The roll call of talent is as diverse as it is influential; from Iceland’s Sigur Ros and Bjork, to Norway’s super-songwriting duos Stargate and Espionage and the luminaries of Bergen’s indie scene.
Anna Hildur has worked within the Nordic music industry for two decades. Until February, she headed up the Iceland Music Expo, overseeing national showcases such as Iceland Airwaves. But now, as programme director of new umbrella initiative NOMEX, she works across all five Nordic countries.
Here, she talks to M about the success of Nordic talent overseas and explains how the region’s unique geography, culture and political systems have helped incubate one of the world’s most innovative music markets.
These are small communities living in large countries so there is a lot of space. We all have in common that the winters are dark and there’s quite a lot of time. Maybe there’s not much to do!
You’ve been involved in Iceland Music Export and other similar organisations for a long time. What’s new with NOMEX?
My job will be to work with all of the Nordic’s music export offices. For the first time, we’ve had funding from the Nordic council of ministers to set up a formal platform. We have been working informally together for years but now but I’ve been hired full time to run the NOMEX programme. The export offices have a very broad ownership in each of the countries, so they are owned by performers, writers, composers and producers. They are generally regarded as being efficient at creating tools to help export.
It’s interesting that now is the right time to create a post like yours…
I think the political system understands that the music industry has faced severe challenges over the last decade or so. I also think it understands that culture, music, and the music business go hand in hand. You can make music and the music business go together; that’s how the export offices are set up. They find this an interesting combination now. Our arguments have been that if public money is married with private money it’s more dynamic.
Do you think that this approach has helped the success of Nordic songwriters overseas?
I would hope so! There are always many different things that put together a full picture but I think in some cases it does. There are different programmes in place in different countries that does help promote songwriters from the region.
Do the different export offices focus on different international regions, say the UK or US, or do they have a broad international focus?
We’ve been jointly focussing on the UK through the Ja Ja Ja club night in London that we’ve been running since autumn 2009. But of course, different countries have different strategies and priorities from time to time.
We are five micro-countries but together we are a population of 25 to 26 million, similar to the Benelux area. It just doesn’t make any sense that the five of us are going separately to the same territories, paying the same consultants for the same advice and contacts. We’ve identified that.
Looking at Iceland, what strikes me about Reykjavik is how small it is but how music is so integral to its culture. There’s loads of venue space, so many local musicians and a lot going on. Why do you think that is?
Success leads to success. You’ve now had thirty years of success of Icelandic acts that have been creating success. It started with Mezzoforte then it was The Sugarcubes and Bjork and then Sigur Ros, and the list goes on. I think this has been really encouraging for the scene and it’s just been growing from year to year.
How about the other Nordic countries? Do you think its similar there?
I’m on a tour of the Nordic cities now and I’m obviously very new in my post. But in my previous job I went to all of the showcases and we have had collaboration before. I think that it’s fair to say the Nordic music scene is really vibrant now and it makes sense to create a Nordic brand for music. I think generally you can say the Nordic people are like-minded people and there has been a lot of cultural collaboration for a long time. We come from the same roots. And I think when we go to Asia, people aren’t necessarily that clear about which capital belongs to which country, they categorise us as the Nordic region.
The area is a breeding ground for leftfield music. Do you think there is a common aesthetic that lends itself to this innovation? Or is it to do with cultural attitudes? Government funding? International outlook?
It’s the clean water! I think obviously Finland is more known for metal and Norway for its electronic music and Sweden for its pop music and writer-producer scene and Denmark also for electronic and pop music. Iceland is known for more alternative music, but still in that commercial spirit.
These are small communities living in large countries so there is a lot of space. We all have in common that the winters are dark and there’s quite a lot of time. Maybe there’s not much to do! To have time and darkness lends itself really well to rehearsal rooms and studios. I think also when you have good quality music education, a lot of music for children and teenagers, music schools and then continued success, all of that is encouraging.
PRS for Music has a lot of Nordic members and Nordic music is very popular in the UK. Why do you think Nordic songwriters are attracted to the UK?
I think that the UK is a very strong tastemaking market and the media in the UK is very strong. To breakthrough in the UK normally opens doors into other markets. But it has been interesting to see that a lot of Nordic acts have been breaking through Germany as well. Germany has, in some ways, become equally important for Nordic music. I think its networks and success, which leads to more networks opening up. When there has been success from a country or genre, industry people in that territory start looking at the environment that these artists come from.
Read our Nordik Beat feature from the latest issue of M magazine