Football, sex and rock and roll are what we all live for, and we can bring you two of the three here at Overblown. I’m sure you’ll find the other one elsewhere on the internet if you look hard enough.
With this summer’s European Championships starting this Friday, it’s time to get in the mood for not only a lot of shaven-headed bearded men from across the continent kicking a ball around, but also a celebration of the rich culture of the 24 nations involved. The food, the drink and, of course, the music.
In preparation, we left our U.S. grunge and J-pop on the shelves and explored some of the best music coming from our nearer neighbours. Once you’ve picked your nation, here’s what should be your soundtrack to them going out on penalties.
1. GROUP A
Known for electronic acts like Daft Punk and Jean Michelle Jarre, the French seem to prefer twiddling knobs and pressing buttons to shredding guitars and pounding drums. That’s not to say there isn’t good music across the English Channel though, with M83 bringing their seventh album Junk out in April. 2008’s Saturdays = Youth is probably the best of their albums to start with.
Featuring in the opening game against France, Romania begin a general theme throughout this feature of scraping the barrel for music in Southern and Eastern Europe. Still, you could do a lot worse than listen to indie rockers The Amsterdams’ new album Eternity for Dummies, or their 2011 release Electromagnetica, produced by Harris Newman (Arcade Fire, Wolf Parade).
See, I’m already struggling. Perhaps the most surprising qualifier in the tournament, Albania is no more known for music than football, with the songs of Norman Wisdom enjoying popularity there. Not helping the quest of finding good Albanian music is the fact that a lot of bands who bill themselves as being from the country are actually from the likes of Kosovo and Macedonia. I was going to go for black metal outfit Nihil (Albania does have the most metal flag in the world), but Tirana-based composer Bledi Boraku came to my rescue with these enjoyable instrumental offerings instead.
While never among the elite, Switzerland are always capable of grinding down the big boys. Get some Young Gods down your earholes and celebrate the industrious Swiss with some industrial rock.
2. GROUP B
Epicentre of everything from ’77 punk, through to the Hacienda and Britpop, England’s green and pleasant land leaves us somewhat spoiled for musical choice, so let’s not argue about the best English band and instead go for the most English. With their rough beats and raging lyrics chewing the fat of austerity and unemployment, Sleaford Mods sum up England in 2016 in their idiosyncratically snarling outbursts.
Shoegazers Pinkshinyultrablast are perhaps the best Russian listen around at the moment, but it’s hard to overlook Pussy Riot. They may not be the world’s greatest punk band, but the genre is about what you do as much as what you play, and the 2012 incident that saw them arrested for an anti-Putin display in a Moscow church was arguably the punkest thing that’s happened in decades.
Wales only reach one tournament in a blue moon, but its bands seem to have been around forever – think the Manics (who have written Wales’ Euro 2016 song), Stereophonics and Feeder. The Joy Formidable are one of few North Welsh bands on the radar, but for longevity and consistency, as well as occasionally actually singing in Welsh, Super Furry Animals get the vote.
Back to the Eastern Europe conundrum again, but there is a standout band here, or at least there was. The Bridgeheads, with their intricate, art-rock guitar work and bewildered Ian Curtis-style lyrics, were based in London, but their members were all Slovak. Tragically, singer Tomas dAsK died in 2010 after falling from a window.
3. GROUP C
When the World Cup holders play, drown out the commentary and annoy your neighbours with plenty of Kraftwerk, Can and Neu!, perhaps even throwing in a bit of the late David Bowie, who lived in the country in the late ‘70s, into the krautrocky mix. To embrace Deutschemusik at its most avant-garde, try Einsturzende Neubauten, who have been producing arty, industrial noise for 35 years with pretty much whatever they can get their hands on.
They won this year’s Eurovision with one of the most forgettable songs ever written, and I have to admit that the main thing Ukrainian music makes me think of is a series of silly entries in the competition. Doing their best to change that are alt-pop duo Ummagma. Sounding like a more electro-centric version of the Cocteau Twins, only half of the band is Ukrainian, but they have a song about the nation’s capital and they’re bloody good, so that’ll do me.
