This article was originally posted on highonbeats.com on November 20, 2013
Our full-spread feature editorial series FOCUS has returned with a special piece on Scandinavian electrofunk known as Skweee and the amazing documentary We Call It Skweee.
Sometime in the mid-2000s in Stockholm, Sweden, DJ/Producer Frans Carlqvist (a.k.a. Limonious and Pavan) began crafting a unique electro-funk sound from his collection of analog synthesizers and drum machines. Eschewing the arcane production techniques and effects common to the work of his contemporaries, Carlqvist instead focused on dry oscillator sounds to bring about his vision. Heavily influenced by classic funk, 90s r&b and digital reggae, his stripped-down style became the seminal source for a new movement in electronic music.
As he began releasing his tracks on 7-inches through his own label Flogsta Danshall, other artists flocked to his banner. One of the first was fellow Swede and electro veteran Daniel Savio, a tracksuit-and-Kangol-wearing character who was inspired by Carlqvists’ “primitive” sound and ethos. While Carlqvist had suggested the term “prim” to describe this sound, Savio came up with another name that stuck. After squeezing as much as possible out of his Roland Alpha Juno 1 on his first album, he called it Skweee.
A Slippery Sound
The Skweee sound can be situated amongst similar styles which have been given unfortunate names to describe innovative and genre-bending electronic music, from the “IDM” of Rephlex and Clear Records to the L.A. beat scene’s “wonky” to Rustie’s “aquacrunk.” Much like these styles, Skweee is difficult to pin down to a specific BPM (it’s mainly under 110) or production trick, and draws heavily from electrofunk and hip hop-style beats.
Skweee’s unique nature stems from its deceptive simplicity. It brings naive, colourful melodies together with sparse beats on a flat sonic plane, creating complexity from basic elements. Skweee production also uses raw analog or 8-bit voices as the basis for its sound design with little reliance on external effects. While sharing stylistic elements with hip hop beats, Skweee is rarely made by digging in crates (or websites) for samples to flip. Instead, Skweee artists tend to dig in synths and flip oscillators.
The Community Expands
Carlqvist and Savio’s early releases caught the attention of a group of Finnish producers, notably Harmönia Records bosses Mesak and Randy Barracuda. Their enthusiasm for the new sound gave it some initial momentum. It quickly grew into a movement that reached a select bunch of producers first in Scandinavia, then in other parts of Europe and beyond. To this day “Skweee” describes a community as much as a sound, drawing in producers with diverse backgrounds from chiptune to hip hop to dubstep.
The core of the original Skweee scene is centered on a few key labels. These are: Flogsta Danshall in Sweden, Harmönia in Finland, Dødpop in Norway, Mazout in France and Poisonous Gases in the US. Other Skweee-specialized labels of note are Paris-based Tiburoni and the Finnish Raha & Tunteet. In addition to these, a few diverse labels around the world such as Donky Pitch (and my own Ancient Robot) have touched on the Skweee sound. Planet Mu got on board in 2008 with the release of Eero Johannes’ excellent self-titled debut album.
My Skweee Experience
I was first made aware of Skweee as a style in 2009 when a friend sent me its Wikipedia entry. Intrigued by the description, I looked up some Skweee videos on Youtube and was instantly seduced. I had been producing music for a couple of years under my main alias Smoked Meat Fax Machine, and was struggling to master production techniques while crafting a unique sound out of my disparate influences which ranged from P-Funk to Squarepusher.
When Skweee came to me, I abandoned my hang-ups and prejudices about electronic music. I put everything on hold to focus on what I love most: super funky beats and playing around with synthesizers. I started a side project called Fengir and began making tracks without worrying too much about polishing them or fitting in to a certain sound. Through that project, I was able to connect with the worldwide Skweee community and rejuvenate my creative process.
Skweee on Film
In early 2008, Italian filmmaker Iacopo Patierno met up with seminal Skweee producers in Stockholm and spent a year delving into their world. Perhaps in part due to his background in dubstep, Patierno became intrigued by the burgeoning Skweee movement and followed two groups of producers to their debut showcase/soundclash at Barcelona’s Sonar Festival. The documentary We Call It Skweee is the product of this journey, produced by Patierno and one of Sweden’s original Skweee artists, David Giese (a.k.a. Joxaren).
In true Skweee fashion, the film is short and to the point. In one hour, we get a good sense of who these guys (there are only a few female Skweee producers – Daniela Salvia is one of them) are and why they are making this type of music. The meaning they draw from Skweee comes through quite clearly through their interviews and candid moments. Skweee is a liberating creative movement for them. It is a musical endeavour that is based first and foremost on being true to yourself, without taking yourself too seriously. The film also resonates a feeling that I have always had about Skweee: it’s quite a lot of fun.