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Into the Swedish groove

Slottsskogen Park teeming with music-loving locals and tourists, packed to its 30,000-strong capacity

Slottsskogen Park teeming with music-loving locals and tourists, packed to its 30,000-strong capacity   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

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Spare your lungs the hassle, and head to this Nordic country where even smoking is allowed only in designated areas

If you are looking to backpack to Sweden, do it around this time of year. You’ll walk in on a haven for summer-drunk people who are only too happy to have you over. In a country whose sun is a tease (in winter, parts of the Nordic peninsula are lucky if they catch half an hour of sunlight a day), the mid-latter-half of the year is precious. Like a typical subcontinental tourist on his maiden European visit, I had packed like a fur-coat-smuggler, only to find the weather at a pleasant 12°-19°C. And if you are properly padded up, the intermittent misty showers are a nice change of pace. But, I was here in Gothenburg for the music.

Flush with young ‘hipsters’, who throng its inner lanes, lawns and tented food courts when they’re not heaving and gyrating politely on its sprung floors, Gothenburg’s Slottsskogen Park plays main host to Way Out West, an annual three-day international music festival (usually in the second week of August) that is as pulsating as it is eco-friendly. No fires or barbecues may be lit — the only fumes in the fully green arena come from designated smoking areas and, well, stage fog.

The Way Out Festival

The Way Out Festival   | Photo Credit: Getty Images

Since 2007, the festival has been showcasing a potpourri of international artists from various genres — electronica, hip-hop, pop, indie, alternative rock — including popular breakout native acts like Little Dragon, Zara Larsson and Silvana Imam, as well as the legendary likes of Erykah Badu, The Cure, and Neneh Cherry. The odd cancellation apart (looking at you, Cardi B), the festival is run very smoothly for its immense scale. The dates for next year’s shindig are already out — keep August 13-15 free.

Like iron flakes sashaying around a magnet, audiences oscillate between the four stages/venues of the 150-hectare park to catch one headline event after another. Starting around noon, performances ring out all across Slottsskogen Park till around midnight, at which point the party moves to Bananpiren, in central Gothenburg, under the banner of Stay Out West. Here one encounters smaller stages, more intimate venues, featuring mostly DJs spinning their electronic dance music sets till the early hours.

As you drift along from Azelea to Linné, the melancholic strains of James Blake blend seamlessly into the upbeat thrum of NAO’s set, and you bite contentedly into your soy burger between sips of beer. The first Swedish festival to be KRAV-certified — an organisation promoting ecological sustainable agriculture — even the food served here is vegetarian and organic.

A vegetarian's delight

A sustainable Swedish meal

A sustainable Swedish meal   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

As a self-constrained vegetarian, I was worried about food in Scandinavia.

Sure, I did taste my first fish at the Pensionat Styrsö Skäret, a homely restaurant on a meditative archipelago off Gothenburg that’s a 15-minute ferry-ride from the Saltholmen docks, but it was the only polite thing to do. But whether simple pasta draped with sheets of basil-garnished cheese, peppered with greens and shoots, a homely plate of paneer rice with peas jalfrezi, or a breakfast platter of spinach-omelette with kale, bran-oats, strawberries, milk and butter-toast, Swedish cuisine has a hospitable breadth that assures you that meat is kind of overrated.

Live like the Swedes

A typical post-materialistic society, Sweden prizes human values as highly as it prices its commodities. My first few hours in the country were spent hunting around for a charging adaptor that would fit into my hotel’s finicky wall socket. While it cost more than all the souvenirs I bought (sorry, friends and family), I also experienced my most gratifying human interaction when I walked into a local shop for a stick of gum and came away with an entire recce of the city’s electronics merchandisers, volunteered by the shopkeeper.

The Swedish outlook on life can come across as a paradox, but it is really a wonderful state of balance. Swedes value private freedom and individual liberty more than “friends, Fika (a popular Swedish custom involving companions chilling out over coffee) and food”, even as they willingly embrace the most charmingly conformist forms of social control.

An exhibit by Optimist För Havet ('Optimistic for the sea') in Röhsska Museum's floor on Ocean Plastics

An exhibit by Optimist För Havet ('Optimistic for the sea') in Röhsska Museum's floor on Ocean Plastics   | Photo Credit: Mihir Balantrapu

Gothenburg’s must-visit haunts
  • A century-old Romantic-style monument, the Röhsska Museum is where history tastefully informs the present of its responsibility to the future. With over 50,000 artefacts that range from industrial design collectibles to centuries-old Oriental fashion couture to ancient facsimiles of boxy Apple devices, the red-brick building has been a showcase of contemporary design since 1916.
  • Magasinsgatan is a former warehouse neighbourhood in the city centre, devoted to individuality and self-expression. From the entrance, it looks like any other narrow cobblestone street, lined with local shops, cafés and patios. But the walls actually ‘showcases’ graffiti — and, in a manner that says public defacement doesn’t have to be brash and political to grab attention, it can just be about a human baring his/her soul in search of existential answers.

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Printable version | Dec 12, 2019 1:22:42 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/travel/into-the-swedish-groove/article29736079.ece

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