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They Call It Skweee: Investigating a Microgenre

They Call It Skweee: Investigating a Microgenre

The dawn of the century has seen a fragmentation of musical expression arranged into literally hundreds of microgenres. One of the more curious examples is skweee, a Scandinavian sound characterized by squealing, goofy synthesizer lines, an infatuation for vintage electronics, and off-kilter rhythms. Skweee is influenced by late-70s and 80s obscure funk, electronic disco, Kraftwerk and pioneering dance producers like Patrick Cowley.

The music doesn’t take itself too seriously, a refreshing alternative to the often formal and academic approach of some experimental music. To get a sense of what the genre is all about, check out one of the prominent skweee artists, Randy Barracuda, courtesy of skweee label Flogsta Danshall:

In 2009, Italian filmmaker Iacopo Patierno made a film about the sound and its artists called We Call It Skweee, the entirety of which is available online for free.

Patierno was at Stockholm’s film company Atmo when he first met skweee artist Joxaren (David Ghisen), who was working as a designer there. Patierno came along to a skweee show Joxaren was playing, and remembers tons of synthesizers scattered about the venue. “It was the first time I heard this electronic music with this weird kind of tempo. It was a bit funky. At the time, I didn’t know what it was called.” Joxaren introduced Patierno to several other skweee artists scheduled to play Sonar in the coming months. When they learned he was a director, they asked him to film the performances. He agreed.

It was only months later when people asked him if he was making a film about skweee, that the idea of making a documentary crystallized. Making the film was easy, because he was essentially hanging out with friends. “It wasn’t even really supposed to be a film. It was more of a ‘holiday’ video with people playing music.” But there was just too much good stuff in there, and the final film shows off the artist’s personalities with a heavy dose of humor and fun, just like the music itself.

Music is a direct reflection of culture; the sunny, celebratory vibes of Brazilian samba could only come from a country with such a positive disposition (gorgeous beaches don’t hurt either). Similarly, at the time of the recession, a lot of dark music was being released on both sides of the Atlantic; the emergence of the dubstep genre is just one example. Scandinavian countries weren’t economically hit as hard by the recession, and skweee was the musical outgrowth.

Patierno maintains that the recession didn’t even exist in Scandinavia. While a bit hyperbolic, the statement still points to the overall climate at the time. He says that skweee artists were simply not content playing the same music that was already around, necessitating a new style to emerge. This was especially true for Flogsta Danshall label founder Pavan (Frans Carlqvist), one of skweee’s founding fathers.

Pavan was searching for instrumental electronic music that was more in line with hip hop and Jamaican dancehall styles and tempos. “This kind of music didn’t really exist at 90 beats per minute,” he says. The people he knew only made techno, house and electro, which tended to run at a faster clip. In 2001, he wrote the first skweee track. “I was asked to compose some tracks for a Swedish artist’s pop record – just small, weird 15-20 second skits between tracks. I made this stupid computer-funk track called ‘Default Deluxe.’ I’d been trying to make hip hop productions with my equipment before, but that’s when I realized what I was doing could work more as instrumental music.”

Surprisingly, Pavan is not musically trained. He became exposed to music through his brother who played bass in his modest studio containing the HR-16 Alesis drum machine (“a pretty shitty machine”, as he puts it), the first 16-bit sampler with gated kicks. He began fumbling through the process of making music.

One day, Pavan found Beem from north Sweden. Beem was producing hip hop and R&B, but chose to work with electronically-generated sounds as opposed to relying on samples. “When people heard our first seven-inch release, they started to understand what I was after. Beem, [skweee’s other founding father] Daniel Savio and myself were the first people doing it in Sweden.”

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Pavan had made a lot of friends touring in Finland and Norway and asked them to get on board too. Started in 2004, Flogsta Danshall would release several seven-inch EPs for its first few years until the Finnish skwee artists (Mesak and Randy Barracuda) started their own label, Harmonia. Once the platforms were in place, the movement began to pick up speed, culminating in its most hectic years between 2008 to 2010. “Now it’s more stable within the community making the music,” Pavan says. “It’s growing with new artists, more digital labels and less vinyl releases. Skweee has always been a mix of musical genres that don’t really fit in anywhere else.”

For Pavan, skweee was created out of a reaction against boring club music. “The early 2000s were super lame. Nothing interesting was happening. I had already been into German electronic dub music for a long time, so I wasn’t really into dubstep when it showed up. Some grime music was kind of empty. Everything changed in 2008. People began to want more from their music.” The dark moods of dubstep and grime are the yin to skweee’s jocular yang. “I liked grime most when it got a little weird, when it got out of its super serious, angry moods. When skweee emerged, dubstep and grime opened up with stuff from Joker, Zomby and Slugabed, nearly at the same time. All this stuff started coming out of the UK. Now I think electronic music is really interesting, with all these microgenres. There are weird releases almost every day. The music needed to bust out and be combined in really new, strange ways.” One of those ways was the emergence of wonky, a less extreme cousin to skweee which counts Flying Lotus as one of its prime purveyors.

Pavan recently hung out with his skweee crew for Harmonia’s 10-year anniversary. Aside from releasing one or two records a year on Flogsta, he now records as Trauma Trauma. “Every record is its own project. It’s always easier to make a new record when you have a new project idea. The music may not be that different, but I find it interesting to start over again.”

Patierno reflects on the scene since the film’s release. “Since then, a lot of the original artists began to form families and have kids. Producing music was never their main business, so some of the production has dropped off over the years.” The last skweee show Patierno attended was at an Austrian music festival in 2013. “I didn’t even know two of the artists: SkweeeRRL from Russia, some guys from the States. It’s amazing that such a tiny, tiny, tiny genre still exists.” With a fresh roster of voices, the genre will live on.

Dive deeper into the world of skweee:

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