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Gran Turismo Live
In April of 2009, I wrote an article for Snuggling about how excited I was to see Nina Persson’s band A Camp play in Stockholm that spring. In that article, I said:
Growing up in Kentucky made it virtually impossible to see a Swedish band like the Cardigans. They just aren’t one of those bands that plays 50-date tours in the United States, so Louisville was never on the short list of American cities they visited. To the best of my knowledge, Chicago is the closest they ever came to my hometown, which is about five hours away.
I remember back in 1999, after touring in Europe, I spent some time in Sweden and stayed with my friend Julia in Stockholm. At that time, the Cardigans were in America when I was in Sweden and they were going to be playing in Sweden shortly after I returned to America. A near miss, sadly, because that was around the time of their amazing Gran Turismo album.
To say that I liked the Gran Turismo album would surely be an understatement.
Fully unexpectedly, in the fall of 1998, I happened to get a promotional copy of the album. I hoped it would be good, in the same way you hope anything new will be good. I did not expect that it would be anything like what it was. It changed music for me.
I never imagined that a band like the Cardigans would do that to me. Their previous work, while delicious, had been catchy, sugar-sweet and sometimes even blatantly displayed its influences.
Though inviting, Gran Turismo was stark, sparse and dark in comparison.
Like so many of the records that I now look back and recognize as important, the first time I heard Gran Turismo, it didn’t even sound like music. It didn’t make sense to me. “What is this? What are they doing?”
It was one of those records that I had to listen to over and over to figure out what I was listening to.
That reaction flowed from the music all the way down through the album packaging. I had never seen a CD cover so glossy before. It looked like it was soaked in varnish. The photos were lush but also dark and sparse. Truthfully, most of the booklet was just white space with the tiniest little text. Glossy white space.
Over the years, as a designer and a songwriter, I have stolen as many ideas from that album graphically as I have musically.
The space between the sounds
The most captivating thing about the album, is that there is absolutely no reverb on the record at all.
When drummer Bengt Lageberg hits the snare, there’s no studio echo or resonance. As soon as the drum is hit, the sound is over. The same thing is true of all the other instruments, a quality that is the complete opposite of the way we are accustomed to hearing music on professionally-recorded albums.
The sounds aren’t warm and fuzzy. The band doesn’t sound huge. The highlights and body aren’t artificially excited or compressed. The space between the noises is empty.
Sound engineer Tore Johansson described it in an interview, “It’s a very cold and defined recording, no natural reverb or audio curtains. There’s not a sound element on that disc which wasn’t deliberately put there.”
Earlier this year, I learned that not only would the Cardigans be playing a rare live concert during the summer, but that they would be performing the Gran Turismo album in its entirety. Of course, I had to be there.
The event happened at the Hultsfred Music Festival in June. Hultsfred is a small Swedish town about four hours south of Stockholm. Nearly every summer for more than twenty years the sleepy town has been invaded by noise and debauchery.
The Hultsfred Festival apparently used to be a much bigger deal than it is today. Everyone I know who grew up in Sweden has some adventure story about the festival from years ago.
The first festival was in 1986 and since then bands like Oasis, The Cure, The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Ramones, Iggy Pop, Joe Strummer, Van Morrison, Buzzcocks, Motörhead, Slayer, Ministry, Blur, Björk, Weezer, Morrissey, et cetera, have played there.
In addition to the Cardigans, this year’s festival featured The Cure, Justice, Stone Roses, Eagles of Death Metal, James Blake, Garbage, Noel Gallagher, The XX, M83, and a bunch of other garbage. And Garbage.
Too old for this shit
Since I’m an adult, I decided that I would opt out of the usual music festival amenities – such as setting up a tent and riding there with sweaty teenagers who have no awareness of the sound of their own headphones.
Instead, I bought a ticket to ride first class with Swedish Railways (SJ). This is truly a comfy ride. Just like on an airplane, you can pick your seat in advance. The seats are big with plenty of leg room and the cabin is quiet with free wi-fi. Oh, and did I mention my three-course vegetarian meal?
Upon arriving in Hultsfred and walking through a crowd of commoners who rode in the back of the train (suckers!), I took a bus to my hotel. That’s right, no camping for me. Sleeping outside is for homeless people. I stocked the hotel room with booze and snacks.
I made sure to invite my friend Emma from Malmö who loves music and loves to travel. She met me at the festival with her friend and the three of us shared the hotel room, destroyed the booze and essentially had a great time over the weekend un-healthy-izing ourselves.
By the time the Cardigans took the stage on the second day of the festival, I was ready to shit my pants. I was bouncing off the walls.
There’s really not much for me to say about the show itself. It was absolutely perfect. I don’t have a single complaint.
I’ll remember it for the rest of my life.
Maybe we should just look at the pictures.