sweden as a creative, open country and increase exports in these areas.
So this is an integral part of the Embassy’s overall work in trade and Sweden promotion.
“Regarding music we have worked on a number of projects in the last 3-4 years. Singapore has always been a hub for musicians and a number of Swedish artists have come to Singapore. In the last few years, a number of top and up-and-coming Swedish musicians, including DJs, have come to perform. Among them were Roxette, Swedish House Mafia, Robyn, Opeth, The Real Group, Grave, Gazette, Acid House Kings, Alesso, Fiona & Apple, Avicii, Eric Prydz, John Dahlback etc.,” said the Embassy.
The Swedish embassy and Zouk
“Sweden is one of the biggest exporters of music, and Swedish DJ’s and their dance music have come to represent a new wave of Swedish music. The Embassy, together with a local partner, Zouk, decided to collaborate to promote them in the Singaporean music scene.“
“In short, in recognition of the importance of this music genre in Singapore and with the intent of reaching a wider audience we partnered up with Zouk, one of Singapore’s most established clubs with good in-house capability to handle practical arrangements for such an event.”
On 15 November the Embassy of Sweden and Zouk (twice ranked among the top 10 nightclubs in the world by DJ Magazine) presented the Swedish DJ Otto Knows.
“The evening had a great turnout, with 3200 guests attending the event that lasted until 5 am the next morning. Sweden branding was successful, Otto Knows attracted an enthusiastic crowd,” reported the Embassy. This partnership enables the Embassy to reach out far beyond what it can normally reach with other types of events.
“By partnering with Zouk, the Embassy was able to reach out to those with a particular interest in music, allowing us to create brand awareness for ‘Sweden’ and introduce Sweden as a music exporter.”
Zouk welcomes this kind of collaboration: “We have always worked with some of the other embassies, including the German and the French for many years now. For us, involving the embassies means that we bring a little of the cultural elements of each of these countries into our club. And we like the fact that it also means exposing our crowd to something extra. Aside from on-site presence via visuals and logos, invited media and guests were personally invited with a nice touch of a Swedish accessory.”
As for Swedish EDM artists, Zouk does not select artists based on, for instance, ‘Swedish House’ genre.
“Our booking policy is that we book from the DJ Mag’s Top 100 DJs in the world listing. We also pride ourselves in spotting up-and-coming DJ’s before they end up bursting into the dance music scene. Thus, it is not country-specific.”
The lineup of other Swedish artists that have performed at Zouk are impressive: Alesso, AN21. Steve Angello, Axwell, Avicii, Eric Prydz, Adrian Lux, Mike Snow and The Shapeshifters.
Balancing a fine line
The club, having been instrumental in the development and building up of the music scene in Singapore, offered an interesting perspective. On the question whether the Electronic Dance Music has become part of mainstream and consequently influencing the kind of artists the club book to perform these days, Zouk replied: “The rise of EDM essentially happened when pop and commercial crossed over boundaries into dance music, and collaborations between artists took place. As a brand, we continue to balance that very fine line within our various outlets and different music genres.”
“Music taste and preferences have definitely evolved with time, and with the rise of EDM as the mainstream music. However, we still bring in House and Techno names and legends, for instance, Sven Vath will be helming our decks in January 2015. For smaller House and Techno names, they would then be playing at our smaller room – Velvet Underground-Dance.”
As money-making venture, the dance music industry is getting bigger, with rising artist’s fees, and that has changed the way business is done in certain aspects.
“These days, it isn’t just about a DJ playing a set. It often comes with the hullabaloo of confetti, fireworks, live visuals, massive set ups, etc., and more often than not a lot of the big EDM artists request for outdoor shows and no longer club gigs. Due to our club capacity, even with the most popular acts, the artist fees continue to increase proportionally to a point that is appalling. We have in recent years given up on big names as it does not make any business sense for us at all.”
Zouk photos: Zouk Management Pte Ltd