Organic Intelligence VIII: Bill Brewster on the Balearic Sound of Scandinavia

Get your sauna logs and loosely fitting tiny towels at the ready as we head to Scandinavia for this month’s Organic Intelligence newsletter, in which our subscribers are given a guided deep dive through some obscure musical realm. This month at the helm we’ve got Bill Brewster, impeccable selector, DJ’s DJ, co-author of essential dance music history Last Night A DJ Saved My Life, Bill Brewster. He’ll be taking you through the Balearic Sound of Scandinavia, listen along to the playlists via Spotify , Apple and Tidal.

Now here’s Bill:

Thirty five years ago, Balearic was a descriptor that meant little more than a summery clutch of islands off the Mediterranean coast of Northern Spain. It was mainly the sort of place you went if you booked your holidays via a Thomas Cook brochure. One of the islands, Ibiza, had something of a reputation for being an island of refuge from those escaping persecution or the draft or, even, normal civilian life. It was where Freddy Mercury, notoriously, threw hedonistic parties and where Wham! famously filmed the video for ‘Club Tropicana’. In 1987, Balearic began to take on a whole new meaning thanks to a group of British party-starters led by DJs like Trevor Fung and his buddies and girl duo Lisa Loud and Nancy Noise. They’d all become obsessed with the music of Argentinian refugee Alfredo Fiorito (DJ Alfredo) and the club where he was resident disc jockey, Amnesia. The Balearic Beat was born. So what is the Balearic sound? It’s that most useful of phrases for a music journalist because, frankly, it can mean whatever you want it to mean. It can be a fuzzy and warm set of records that may (or may not) include Chris Rea, Simply Red or Wang Chung. Was it something that only existed in the record boxes of DJ Alfredo circa 1986 to 1988? And is it, as dance music veteran Frank Tope once described, “pop music that sounds good on pills” or a car boot sale of crap masquerading as dancefloor gold? Generations of portly, bearded DJs have been debating it for over 30 years.

With its winter sports, skiing fanaticism and ubiquitous saunas, is there a more unlikely region to conjure the spirit of hierbas, Latin rhythms, and sun-kissed beaches than Scandinavia? Well, actually, no. So here’s my top five from the land of moose and snus.

Kassu Halonen – 'Trans Sahara'

Completely unknown outside of Scandinavia, Kassu Hn alonen is an industry stalwart who is better known for his songwriting and production than he is as an artist. He was responsible for the best selling album of all time in Finland with Jari Sillinpää self-titled debut album (it sold 270,000 copies in Finland alone) in 1996. But back in the mists of time, Kassu was a solo artist and this one-off gem from his bottomless pit of songwriter credits, comes from the album of the same name, released in 1982. Honestly, it couldn’t scream “Balearic” more loudly if it was wearing nothing but a leather thong and being serenaded by a minor royal from Lietchentstein.

Alex – 'I Gotta Feel Something'

Alex Naumik Sandøy was originally born in Vilnius, Lithuania to Polish parents and, during the era of Stalin, was deported to Siberia with her family. She moved to Norway in 1970 after marrying Norwegian film director, Haakon Sandøy. Her debut self-titled album was a hit in Norway, but it was her follow-up Handle With Care that contains the song in question, written and produced by bass-player Svein Gundersen and swimming in Brynjulf Blix’s atmospheric Rhodes piano. Norwegian soul music has never sounded so good. Sadly, Alex was later found dead in her apartment, aged only 64.

Diggy Tal & The Numbers – 'If It's Love That You Want' (Instrumental)

Diggy Tal & The Numbers was a studio project put together by Swedish veteran producer Bengt Palmers. The band were entirely modelled on the then vogue-ish Oz band Flash & The Pan (if you want a sense of just how much that is the case, go check ‘The Electronic Wizard’ on their sole album Hipnosis). The outstanding track on a pretty underwhelming set is ‘If It’s Love That You Want’, driven by ABBA’s bass player Rutger Gunnarsson and the BVs of Agneta Olsson and Gimmicks singer Diana Nunez.

Per Cussion – \Lucumi Suite'

Per Cussion was the pseudonym of Swedish percussionist Per Tjernberg (geddit?), who recorded four albums under the name in the 1980s, the best of which is the outstanding Don’t Stop, which also includes Sweden’s first hip hop record, ‘Don’t Stop’ featuring the mysterious Grandmaster Funk. Tjernberg also later made an album with the artist and poet Mati Klarwein, whose artwork adorned Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, Santana’s Abraxas and Earth, Wind & Fire’s Last Days & Time (among many others). Anyhow, back to ‘Lucumi Suite’. It’s built around an African chant, Ulf Adåker trumpet figures and Tjernberg’s relentless battery of percussion. If this doesn’t conjure up dance-based orgies on Formantera’s white sand, nothing will.

Stars & Bars – 'Stars & Bars'

Could this be the most Balearic of all the Scandi efforts? It may well be. I first heard it on a Mark 7 mix many years ago (Mark’s a British digger extraordinaire based in Stockholm). It’s been very collectible for the past couple of decades and you can see why. It’s got everything. A slightly daft lyric, sung by a non-English first language speaker, some delightfully squiggly synthesisers and delivered by a group (Mikael Bolyos and Roger Johansson) who look like they met at a photocopier sales meeting in Leatherhead in 1982. Close your eyes and imagine you’re at a foam party in Es Paradis in the 1980s of your mind.

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