In early May, 1996, I took a much-needed break from school in Poland to take advantage of my proximity to a great progressive rock festival. The Gothenburg Art-Rock Festival, located appropriately enough in the western port of Gothenburg, Sweden’s second-largest city. GARF is sponsored by GARF, or in English, the Gothenburg Art-Rock Society (be sure to see their description of the ’96 event, which I attended).
Ex-communism’s charms having lost their luster for me, I was ready for a blast of Western pseudo-capitalism and materialism, and what beautiful examples of it I found in Denmark’s Copenhagen Airport and Sweden. It turns out to fly there was only USD 100 more than to go by train and at least 18 hours shorter. So I took off midday from Kraków, changed planes in Warsaw, changed to SAS in Copenhagen (see my description of this incredible airport!), and got into Sweden around 8 in the evening.
It was a bit cooler than the newly-warm Poland, but I made my way with only a little confusion solved by an English-speaking police officer (an incredible number of people in Sweden speak incredibly good English) to a “working class” neighborhood and the Spar-Hotel, meaning the “Save” Hotel. However, Sweden being Sweden, Budget Inn it was not. A lovely receptionist who had worked as an au-pair in Chicago gave me the key to a room a bit smaller but otherwise on par with an American Holiday Inn (not the European version). The price was about USD 100-140 per night. This set the tone for prices in Sweden.
The next morning, armed with a map and info provided by the very kind contact person for GARF, Tobias, I set out to snatch up some of the wonderful Swedish progressive rock which I had heard or heard about. The first and ultimately best store was a general record store about 4-8 times the size of the average US store, which is about 4-8 times the size of the average Polish record shop. This being a rainy Saturday, I decided to scour all the shops before deciding. One problem–I didn’t know that in the Swedish alphabet, unlike the Polish alphabet, letters which are altered from the Latin original aren’t located after their look-alikes, but at the end of the alphabet. So Anglagard appeared at the end, and I had been looking in the A’s! Oh, well. I found a rare U.K. recording, as well as Swedish and Italian music.
I then indulged my passion for Indian cuisine, something sorely lacking in Kraków and only partially available in Warsaw. Then, after a little sightseeing around the shopping district (a shop called “The Curry Shop” left a vivid and appetizing impression), it was time to go for my raison d’être: the festival.
Upon arrival, I had to wait a bit, but then I met Tobias, with whom I’d only corresponded over the Internet. He was incredibly nice and showed me around, letting me see the bands warming up. I did pick up a copy of Par Lindh’s latest CD, as well as some Landberk and a band I shortly came to appreciate live, Hory-Kone.
Hory-Kone, an incredibly original band from Finland, was first up, and they threatened to steal the show. The lead singer stood in a spotlight dressed in a tuxedo, and sang great, funny, but effective operatic-style vocals which then mutated into beautiful chant-like melodies and tones. This was complemented by the cello, oboe, and his violin playing, which soared over a decidedly punk-dressed but vaguely Crimson-sounding guitar and rhythm section. They were extremely versatile, and I’m glad to say that the energy they displayed live is captured on their CD, whose English translation gives you a sense of their approach to music: “It is Possible to Love Insects.” They included elements of techno, classical music, death-metal, industrial, new wave, and lots and lots of progressive stuff which was purely original. Do visit their Web page.
I was getting a little tired by this point (unfortunately, we had to stand) but still excited. Sinkadus (say it with the fake Swedish accent Americans use and you’ll actually get it right, for a change) was next, a local Gothenburg band. They only have a demo cassette, which may not be available outside Sweden, unfortunately. More influenced by the “In the Wake of Posiedon”-era Crimson, they put on a very organic show. Sadly, a technical problem with the microphones, some bad mixing, and a lack of rehearsal time made their segment start out rough. They played their more-rehearsed material towards the end, the sound got better, and the problem was fixed, so they finished very strong. If you like the sounds of woodwinds and mellotrons, you’ll like this band–I can’t wait for their CD.
The only disappointment of the show, and I must stress this seemed to be an opinion completely unique to me, was Landberk. I found them to be a very typical rock band (well, maybe not when compared to Wannabe and the Blowfish) with a very very occasional influence of progressive. Sort of like Journey without the songwriting, Steve Perry, or Jonathan Cain. The guitarist had a temper tantrum because a string broke on his guitar and threw it about–this really took away from the show for me. Professionalism is professionalism. I was told he was always this way, which to me was a greater condemnation. A pity. Their CD-single is a bit better, but only slightly.
Par Lindh brought his Project and new collaborationist Bjorn (not to mention a singer who reminds you of all the stereotypes of blonde, tall, gorgeous Swedish women) on stage for the first time. Tobias told me that Par was a friend of Keith Emerson’s, and it showed. Not only did he have similar levels of keyboard chops, but he had a very similar style. While I appreciated much of what he did, particularly on the original pieces, he sounded too much like Emerson sometimes, even copying some of his live trademark solos. However, the band as a whole was great. The singer was a bit stiff and stilted sometimes, but that is a hazard of singing in a foreign language–it doesn’t flow as your native language would. A pity, because her vocal tone was very pleasant–sort of like a young Annie Haslam with less passion. However, the loud Hammonds and Minimoogs and Mellotrons–all originals–were a sight and sound for sore sensory apparatuses.
The next day, though it was rainy again, Tobias showed me around town and I got to see his truly amazing album collection. I also discovered that computers, unlike everything else in Sweden, seem to be as cheap or cheaper than in the US, as is Internet access. Perhaps that’s why greater than 10 percent of Swedes are online. After his kind hospitality, I saw “12 Monkeys” in a THX cinema–worth the USD 12 admission. I finally had a much-needed refill on Western consumerism.
Sweden was an impressive place. Working class people lived as well as lower middle class people do in the US, and with far higher levels of education and lower levels of crime. What I could see of the surrounding countryside was beautiful. On the other hand, the level of censorship and government control would be upsetting to even the most jaded resident of Washington, DC or New York City. Still, if I were to ever see a model of living that was as attractive as free-market capitalism, this would be it. On the other hand, I had only a brief view of it, and the Swedes aren’t changing their system simply to be in vogue with the rest of Europe. But it is a worthwhile place for every libertarian to see.