As Swedish electronic duo Icona Pop, Aino Jawo and Caroline Hjelt have had gays the world over dancing since they crashed their car into the charts with the hit single “I Love It” back in 2012. Now, ten years after their last record This Is… Icona Pop, the band is back with a brand new upcoming album, a harder sound, and almost more bops than we can handle.
That’s not to say the pair have been dormant in the interim; not a year has gone by without singles, features, and/or remixes from this renowned duo. Tracks like “Someone Who Can Dance”, “Rhythm In My Blood”, and “Next Mistake” — along with their lives performances and DJ sets — have kept fans grooving through the past decade uninterrupted.
We caught up with the pair in between Pride month gigs to learn all about the new album, their relationship with their LGBTQ+ fans, and the pulse-pounding Pride playlist they put together just for INTO.
I want to start with talking about everything Club Romantech. You’ve released plenty of singles this year, so what made you decide to go with “Where Do We Go From Here” to officially launch the album?
CAROLINE: Well, it was the first song that we wrote on the album. We wrote it a long time ago, and it was very early in the whole album thing for us. We said that we wanted to write without rules, to just go in and having fun, and we wrote it and were like, “We love this song, but what are we going to do with it?”
AINO: Yeah, it’s so different.
CAROLINE: But then when we started wrapping up the album, we were like, “This song is perfect. It all makes sense now; this is Club Romantech.” That’s why we felt like we should have this song to launch the album.
AINO: It’s very special for us.
This is an album, what, 10 years in the making? How do you feel that your sound or your approach to making music have changed since your last album?
AINO: We’ve kind of been going back to our roots. We come from heavy electronic music, and for the first time, when the pandemic hit, we just had so much time. In Sweden, there wasn’t a proper lockdown, so we could actually go to the studio.
CAROLINE: Every day.
AINO: Every single day! [Laughs] I feel like we were experimenting; we started off going to the studio where we wrote our first Icona Pop song 14 years ago, and we just played around and realized that we wanted to go more electronic again. I mean, we’ve always done dance music, but we were just trying out everything, and we ended up with these super cool, really hard electronic tracks.
With bite-sized Barbiecore bops, and a bounce record for the ages, there’s a little something for everybody on this week’s Queer Music Mixtape.
CAROLINE: It all started as a sweet escape. We were sitting in the studio and just talking about how much we missed playing live and being at the club with our friends. We were talking about our dream club, our dream space, and that’s Club Romantech. I also think that the sound was very affected by the fact that we were in Sweden. We’ve been traveling for so many years – and we’ve been living in LA, which we love and miss – but I think sound-wise, the dance music scene in Sweden affected our sound a lot.
AINO: Yeah, you can really hear that. Like, even though the album is dance tracks, it’s super bittersweet. I mean, “Stockholm At Night”, that song is about our friends back in Stockholm. It just feels like this album is so honest for us.
It sounds like this album kind of became a pandemic baby. Was it heading in a different sonic direction before the pandemic hit?
AINO: Actually, we started the song “Where Do We Go From Here” just before the pandemic, so I think we were heading that way. But to be able to go to Sweden definitely changed it melody-wise and lyric-wise, because we got to write with a lot of other Swedish writers as well. I think it changed quite a lot.
CAROLINE: Yeah, I think so too. I think we were heading that way, but we just didn’t have it all figured out yet. We were so in the beginning of the process of the album and we were still just having fun with it. We joke a lot about the fact that we wrote our hardest album during the most quiet times in our lives. We were definitely dreaming away to Club Romantech.
You mentioned working with a lot of Swedish talent; do you have any favorite collaborators from this album?
AINO: There’s a producer called Yaro who we met just before the pandemic. He’s in Sweden, and he’s just beyond amazing.
CAROLINE: So talented.
AINO: Also Yaeger; she’s an upcoming artist who we’ve been working with quite a lot. She’s on our song “Shit We Do For Love”, and that felt very special.
CAROLINE: She’s like a little sister to us. She’s super cool.
