The perfect city for music (except for the terrible jazz)

Swede music: Stockholm jazz bar.
Swede music: Stockholm jazz bar. Photo: Ben Groundwater

I want to like jazz, I really do. I fancy the idea of being an aficionado of the genre, of hanging out in dark bars wearing a cool hat and listening to cats playing tunes as the night cruises by. That's what I should be doing tonight in Stockholm.

Enjoying it. The bar is dark and cool, no doubt about that. It's a tiny little place near the downtown area, the Glenn Miller Cafe, one of the Swedish capital's handful of excellent jazz bars.

I'd arrived early, while the summer sun still shone outside, grabbing a space at the tiny bar and ordering some food, smoked salmon with a caper cream sauce.

Around me, the place had slowly filled up with Stockholm's hardy jazz fans, Swedes young and old who filled the tables and began to crowd the meagre floor space as we waited for the band to perform.

Now the time finally comes - there's an all-female six-piece on stage, a group of saxophonists and pianists and drummers and bassists. They pause for a second, shyly introduce themselves in Swedish, and then begin with the jazz. Well, some kind of jazz. Maybe contemporary jazz, I'm not sure. But to this philistine it sounds like six people playing completely different songs, before they all miraculously end up on the same climactic note five or six minutes later. It's a racket.

OK, so I'm not a jazz fan. Probably never will be. But that doesn't mean I'm not having fun in Stockholm. I'm on something of a musical pilgrimage here, visiting the homeland of so many bands I love. The jazz band is a bit of a failure, but at least I tried.

And I'm not here for ABBA, either, before you ask.

It might be 40 years since Sweden's ultimate pop stars won the Eurovision Song Contest and launched themselves to fame, but that's not the pilgrimage for this guy. You can keep the ABBA Museum; you can save the sing-along musicals.

This is a country with a history of popular music far stronger than a single act. It stretches back decades, through great (and sometimes kitschy) pop and rock acts to be proud of - Roxette, Ace of Base, Peter Bjorn and John, The Hives, The Cardigans, Jose Gonzalez - to plainly terrible but inexplicably popular acts that they shouldn't be telling anyone about - Rednex, Avicii.

I'm in Stockholm to check out the modern scene, to see if music still makes the city go around.

Glenn Miller Cafe was my first stop, an attempt to soak up the cool atmosphere while getting into a genre of music that's so popular in this city. The punters were friendly and the salmon was good, but contemporary jazz, it seems, isn't my thing.

Rock is my thing. I've long been a fan of Sweden's indie acts, these cool bands who seem to be able to pen English lyrics far better than most native speakers could.

So on my second night in Stockholm I'm heading to Sodermalm, the trendy southern island of the nation's capital, to check out the rock scene.

My destination is a tiny little basement bar called the Cavern, set under an Irish pub on the eastern side of Sodermalm.

This is more like it. It's a cramped little space filled with mohawked but still very polite Swedes in denim vests and tight jeans. The band is a four-piece punk act that it's almost impossible to see over all the mohawks.

The sound is loud; the beer is flowing. This is good.

I walk out with new confidence that the Stockholm music scene is exactly what I'd been hoping for.

Night three and I'm out and about again, and in Sodermalm, once again. It's a cold evening tonight, and darkness has set in as I round a corner at the waterfront and spot Debaser, one of the city's premier indie rock venues.

Tonight, I'm checking out the cutting edge of Swedish cool, bands no one has ever heard of, acts that dress like Boy George and croon falsetto ballads over keyboard riffs to uninterested punters who are too busy checking each other out in the dark. OK, it's not that ridiculous but there are some great outfits and the bands do take themselves very seriously.

This is the scene that spawned the likes of Jose Gonzalez, The Tallest Man on Earth and First Aid Kit. Live indie rock is being played in hundreds of venues all over Sweden tonight and it's the perfect way to while away an evening, clutching a plastic cup of beer and listening to great songs.

This is where the music I love began - it's nice to see its origins. And of course, it's nice to be away from the contemporary jazz.

Would you travel half the globe for the perfect music scene? Where would you go?

Email: b.groundwater@fairfaxmedia.com.au

Instagram: instagram.com/bengroundwater

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