When the Swedes are not celebrating their midsummer with crayfish and aquavit parties, they're busy making "pop music for folks who think they hate pop music” – an accurate description of Swedish band Little Dragon.
Yet the success that they've achieved thus far has been reached mostly without radio play. Their fanbase is as eclectic as their music, appealing to the electronic dance crowd, jazz fans and hip-hop heads. Little Dragon come to South Africa this week as a result of a joint collaboration between Adidas Originals Live Performances and photo blog We-Are-Awesome.
Enigmatic vocalist Yukimi Nagano is the soulful force behind the guitarless band joined by drummer Erik Bodin, bassist Fredrik Wallin and keyboardist Hakan Wirenstrand. They've been friends since high-school and have since released three albums, self-titled debut Little Dragon (2007), Machine Dreams (2009) and Ritual Union (2011).
The band have had considerable success in the US, being picked up by radio station KCRW in Los Angeles. Last year they performed a headlining tour of the States which included a performance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. In June, their most recent single Sunshine premiered on Jon Stewart's The Daily Show.
The band is fresh off a tour where they supported The Red Hot Chili Peppers and played 15 festivals over the summer.
Although they haven't gone looking for collaborations, Little Dragon have participated in a considerable number over the last few years. They've worked with Gorillaz and with Dave Sitek from TV on the Radio. Nagano has featured on tracks with SBTRKT, DJ Shadow and Raphael Saadiq. Recently the band recorded with Big Boi from Outkast and feature on his new album.
Nagano says, "We all love music so much. I don't even keep up with all the different genres. If we hear something and it makes us feel good, we go for it. We haven't been actively looking for collaborations, but we've always been approached."
Their live performances take on a jazz-like approach, playing around with the structure of songs, so that no two performances are alike. "We don't totally freak-out, but definitely as a band that uses a lot of electronic sounds, like to improvise. A lot of bands these days get lazy. The beauty of the vulnerability of being live can easily disappear, so the improv is important. Not maybe as much as going crazy on solos, but rather the philosophy of jazz music of playing together and reaching that high. There are no mistakes, so why not try something different," Nagano says.
Bodin adds, "It's a challenge to sample and also bring freedom to the songs so that they can be played with. We love when people get entranced and freak-out."
Both Nagano and Bodin are huge fans of South African house music. Bodin's wife is South African and he proudly says that his daughters speak Sesotho. Nagano's message to their fans, "I'm on Twitter a lot and I can feel the super-positive vibe. My experience of SA has been very different, so I'm curious and excited about it. Hopefully people will be dancing, so bring your dancing shoes."
Though the band are nearing exhaustion from an intense touring schedule, they're excited to finally be able to play here. The plan for after South Africa, according to Nagano, is to play a few more shows, and fans should be excited to hear that they will then clamp down and start working on their fourth album.
Little Dragon perform Friday at the Old Biscuit Mill in Cape Town and Saturday at the MOAD in the Maboneng Precint in Johannesburg. The band will be supported by local artists Felix Laband, Christian Tiger School and Jakobsnake. Tickets available via Webtickets.