The Swede Beat’s Heartbeat: Lydia Kellam by Legacy Russell

Lydia Kellam is a Swedish Fish far from home, but her take-over of New York’s music scene is coming along swimmingly.

New York Live Arts presents

Marjani Forte
Nov 15-19

​Lydia Kellam

Lydia Kellam. Photo credit: Jenny Martsell.

When I was a senior in high school, I had the fortune of meeting a handsome bloke from Sweden at a bar in the East Village (this was back when you could get a fake ID down on Macdougal street with a simple wave, smile, and fifty bucks). We fell for one another the summer I graduated, sharing a passion for the art of the mixtape. I moved to the Twin Cities in Minnesota—where IKEA rivals the Mall of America in its breathtaking grandeur and popularity—to do my schooling, but we kept in touch. Minnesota to some is “Land of Lakes,” but to many is also “Land of the Swedes”—Minnesota ranks as the #1 state in America with the highest population of Swedish Americans. I wrote letters to my Swedish puss (don’t go there: puss means “kiss” in Swedish), and in return often received mixtapes of the Swedish variety (quite a talent himself, he’s still at it; check out his most recent mix by clicking here). Upon my return to New York after studying abroad in the Midwest, I had the fortune of encountering the lovely Lydia Kellam through a mutual Swedish friend, a pal of my old Swedish flame. “I miss Sweden,” she’d sigh over dinner. “Me too,” I’d reply, shaking my head. An invitation from Kellam to attend a Swede Beat CMJ party brought myself and friends to the door of the Norwood Club in Chelsea. When we entered, Kellam—barely over five and a half feet tall—was in the DJ booth. She had both hands over her head. The party was in full swing, and I was pleased to recognize some of the artists being spun (ah, what love teaches you). At the bar a dapper gent tried to make small talk with me over the din of the music; after a few minutes of nodding, I realized I had no idea what he was saying. I took a moment and looked around, realizing that I was one of a small handful of folks in the room who had no clue how to speak Swedish. It didn’t matter: we were all there to dance the night away, with Kellam as our native guide.

Legacy Russell What is The Swede Beat?

Lydia Kellam The Swede Beat is a creative venture working towards the goal of spreading new Swedish culture outside the nation’s border. I founded The Swede Beat back in 2009; at first is served as a monthly newsletter that reached a good mix of subscribers in Sweden and the US with Swedish pop culture content. Each newsletter was focused round a certain theme, for example Gothenburg (all content was related to Gothenburg) or Swedish 101 (all topic or people we featured included Swedish letters å,ä,ö).

After six months or so The Swede Beat grew bigger and we now have readers all over the world. I developed an online magazine from the newsletters. After a while The Swede Beat became more of a platform showcasing Swedish new talent, both digitally with the online magazine but also offline with events, collaborations, projects with Swedish artists, bands, brands, labels, cultural organizations, etc.

LR What is your background? How did you find yourself in New York City?

LK I was born and raised in Stockholm, Sweden but moved to New York four years ago. Moving to New York has always been my big dream. My American father and Swedish mother lived in New York during the ‘70s and I was always so fascinated by their New York stories as a kid, so it was just a matter of time until I made my own move. It was also important for me to discover the American side of my identity. I moved here after college; it’s been an interesting adventure with a lot of ups and downs but I’ve grew tremendously by living here. Running your own creative project in this city has been very rewarding as their are so many opportunities here and creative souls to connect with.

LR What is a The Swede Beat event that is particularly memorable?

LK We have been doing monthly club nights at Trophy Bar in Williamsburg for over a year now. Our concept is to invite Swedish creative people and their friends to come DJ and dance with us. For example, if there’s a Swedish band in town we ask them to come DJ with us. Our attendees are a mix of Swedish people that live in New York and other nationalities that are currently in to the Swedish culture scene.

We have also teamed up with GrandLife NYC, [The] Swedish Consulate in New York, APlace, Export Music Sweden, Rough Trade Records and more to create Swede-related parties here in New York and [have] worked with a handful of Swedish artists visiting New York.

LR What’s this event you did for Fashion Week earlier this fall? In what way does The Swede Beat integrate music and fashion?

LK We teamed up with a Swedish fashion store, APlace, for a fashion week after party at Chloe, located in Lower East Side. It turned out to be pretty sweet party with tons of people dancing and having a good time.

An important element of our profile is to showcase different talent in Swedish contemporary pop culture, whether it’s music, art and fashion. So doing an event during fashion week was a great opportunity for us to show that are covering different parts of Swedish contemporary pop culture.

LR What are some stereotypes about Swedish culture that you have had just about enough of?

LK In fashion there is this idea that we only wear black and minimalist design … [in music] that we only create melancholic and emo music.

LR You DJ as well, is that correct? What kind of music are you currently adoring?

LK I wouldn’t call it spin since [it is] more [about] selecting good music and play it for its fans. But I always play at our monthly club nights and then I do additional DJ gigs here and there, often Swede-related events. During those occasions I usually play Swedish indie pop and electronic such Korallreven, Little Dragon, Air France, This Is Head, Karl X Johan and The Radio Dept.

My favorite Swede indie songs right now are:

Air France — It Feels Good to be Around You
Tommy Svensson — Arctic Unicorn
Pallers — The Kiss
Karibien — Stockholm
Little Dragon— Nighlight
I Break Horses — Winter Beats
Summer Heart — Please Stay
Kornél Kovács — Baby Step

LR What a mixtape! What are some New York locales that you hit up when you’re hankering for a Swedish minute?

LK There are a ton of locations in New York you can go to experience Swedish culture and life style. For example Fika, Konditori (two Swedish coffee houses), Sockerbit (a swedish candy store). There are clothing stores such as Acne, Fjallraven, BLK DNM, Tretorn, and stores such as Alter and Oak carries Cheap Monday. There are Swedish restaurants Smorgas and Aquavit. And Swedish indie bands play at places like Bowery Ballroom, Music Hall of Williamsburg, Terminal 5 on a regular basis. And I have my monthly club nights were alot of Swedes in New York hang out and we play some Swedish indie music.

But I wouldn’t say I visit those places when I’m homesick. The only Swedish place I would visit if I was homesick is IKEA. That’s a bit sad and a bit too Swedish. But it make me feel happy if I’m homesick, so it’s ok. First because of [the] homey feeling and also because all IKEA stores are laid out in the same way. If you are in Brooklyn or Stockholm, IKEA looks pretty much the same. I like that. And I also love buying Rösti and Swedish chocolate at the food market. If it gets too Swedish, you’ll have a pretty boat ride back overlooking Manhattan skyline.

LR Summer’s cooling down and fall is heating up! What’s on the horizon for the colder months?

LK There are a bunch of exciting releases from artists such as Jens Lekman, Korallreven, Masquer and I Break Horses. So I look foremost forward to the ones that are touring and reaching New York City this Fall. Hopefully we will be able to team up with the Swedish artists coming this way, creating some events and collaborations. We have a few things in the works, nothing I can disclose so far …

LR What’s one thing that you cannot live without?

LK Dreams.

Legacy Russell is BOMBlog’s Art Editor. She is an independent curator, artist, writer and cultural producer.

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