Musical Road Trip Part 2: Western Europe: The Chainsmokers, Imagine Dragons and more

, by Juuso Järviniemi

Musical Road Trip Part 2: Western Europe: The Chainsmokers, Imagine Dragons and more
Photo by Yann Caradec. Licence: CC BY-SA 2.0

In The New Federalist’s summer series, Juuso Järviniemi tours across Europe by entering European capitals’ names in the Spotify search box. Having come across gloomy rap, calm guitar sounds, hardcore and death metal in the Mediterranean, he continues the journey in Western Europe. You can read the previous part here.

Andorra la Vella: The City on Film – Andorra la Vella (2014)

As far as Spotify can tell, the small Catalan-speaking town in the Pyrenees has precisely one song to its name: Andorra la Vella is the final track of the “La Vella” album by the American rock artist Bob Nanna, whose solo project is called The City on Film. The downbeat acoustic song features introspective lyrics and memories from the “random tiny haven high up in the mountains”. Yet another reminder that wherever you are strolling in the streets, the places around you are a site of many memories. Who knows, maybe you just walked by a place where someone had their first kiss, or got that one idea that changed their life? And indeed, at 1,023 metres, Andorra la Vella is the highest capital city in Europe.

Monaco: MKTO – Monaco (2015)

While Andorra la Vella is a random tiny haven you must discover yourself, Monaco is the more famous and glamorous of the two micro-states neighbouring France, as demonstrated by the dozens of songs dedicated to the town. The pop/rap song by the American MKTO duo, clearly made with radio playlists in mind, matches well with the town’s glossy mainstream reputation. “I’ll go wherever you go / Chase you through the streets of Monaco” is a fitting start for a light love song, but I can’t help thinking that the artists missed an opportunity to follow an unexpected path and make a touching tribute to the Formula 1 Monaco Grand Prix.

Paris: The Chainsmokers – Paris (2017)

By far the most listened-to song, with over 800 million streams, is one that you could not avoid hearing if you went to shopping centres two years ago: Paris by The Chainsmokers. While most of us have heard the song at a house party or while buying new jeans, it is meant to convey a sadder story. The artists themselves explained that the song is about a friend’s drug addiction, while Paris in the story represents a romanticised place where all is okay. Have a think about that the next time you go to an H&M.

Dublin: Luke Kelly – Dublin In The Rare Auld Times

This classic nostalgic song from the 1970s has been performed by multiple Irish artists. One popular version is credited to Luke Kelly, singer of The Dubliners, and can be found on “The Best Ever Collection of Irish Pub Songs”. That alone is enough to tell we’re talking authentic Ireland from start to finish. The song is the life story of a former cooper (barrel-maker) who lost everything: his lover to another man, his birth home and profession to the winds of change, and the Dublin of his youth to “the great unyielding concrete” and “the new glass cages that spring up the quay”. The recent referenda on abortion and same-sex marriage have shown how Irish society is still changing rapidly – if you ever come across an Irishman who would rather go back in time, why not ask him to sing out his feelings?

Reykjavik: Joachim Pastor – Reykjavik (2015)

If our eyes were set on the past in Dublin, in Reykjavik we’re getting modern tunes with a relaxed track from the French DJ Joachim Pastor. After listening, I’m left questioning why the track is called Reykjavik, however. The sounds made me think of a terrace chillout by the sea as the sunset turns into a dark but mellow and temperate night – not of thick grey clouds, northern Atlantic wind and the fishing boats I saw in Reykjavik on my one-day layover on my way back from New York in 2016. Maybe it’s just me who has missed out on the true Icelandic beach party experience.

London: Young Thug feat. J. Cole & Travis Scott – The London (2019)

Like Paris, London offers some other promising candidates, such as London Calling by The Clash. Yet, the 444 million Spotify listens for Young Thug’s hit from last year easily outdo the 157 million for The Clash, which seems embarrassing considering that Young Thug is not even rapping about the British capital, but about a hotel in California. For sure, it is not unjustified that we would end up with rap music in the UK, given that London has one of the most vibrant rap scenes in Europe. Still, at a time when Brexit Britain is desperately looking across the Atlantic for friendship, Spotify is offering us a reminder that from an American perspective, the UK isn’t as important as Brits would like to think. I wonder what Young Thug thinks of chlorinated chicken.

Amsterdam: Imagine Dragons – Amsterdam (2012)

The Dutch capital also gets its soundtrack from an American band, with a song from the debut album of Imagine Dragons. The story of the song confirms Amsterdam’s status as one of Western Europe’s idolised major capitals: the band had never visited the city before writing the song, but decided to improvise based on the image they had about it. With a song that has often featured on my nightly bus journey playlists, their vision of Amsterdam sounds more like calm canals than like wild nightlife.

Brussels: Underworld – Brussels (2019)

Brussels by the British electronic music group Underworld would be another suitable addition to an overnight travel playlist, with its soothing and repetitive vocals and drumbeats. Indeed, the group’s unofficial music video for the track is captured by the dash cam of a car driving on a dark motorway. For fanatic EU-watchers, the lyric about “The art of conversation” unmistakably references the never-ending all-night conversations that leaders hold in the European Council – whether or not the artists themselves would agree with the interpretation. Apart from that, though, the sounds don’t take the listener to the Brussels EU quarter, but a couple of kilometres towards the west, to the small outdoor summer parties held on weekend afternoons in Parc de Bruxelles.

Luxembourg: Coco Bans – Luxembourg (2020)

We’re welcomed in Luxembourg by a new single from the American singer Allyson Ezell, also known as Coco Bans. Though originally from Iowa, she now lives in Paris, and sings in both English and French. While Eurobubble people might find Luxembourg dull and far-removed from the social life of Brussels or even Strasbourg, the character in Coco Bans’s song believes his dreams may come true there. Or at least he did. Maybe he realised that he was wrong when he found himself sitting alone in the office at 8:30pm on a Friday night.

Bern: Serge Isaak – Bern (2020)

During the Mediterranean stage of our tour, we were introduced to Nicosia by an artist with just six monthly listeners. The Swiss capital city suffers a similar fate with Serge Isaak, an artist who released his debut album on Spotify this June. By clicking on the instrumental “Bern” track, I became Serge Isaak’s 58th monthly listener. I must admit that I would struggle to name any place or thing related to Bern, and the vapid two-minute track from a mysterious faceless artist did not teach me anything more. Switzerland is still waiting for an artist to give a face and sound to its capital – feel free to drop me a message if you decide to write a song about Bern.

Vaduz: Da Vosk Docta – Vaduz (2017)

Not even Vaduz, Liechtenstein is too small for a song: of multiple options, Spotify suggests a 2017 recording from the Polish electronic music producer Da Vosk Docta. Vaduz can make for atmospheric listening when you’re walking alone at night under yellowish street lights, but I’m not sure if you have many environments like that in a small Alpine town of 5,000 people. Having never visited, I might be wrong, though!

We will continue towards the north in the third part of our series. Until then, tell us which of today’s tracks was your favourite by sharing your thoughts on our Facebook page or tagging us on Twitter!

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