For one week in July over the past 31 years, the small Swedish community of Malung swells from its normal 5,000 inhabitants to almost 15,000. As the host of the annual music festival Dansbandsveckan (the dance band week) the town becomes a hotspot for Scandinavian partner dance enthusiasts with a knack for jitterbug and foxtrot. The dansband genre bears influences from schlager, country, rock'n'roll, as well as Swedish folk music. The lyrics are often simple, focusing on love, dancing and friendship, and actively avoid subversive and controversial subjects.
Dansband is passionately hated by people who don't enjoy the music and aren't into partner dancing. For decades it has been branded as lame and geeky, with the idea being that only uncultured hicks and old people get off on dansband music, that events like Dansbandsveckan are just a retreat for people who are perpetually unlucky in their fashion choices. The average age at Dansbandsveckan is way higher than at most music festivals, which was especially apparent at opening ceremony when the old, English, soft rock band Smokie played before a sea of white scalps.
However, there are young dansband fans and young dansband performers in this senior realm, and I set out to ask them why they love dansband so much and why this genre is getting so much flak.
Christoffer, 27, Philip, 24, David, 24, and Matz, 33
VICE: Hi guys! You are the youngest performers at this festival. What's that like?
Philip: It was strange before, but [being a young dansband musician] has become more common.
David: Young bands usually play more modern music, a little harder, a little more rock. We play mature [a genre within dansband music] and that's not very common.
Did you know what kind of audiences you'd attract with this type of music when you started out?
Christoffer: Yes, but it depends on where you play. At some venues everyone in the audience is aged 60 or older, at others people are around 35 and 40.
How many in the audience would you say are your own age?
Philip: Not that many – because we play mature. Possibly a few on the cruises we have shows at, at private parties, and here maybe.
How many gigs are you doing this year?
Christoffer: Around 70 or 75. To live off of it we'd need 130 to 140 gigs a year, so we have jobs on the side now. But we've been basically doing it full time up until now.
David: If you want to make money as a band then dansband is the way.
Do you get any groupies – sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll, and all that?
Matz: None of that, we get coffee and cake.
Christoffer: Well, we do get to write a few autographs occasionally.
Eddie, 28, Niklas, 28 and Camilla, 25.
VICE: Hi! What are you here for?
Niklas: The dancing.
Do you have to like dansband music to come here?
Niklas: No, but it is better if you do. There seems to be quite a wide variety of bands here with different styles, some are more country, some are more rock, some are more pop. To someone new they might seem similar, but it's generally varied.
How were you introduced to the music?
Niklas: I grew up with dansband and have always liked it. I got it from my parents. I didn't think it was something that my generation appreciated but it's much bigger than you'd think.
Camilla: I also heard it through my parents, but it wasn't until much later that I discovered how much fun it is.
A lot of people outside of the dansband culture seem to think that it's a bit lame.
Camilla: There's nothing lame about dansband, it's an interest like everything else. Those who don't like it only have themselves to blame because they are missing out on something really good.
Niklas: You have to see the difference – either you're in a club, shitfaced and getting handsy with someone, or you can be dancing and meet new friends. I've only danced a year and a half and everybody is extremely nice and helpful. Dansband and dance nights are a hundred times better than the club.
VICE: Hi! Why did you come to Dansbandsveckan?
Jim: It's a big party. Everybody is just so nice and happy. We listen a lot to dansband music and go dancing on the weekends so when we heard that Dansbandsveckan was a lot of fun, we decided to go and had a blast.
Is dancing the main reason you're here?
Jim: No, not for us. I'm very interested in American 50's rock n roll. This is the closest you get. You hear people say that dansband is geeky, but I think you either love it or hate it.
Anton: Dansband is fucking sweet.
VICE: Have you been here before?
Maria: This is my sixth time.
Jozsef: It's my third year here.
What brings you here?
Maria: It's one of the most fun weeks of the year. It's got everything and I love dancing.
Jozsef: It's fun, and my band was invited to play here.
What do you love about dansband music?
Maria: Well, I like these modern dansbands because they mix in a lot of other styles – rock, music from the 80's, and old dansband music.
Jozsef: I was asked to join the band. I hadn't played it before but it's a very modern dansband, so we play a lot of rock and pop, too.
VICE: Hi! Are you dansband festival veterans?
Josefin: It's my sixth year. I come for the people, the atmosphere, and to dance.
Daniel: This is my second year. I have been dancing for eight years though.
Do you guys get asked to dance a lot?
Daniel: Yeah, it happens on certain days and when you're sober, or you're both drunk, that works too. You have to be on the same level.
Josefin: You have to be a little active yourself and make eye contact with people.
What do you think about the age gap between you and many of the visitors here?
Josefin: The dance culture fosters openness, to engage with people of all ages, and to not decline an invitation to dance. We hang out with all kinds of people, age doesn't matter.
These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.
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