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Stockholm calling: TMR in Sweden

By Neil Curry

Maja Ivarsson, vocalist for The Sounds
Maja Ivarsson, vocalist for The Sounds

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(CNN) -- It's a country of just 9 million people, but remarkably it's the third-largest exporter of music in the world. Since ABBA made a splash on the international music scene in the 1970s, Sweden has produced a steady stream of successful musical exports.

The roots of the nation's international music success reach back to 1974 when ABBA won the Eurovision Song Contest with "Waterloo," launching the band's global career as pop superstars. Their success opened the minds of the music business to the idea of artists from Sweden selling albums internationally -- almost 300 million at last count.

ABBA's Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson began a long line of Swedish songwriters who were able to capture the world's attention. Roxette and Ace of Base carried the torch into the 1980s.

The writers behind Ace of Base, Denniz Pop and Max Martin, formed a team that went on to write some of the biggest pop hits of the 1990s for Britney Spears ("... Baby One More Time," "Oops!... I Did It Again"); the Backstreet Boys ("Everybody (Backstreet's Back)," "Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely"); Celine Dion, Westlife and Bon Jovi ("It's My Life"), among many others. Denniz Pop died in 1998 and Max Martin has teamed up with another Swedish producer, Rami.

These hit songs were being written, produced and recorded in Sweden and the major record labels began searching for their own Swedish songbirds. Meja, Robyn and more recently Play and the A-Teens resulted from this continuing pop relationship and achieved considerable success in the United States.

The past year has seen a swing back from pop to rock music, and when critics looking for new rock talent turned to Sweden they found a wealth of talented bands that had been laboring at home for several years. The Hives, The Soundtrack of Our Lives, Caesars (known as Caesar's Palace in Sweden), the Hellacopters and Sahara Hotnights were among the "Swedish new wave," as they were dubbed by the British music press, much to the bemusement of the artists.

Musical festivities

Meanwhile, back at home, The Cardigans returned this year from a temporary split to produce a critically acclaimed album and hope to continue the international success sparked by the inclusion of their song "Love Fool" on the soundtrack for Baz Luhrmann's 1996 movie "Romeo and Juliet."

When TMR visited Sweden The Cardigans were performing at the first-ever staging of Stockholm Calling -- a music festival mixing international artists such as Zwan and Placebo with Swedish bands.

The Hives
The Hives

At the same time, two other festivals in the city displayed electronic music and alternative music including the country's leading hip hop artists -- Timbuktu and Looptroop -- who are building on the success of breakthrough Swedish rappers such as Petter.

Stockholm recently celebrated its 750th anniversary -- but its Viking roots go back even further. These days they've swapped the long ship for the tour bus, but the pillaging of foreign musical markets is as strong as ever.

Earlier this year, one of New York's hottest clubs, CBGBs, staged a showcase by 10 emerging Swedish bands including The Sounds, Marit Bergman, User, The Whyte Seeds and Lambretta.

The Sounds' vocalist, Maja Ivarsson, told The Music Room she was delighted to be playing on the stage once graced by some of her childhood heroes:

"To be playing at CBGBs is like a dream coming true because there are so many bands I really love and loved for so many years that started out here. And to be on the same stage as The Ramones and Blondie, that's unbelievable -- so cool!"

Amanda Palmer recently traveled to Stockholm -- the Venice of the North -- to check out the Swedish scene's home soil for a special edition of The Music Room. Click on the interactive gallery to see some of the country's valuable exports.

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