My eyes lit up when I saw her – I’d dreamt of seeing her in the flesh since I first laid eyes on The Bridge’s detective Saga Noren. Long, fashionably uncombed hair, ethereal beauty, flicking crumbs from her cinnamon bun off her ankle-grazing khaki military coat and leather trousers – this bewitching brunette was the ultimate Saganaut right down to her lace-up ankle boots. Welcome to Nordicana 2014 (Feb 1 and 2), a pop-up cathedral for the disciples of Scandinavian crime detective fiction, film and TV. Thank goodness Saganaut was well wrapped up, as the day couldn’t have got off to a chillier start…
Despite arriving nice and early to the venue, a former brewery in London’s trendy Shoreditch, a queue of shivering ticket holders snaked right round the corner down Brick Lane. The negative tweets to the organisers started just as early, especially when, after over an hour shuffling outside we faced a further queue for wristbands inside. As the crowds crammed into Screen 1 for an audience with the stars and writers of Danish political drama Borgen, necks craning to catch a nano-glimpse of lead actor Sidse Babett Knudsen, the sound system crashed.
Luckily I’d only downed one Chokolad Boll; a second and I’d never have squeezed through the frowning throng into my seat. It’s true to say my fellow Scandifans were mainly affable white, middle class, middle aged BBC Four types – a bit like Hay Festival-goers but more Helly Hansen than Barbour. They were as politic and polite as their gentle, slow-edited on-screen heroes. For now.
An hour or so later, I feared an actual murder or two might occur in that appropriately industrial backdrop while someone tried and failed to work out how to play the much-hyped Bridge preview episode. The factory lighting burnt through my corneas like Sarah Lund’s interrogative torch. The Saganauts began their slow handclaps while their companions, ever-so-polite in their protest, yelled technical advice.
My micturally-challenged companion put out an SOS tweet for a ‘She Wee’ during this lengthy ‘technical hiccup’ (as it was dubbed by the organisers.) As seasoned marathon runners, we found comfort in the knowledge that the urge subsides as you become more dehydrated. After all that, my view of the subtitles was blocked by Mount Fairisle sat six inches in front of me, but I took comfort in the fact she seemed to be having a good time. And I was now, finally, as warm as a Swedish meatball amidst the now calmer seas of Scandilovers.
Thanks to this sudden thaw, the Helly Hansens were shed faster than you could say gravadlax, to reveal a cacophony of fairisle jumpers, hoodies and accessories. Even the delightful Danish Ambassador Claus Grube’s salt and pepper beard looked knitted.
My fascination with Scandi Noir was sparked by Krister Henriksson’s Wallander a few years ago. As a Merseysider in landlocked exile, I identified with his penchant for staring out at sea flanked by his canine sidekick, Jussi. Just as my own home port has had a rocky record on race relations, the Malmo of Henning Mankell’s Inspector Wallander mysteries is, according to Matthew Engel in the Financial Times, one of the ‘most racially divided cities in Europe.’ Asked to reflect on these explicit themes in Mankell’s work, an otherwise candid Henriksson would not be drawn on politics. But he revealed he is drawn to tough, serious characters after suffering playground bullying: “I decided I never wanted anyone to laugh at me again.” Never mind the narrative, though, just look at Krister’s tailoring. Who knew he’s such a Scandi Dandy? I encountered him puffing on a fag in a doorway on Brick Lane, taking a few deep breaths before beginning an epic autograph-signing mission. Shortly before, he’d described growing up in a tiny village overlooking the Baltic, desperately searching for something. Today, sporting a quiff and velvet-collared drape coat, I sensed he was breathing up memories of the London of a bygone rock ‘n’ roll era while, ironically, his awaiting fans wanted to be transported, via him, to small-town Ystad.
Back inside, the real and regal Sofia Helin came into view, and she could not be more unlike Saga Noren. Sofia looks uncannily like Grace Kelly, while Saga’s manners much like C3-PO’s. Sofia’s smile alone made her unrecognisable, her gentle voice and graceful gestures a far cry from Saga’s abrupt stompiness. Though during the Q & A, as she cocked her head to one side and furrowed her brow inquisitively to hear an inaudible query, the chap behind me piped up: “There! Saga-face”.
I sensed, in the queues for the Ladies at close of Day 1, that a few women now regretted sporting their Sarah Lund sweaters – cream with blue bands of intricate Nordic patterning – embarrassed at how many of their Lundite sisters were in the same gear. Heads down, jackets were pulled across bosoms rather than displaying their affiliation loud and proud. They knew it – the Sarahnauts are ‘so last year’. Saganauts are the new black.
Sarah Niblock is Professor of Journalism at Brunel University, London, UK. She can often be found on the radio or in a field talking about pop style. She is the author of several books, articles and chapters on visual culture and journalism including Prince: The Making of a Pop Icon (Ashgate 2012), now reprinted in paperback.