smow Song Contest 2018

Following smow Lisboa’s surprise victory in the 2017 smow Song Contest, the Portuguese capital is preparing to host the 2018 song contest: a contest being staged very much in context of the contemporary relevance of smow’s historic connections….

smow song contest 2018

As the anniversary of smow Lisboa’s victory approaches it remains as controversial and as unexpected as it was on that muggy evening back in May 2017: not least because there is no smow Lisboa. However, never ones to look a gift horse in the mouth the smow family needed no second bidding and gladly accepted the opportunity presented for a long weekend on the banks of the Tajo.

For the 63rd edition of the smow Song Contest the organising committee were inspired by the spirit of both smow’s Hanseatic parallels and Portugal’s seafaring tradition: the latter leading to the discovery of new lands and new understandings of the world, its resources and inhabitants, the former being based on a shared comprehension of the importance of networks, and of communicating on equal terms with those in far removed locations.

Thus for the 2018 smow Song Contest each smow location was asked to nominate a song by a band or artist born in the location’s oldest twin town; thereby underscoring the importance of international relationships, of building networks that transcend cultural, religious and man-made borders, of exploration and discovery, of moving outwith your comfort zone, of communication, of exchange, diversification, assimilation, appropriation, respect and all those other basics of a functioning civil global society.

While also offering the chance for some interesting additions to the menus at the now obligatory smow Song Contest parties.

The winner of the 2018 smow Song Contest will be decided in a Gala concert at the smow Blog Pop-Up Kontor in Lisbon on Saturday May 12th, but here a preview of the 11 entries.

smow Song Contest 2018

Berlin/Los Angeles, California: Jan & Dean – The little old lady from Pasadena

Berlin’s complex historical and geopolitical landscape posed a few very particular challenges for the smow Song Contest Selection Committee. For all the question, which Berlin? Quite aside from the East/West/Unified varieties smow Berlin is in the borough of Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf, which until 2001 was Charlottenburg and Wilmersdorf, smow Berlin being in the former Wilmersdorf. Thus depending on the Berlin chosen, the eldest twin town could have been Apeldoorn, Gladsaxe, Minden (Westfalen), Istanbul, Warsaw or Los Angeles.

OK, the choice wasn’t that difficult.

Berlin (West) has been twinned with Los Angeles since 1967, meaning they were there in the Summer of Love when the hippies took control of California, and have remained over the intervening decades as the Californian tech and lifestyle conglomerates founded by those self same hippies have increasingly taken control of our lives, turning in their wake western democracy into western corporatocracy.

Arguably as a reaction to such developments the Selection Committee choose a track from a time when all was still right with the Californian world, from a time when California was still cool.

Chemnitz/Tampere, Finland: Rauno Lehtinen – Tom Tom Tom

No, we don’t know either why in October 1961 the then Karl-Marx-Stadt twinned with Tampere in southern Finland. But they did. Possessed Tampere an over dimensional bust of Friedrich Engels, it would have made sense. But they don’t. What Tampere does however possess is its own genre of music: Manserock.

Arising in the 1970s Manserock is more a geographic definer than a stylistic one: Manserock bands ranging from, for example, the nihilistic post punk tones of Coitus Int over the rock ‘n’ roll of Mauri ”Moog” Konttinen and onto the glam of Alwari Tuohitorvi. However, despite being based in Tampere the majority of Manserock’s more interesting and important protagonists aren’t themselves from Tampere: unlike Rauno Lehtinen, a composer of a slightly older vintage, and one who, given the stylistic diversity of Manserock, could be considered a proto-Manserocker.

Cologne/Liverpool, England: Frankie Goes to Hollywood – Two Tribes

It is in many regards not only logical, but inevitable, that Liverpool and Cologne should be twinned: both being as they are cities where having a good time, celebrating and partying are considered less a way of life and more a daily necessity, a fundamental human right. And blindness to the fact that others may be of a different, justifiably contradictory, opinion, hereditary.

Yet while Cologne’s musical heritage is largely based on the never ending party ethos that pervades every sinew of the city, Liverpool has long been one of the most important city’s for UK music. Eschewing the likes of The Beatles, Atomic Kitten, The Farm or Julian Cope the Selection Committee opted for a song which not only sums up much about the city and its musical heritage, but also a song that 34 years after its release is more pertinent, contemporary and urgent that it ever was.

Düsseldorf/Reading, England: Slowdive – Star Roving

Although formally sealed in 1988 Düsseldorf’s relationships with Reading goes back to 1947, and thus is a relationship formed in context of the difficult, brave but essential process of repairing relationships following the Second World War.

Given its location on the edge of London, and reputation as a somewhat quiet provincial town, Reading is exactly the sort of city that should have produced untold musicians and helped revolutionise music. Yet hasn’t. In contrast, almost ironically, to Düsseldorf.

Which isn’t to say that Reading hasn’t produced any musicians, hasn’t produced anyone with their own understandings of composition, melody and instrumentation. It has. And with Slowdive the Selection Committee have chosen a Reading band who present a interpretation of stripped down minimalist music far removed from that developed by many of those bands who helped establish Düsseldorf’s musical tradition. A state of affairs which neatly proves twins need not be identical.

Frankfurt/Lyon, France: Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène, Pt. IV

Sandwiched between the wine regions of Côte du Rhône and Beaujolais, Lyon would appear a perfect match for Frankfurt am Main, a city not only with the wine regions of Rheingau and Rheinhessen to its west and that of Franken to its east, nor one which has its own vineyard producing its own wine, the Frankfurter Lohrberger Hang, but being as it is a city completely obsessed with its Ebbelwoi, Apple Wine.

