In the region known as the land of the midnight sun, a subtle stroke advances on the senses, inviting the rhythm of humanity to a vast array of musical accoutrements, both new and familiar with each note consumed. The popular press, let alone Hollywood stories, would package up these notes and paint a picture of creativity with sun-kissed palm trees adorning the backdrop.
Stockholm may not be home to the tropics or mirror the glitz of Los Angeles, but the music scene has provided the backdrop of electric beginnings to countless artists, producers and songs that grace our lives across the planet.
This hidden gem in the Nordics is struggling to hide from the gaze of international spectators. The playlists, known from Sweden’s own Spotify, and countless artists and producers behind global and iconic pop music hits now shine a strong and unrelenting light over the magical and glittering city of Stockholm. Some might argue that a certain music prize is behind the city’s burgeoning fame.
This reporter secured an exclusive opportunity to see Stockholm’s music scene from the inside out during this year’s Denniz Pop Awards.
The Denniz Pop Awards began with an estimated 3,000 entries and now average 5,000 each year. Those lucky enough to be nominated present their artistry to a jury of industry giants. The majority of lawyers consisting of artists, producers and songwriters go back to Cheiron Studios.
The collection of artists who have benefited from the lawyers’ legacy includes the likes of Bon Jovi, Celine Dion, Josh Groban, Backstreet Boys, NSYNC, II Divo, Brittney Spears, Westlife, Kelly Clarkson, Ace of Base, Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, The Weekend , Madonna, Pink and a list that could roll out for days.
The tie that binds lies in the man and the myth, Denniz Pop.
The man and the myth
Dag Krister Volle, professionally known as Dennis Pop, may have benefited from magical powers from an early age. At the age of 15, Pop became a DJ legend all over Sweden. A few happy accidents positioned Pop as a hitmaker in the industry, quickly making his name synonymous with success in Sweden and beyond, bringing the likes of Ace of Base and NYSNC to global heights.
Every iconic songwriter, music producer and artist interviewed for this story struggled mightily to stitch together the words that described the man and his impact on their respective lives. He was not just a DJ turned producer and co-founder of the famous Cheiron Studios in the heart of Stockholm.
No, Denniz Pop was the beat that turned heads and created a lively celebration of individual talents and collective and creative possibilities celebrating the first note and the last hook we would all remember.
Carl Falk is a Swedish songwriter, record producer and musician who has worked with artists such as Demi Lovato, One Direction, Nicki Minaj, Ellie Goulding, Madonna, Avicii, Ariana Grande, Charlie Puth and Jason Derulo. He remembers being a former “youth” who was drawn into the magic of Cheiron’s founder. Now in his 40s, Falk finds inspiration in the tone and tenor of the Denniz Pop Awards.
“He [Denniz Pop] was a huge, essential part of what we all now know about the Swedish music scene. The founders of Cheiron Studios are still active, and it is because of Denniz’s power. It’s in the water, and it feels like his imprint on all of us is deep, thanks to the data protection authorities, Falk counters.
The awards aim to uncover new talent while supporting those who have been the missing link to several success stories along the way.
Anders Johanssonthis year’s Most Valuable Person (MVP) recipient for being an unsung industry hero and globally recognized manager, Pop’s legacy finds itself in every corner of Stockholm’s music scene.
“I had heard about this amazing talent [Denniz Pop], and what he did was completely new to pop music. I became a huge fan! I am so grateful for DPA’s because they embody Denniz’s collective spirit; it’s not about competition, but rather cooperation, says Johansson.
Updated industrial vision
Like all entertainment derivatives, the music industry has been portrayed as a ruthless community more concerned with the brand than the melody or the overall quality of the project. Pop and his Swedish contemporaries ran counter to these narratives, focusing more on collaboration than power differentials that are common in the industry.
After Pop’s passing in 1998 from cancer, it became clear that while he no longer walked the halls of Cheiron Studios, the die had been cast, and efforts to continue the trajectory of opportunity needed to continue.
Many of Cheiron’s original architects built similar efforts after the studio closed in 2000. Jacob Schulze, known for working with NSYNC, Brittney Spears and others as a music producer, songwriter and composer, joined Cheiron in 1996. Those early days saw him on the road to become the connective tissue that connects the past, present and future.
Schulze’s ability to understand people rooted him in the history of the local music scene and made him ideally suited to be a creative mentor to young artists and producers. He knew that the future of Stockholm as the world’s metaphorical singer depended on the next chapter of talent and the cultivation of that talent base.
