Swedish duo Icona Pop have just blown through the revolving doors at Hoxton's Electric Ballroom, and already are beaming as they approach. Their music fits their demeanour, since Aino Jawo and Caroline Hjelt make the sort of euphoric, energetic dance-pop that 'arms raised over the head plus frantic hip-swinging' moves were invented for. They shape bouncy and catchy songs that once again prove Sweden's knack for cultivating pop musicians who feel no shame in their genre: "Pop's not a dirty word for us", Aino calmly says and it sheds more light on their appeal and ethos than she may know.
Their single 'I Love It' has done the online rounds and garnered reactions from the likes of Pitchfork, Stereogum and Perez Hilton that surprised both girls. We sat down for a chat with them before they jet back to Sweden for a while and gear up for their late summer dates.
First things first, these two have that close chemistry that you often only get in bands where the couple in question are actually dating ("We're not together though!" Aino interjects). They finish each other's sentences and seem practically high on adrenaline from their recent whirlwind days of photoshoots, interviews, one-off DJ sets and frantic preparations for a summer away from the city.
When we get into the element of joy in their music, both Aino and Caroline light up immediately. "I think it's the way we approach life, and the situations we're in", Caroline begins. "Sometimes if you're excited and happy, you just have to express that. Other times when you feel like shit, turning that anger into something else is really important”. That ‘something else’ is just the sort of sharp-witted and sharp-tongued derision that permeates through 2011 single ‘Manners’, an anthemic break-up song for the one who’s not quite over it but would rather dance their woes away (while singing along to the biting chorus at full pelt) than wallow in them. It was this song, first shared via the duo’s MySpace page a couple of years ago, that led to their single release on French boutique label Kitsuné.
“We were streaming the song on our MySpace, mostly to the joy of our mothers, when someone from Kitsuné got in touch” says Aino. “We thought it was a joke at first, but fast-forward a few months and we were meeting the team in Paris, and later DJing their Christmas party that year!”. The French city of lights initially seduced the girls (“Let me just say, if French men were a type of candy, they’d be our favourite!” chirps in Aino) but they chose London as their working base. Why?
“There’s a real creative energy here”, Caroline explains, choosing her words carefully. “There's so much music and all these inspiring arts projects are being put on by young people who are struggling but in it for the passion for what they do”. The duo met at a music school in Sweden, where a similarly open and creative environment gave them the impetus to start up a band of their own. And now with ‘I Love It’ out in America and Sweden, it looks like their training and ambition are paying off.
Written originally by their friend and fellow rising star Charli XCX, the track is already tipped for mainstream success (and now soundtracks the opening credits to Jersey Shore spin-off show Snooki & JWOWW) and was worked on further by the girls in collaboration with producers Patrick Berger and Style Of Eye before its Swedish release in late May. According to Caroline, they gravitated towards ‘I Love It’ because it had an addictive sense of recklessness: “It's one of those songs where you just don't give a fuck: you just have the sense that you can do anything”, she elaborates. And as two females working together in an industry where they still have to work that bit harder to be taken seriously, it’s a good philosophy to live with.
“Sometimes it feels like people have a pre-conceived notion of the kind of women we are, especially because we're two females making pop music”, begins Caroline. “They seem shocked that we write our own songs or are involved in so much of our process”. Aino interjects, agreeing vehemently and recalling one of the many times the duo have been patronised by their male peers when setting up for DJ sets around the world. “We played dumb while they went through all this efforts showing us what all the knobs do” she laughs, “Then once we started and tore into our set with lots of different effects we watched their jaws drop”.
So what about future aspirations? Their dream gig, perhaps? Aino jumps in first, yelling out “Burning Man” amidst much giggling and head-nodding while Caroline stops to consider the question for a second or two longer. “The main stage at Coachella would be amazing”, she says “Ooh, or selling out Madison Square Garden!” she decides, as both she and Aino beam wildly. Given their ability to blend electronic elements with a pop sensibility to such great effect, let’s not rule anything out for now.
Head to the band’s website for more on them, and to find out when they’ll be playing a town near you.