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The band that does happy

24 June 2009

Becoming less pas­sive: the Norwegian stars Röyksopp

Becoming less pas­sive: the Norwegian stars Röyksopp

“DANCE MUSIC” is as hard to categorise as “rock music”. The modern genre of dance, with a history spanning more than 20 years, is as broad and deep as its guitar-toting counterpart.

From the wilds of the house and rave scene in the ’80s, through techno, hardcore, balearic, big-beat, and trance, to drum’n’bass, four-to-the-floor music (one bass-drum hit on every beat in the bar) has in turn affected and influenced every other genre there is.

In the late ’90s, there were a handful of acts that dominated the corner of the market known as “chill-out”. Generally smoother, slower, and a great deal gentler, chill-out sold a bucket-load of albums to two distinct camps: the post-club, stoner crowd, and the middle-class cognoscenti.

Chill-out was also a complete gift for TV schedulers, radio producers, and marketeers, all looking for that perfect piece of music to play behind their goal montage/highlights package/ news report, or car/phone/computer/ supermarket advert. Moby, Zero 7, Groove Armada and the like made a killing, and spawned a million compilations.

One of the foremost acts of the chill-crowd are the Norwegian duo Röyksopp. Friends since childhood, Trobjørn Brundtland and Svein Berge started recording together again when they both lived in Bergen in the mid-’90s. After making a name for themselves with several great remixes for other acts, their debut album Melody A.M. came out in 2001 to critical acclaim.

Their singles “You remind me”, “Poor Leno”, and “Eple” are the sort of tunes that you know almost without realising. Picked up by countless adverts and in-store mix-tapes, they have seeped into the modern consciousness, in only good ways.

Röyksopp’s next two albums — The Understanding in 2005, and this year’s Junior — stepped away from the passive beats of their debut and more into out-and-out pop. There are still gentler tracks mixed in, but now, instead of being the cool name to drop at your dinner party, they are also known for the kind of dance-floor fillers that come back, slight­ly sunburned, from the beaches during the summer months.

What Röyksopp have is happi­ness. They have also got a knack for melody, in ways that other dance acts seem to struggle with. They always team up with fellow Norwegian vocalists, and consistently make memorable songs as well as beats.

Like the perfect drive with the windows down, their new album is a sunny outing from start to finish. The record starts with a couple of seconds of laughter, before launching into the unabashedly joyful “Happy up here”, which could possibly be the most contented pop-song of all time.

The album is so joyous that it is sometimes strangely disconnected from the lyrics. You have to really stop and concentrate to realise that when bopping along to Robyn’s fantastic vocals on the current single “The girl and the robot”, she is actually singing the heartbreaking tale of the abandoned wife of a workaholic.

I wonder how much of that is the common pitfall of English-as-a-second-language music. Don’t get me wrong — it’s not the Cat, Sat, Mat rhyming or nonsense lyrics of some of the French bands around, but, when discovered, the disconnection is bizarre.

Other stand-out tracks on Junior include “Vision one”, which samples and distorts the inimitable bassline of Stevie Wonder’s “Too high” to great effect, and the kooky maths-based “Tricky tricky”, which features vocals from Karin Dreijer from (Norwegian) nu-rave darlings The Knife.

After all, who doesn’t need more joy in their life?

Röyksopp headline the Mainstage at Greenbelt on Saturday 29 August.

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