Euro 2012 comes without the unedifying tourism-boosting vignettes of Eurovision, so we learn little about the participating nations. Totally Dublin have taken it upon ourselves to investigate the various music scenes of the competitors, from twee pop to pagan metal, in order to get some vital cultural context for the sporting battles we are about to watch.
When the Poles were at their greatest numbers in Dublin, Totally Dublin wandered past the now long-dead Voodoo Lounge and noticed, about two hours before gigs normally start, a huge queue. The people were, to the naked eye, crusty punks. After clandestinely removing a headphone to try and figure out what was going on, we discovered that literally none of them were speaking English. “Who is playing?” we asked. The answer was lost somewhere in the chasm between Polish consonant arrays and Irish interpretive ability, but we learned something that day. Punk music is a big deal in Poland. Finally investigating five years later, we have learned that Polish punks aped The Clash just as much as Rancid did.
You might associate pagan metal with the church-burning Scandinavians or even the quiet guy with the patchy beard from secondary school, but it turns out Russia also produces some quality, politically suspect extreme music. While ringtone pop, mostly of native origin, might dominate the charts, bands like Arkana and Temnozor fly the flag for those who wish to rail against Christ. Temnozor in particular recently met with success on their 2009 “White Thunder Roars Over Europe” tour.
Greece has a surprisingly vibrant indie rock scene with a slightly different but not at all clichéd path through it and a lot of Anglophone bands. We found Bazooka through the all-powerful American indie-centric blog network a few years ago and thought, “Greece? What?” before listening to them for a week straight. We should have kept investigating, with bands like Modrec and An Orange End seemingly relatively interesting too. Not as good as Bazooka’s dead-eyed garage rock though.
Totally Dublin’s experience of Czech music involved walking into shops in Prague and noticing that their radio seemed to be saturated with Czech translations of popular English language hits. It’s apparently common, especially in countries that might not be large enough to support a full-fledged pop scene of its own, but it was certainly jarring. The Czechs do produce some pleasant pop though, from a scan of their charts, including this soft rock hit.
The Netherlands actually has an incredibly strong pop scene that popped up originally in the 60s and 70s when bands like Golden Earring and Shocking Blue were getting radio play across the world. Totally Dublin, on our travels, once experienced a Saturday morning Best of Nederpop medley set in a huge tent at Lowlands with approximately two other non-Dutch people, and we’ve been devotees since. Boudewijn de Groot is sort of the Paul McCartney of the Netherlands, but Little Green Bag by the confusingly named George Baker Selection is probably the best example for now, having been dug up by Tarantino for Reservoir Dogs.
We once met some Swedish people on Westmoreland Street and invited them to come out drinking cans in a field in the suburbs the next evening. They came and told us, amongst other things, that they hate the Danes because they think they are better in every way than the Swedes, a mindset that appears to be a colonial hangover. The Danes are not better at music than the Swedes, as ABBA, The Knife and the entire genre of indie-pop prove, but they do try. Totally Dublin fondly recalls the Raveonettes from our NME days, so we’re using them as the example.
We could highlight the ‘modern rock’ version of metal that seems to be popular in Germany. We could highlight light-hearted pop we were once played in Sixth Year as a treat. We could even highlight German hip hop, which is huge in the country and totally ignored by everyone else. But this is Totally Dublin, so we’re going to highlight techno. Reflecting the outsider’s impression of the rational German character, the tales of unwanted spaces in post-reunification Berlin are well-told at this point, but our punctual friends are still the world leaders in electronic music. Robag Wruhme illustrates why.
Portugal, now far from its heights as an imperial power, indulged in some cultural pillaging of its former colonies, much as England did, with some interesting results. Buraka Som Sistema combine European dance music with Angolan kudoro in a way that created a new sense of urgency and helped to open up dancefloors to the ‘global bass’ movement now in effect. Charges of cultural appropriation are yet to be fully answered, but if nobody’s taking down Vampire Weekend, Buraka Som Sistema should be fine.
It’s always sunny in Spain. If Ireland’s reaction to sun is anything to go by, this means that everyone’s perpetually in a good mood and no work ever gets done after 4pm as sympathetic bosses let their employees go barbeque so they can get to golf course. La Casa Azul make an almost offensively good-natured type of pop music, exactly conveying that sunny day feeling. Play them loud after Ireland grind out our 0-0 victory.
Totally Dublin has two Italian acquaintances and, judging from their taste, pop punk is not dead. We are going to ignore this information. Our introduction to the pair came in the form of an impromptu performance of Bocca di Rosa, a song about a prostitute that apparently relates in some way to the perpetual corruption of Italian politics. The metaphor seems veiled enough to also apply to the 1-0 victory everyone’s secretly assuming we’ll sneak, especially with the corruption charges currently racking the Italian squad.
It’s your boy Shorty, straight out of Vinkovci. He appears to be a rapper in the Eminem mould, a relatable white dude who puts out pleasantly-coloured videos for poppy songs every now and then to make his slightly harder stuff more palatable. He could be an aggressively political rapper, or he could be the Croatian Rubberbandits, we have literally no idea.
Modern Irish music samples Flogging Molly and is primarily about beating people up. Rob Kelly is the best at it.
Co-hosts Ukraine undoubtedly have a rich and vibrant indigenous music scene, but a band called The Ukrainians, featuring the Ukrainian guy from the Wedding Present, also once covered Bigmouth Strikes Again by The Smiths, translating all the lyrics and transposing the instrumentation to more traditional Ukranian instruments. It is the single best Smiths cover ever recorded, and there have been thousands.
As noted earlier, the Swedes express their disdain for their former overlords in Denmark by being better than them at music. No European country has such a disproportionate output, making it difficult to focus on just one genre, but if they’ve dominated anything, it’s twee pop. There’s something about the Swedish sensibility that lends itself to pleasant, jumpery pop music.Jens Lekman, with his golden age samples and occasionally cute diction, is possibly the reigning king.
The French are known for electro house and weirdly sexualised experimental pop songs by old men, but while Ed Banger and Serge Gainsbourg’s suspect relationship with his own daughter both bear their own distinct merit, we have to plump for Phoenix. Appearing to deliver the most ambrosial guitar music imaginable only once every few years, they have an album planned and, if it’s anywhere near as good as Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, we’re giddy. They’re also literally from Versailles, which is a cool fact.