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The Hives and the awesomeness of Sweden's arts support

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Welcome to WEEK 248 of MUSIC is not a GENRE (Video #74 & S4Ep3)

The Hives – Sweden F*cking Rules Cuz It SUPPORTS ITS ARTISTS

Remember Roxette? Or Ace of Base? How about the Cardigans? The late, great Avicii? Robyn? Or maybe … y’know … freakin’ ABBA?! What do they have in common? Well, they’re all music artists. And they’re all from Sweden. So are Icona Pop, Eagle-Eye Cherry, Peter Bjorn & John, Swedish House Mafia, AND this week’s spotlight band & my favorite Swedish export, the Hives.

We here in the USA don’t usually make a point of exploring music from other countries. It has to come to us. Face it, we’d remember the Beatles if at all as a minor British sensation if they hadn’t broken major ground on our shores. It’s how it’s always been and still is to a large degree. Music listening is getting more multi-cultural, but by and large an artist has to break through the US pop charts or streaming services for anyone to know who they are.

America is built on winner-takes-all competition. You get paid well if you already make money. You succeed if you’re already successful. And the success is only occasionally merit based. We have a lot of great music and artists in general all over the country, but it’s not because this country actually supports the arts. Other than a handful of generous benefactors and non-profit organizations, if you’re an artist in the USA, odds are you are poor and struggling and will continue down that path for years.

Believe it or not, that’s not the case everywhere. No country is perfect. Poverty and racism and disease are everywhere. But it’s a fact that some countries do some things way better than we do. We’re so America-centric in all ways, that we don’t bother to explore how other countries do what they do well. Like health care. Maternity & paternity leave. Respect & support for elders, children & teachers. ACTUAL support for veterans. And yes, support for and nurturing of the arts.

Sweden is one. They are known for supporting and promoting their artists. Not just benefactors or independent organizations. The freakin’ Swedish government. If you’re an artist deemed worthy – and yes that’s not every artist, but it’s a damn sight more per capita than the USA – the government gives you the ability to live while you do your work. You don’t have to hold down three jobs, or one massively exhausting day job, or live with your parents, or generally not be able to afford anything. You can live a sustainable life while you’re developing your art and your career.

I admit I don’t know all the particulars of this. I’m sure there are caveats and pitfalls and discriminations. But it’s starting from a place of believing that art and struggle don’t have to be packaged together. That creating art is a profession – a job – as valuable and respectful as any other. We like to glamorize struggle in our country (and others) because it makes us feel like martyrs for the cause AND because we want to believe there’s a good reason for it. We’re not martyrs. And there’s no good reason other than the same one that rules the rest of this country: the haves want to keep what they have, and the have-nots can go suck it.

And this is how we got the Hives. They started in the 1990s, released their debut album, Barely Legal, in 1997, and broke big internationally in 2000 with their second album, Veni Vidi Vicious. Which is how I discovered them – lumped together as part of the early 2000s garage rock revival. And they’ve kept it going ever since. They make music that sounds like completely unhinged punk, yet it all holds together. The Hives manage to capture their incredible live sound & spirit on recorded tracks better than almost any other punk rock band.

Check them out. Start with that second album and take it from there. And remember two things as you listen. ONE – they very likely got this good in part because they were given the privilege to focus on their work. And TWO – they woke my ass up better than any American garage rock band, and infused many of my subsequent songs with that same controlled punk energy. Including these two:

REC – “Three More Minutes” (from the album Synergy for the Weird)

REC – “Beautiful Love” (from the album Parts and Labour)

Do you know the Hives? I guarantee you’ve heard their songs in movies and not known it. Do you agree with how Sweden supports the arts? Do you think art and artists are better if they have to struggle? Discuss dammit! SHOW LESS


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