With the pause to reflect that the closing of the year offers, it seems paramount, as regards Norwegian music, to take a closer look at Madrugada’s 2005.
The year has been a triumph for this Norwegian band, a band already long since firmly established as one of the majors of Norwegian rock. And it is precisely in view of their position in advance that the events of this year must be assessed. Because despite their prolonged success; their sales, awards and staunch fans in many lands –all indications of “realization”- they simply decided to transcend that zone of comfort and reach zenith. And this is what makes Madrugada real artists in a way rarely seen. Because the position they have risen to this year is not providential nor the result of speculative commercialism, but rather a true consequence of their art and their artistic attitude.
One can perhaps say that it is the truth of what they do that is rewarded, for their music is void of excuses, escapism and irony, and therefore, when it fills the ether and air, it is without any of the ephemeral and tarnishing traits of success.
The year commenced with the release of their fourth album “The deep end”. It was recorded in LA, involving some of the masters of the craft, and was a return to the unbound completeness -the absence of dogma- that marked their classic 1999-debut “Industrial silence”. “The deep end” was more or less unanimously proclaimed a masterpiece, and it started selling like one immediately. Thus the ground was prepared to upscale the whole enterprise to the level of activity a masterpiece calls for.
And in due manner the following months elapsed as a relay of successes, home and abroad, live and on radio. Europe turned up and tuned in as never before (Madrugada might be on the verge of trans-continental breakthrough), while Norway fully realized that this band is special: here is a band that has not been bred and groomed “elsewhere”, and void of pretence these guys are not afraid to take on the role as confident, unwavering, sincere and dead serious artists.
So they filled Oslo spectrum in an uncompromising performance. And then they played the same venue again a few weeks later, as part of the Nobel Piece Prize concert line-up, outglowing the internationals, and beheld, by perhaps more than a billon TV-viewers.
The final touch to the 2005’s display of power will be the release of a live album, unannounced to the latest and mixed in record time.
Let that suffice in describing an unprecedented year for Madrugada.
But in order to explain the essence of the success and the reverence this band is met with, it is necessary to delineate the aspect of genuineness that was hinted at by saying that what is special in the case of Madrugada is that they are real. Paradoxical as this may sound, to be real is in our day rare because this property must be understood as the negation of that omnipresent entity which has come to be known as (commercial socio-reflective public) reality, i.e. the reality that everyone has learned to detest on TV, but that few disclose in its “elevated” manifestation, in the realm of art.
This paradox creates deep divisions that run through much of Norwegian rock music, as many bands belong to camps that subscribe to rigid delimitations.
The primary divide is that between authenticity and manufacture: One segment is mindful of what they do as art. They are not simply professional (but disengaged) “executers” of music, but sincere and serious about its content; that it means something, and what it means.
In Norway this is a hazardous stance because failure to convince absolutely results in unanimous mockery, a volley of ridicule for actually wanting and daring to say something and confessing it to boot, without irony!
In the case of rock, licence to be serious in this way is normally issued only to foreigners; preferably acts already established overseas, or even better disbanded/dead. It is a lot safer that way.
Opposing the sincere, are those who have outgrown any need for authenticity, which in reality is, of course, only tasteless. They are clever and very attentive and have thus found in rock a realm suited like no other for contrivance and manufacture.
Now, to know what people want, and then give it to them is of course neither novel nor deplorable. But what the stance of manufacture entails in Norway is essentially the distancing from sincerity as such, and thus ridiculing it. (For the comedy of this mockery is the most popular sentiment it seems).
The result is a profound commitment to irony, so much so that the artistic expression has been substituted with a product that is manufactured not to satisfy musical taste, or give voice to mood or emotion, but rather to satisfy a socio-existential stance that transcends music, and art, a stance of taking shelter in not-saying and not-meaning, of not venturing anything. It is of course first and foremost a stance of absolute security. No risk is taken whatsoever, because nothing is put forth except negation and ridicule. This however, is done with the utmost commitment and gravity. Thus seriousness is only to be found in the extent and magnitude of irony
Between these camps, or rather behind, meekly refusing the challenge of the dichotomy, is a third stance, viz. the refuge in “music itself” (In some kind of opposition to the issue of art’s true motive)
It might seem the most flagrant of contradictions to delineate such a conception negatively, for surely music is what it is all about. Indeed.
However, in the context of Norwegian rock the commitment to music itself has turned into fundamentalism. This is manifest as a rigid dogmatism of relating exclusively to a musical reference-grid, a brief cultural history of which knowledge and consciousness is Alfa and omega. The result is that references, i.e. structural coordinates, are conditional for the whole enterprise, both beforehand, in creating, and after, as all critique is a game of recognizing the “ingredients” the bands have more or less cleverly mixed in their latest efforts.
This has turned into a die-hard focus on the elements that de facto make up the music, i.e., the sound, the groove, the melody, the tone and even the words (not their meaning but their history and reference in music (I’ll be your dog woff !))
The consequence of exclusively attending to the ingredients that thus make up the song, as a composite, acoustic thing, is that the only value and parameter is taste.
Taste, and its extension subtlety, is the parameter by which art is judged.
Gone is the concept of expressing in music something that does not belong to music, something which can perhaps be captured and expressed in music better than in any other way, but which is not thus conditioned.
To not take shelter in the language of music means simply to utilize it as language but not subject matter, i.e. to attempt to express something that is in want of language rather than just shuffling the words.
This is genuineness and it brings us back to Madrugada. Norway’s biggest real rock band is brave enough to shun irony, brave enough to constitute this very special thing: to become a part of their fans’ make-up, not just the soundtrack to some period that in the future will be just that, a period, but instead one of the small but lasting, encapsulated parts of a person.
That their music is mostly on the shadowy side of the spectrum (a gloom redeemed, if one wishes to so interpret, by the dawn in their name) is beside the point. Because it is not true that “darkness” is sincere as such, nor that it exhausts the sincerity they put into the music.
Rather the non-contrived resides in the general message of wanting and trying to be truthful, and this again is manifest as a wish to take who ever is listening seriously. This means that the music consistently addresses aspects of life that really matter, aspects that cannot be expressed with irony, but rather involve risk.
Madrugada manifest this attitude in many ways. –In the music itself of course, which never becomes a self-reflection and meta-exercise, but also in the way it is presented: for real, as real, and, crucially: with none of the insecurity or irony that would mercilessly tip the scales of this gamble.
They do not do what they do for fun, even though they might have fun doing it. Theirs is not an arbitrary calling. Their contribution is not quasi-clever commentary on themselves, music, or their position therein. They will not be exhausted by meta-considerations. Madrugada’s subject matter is the depth and magnitude that issues have before they are reflected back from reality, in their primary despair or majesty.
To reach a billion people, with a whole heart like Madrugada just did, is the mark of the rare and the few.
This week sees the domestic release of Madrugada’s long awaited live-album ‘Live At Tralfamadore’ that features recordings made at the band’s Oslo Spektrum gig earlier this month as well as tracks taped at performances at this year’s Øya Festival, in the Bodø Spektrum (with Bodø Sinfonietta) and a Brussels gig.
This is the tracklist:
1. Hard To Come Back
3. You Better Leave
4. Strange Colour Blue
5. On Your Side
6. Kids On High Street
7. Seven Seconds
8. Mother Of Earth
9. Running Out Of Time
10. Black Mambo
11. Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child
12. Sail Away
Special Edition extra CD:
1. Bloodshot Adult Commitment
2. Black Mambo (terror mix)
3. Only When You’re Gone
4. Lift Me