Under Schulze’s leadership, the Denniz Pop Awards took hold and supported the next generation of musical talent in 2013. The principles from its inception remain today and emphasize the importance of support and community for the next generation of creators.
“We have to reinvent ourselves, as the establishment, to stay fresh and relevant. That’s what’s incredible about Stockholm,” says Schulze. “The music community is open to all ages and really feels like graduation for the new generation when they join by Dennis Pop Awards. We are all essentially joining an alumni network that is committed to the arts and the people.”
Pop often said that the ultimate joy was hearing people’s feet dance to his music. That feeling underlines the importance of tones, beats and people. Schulze wants to find the same pace and is not concerned with running the independent awards show like other notable ceremonies.
Schulze, in particular, is not a fan of awards that celebrate established figures in the music industry. He notes the importance of identifying “next” and laying out the blueprint for nominees and awardees to succeed after the awards.
“I’ve never really understood the industry’s reliance on honoring those who have already succeeded. Instead, it is more important to identify the next generation and offer support in their pursuit of success.”
All presidents, men and women
Konrad BergstromCEO and founder of X Shore electric boats, an unlikely character in the Denniz Pop story, embodies the essence of a sole entrepreneur and the creative license of an artist in any form.
Denniz Pop Awards 2022, supported by Bergström, found the home stage for President Konrad (social media handle for Bergström) as a fitting place after Covid. The chill in the air overlooking the water of Stockholm’s archipelago (consisting of over 30,000 islands, islets and rocks) revealed a range of performances from past winners, current nominees and potential winner bringing together the history of Denniz Pop and the currency of today’s upcoming talent.
The conversations throughout the evening wove relationship and song DNA together with the lightness of a romantic song. The shared laughter increased in decibels as a punch of pop music ingrained in Stockholm’s fiber. Outsiders, like this reporter, were quickly embraced as a necessary thread to the evening’s tapestry.
“It’s quite emotional to see the artists supporting each other. It’s not about winning; it’s about being part of the same group. Over the years we have learned how important this sense of community is to the nominees,” says Schulze.
Not far from his mind, Schulze thinks his friend is gone, and his legacy lives on through the joy of an evening meant to celebrate established talent and those just emerging.
“Being friends with Denniz was pretty special. We became friends in the mid-90s and then he got cancer and passed away soon after. I was too young to understand cancer then, so the trauma stayed with me. Every year I relive we all his passing, but it drives me to honor his legacy.
You get older, and people die, and it brings back the memory of Denniz’s passing. Some people are a little afraid to discuss the past, but I want to celebrate him and new artists that he always wanted,” Schulze shared.
There is a careful approach to Schulze’s work. The loss of global DJ sensation and Swede Avicii (Tim Bergling) to suicide in 2018 put Denniz Pop and the Awards back in focus for the promoter of the Awards. “In the beginning, we didn’t focus on listening to people. It was very competitive,” explains Schulze.
As a result of Avicii’s death, Schulze put listening at the forefront of the Swedish music scene and everyone involved in the awards. “It became clear that we had to do a better job of listening,” he says. “We as a community needed to go through how people feel and if they feel connected.”
Part of that connection comes from a keen eye on the existing challenges still facing music worldwide. Diversity of talent in music production is still a moving target for women. Schulze and Hilda Sandgren, CEO and founder of MTA Production and the Producers Programfound reason to combine forces this year to bring female producers into the fold through the DPAs.
“The talent pool of female music producers is incredibly deep and yet we are still fighting to create fair opportunities for women globally. Having the opportunity to combine our shared vision with Jacob Schulze and the team at the DPAs is an incredible step forward,” comments Sandgren.
“You have to be humble and you have to listen to people in the music business. It’s about collaboration. It’s about creating an environment for others to flourish,” Schulze explains.
Denniz Pop’s presence was felt at the award ceremonies and was filled with the creative energy that whizzed through the breeze from a Swedish autumn evening. He might not have spun a beat, but the electricity was courtesy of a man who thought more of his collaborators than his own contribution.
Swedish culture can be portrayed as measured, balanced and steadfast. Yet the reality from this reporter’s notebook is that the culture moves to a split beat of passion and loyalty for those lost too soon and those just beginning to fall.
Cheers are heard as the traditional toast among the participants this evening of celebration. Cheers, by any name, symbolize togetherness, and the Denniz Pop Awards are a fitting host for a community that benefits everyone, one beat, one beat at a time.
Interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.