Most football tournaments see an appearance by the Poles and by the time you’ve learned how to pronounce names like Szczesny, Blaszczykowski and Jedrzejczyk, they’ve been eliminated. Luckily, post/math rock band Kristen are somewhat easier to pronounce, despite their rather complex music.
Overblown favourites Girls Names are perhaps the front-runners of Northern Irish music today, even if the mainstream music media thinks Snow Patrol. Ash put sleepy Downpatrick on the map in the ’90s, but let’s not overlook the small nation’s contribution to punk. The Undertones arguably invented pop-punk, while Stiff Little Fingers used the genre to express their ire at a deprived and dangerous N.I. at the height of the Troubles.
4. GROUP D
Despite a flop at the last World Cup, Spain remain the holders of the Euros after their 2012 success. Celebrate free-flowing tiki-taka with Madrid lo-fi girls Hinds, whose debut album Leave Me Alone instantly made me look forward to sipping San Miguels in the sun, even though it was released in the depths of January.
A modern and creative country, utterly eclectic and bizarre art has been coming out of the Czech Republic and its capital Prague for decades, and that includes music. For a thoroughly petrifying listen, ‘Czech’ out dark-ambient project Zygote. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
Not usually thought of as a major football nation, the Turks have actually reached the semis of both the Euros and the World Cup since the turn of the millennium, which is more than England can say. If you’re plucking for Turkey this summer, rock out to the flanger-focused sounds of Softa. Respect to them for singing in their own language as well!
Croatia is another of the ‘New Europe’ countries with little in the way of exciting new music, so when in doubt, go for a punk band. For their ability to kick up a stink alone, the costumed/naked shenanigans of Let 3 deserve a special mention. Make of this what you will.
5. GROUP E
Get your ’80s techno head on if you’re following the fancied Belgians, with a nice slab of Front 242, who dovetailed pretty effortlessly into the UK indie scene at the time. Better than compatriots 2 Unlimited anyway!
The ultimate Italian football song is of course Pavarotti’s ‘Nessun Dorma’, which transcends all genres to be loved by anyone who even vaguely remembers the 1990 World Cup. We can bring things right up to date though with gazey dreampopper Novanta, whose new track Overblown premiered this very month. Expressive, yet grindy, much like Italy always seem to be in football.
A tournament is always all the better for the inclusion of Ireland, who might gee up their ranks with native music from U2 or The Cranberries. The excellent new September Girls album is a more under-the-radar option, but to sum up the wild, surreal and disorientating ride of following Ireland in a football tournament, look no further than Girl Band.
With bands like The Cardigans and The Wannadies, Sweden stuck its oars into the Britpop scene, and the likes of The Hives and Millencolin have always kept infectious punky output in steady supply. Stockholm-based Magic Potion’s new album featured in our May album reviews, but it has to be Refused. Like Zlatan Ibrahimović, they do whatever the hell they want.
6. GROUP F
The Portuguese tend to be the wind-up merchants of tournaments, seemingly often set up with the primary goal of getting someone on the other team sent off. Also ruffling a few feathers are Oi punk band Albert Fish from Lisbon. Not bad at all, these – a bit like an Iberian Agnostic Front.
For a nation with a population similar to that of Coventry, Iceland has long punched above its weight musically, bringing us the likes of Múm and The Sugarcubes, the later of whom introduced us to a young Björk. With no prizes for imagination though, Sigur Rós remain the quintessential Icelandic band and will hopefully be bringing us a new album later this year. For those of you into football drinking games, take a swig every time you hear ‘Hoppípolla’ played during a feature about the team.
Unless Conchita Wurst and karaoke wazzock DJ Ötzi are your bag, it’s reasonable to say that Austria is better known for classical music than popular, let alone alternative. Still, don’t let that put you off Killed by 90V Batteries, who are more grungy and noise-poppy than their death metal name would suggest.
I’ve got this far without resorting to Eurovision but, in the absence of much apart from bland punk and metal emanating from Hungary, I’m going to finish with wooly hat wearer ByeAlex, whose 2013 entry ‘Kedvesem’ was one of the more likeable songs of that or any other year’s competition. I’ve no idea what the rest of his stuff’s like.
So, any glaring omissions? Who wins the competition for you, and who makes an embarrassing group stage exit?