It’s a funny phrase, ‘effortlessly cool’. Think of any awe-inspiring artist, from Beyoncé to The Knife, and you’ll find that they’ve put a lifetime of work into looking, sounding and acting on point. No matter what the ’90s might have taught you, no one ever became cool by being a slacker.
Swedish four-piece Little Dragon are a prime example. For almost two decades, since vocalist Yukumi Nagano met her future bandmates at high school in Gothenburg, they’ve been working hard on their sensuous mixture of trip hop, downbeat electronica and R&B. They’ve collaborated with everyone from Damon Albarn and Big Boi to SBTRKT and DJ Shadow. They’ve released three albums that have made them, little by little, a force to be reckoned with. And now, with album number four, their time might have come at last.
‘Nabuma Rubberband’ is a consummate masterpiece: dramatic, relentlessly innovative, brilliantly understated, impeccably produced and often head-spinningly sexy. Huge, squelchy synth riffs and galloping crashes on ‘Klapp Klapp’ give way to the skipping percussion and ice-cool vocals of ‘Underbart’. The seductive ‘Only One’ goes deeper and deeper, before turning into a full-on techno track and dissolving into static. Album closer ‘Let Go’, meanwhile, is a proper banger-in-disguise, the sort that’d be a huge international hit if it wasn’t so intelligently produced. Effortlessly cool? No: this is what it sounds like when 18 years of hard work pay off spectacularly.
In case you didn’t know, Scandinavia is cool right now. The food, the fashion, the facial hair – plus the Vikings have invaded the British Museum. All we need next is a healthy economy, a reliable public transport system and a sense of social justice, and London will be indistinguishable from Oslo. Meanwhile in Hackney, there’s yet another Northern European-inspired incursion. Or apparently so: the website claims this bar-restaurant-club draws on ‘a Nordic aesthetic’, although it’s not immediately obvious within. Oslo occupies the previously deserted old Hackney rail station and takes on a bit of a railway theme with its luggage-rack lighting, plus there are industrial stylings that give the whole place a Janet Jackson ‘Rhythm Nation’ video feel. The restaurant part is rather fancy, its food incorporating a few of the forages, pickles, jellies and marinations of New Nordic cooking. The kitchen is regularly given over to guest chefs, and you have to book – it’s always heaving. Eat in the bar and the food is more straightforward. Where once the standard snack in pubs was a toastie, sausage roll or pork pie, now it’s the slider or fried chicken. These are served alongside frankly obscene portions of chips, slathered with the likes of cured bacon fat and bacon salt, or braised oxtail, gravy and cheese. There’s a commendable range of craft beers from the vicinity, including a couple from Five Points Brewing just five minutes up the road at the Downs.Head upstairs and you’ll find a
Venue says: “Join us every Thursday night until late for Soul Soul Soul – a night of vinyl appreciation with DJs playing soul, funk, disco and more.”