Stockholm is one of the world capitals of music but isn't just living on ABBA fame. As Brian Johnston discovers, its live music scene is better than ever.
For all Stockholm's many delights, I must admit the first place I visited was the city's ABBA Museum. I might even have boogied on its flashing dance floor. And played onstage with the four famous pop singers – or at least their holograms. If a 1970s kitsch-filled stroll down memory lane sounds like a good thing, ABBA The Museum (abbathemuseum.com/en) won't disappoint. It has it all: gold records, outrageous costumes, glittering guitars and a recreation of the studio that launched a dozen hits.
ABBA may rank with Ikea and Volvo as an iconic Swedish export, but add Roxette, Ace of Base, The Cardigans and top music writers and producers and you have a country that packs a punch in the modern music scene. Stockholm remains one of Europe's best cities for live music, and is home to a swathe of internationally renowned house-music DJs such as Steve Angello, Alesso and Avicii, often headlining at local nightclubs. Go out after dark in Stockholm and you're in for good times.
Grab a copy of What's On in your hotel lobby for the latest on live acts. Big international names hit town in summer and play at Globe Arena (globearenas.se/en), the white spherical stadium that looks like a James Bond villain's lair. Adjacent small venue Annexet has a more intimate atmosphere and tends to rock acts and electronic music groups.
Large clubs congregate around Stureplan (stureplansgruppen.se/en), the big square in the city centre. Many are upscale, such as glamorous venue Spy Bar (stureplansgruppen.se/en/nightlife/spy-bar), past the peak of its fame but still a hangout of choice for Stockholm's glitterati. Start with a cocktail in its Pink Room before hitting the dance floor, where top DJs spin the music. Alternatively, the DJs are also great in the basement of Berns Salonger (http://www.berns.se/en), haunt of creative types. The ballroom above is a terrific live-music venue that has seen gigs by everyone from Diana Ross (in 1968) to Rihanna (2012). Up next: British indie idol Jake Bugg this November.
If you're a fan of jazz and blues, fold yourself into the compact Glenn Miller Café (glennmillerprogram.se)and tuck into French bistro food as guitars twang and clarinets wail. It offers consistently good – often improvised – live music nearly every evening. Around the corner is concert venue Nalen (nalen.com). It was particularly influential on the music scene between the 1930s and 1960s but still provides a whole range of good live music.
Perhaps surprisingly in this cold climate, jazz flourishes. You can expect international and local jazz acts alike to turn up at Fasching (fasching.se/english), where you get a great view of the stage from the dinner tables. Once the bands have finished, DJs take over with world music, retro-soul and R&B. There's a cool, laidback vibe and great mix of people. Over in the old town, Stampen (stampen.se) is another great jazz and blues venue, with live performances nightly and a weekly blues jam session. The audience is older and the venue more touristy, perhaps because of its location, but the music is nearly always top quality.
For a more bohemian, indie nightlife, head on across the old town to the southern district of Södermalm, the other big epicentre of Stockholm clubs. First stop Debaser Medis (debaser.se), the city's most renowned indie club, located inside a former distillery and still rough around its industrial edges. It leans towards rock but also features punk and electronica, and Fridays can be rather pop-ish. With several stages at this venue, there can often be a musical choice, however. In the early evening, gigs from up-and-coming bands are free, and it's best to come early anyway to avoid queues to get in.
Another great Södermalm venue is Södra Teatern (sodrateatern.com/in-english), sitting on a rise with a fine view over the old town from its terrace, on which you'll find a great bar. Stockholm's oldest theatre – its main hall is decorated in green and gold 1850s velvet – Södra has a variety of both inside and outside stages and is often referred to by locals as Mosebacke from the name of one of them. Expect rock groups, indie bands, folk acts, even the odd poetry reading; international luminaries such as James Blake, Coldplay and the Red Hot Chili Peppers have all performed here.
A final port of call ought to be the lively Pet Shop Bar (psb.bar), legendary indie rock venue in the 1980s and 1990s that has now reduced its name to mere initials. These days, PSB features punk, disco, soul, folk, Brit pop and everything in between, especially on open-mic nights. Who knows, you may just hear the next Swedish pop group about to hit the big time.
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