Little Dragon take the stage at St Jerome’s Laneway Festival on Sunday, February 8, at Fremantle’s Esplanade Reserve & West End. ALEX GRIFFIN reports.
Yukimi Nagano was once famous for having a temper – in fact, she and her friends named their band after her propensity for tantrums – but relaxing in her chilly Gothenburg house-cum-studio before setting out for Laneway down under, she sounds positively glacial.
After the warm reception received by Little Dragon’s fourth album, last year’s Nabuma Rubberband, their early promise seems to have finally been rewarded with success. But it’s been an unusual path for the Swedish four-piece; forming while still in high school in 1996, the band took many different incarnations – including as a reggae band touring Uganda – before arriving at the sleeky, shiny electro-pop they’re now known for. The way they made it was that was through the back door of online networking and fanbase building – commonplace now, but a decade ago, the band were internet pioneers. “We’re from the MySpace era, you know?” Yukimi laughs.
She may well be the only person who didn’t have their iPhone invaded by a rogue U2 album last year, but she doesn’t think much of their marketing tactics. It’s hardly a shock, considering how Little Dragon have always had the market cornered on reaching out to their fans in innovative ways that have their fans reaching back – rather than Googling how to delete them from iTunes.
“We talk about how to connect with our fans a lot,” she says. “It’s a collaborative thing. There’s a lot of really cool, creative people at our label (major indie Lomo Vista). They understand where we’re coming from. We’ve always reached out to artists on our own and exchanged favours; that’s how we built this fanbase that we started from. We find awesome people who help us out, basically!”
Thinking about Little Dragon, I’m always reminded of the opening verse of 1999 by Prince, where his Purpleness hands off the opening lines of the song to his bandmates – something so simple to do, but something that makes it seem like everyone’s an equal part of what’s going on, regardless of whose face is out front is on the cover. Yukimi reckons the synergy in Little Dragon can feel just like that.
“We were just talking about that the other day! We love that, and there are moments where we unconsciously team up on something really detailed like the sound of a kick drum or something, and it feels like we’re all working from the same brain. There are some ideas that have come up like, having strings on Pretty Girls, and immediately someone’s like ‘I know this guy at the orchestra! I can call them right now!’ and then suddenly it’s ‘they can come in Tuesday!’ and it’s all happening! That’s the most exciting thing.”
Considering the band is almost constantly touring, the travelling carnival that is a Laneway Festival offers a special appeal to Nagano. “We did Parklife in Australia a few years ago, and it’s really an ideal situation. You get to know other artists from the bill and make friends, and there’s always some drama and gossip, which is entertaining,” she laughs. “And you actually get to see bands, because on a tour you don’t get to see much – you’re always out trying to catch a plane. Being able to look at your watch and say ‘oh cool! I’m going to run over and see FKA Twigs!’ is really exciting.”
Though Little Dragon are now comfortably placed – a rabid fanbase, a supportive label, and a bright future ahead – they’re not complacent about their hard-earned success. “We’re hustling less!” Nagano cackles.
“We’re not in a van driving around the country for hours trying to make it to our show, and making money just off the merch. I’m not running offstage to sell my own merch – back then I’d get in trouble because the manager would say the math was wrong every time I was manning the desk! Now, we have a crew, a tour manager, a bus… when you come from nothing to this, you really appreciate it. But you have to keep working. There’s so much other music out there, it’s hard to keep up and stay on top; people’s attention spans are short!
“In that sense, it’s still a hustle no matter who you are in the business. The most hyped band at every point in history has wound up forgotten.”