Miike Snow forms a dance party with a stress on spontaneity.
Frontman Andrew Wyatt may serve as the focal point of electro-pop trio Miike Snow. But on the group’s current tour, there’s a monster looming behind him. The Swedish production duo of Christian Karlsson and Pontus Winnberg share center stagecontrols of a huge synthesizer station dubbed “the Blob.”
“Our tour manager hates us for it,” Winnberg says of the 9-foot-wide hexagonal structure made of digital samplers and old synth parts, some bought from disco-era pioneer Giorgio Moroder. “That machine doesn’t exist in the stores. That’s why we built it and then turned it into something we thought looks pretty cool.”
The Blob is not only sculpturesque in form, but it also sculpts sounds and beats. “It’s funny, ’cause that’s how we usually refer to both our songwriting and production,” Winnberg says. “We come up with an idea that turns into a song, and the rest is sculpting.”
Before Miike Snow, Karlsson and Winnberg had carved a sharp track record as producers under the pseudonym Bloodshy & Avant. They crafted hits for Kylie Minogue and Britney Spears, even winning a Grammy Award as cowriters of Spears’ hit “Toxic.”
“We wanted to do more stuff for ourselves and not work for others,” Winnberg says. The duo joined forces with American singer/producer Wyatt to form a band. “It became very evident that this was it. So we just turned everything [else] down.” They named the group after an engineer friend, but doubled a vowel in a nod to Japanese film director Takashi Miike.
A euphoric, airy blend of electronic pop and dance rock, Miike Snow’s music is playful. “We’re not at all genre-specific—not deliberately. We’ve never talked genres in that way,” Winnberg says from Palm Springs, Calif., where the band was appearing at Coachella. “After living with the music, especially in the live act, we have a mutual idea of what Miike Snow is, and it’s what we call ‘Snow-ish.’ We might say, ‘This isn’t Snow-ish enough,’ or ‘We might need to Snow-ify this.’ But that’s kind of abstract.”
The group’s breadth has grown more sweeping on its second outing, Happy to You. The album ranges from the piano-spiked house rave-ups “Devil’s Work” and “Paddling Out” to the moody “Black Tin Box,” featuring a vocal by Lykke Li (who recently joined Miike Snow, Peter Bjorn and John and other Swedish conspirators in launching the indie-label Ingrid).
Often with producers in the dance-music world, it’s all about the records, with live shows as an afterthought. But Winnberg says, “It’s quite the opposite in our case, especially if you look at sales. We’re a much bigger live band.… The feedback that we get from the audience and the way we [play live], we take that back into the studio and mold it for a while, then take that experience back on the road.”
Adding to that circle of spontaneity, the trio—augmented on tour by another keyboardist and a kit drummer—also avoids using prerecorded tracks on computer.
“It’s weird these days because most people have [tracks], and even when we work in the studio, the jam perspective is always there,” Winnberg says. “If you have a predetermined way of playing a song, you kind of lock yourself into a little cage where you have to play it more or less the same every night.”
Not so with Miike Snow, which plays at House of Blues on April 29. “That kind of opens it up a little,” he says. “The risk and danger that something can go wrong is also inspiring.
Technology adds its own layer of unpredictability, even if you’re not wrestling with the Blob. “That also goes for the machines,” Winnberg continues. “They’re not a hundred percent reliable. Sometimes they do stuff that sucks, and sometimes they do stuff that’s actually pretty interesting. It’s a dangerous mix.”
Miike Snow plays at House of Blues on April 29.