After being in a band for nigh on two decades, it’s easy to settle for an inoffensive, innocuous sound that can be easily replicated album after safe album. There are an inordinate amount of veteran bands that choose the musical equivalent of getting married, having two kids and working at a finance company, but Little Dragon surreptitiously glide through the rather stale theory of genres to make a unique blend of romantic gloom with effervescent undertones. They’re also natives of Sweden, a country that does pop music so well, it makes Adele sound as dull as a granddad’s sweater.
Unbelievably, there are those who doubt the cool credentials of Little Dragon. In the post-internet age, image is just as important as the music, which is why vocalist Yukimi Nagano believes a band can be misjudged. “A lot of music these days is so stylised, people make an opinion before they’ve even heard it,” she says with an air of clemency, before recounting a tale of a particularly special gig in their hometown. “We had a fantastic show in Gothenburg which was one of my favourite shows ever, my dad was there! We got a HORRIBLE review and I just didn’t understand, I had the best show ever and the crowd was insane, and this person said nothing about the music. He just said ‘Little Dragon think they’re so cool’, I was like ‘was that a shade?!’”
Judging by the tone of her voice and the indulgent, munificent laugh she lets out just after, it’s obvious that she’s not perturbed by journalistic platitudes. “We’re definitely one of those bands that through the years we get reviews that suck and reviews that are great and you learn to detach yourself from it. I totally get it too, because if I was doing reviews I’d be giving shitty reviews too because I have my taste.” It’s a rare glimpse of a band that retain a humble and perceptive mentality when so many around them conduct themselves in a cocksure but half-cocked manner, drenched in post-irony.
Despite the fact that their latest album Nabuma Rubberband drew praise from all corners of the industry, Little Dragon maintain a level-headed outlook. Sometimes though, the retroactive teenaged romanticism naturally creeps through. Yukimi speaks about OutKast’s Andre 3000 and how he mentioned being a big Little Dragon fan, which elicited her internal response of “whaaat?! Can I just write that down, can you say that again while I film?!” It’s wholly energising to see a band acting in their own sphere of mannerisms, eschewing the construct of cool while preserving their own self-awareness as a band.
This self-awareness is evidenced by their transition from album to album. Their desire for conscious improvement has meant that each of the four albums Little Dragon have released are hugely differing albums from the downtempo R&B of the self-titled debut to the oddball synthpop of Machine Dreams, right to the expansive, melancholic perfection that is Nabuma Rubberband by way of Ritual Union’s shuffling electro pop.
There is a small price to pay for innovation though; Yukimi explains “we haven’t had a single record where we haven’t argued about something – like how the bass drum should sound in the mix or what song someone loves and someone else hates.” It’s this introverted mentality that often leads to a point where you see the wood for the trees, but Little Dragon have managed to find a comfortable spot where both internal and external voices of reason are heard. With a slight hint of impishness, Yukimi says “in the past we’ve been like ‘it’s only our opinion that matters, fuck all else!’” before dropping back into consummate band member mode, noting that “it’s good to listen to people who aren’t as emotionally attached to the music as we are.”
The puckish professionalism Yukimi exhibits seems to have a symmetrical embodiment with Little Dragon’s music, especially in tracks like ‘Klapp Klapp’ and ‘Paris’ which unswervingly elicit a jerky, animated response from limbs in an autonomous attempt to simulate dancing – all while your brain is sending appreciative signals because the music is stupendously crafted.
The progressive mentality that has allowed Little Dragon to excel seems to coincide with the outside world’s view of Sweden: a very forward-thinking country. “there are a lot of things that I’d say are forward-thinking Swedish views that we are proud of – the fact that there’s a feminist party – you can think what you want about the feminist party, but the fact that there is one is fantastic and important and it’s a big statement… feminism is something that women and men really value over here.” After conversing and enthusing over the importance of feminism, somehow the chat spilled over into the recycling efficiency of Sweden – the most effervescent topic of conversation.
Yukimi seems to have a genuine vested interest in the wellbeing of Sweden and the world as a whole: “that’s one thing I’m super proud of. People should make a habit out of something that actually has a huge result, and here everybody does it. It’s great, but there are definitely a lot of things that I’m not proud of.”
A British citizen with even the most basic knowledge of the political economy in Sweden might be shocked to hear that it’s not as auspicious as it looks from the outside. “At the same time we have the Swedish Democrats party which is quite a racist party that is actually bigger than the environmental party, so I’m not part of that at all. I’m actually really embarrassed and ashamed.” Not one to dwell on negativity, Yukimi states “it’s far from perfect, but there are a lot of values that we are proud of.”
The story of the Gothenburg review sits uncomfortably in amongst the rest of Yukimi’s insightful conversation. How can someone think of Little Dragon as impostors of cool, as try-hards? They’re still making weird and wonderful music that continues to impress. They have a self-awareness that encourages creativity rather than an augmented ego. They support gender equality and are environmentally conscious. They are indubitably cool. Coolness oozes from them like melting snow from a Swedish rooftop in spring – drink it up, because it’s delicious.
This feature is taken from the December 2014 issue of Audio Addict. View it on Issuu here, or pick it up along the South Coast.