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Interview: I Am Karate

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It’s about time we acknowledge the truest of truths: the Swedes are just very very good at making pop music.

Slowly but surely over the decades, the Nordic pop protagonists (Robyn, Lykke Li, Tove Lo...And yes, ABBA) have sneaked their way into our charts and our hearts, and 2018 is no different. Next up in the line for European domination is sensational electronic duo I Am Karate. We had a chat with frontwomen Erika Ahlström and Marta Pettersson, who certainly champion their country’s pumping creative scene.

“Sweden is full of über-talented people making music, and you can learn so much if you reach out.Marta tells us. “Everyone is so ambitious and hard working and it rubs off on you.

It certainly rubbed off on this pair. After a chance musical encounter in 2014, native Swedes Erika and Marta decided to start a band together and thus, I Am Karate was born. The girls kicked off their journey together with a self-released, self-titled EP and two singles ‘Elevate’ and ‘Bitter’ - both recognisable for their uplifting harmonies and daring electronic playfulness. In 2016, they were nominated Best Unsigned Act in GAFFA Magazine, signed to Universal Music and their dizzying, sultry single ‘Swayze’ was spotted on The Times Essential Tracks list.

Erika harks the pair’s musical influences back to two giant female presences in the pop space - and who (since their slew of singles releases) they’ve been likened to by fans and critics alike. “Robyn is like the pop queen of Sweden...And Grimes is an inspiration because even if she makes great pop songs she always stays quirky and special. That really reminds you to be bold and keep the weird stuff when you write or produce a song!”

While their modern influences are very much in tune with one another, there are some distinct differences in their early musical upbringings. For Marta, her early childhood consisted of The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. “My own first record was The Cardigans “Long Before Daylight”...I was obsessed with Nina Perssons voice. I could sit for hours and sing with her even though I didn’t understand the lyrics.” But, like a true pop princess, ‘Lucky’ by Britney held a special place in her heart.

Erika, on the other hand, got a taste of something a little bit different. “It’s a bit embarrassing to say ‘cause I don’t have a first album with like Bob Dylan or The Beatles. Mine is a real tacky Hindu-imitating Swedish guy called Dr. Bombay. Can’t get the lyrics out of your head mind once you’ve heard them: “Caaalcuttaaaa, I am a taxi driver in, Calcuuttaaaaa…”

Shoot forward a few years to the mind-busting year that is 2018, Erika and Marta have put a firm stamp on UK and European audiences, with two explosive new singles ‘Expectations’ and ‘News’. ‘News’, on the surface, glimmers with hope; it’s a frantic but fun chase to the spotlight. But Marta tells us that, for the first time, there’s much more to this dancefloor-filler than at first glance.

“When we wrote [News] we had a pretty clear picture of a person in mind, a character who will do whatever it takes to shine in the spotlight at whatever (Instagram, work, etc) and is kind of one-dimensional in her thinking. She doesn’t think about the consequences of what she is doing, she gladly throws herself off a roof if it means she can get people's attention. And today I think many people are acting more or less like the main character in the song, and it’s unusual for us to write a song that is kind of poking on a state of mind of our generation.”

Even after digging deep into the lyrics, ‘News’ exploits ticking hi-hats and a bouncy, tropical rhythm for the perfect dance anthem. Marta and Erika’s airy, floating vocals are reminiscent of their Swedish pop queen Robyn and attract a similar following: people wanting to let their hair down, dance until their feet are sore and rest in the early hours of the following morning. But, I had to ask Marta, is Stockholm the place for such endless energy?

“Stockholm is no Berlin, our city has more of low-key vibe going on. During the summer a place called Trädgården opens up and I’ve had some really great dance-til-you-drop-but-you-can’t-stop-nights there!”

So, maybe it’s time to transfer their energies across the continent and shower our cynical British bones in some new Swedish pop glory? “We’d L-O-V-E to head over to the UK and meet people, play concerts and just experience London. I’ve never been there yet! (Shame on me I know. It’s bad).” Erika tells us, to our delight.

“Yeah, it would be so nice to visit UKMarta continues, “We are having so much fun and lately we’ve been more creative than ever. So it’s no doubt about that you’ll be hearing more from us and in a not so distant future we’ll be booking the tickets for London!”

We’ve got our sparkliest outfits at the ready.

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