You two have played a few different Pride gigs this season, and plenty more in the past. The queer community are big fans, clearly! Is performing for LGBTQ+ audiences different in any way to performing for more general audiences?
CAROLINE: I feel like the vibe is just so good. We feel so at home. It’s always the best feeling, just so much love; you feel so supported. You give a lot, but you get so much back. It’s one of the best audiences. We always have very high expectations when we go to do our pride shows.
AINO: Haven’t been disappointed yet!
Do you have a favorite memory from a past Pride gig?
AINO: I remember one of our first Pride gigs was in Washington, DC. We didn’t know what to expect, and we ended up playing right in front of the White House. We were like, “Okay, this is surreal. This is so cool.” And I remember the audience was just amazing. I think that’s such a strong memory because that was one of the first ones in the U.S. that we did.
CAROLINE: We’ve been playing bigger ones, and that’s always crazy and fun. It’s like a huge festival kind of vibe. But we’ve also been playing smaller ones, and those ones are also special to us. They feel so important. It’ll be in a place where it’s a little bit harder or the community is a little bit smaller, and it feels like playing at those places is really important – and so much fun, even though it’s so much smaller. You just feel like you get such an intimate connection.
It’s like those older videos of Charli XCX performing in what looks like a basement of a club somewhere. The energy’s electric, even if the ceiling’s like five feet from the ground.
CAROLINE: Yeah, exactly. It’s all about the energy.
Speaking of energy, we have to talk about the energy of this Pride playlist that you’ve made for us! You have Madonna’s “Vogue”, Kylie’s “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head”, some great remixes, and more. Why did you pick these entries and which are some of your favorites?
CAROLINE: We just picked songs that we love listening to, dancing to, and playing in our DJ set. I feel like all the songs we chose are really good energy, but they’re very different. But they have one thing in common, and it’s that they make you want to dance.
Such a nice range from like, “Hot Stuff” to “No One Dies From Love”.
AINO: You should see our playlists! When we DJ, we really mix and match. I think that’s the fun with doing playlists, as well, that just jump through a genre. It’s all about the connection with the music. I think the playlist represents a big part of us.
Are there any artists not represented in the line-up who y’all are feeling really excited about right now?
CAROLINE: There’s so many, though we’ve been so much in the album bubble that it feels like we haven’t listened to the radio or anything in a while.
AINO: There’s a Swedish band called Deki Alem. They’re two twin brothers and their music is something else. We’ve been listening quite a lot to them.
You have a soft spot in your heart for duos?
CAROLINE: [Laughs] How did you know?
With this Pride Month coming to a close, do y’all have a message for the LGBTQ+ community right now?
CAROLINE: First of all, we want to say the biggest thank you for the support throughout the years. I mean, we really wouldn’t be here without you. So much love – and the best dancers in the world! Thank you for being brave, being yourself, and fighting for everyone in the community. It’s just so beautiful and inspiring. And whatever we can do to help and support, we will do it.
AINO: It’s a crazy time in the world, and I think now it’s so important to get together and spread love.
CAROLINE: In certain places, it’s just so much harder.
AINO: And it’s sad to see certain places go backwards. But we just have to show that it’s not right and that we need to keep on fighting for our rights. We just want to send you so much love. And thank, thank, thank you for letting us play at all these Prides and letting us be a part of it.
As far as what’s coming next, I’m sure you have a Club Romantech tour in mind. What are you looking forward to going forward?
CAROLINE: We’ve been working on a new live set which we are very excited about. We built something almost like a spaceship. We’re going to play a lot this summer – mainly festivals – and then we’re gonna do more shows here in the U.S. later on this year.
AINO: And we’re going to DJ a lot as well! We’re doing a lot of good DJ sets. We did a couple this week, and then we’ll come back to the U.S. closer to the album and we’ll be here for a few months.
CAROLINE: And we’re very excited about it!♦
Get ready to enter the Club Romantech era with Icona Pop’s official Pride playlist: