Travel report: P3 Guld 2011

P3 Guld 2011

I have been following P3 Guld/P3 Gold, Sveriges Radio/Swedish Radio's annual awards ceremony, for a long time now, almost as long as the event has existed. Which also happens to be about as long as I've been seriously following Swedish/Scandinavian music and running this site. There's no doubt that SR has been a huge part of my Swedish musical education over these years, both due to their outstanding website and online streaming offerings, but also because of their devotion to quality programming and the promotion of domestic acts. Of course, Sweden's outstanding music scene makes the latter a no-brainer, but you know that if someone's gonna mess it up, it's gonna be a state-run institution. Anyhow, I usually try to listen in to the show's audio broadcast every year (Swedish Television/SVT's live stream is blocked for international users), but never in my life did I ever expect the opportunity to attend in-person. The idea never even occurred to me. So as soon as I received an email asking me if I wanted to go, I immediately jumped at it. Who wouldn't? Even with a scarce one-week notice, I would be a fool to pass up the offer.

So off I went, spirited halfway 'round the world in some sort of fever-dream, all for a gala previously thought unaccessible. But before we get into my personal experience of the event, let us first take a history lesson.

P3 Guld was started by Swedish Radio nine years ago, evolving out of and superceding the then-current Popstad (Pop City) live music event. "So we have Grammy awards in Sweden as well and this was a year that there was some controversy surrounding them," says SR's Pia Kalischer, the official "mother" of P3 Guld, "They said they would no longer have anything to do with quality, they would only be based on sales and we thought that was kind of dumb so I saw a gap in market and I figured, well we should do something that's an event that will have to do with new music and also live music, as we broadcast a lot of concerts [see P3 Live for example]. So I figured it would be fun if we could do something that was open to an audience with live music and let's throw in a few awards to have a reason to throw this thing."

"Today I'm the Commissioner of Music and Events at Sveriges Radio, before that I was Head of Music for P3 for ten years. I was also a program manager and before that I was a producer and I've always had my heart in the music and for as long as I was working as Head of Music, I was continuously working with the P3 brands musically so that it would be connected to new Swedish music. That was the whole idea that people would associate P3 with new Swedish music."

And so P3 Guld came to be. The first year was small and humble, taking place at a tiny theater in Växjö (home of The Ark, Melody Club and uh, Birdflesh) before relocating permanently to its current home in Göteborg, Sweden's second city. Pia explains: "The city of Gothenburg came to us and said, "Please, come over, we'll help you. We have a very strong music scene in this city and all kinds of genres as well." It's the home of Swedish heavy metal and also lots of indiepop and also hip-hop, it's got everything basically. And a good organization within the city that helped us to get connected with the venues, the arenas, the people... so we grew from a small theater to a little bit of a bigger theater which seated 900 people, to [another] which seated maybe 1000 and then suddenly our partners said "Let's do this big" so we went to Scandinavium which is a huge arena that usually has hockey games. So went from 900 to 3000 people in a couple years. And we did that for 2 years in Scandinavium and that was huge." This year, however, the event has been scaled back and moved to the slightly smaller Lisebergshallen at the Liseberg amusement park. Seating approximately 2,500 with the complex, multi-tiered stage setup to allow for quick set changes, this is the first time the event was slated to include a standing audience. As to whether it was a fully conscious choice or rather the result of Scandinavium being booked for the European handball championships, nobody seemed too daunted or disappointed by the switch. "I personally feel that it was wonderful and it was fun and it just suddenly exploded, but for me," says Pia, "I've always wanted the P3 Guld to be sort of intimate. I want it to have a club feel so that audience gets closer to the bands and the bands get close to the audience. When the bands and audience connect that's when you get that certain electrical feel that really makes for good radio and good television. When it's real. That sounds so trite, but I really mean it."

All the same by me, as a newcomer to the P3 Guld live experience. I'm more than happy to play the part of the humble guest, letting myself get shuffled here and there for whatever pre-arranged activities my hosts have in mind. Well, except for the P3 Live-sponsored pre-pre-party on Friday night -- I really don't need to see some (ex?) cokehead pop-music producer's feeble attempt at playing in a rock band, so I opted out for a quality evening with my local friends, exploring the exciting, burgeoning world of Swedish craft beer. So then on Saturday, after a slow day of recovery and light window-shopping around Haga, we're spirited away to the official pre-party at the Brew House, a swirling mess of tabloid photographers snapping shots of the various pop artists who decide to make an appearance, mixed in among far greater numbers of industry reps and hanger-ons. I say hellos to the few folks I recognize and am introduced to many more, including a project manager from Music Export Norway down from Oslo to check things out (Øyvind, I'm ready to come over anytime!). Then there's also Watain, lurking on the fringes, looking seriously bummed and out of place. And intimidating -- no way am I going to attempt to introduce myself though a picture with the band would've surely been awesome. My fellow guest DJ Grace and I do a short interview on the air for the pre-show (I manage to be coherent enough to give props to the year's current best single, "Coming from you" by Paper) and we're off again, following a trail of torch-wielding sentries on our way to the venue.

As for the show itself, the live broadcast (on both P3 and SVT) demands a strict schedule. Pia has prepared us: "Some other award shows like the Swedish Grammis they have 21 prizes to give out. So you have to sit there for what? 3 hours? And they can only fit in 4 or 5 musical acts. So we do it in 90 minutes, 9 prizes and I think we have 10 bands this year. So it's very fast-paced. And there are always some of the big acts [who] really like to debut new songs... we don't only do the big hits of last year, we want them to play new music." Once things start moving, they stay moving and there is no downtime whatsoever.

The actual array of categories at P3 Guld is an interesting sidenote. Unlike every other music award, there are very few niches. "P3 Guld is really just a segment of the Swedish music business because we felt that we wanted to do something that reflects the music format of P3," Pia tells me, "The Grammis also gives out awards for, y'know, new children's music, classical music, jazz, every genre... which I really personally think is great. I think they should concentrate on being a very grand prize. And we basically do a rock show. [laughs] So it's pop, rock, some soul and hip-hop, some heavier stuff, but it's one piece of the cake of the whole musical landscape. So there's no jazz award, there's no opera award." And more importantly, there's also no longer an award based on gender. "We used to have two prizes for the best female artist of the year and the best male and we changed that two years ago," Pia informs me, a decision that apparently did not come without unintended consequences. "Last year we got lots of criticism because [P3 Guld] didn't feature enough females. Now it's hard for us to change the recording business where men seem to have an easier time than women, but we really tried to think about that this year. We really worked very hard to change and we also decided to joke around a bit with it." As we would later discover. Furthermore: "Part of the reason I'm afraid that we didn't have enough women solo artists last year, because not a lot of women released records. Or rather there were so many men last year who released records that were really good, that it was hard. But this year there are more females that have had a stronger... that have put their foot down I suppose."

"Is that just on stage or behind the scenes as well?" I ask.

"Well the thing is with P3 Guld is that behind the scenes, it's 98% women. I think that's due to me actually. Without thinking about it I appointed a female producer, we have female bookers and one of the TV producers is a woman and so in the production team, as it comes to the people who make the decisions, 70% are women."

"So do you think that's reflected in other parts of Sweden or do you think that this is a special thing you've created?"

"I don't know, I just know that... of course I'm a feminist. Yes I am. But I'm maybe not the most conventional one, I don't always count heads. I think that there's different ways of gaining equality, but I do think it was a good thing we were criticized last year and I do think we've really shaped up. There's a big discussion and I think the discussion in itself makes for change. What's been interesting is that you've seen all these women who've gone solo, women in the indie bands like Jenny Wilson, Sophia Somayo. They've decided to do everything by themselves as a way of being empowered and I think that's interesting. So that's kind of specific to the Swedish scene -- lots of women working and doing everything every step of the way, writing the songs, into the production, and gaining full control of the final product. Which I think is amazing."

