Madrugada have all the odds against them. They are four traditionalists, base their music on minor-key melodiousness, and are diametrically opposed to the current climate of designer pop artists, PR-controlled pop phenomena and TV-promoted one-day wonders. Their anxiety-ridden music is inspired by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Gun Club, R. E. M., a little of The Doors, a dash of Roy Orbison and a spot of Chris Isaak. Their style is special thanks to a mixture of traditional methods, such as changes of tempo and crescendi, and dynamic, varied mood images that are maintained with unusual authority and intensity – not forgetting vocalist Sivert Høyem, whose voice reveals a register of emotions we thought had been buried with the icons of this genre.
They come from a small town in northern Norway but were forced to move to Oslo to realise their musical ambitions. From there they toured the country several times, gradually building up a base of fans. Both their EPs, Madrugada and No Depression, rose surprisingly high on the Norwegian charts, while the album Industrial Silence went straight to no. 1 and became one of the biggest-selling hits in Norway in 1999. It is still possible to build up a career in the old way, consciously establishing a name and reputation by touring constantly and focusing on the artistic rather than the commercial aspect. They are now using the same method in the rest of Europe, where, in one country after another, they first do gigs in clubs with room for audiences of 80-100 then advance to clubs twice that size six months later. They have plenty of time and patience because the music is the most important thing.
Madrugada’s music belongs among high-rise buildings, cold feelings, impersonal machines and persecuted people, or in dramatic landscapes where human beings become as small as grains of sand and the immensity pursues you, never allowing you to rest. It’s good to hear a group that boycotts apathy and even plays interesting guitar solos and expresses tender, sorrowful feelings to produce constructive soulfulness.
The background influences are from country, soul, 60s psychedelia, blues and gospel, but through Madrugada’s self-assured minor-key filter they are expressed in gloomy contemporary theatre. And the group knows all about theatre. The echoes and twangs of the guitar are traditional 60s effects which, in conjunction with vocalist Høyem’s Orwellian intensity, convince you that he is not just singing about literary, theoretical alienation but is in the midst of it, bringing to life all the concerns that invade the mind of post-millennium man. Happy music? No, but it’s beautiful.
Madrugada is a brave, mature group; brave because this is demanding material at odds with barometers of current taste and, not least, because it must be frustrating to constantly be compared with deceased musicians such as Jim Morrison and Roy Orbison; mature, because this repertoire demands so much more than just musical transfer and because the music is of a type that is difficult to isolate from the performers. Best of all, the band knows that it is brave and mature.
Madrugada is on the road in Europe and equally busy in the recording studio to live up to people’s expectations and confirm their first impressions. Four young boys from the land of the midnight sun promise a Spanish blue hour – and keep their promise.