Musical Road Trip Part 1: Guitar sounds and hardcore beats in the Mediterranean

, by Juuso Järviniemi

Musical Road Trip Part 1: Guitar sounds and hardcore beats in the Mediterranean
Live music in the middle of Athens, Greece. User:Ggia [Creative Commons License 3.0 Share-Alike]

As a Finnish schlager song from 1976 says, “every human being is worth a song”. [1] The same could undoubtedly be said about European cities. Some are serenely romantic, others youthfully bustling, while still others are ruthlessly grey. What’s certain is that they all have a unique feel to them, and that some creative soul somewhere has condensed these sensations into music.

Now that unpredictable quarantine requirements, grounded airplanes and a slight fear of death are keeping us from travelling, allowing soundwaves to take us into another place seems like a solid option. So one evening, as Nordic summer rain was pouring behind the window, I decided to lie down in bed, put on my earphones, and start entering the names of European capitals in the Spotify search box.

Can a Spotify tour of Europe do justice to the diversity of this continent? Which country’s capital has inspired the best music? By creating a brand new account, did I do enough to ensure that the app’s algorithms don’t keep exclusively suggesting trashy dance-pop songs based on my prior listening history? Let the search results speak for themselves!

Athens: MASN – Athens (2018)

In Europe, everything famously started from Greece. If Athens makes you think of an ancient civilisation whose influence continues to this day, Spotify’s interpretation is pretty much the exact opposite. The top result for Athens is a gloomy, mumbly rap track by MASN, a 19-year-old American artist who went viral on TikTok with another track, “Psycho!”, in 2019. Millennia of history collide with contemporary teenager culture which I, at age 24, am already too old to properly understand. At least you can never grow too old to delve into the safely static and unchanging wonders of ancient Greece.

Nicosia: Oliver Haines & Max Walker – Nicosia (2020)

While the artist behind Athens was, at least I presume, famous amongst TikTok teenagers, the duo that takes us to Cyprus seems entirely unknown. At fewer than 1,000 listens for the song, and six monthly listeners on Oliver Haines’s artist profile, I may be among the first in the world to hear the two-minute instrumental track that begins with dark, menacing tunes but develops into upbeat guitar riffs. The creepy album cover features an almost Banksy-like drawing of a hooded figure blending into a grey stone wall – with some imagination, perhaps reminding you of Nicosia’s famous city walls dating back to the 16th century.

Valletta: Ken Smith - Valletta (2019)

Jumping westwards, it indeed seems that the sound of the Mediterranean islands is instrumental guitar music. The quietly melancholic solo by the British guitarist Ken Smith topped the search results for Valletta. Malta has a rich nightlife (as I would know, having been to the 2017 JEF Congress), but the song rather channels the quiet moments of sunset by the sea. Perhaps the owner of a Maltese beach bar can listen to this song while wistfully gazing at the deep-blue sea, quietly whispering to himself to ask when the tourists will come back.

Rome: Dermot Kennedy – Rome (2019)

With the Irish singer Dermot Kennedy’s ballad, Rome fulfils its reputation as one of Europe’s capitals for lovers. The story’s couple is breaking up, but one of their fond memories is from “Rome below us that day”. (Who knows, maybe they were in Rome to attend the 2017 March For Europe.) With a song from an album that hit #1 on the British and Irish charts last year, Rome has by far the best-known song to its name from our tour so far – hardly surprising, given that Rome was Europe’s third-most visited city last year, behind London and Paris.

San Marino: Vikingarna – San Marino (1977)

With that being said, you don’t need to be a world-famous city for someone well-known to sing about you. There are a good handful of songs out there named after San Marino, and the favourite of Spotify – a Swedish-made app – comes from the Swedish group Vikingarna (“Vikings”). The dansband, first founded in 1958, has sold more than 11 million albums in Nordic countries, and entertained innumerable middle-aged couples in dance halls on idyllic cool summer evenings. The vikings dedicate the song to describing the beauty of San Marino, which they “never want to forget”. A travel advertisement doesn’t get better than this – kanske ses vi nästa år! [2]

Vatican: Sepultura – The Vatican (2013)

Of different musical genres, it is metal music that discusses religious themes the most keenly. Quite accordingly, the soundtrack of our musical trip to the Vatican is death metal from the legendary Brazilian band Sepultura. Though Saint Peter’s Basilica is impressive, the band has nothing positive to say about the city: the opening lines, “A bloody revolution in the name and the love of Christ / Sadistic pedophile, abusers of lies and lust”, say it all. It you prefer sun, calm and good vibes, it’s better to stay in San Marino!

Madrid: Angerfist & Miss K8 – Madrid (2020)

As we cross the sea to Spain, I return to the question of algorithms: namely, I’ve spent a fair amount of time listening to both Angerfist and Miss K8 on my main Spotify account. Like the name “Angerfist” and the ice hockey mask covering the artist’s face would suggest, though, the music is far from bubblegum-tasting dance-pop – rather, it falls under the genre of hardcore. The electronic music track hits the listener’s eardrums at 180 beats per minute, mixing inspiring pep talk with shouts of “MADRID!” and “HARDCORE!”. It’s not just algorithms, though: both of the artists are among the best-known in their genre, and Madrid is among their newest releases.

Lisbon: Slim & The Beast – Lisbon (2019)

After paedophilia in the Vatican and hardcore in Madrid, Lisbon takes us back to sunshine with a song from the folk rock band Slim & The Beast. The lyrics are perfectly fitting for a trip of Europe made from a bed partly covered in cat hair: “Every time I close my eyes, it’s only getting closer / Blue and yellow paradise, fifty different shades of you”. The blue and the yellow might refer to the sun and the ocean, but interpreting them as a veiled reference to the Treaty of Lisbon seems just as plausible if you ask me.

In the next part, we will continue north, towards Western Europe – stay tuned! Which of the songs from this article was your favourite? Share your thoughts on our Facebook page, or by tagging us on Twitter!


[1Jokainen ihminen on laulun arvoinen” by Veikko Lavi.

[2A lyric from the chorus; Swedish for “maybe we will see each other next year”.

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