Not to mention artists such as Marit Bergman and Robyn, I might add. The intersection of gender and music is an ever-evolving, fascinating subject, so it's especially interesting to see a prominent event such as P3 Guld tackle the issue head-on.

Which doesn't mean I could necessarily follow the discussion every step of the way during the actual show. I could understand when Howlin' Pelle of The Hives awarded Robyn the Guldmicken for Sweden's "2nd best" live act, I could understand host Kitty Jutbring's recurring references to Ace of Base thanks to the musical cue, but as far as gender-relations go, I could only really pick up on Kitty's vagina dress and her coinciding use of the word "fitta", which apparently is totally acceptable for broadcast. Not that I wasn't fully entertained. Like I said above, the show was action-packed and unrelenting and my language barrier did little to interfere.

Local fave Håkan Hellström kicked things off in style with "River en vacker dröm".

Säkert! performed an exceptional take on the song "Influensa".

Those Dancing Days killed it with "Reaching forward", as previously mentioned.

Awards were given, speeches were made. There were also a few surprises, a rarity for such a highly-scripted, high profile event. The biggest and most obvious: This Is Head winning Best Pop over Robyn. Another: Skudge winning Best Dance over the far more popular Swedish House Mafia, though it must be reiterated, P3 Guld is not necessarily a popularity contest. While some categories are decided by audience votes, the specialist genres are done by jury. Once again, Pia gladly fills in the details: "We have one jury that takes out the nominees for the audience to vote for and those are made up of the music editors that work within P3 and a couple of people from outside; we have one person from SVT [Per Sinding Larsen], so he's with us to do the five open categories. And then when it comes to specialist juries, there's a head of jury who's always that person who has that type of specialist program [at P3] and the brief to them was to select people that are experts in their field. So it's either very senior music editors and music journalists or very genre-specific experts [so we] have quality before the quantity or sales, which is not a parameter in this at all. But of course sometimes those things sort of match." As is the case with Robyn, who has deservedly won almost every award she's been nominated for this year.

Another highlight: the unexpected collaborations. Hello Saferide and Detektivbyrån from 2009 is a definite standout in my memory, Pia cites Anna Ternheim's collaboration with Max Peezay as hers. She says, "I like all the stuff that really goes under your skin and becomes exclusive for this event, things that touch people." As for 2011's best song medley by Orup and Spiderdogs, well, it was certainly nothing I expected, though I'm not so sure it will go down in history. What was far better however, was Tove Styrke doing "Million pieces" together with Familjen:

See, now that's the kind of perfect collaboration I'm talking about.

As with all major events, P3 Guld comes in three stages. We had the pre-party, the party itself and then of course, what remains at last is the after-party. Once Robyn brought the house down with her 3-song medley/finale (thankfully, rumors of a surprise Roxette appearance did not come to pass), we gathered our coats and made our way back through the cold to the Hotel Elite where, as with most large gatherings in Sweden, I felt like a fish out of water and about a foot shorter than everyone else, a feeling most easily remedied by the consumption of alcohol. Which is exactly the point -- the post-show party is when everyone finally starts to relax and feel comfortable enough to simply hang out and enjoy themselves. Free from expectations, they were all smiles and I was excited to reacquaint myself with numerous people I have met on previous trips over the years, or merely communicated with via email. And rub elbows with bonafide Swedish popstars: somehow I ended up getting my picture taken with a member of Kent, no fooling. Not at all what I expected, but more than welcome. Beyond that, what goes on at the after-party is off the record as far as I'm concerned, though it's not as if anything scandalous went down in my presence (besides the telling of tales from previous years). Perhaps everyone was holding out for the after-after-party, but with me scheduled for an early flight home only hours away, that was not even a remote possibility. The bar shut down, I went to bed, I was happy. Even if I never get a chance for a repeat visit, I'm more than content with my experience.