And aside from good company, good food and good music, what makes a good wine, be it apple or grape, even more enjoyable? What helps develop the bouquet and bring out the nuances of the flavour, depth and character of the wine? Oxygène

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Hamburg/St Petersburg, Russia: Pinkshinyultrablast – The Cherry Pit

Ever since the Hanseatic Kaufleute first set sail down the Elbe, Hamburg has been one of region’s most important ports, and by extrapolation one of the region’s most important gateways to the world; consequently, it seems only fitting that in 1957, as the Cold War was getting even colder, the West German city should establish a formal relationship with the then Leningrad.

Sixty years later the decision appears most congruous in terms of the 2018 smow Song Contest: the Russian Imperial city being not only home to the likes of Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov or Rachmaninoff, but the birthplace of many of their compatriots, including Dmitri Shostakovich, Alexander Glazunov and Igor Stravinsky. Ignoring the obvious draw of such names, the Selection Committee went with something every bit as expansive, expressive, evocative as much of what the city’s great masters produced…. but with just a tick more reverb and feedback….

Kempten/Quiberon, Brittany: Bertrand Belin – Hypernuít

Formally the twin with Quiberon was arranged in 1971 by the village of Sankt Mang, before being taken on by Kempten following Sankt Mang’s assimilation in the course of the 1972 local government reorganisation; and although both Sankt Mang/Kempten and Quiberon can boast a Celtic origin there is otherwise very little that links the Breton peninsula community with the one at the foot of the Allgäuer Alpen. But then is that not one of the points of twinning? Vive la différence, und so weiter….

Given Sankt Mang/Kempten/Quiberon’s Celtic heritage there was an obvious temptation to select a Breton roots artist, and the responsible committee got stupidly overexcited when they discovered the band Ar Re Yaouank, established by two brothers from Quimper. Honestly, what are the chances!! But while Quimper is Breton, it is not Quiberon. And Breton music isn’t just that of a traditional bent nor that played using traditional instruments, it can also be cosmopolitan, contemporary ….. and from Quiberon.

Leipzig/Kiev, Ukraine: Valentin Silvestrov – Moments of Memory II: No. 5, Autumn Serenade

The good people of Leipzig obviously have a great need to travel, the city having the most twin towns of any smow location, the oldest of which is the Ukrainian capital Kiev.

The connection between Leipzig and Kiev however goes even further back than the 1961 twining agreement and can be dated to the Via Regia, a Middle Ages trade route which linked Spain, France and Flanders with Russia, Ukraine, Poland, passing through Leipzig as it did and which served as a major competitor to the Baltic See trade routes, and ultimately played a role in the demise of the Hanse.

Given its location and history it can be no surprise that traditional folk music is particularly prevalent in the Ukraine, the Selection Committee however decided for an artist who although a proud Ukrainian, and who as a leading protagonist of the so-called Kiev Avant-garde of the 1960s was a thorn in the sides of the then Russian authorities, creates music anything but traditional.

Munich/Edinburgh, Scotland: Young Fathers – Toy

While it is natural to assume that the relationship between the Bavarian and Scottish capitals was based on a shared tradition of brewing, beer consumption, and/or misappropriating the culture of nearby mountain communities for their own ends, it was a lot more wholesome: the first plans for exchanges being educational, forged as they were by the cities’ schools in 1954, and quickly taken on by local politicians and developed into a much wider twinning agreement.

Although historically a city of literature, art and science, music has always been important in Edinburgh and musicians from the city have been essential for the development of music in Scotland; and with their choice of three of Edinburgh’s younger guns/fathers, the Selection Committee underscores that the city remain musically relevant.

Stuttgart/St Helens, England: Siouxsie and the Banshees – Spellbound

Given the glaring disparity between Stuttgart and St Helens a twinning arrangement between the two appears most odd; however, when understood in context of post-War reconciliation is a fine example of how a city twinning can be more than just about economic ties but also through friendship and cultural exchange help overcome borders, prejudices, hostility.

While strong on Beechams Powders and Pilkington Glass St Helens is less rich in musicians, or at least those who have established themselves individually, does however boast a few who found fame with non-St Helensians, including Peter Edward Clarke a.k.a Budgie, who as drummer and songwriter with bands such as The Slits, The Creatures and Siouxsie and the Banshees is and was one of the most important post punk new wave protagonists.

Villingen-Schwenningen/Pontarlier, France: Rod Barthet – Les Étoiles exactement

As with Berlin Villingen-Schwenningen’s history, and for all the fact that until 1972 it was Villingen and Schwenningen, made choosing the earliest twin difficult. Not least because unlike Berlin Villingen-Schwenningen isn’t twinned with Los Angeles. And so, given that smow Schwarzwald is in Villingen, Vilingen’s eldest twin was chosen: Pontarlier

Situated in the Jura mountains, some 20 kilometres from the Swiss border and 50 kilometres from La Chaux-de-Fonds where a certain Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris was born, Pontarlier is arguably best known as the birthplace of Pernod and as one of Europe’s largest centres of absinthe production. Until the French banned absinthe in 1915. Thus, whereas once over 20 distilleries could be found in Pontarlier producing annually some 100,000 hectolitres of absinthe, today it just five, producing considerably less.

For the 2018 smow Song Contest the Selection Committee overlooked the green of Pontarlier’s most famous product, choosing instead music of a different hue. Blue(s)

The smow Song Contest 2018 playlist, and all smow playlists, can be found on the smow Spotify page.

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