Before Ja Ja Ja, there was Tack! Tack! Tack! – birthed from the brain of Nick Levine (pictured above with Cat5), it was a celebration of the finest Swedish indie bands and labels delivered with a gung ho spirit every month at London’s West End venue The Social. Memories were born, legend was made. And, for the first time – underground acts of Sweden were given a platform to showcase their wares. Or backing tracks.
Here, Levine sums up the history of Tack! Tack! Tack! re-counting some of his favourite shows and experiences.
Like so many of the best ideas, it started out in the pub. At the John Snow in Soho, along with co-founders Jason Christie and Simon Tagestam, we sketched out an idea of putting on a live music night for Swedish musicians in London. The premise for the night was initially inspired by me going to see Labrador Records’ Wan Light play at the Barfly to a crowd of twenty on a damp Tuesday night.
It was the autumn of 2004, and I had recently relocated back to London after a three year hiatus living in Brighton. During my time by the sea I’d become infatuated with Swedish indie pop after being given a mixtape by a friend who was studying at the language school in Portslade.
At the time I was familiar with the more popular Swedish indie artists of the day. Bands like The Sountrack Of Our Lives, Kent, The Hives and Sahara Hotnights. However, the compilation opened up my ears to a myriad of exciting and seemingly exotic sounds I never knew existed. From the likes of pop pinup Hakan Hellstrom, to the nerdy indie of Bob Hund, these bands were a world away from their more well-known commercial contemporaries. Around a quarter of the songs on the cassette were in Swedish but when the melodies were this sweet I didn’t give a damn.
There was never any long term plan for Tack! Tack! Tack!. It was more of an experiment. The overriding rule of the promotion was that three quarters of any band playing had to be in possession of valid Swedish passports.
For the first event we put on Cat5 and The Legends, artists from Sweden’s two finest indie labels: Service and Labrador.
Whilst the lineup couldn’t be faulted, the flyers and posters were shoddy. Having to pull in favours left, right and centre, the first poster design was a crude yellow on blue affair and screamed information overload long before before broadband became ubiquitous.
Through sheer chutzpah we managed to sell out The Social on the opening night, despite both artists on the bill being completely unheard of in the UK. We promoted the event at notorious Swedish hangouts in London such as The Harcourt Arms, the Swedish Church and plugged the event online via Scandinavian journal It’s A Trap and the London Svenskar website.
For the next two years we put on some of the best known artists in Sweden in a concrete basement with no windows. The capacity of The Social may have only been around 200 but the perception in Sweden was that the night was much much bigger. Our mantra was taken from the infamous New Yorker cartoon, “On the internet no-one knows that you are a dog.”
Through the implementation of cheeky bots, on the then nascent MySpace, and being placed in the Top Friends of notable Swedish artists, the Tack! Tack! Tack! profile amassed over 20,000 friends.
It was not uncommon for people to fly in overseas from Sweden (alongside Swedish pop fans from other European countries) and use the club night as an excuse to visit London and see their favourite artists in an intimate setting compared to their home territory.
Running an international promotion on such a small scale was a logistical nightmare. Itineraries had to be planned around Ryanair’s sales and we bartered payments for the artists by trading in Kopparberg tokens (our generous sponsors alongside It’s A Trap) for cash. At the time neither me nor the other co-founder Jason Christie had conventional jobs.
The most nerve wracking event was the first time we put on The Tough Alliance. At the time Erik Berglund was dating ex-Concretes singer Victoria Bergsman. On the weekend prior to TTA’s show the couple had been at an overseas music festival in Europe. Upon returning to Sweden, and the night before Tack! Tack! Tack!, Erik could not locate his passport. We had sold out the show on pre-sales, with a number of the orders coming from Sweden, and it was not clear whether the show would go ahead.
Despite persistant phone calls to Erik’s mobile on the morning of the show, I couldn’t get through. After corresponding with Carl, the manager of The Social, the plan was for the show to go ahead as a freebie with the original support act The Honeydrips adopting the headline slot. It turned out that this contingency plan never had to be acted upon. Erik touched down in London two hours before TTA’s allotted time and the show went on.
The Honeydrips, live at Tack! Tack! Tack!
The two TTA shows we put on were things of immense beauty. Despite the “live” performances in essence being the two members of the outfit strutting around aggressively with microphone stands with a strobe and smoke machine, the reaction was euphoric.
Perhaps our biggest coup was convincing Swedish Grammy Award winner Marit Bergman to play her first show outside of Scandinavia. On the day of the show Jason convinced a Swedish employee of H&M’s Oxford Street branch free entry and a couple of Kopparbergs in exchange for a staff discount on an ill fitting pair of trousers. The female sound engineer told us how Marit was rigorously doing press ups in the female toilets before hitting the stage. Marit is certainly not an artist who does do things in halves.
There was the odd altercation at the club night, with the most memorable being around the DJ booking of Swedish music journalist Andres Lokko. The day before the show we received an email from Lokko, telling us that he could not make it due to having to go to a film premiere. In order to get around this, again we had to use a bit of creativity. We drew the projector curtain down in front of the DJ booth at the Social and put my iPod on shuffle to a Swedish pop compilation. We would have got away with it, if it wasn’t for a less than sober young male Swede demanding to know where Lokko was.
After a couple of years the night had pretty much run its course. We ran out of artists big enough to draw a Swedish crowd in London, who would otherwise be unknown to the British public, and in turn A&R within the UK had become a lot more efficient.
We went out on a high, being invited to give lectures on digital marketing within the music industry at colleges in Sweden, and for our final appearance DJing at the Last.FM Christmas party.
Running the night was a hell of a lot of fun. I met some amazing people such as Martin Thornkvist of Media Evolution (@thornkvist) (a company in Sweden which acts as a think tank for the future of media) and Nancy Baym (@nancybaym) (a Swedish indie pop fanatic and revered academic in Communications).
I am grateful to Rich Thane and co for running Ja Ja Ja. Putting on Swedish – and indeed Nordic – pop events in the UK is a worthy cause, but a hell of a lot of work.
– Nick Levine (@nicklevine)
The Embassy, live at Tack! Tack! Tack!