The Distinct Sound of Little Dragon
The world is finally embracing the ‘Little Dragon’ band. In 2009, vocalist Yukimi Nagano added perspective to their worldwide explosion: “It’s like a family, and the band is our big passion. Little Dragon reminds you that when you’re really creating music, it’s like building a ship that will travel in a direction previously inconceivable” (in805.com).
Oh Little Town of Gothenburg!
In the early 1990’s, the foursome based out of Gothenburg, Sweden that would eventually become the band members of Little Dragon, had no idea how far their music would go. Lead vocalist, Yukimi Nagano, born to an American mother and Japanese father, had an affinity for a wide range of music styles, an affection for rhythm and blues, and was inspired by the music of Prince and Janet Jackson. She met bass player Fredrik Wallin and drummer Erik Bodin when she was still in high school.
When the three friends first started spending time together it was to simply listen or play music isolated from mainstream. The band soon added Håkan Wirenstrand on keyboard and synth and moved in together at the Seal Colonie, a Gothenburg art collective. Because of Nagano’s fiery temperament and tantrums during recording sessions, they chose the name Little Dragon in 1996.
Although incredible artists and musicians, they lacked the marketing skills needed to promote the band and so they continued working side jobs to pay the bills. It was not until 2006 that they had their first two track release on vinyl through the small Scandinavian Off the Wall record label. The powerful and melancholy ‘Test’ and the moody ballad ‘Twice’, which both became mainstream and underground hits after it featured on Grey’s Anatomy, the primetime drama. A mere 1000 copies were pressed, but the music reverberated in England so much that Deejay, collector, and label owner Gilles Peterson started spinning both sides.
In 2007, London’s independent label, Peacefrog Records commissioned Little Dragon’s first album using unique and incredible artwork by Nagano’s father on the cover. They sold out clubs in the United States during the first tour in 2008 even though their CD was available by import only. Machine Dreams, the groups up-tempo second album influenced by the new wave music of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark as well as the eclectic sounds of Tears for Fears was released in 2009 and followed by Ritual Union in 2011, exposing them internationally. Nabuma Rubberband, a studio album was released in May of this year.
The Music and the Voice
It is difficult to conceive that such magnificent soul music comes out of Sweden, even though the country has produced scores of accomplished musical talent and continues to offer new and upcoming artists. However, the recent success of Little Dragon is undeniable. The band somehow manages to blend their Swedish heritage folk music with hip-hop, new wave, and the strains of rhythm and blues. Inspired by the diversity of Brian Eno, Congolese, and Kate Bush, they manage to combine the breadth of classical and Snoop Dogg, adding shifts of electronics and dance music, some dynamic guitar riffs, and a tribal beat through instrumentation that rolls effortlessly through every song.
Little Dragon’s organic quality gets pronounced and intensified by the divine and petite Nagano whose stunning vocals and broad range culminates into perfection as she adeptly and subtly connects her ethereal singing with the bands potent musicians. The result is a cornucopia of sound that is rich in emotion, poignant in message, yet comes across like child-play. Their live performances reflect their playful and intrepid power as they encourage a party and wear crazy outfits.
After a ten year wait between the bands inception in 1996 and the first album in 2006, Little Dragon now has a wake of noteworthy successes. Starting from their featured music on Grey’s Anatomy and their sell out US tour in 2008, they have since opened for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and collaborated with OutKast’s Big Boi, Raphael Saadiq, DJ Shadow, Damon Albarn of Gorillaz, and producer Robin Hannibal. In 2009, Beyond Race Magazine chose the band as one of their 50 Emerging Artists. In 2011, they performed on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and have now toured across Europe, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and North America, and headlined this year at Echostage in D.C.