Wednesday, 19 June 2013

The Abba Museum Experience

It is not often that you get to visit a brand new museum.  Over recent years the expectations of interactivity and engagement have increased and the tendency for glass fronted cabinets showing vast numbers of objects with hard to decipher labels has waned.
Justin in the ABBA spotlights
As I re-visit institutional museums with my kids, like London's Science and Natural History, I find myself looking at how the ideas are being displayed and how the story telling is being put across.  I was struck at the Imperial War Museums (of the North, in Salford, UK) use of bleak colours, heavily pared back use of cabinets of artifacts and instead investment in actors to run childrens story telling to put across multiple perspective feelings of war, for good and bad, rather than the heroic battling version that I remember.  The black out and circular, moving search lights sought to ape the feeling of the nightly air raids many towns and cities faced.

So from gloomy war themed to light and fluffy Swedish pop band museum.  From the profound to banal.  But surely with all that nostalgia and catalogue of chart topping sing-a-long titles, the opening of the Abba museum in Stockholm in 2013 has got to be a good thing ?   And, what better way to mark the successful hosting of the 2013 Eurovision competition (amusing video link showing how self-depreciating the Swedes can be about their culture) than to launch a museum to what must be one of Brand Swedens best assets - Abba.  Volvo, Ericson, IKEA may also spring to mind and possibly Sauna's, Saab and Ace of Base if you are free thinking Swedish brand associations. But also don't forget Spotify and Skype - more contemporary evidence of the innovative side of economic activity. 

The stage costumes were something else....
Thus, with some excitement I walked (well, 'marched' more accurate, thanks to Fiona's pace setting) a full hour in the simpering nearly sunny conditions, battling against the crowds lined up to support Stockholm's annual marathon to find the just opened Abba museum.  In a modern basement, underneath a rather large shop.  Now somethings just surprise you in their obviousness.  Clearly after the huge success of film and stage versions of Abba's stand out musical career, the idea of the bands home supporting a suitable museum is brand mana for heaven for destination Stockholm and an idea whose time is well and truly over due ?

Walk in.   Dance out.
This appeared to be one of the promotional tag lines associated with the museum experience.  I certainly don't remember a song title of the same or similar. 

As you might expect in an innovative, developed city there were a number of interesting differences - it was cashless,  you could only pay by card, paid for audio devices did not have headphones and were easy to recycle, the Abba themed ding on the queue management system was very clever, but annoying after 25 minutes of waiting under it, and the integration of the wider Swedish music scene dubbed the hall of fame. The snake like journey through the basement saw IKEA like, mocked up rooms with vistas - to show how the band members lived and worked were clever, but careful inspection of images highlighted that they weren't original items, but merely replicas in the style of.... which was a little disappointing.  There was clever use of the entrance ticket code to share recordings from karaoke, green screen dancing and Abba themed quiz (70% on the medium quiz, in case you were wondering - so a reasonably serious fan !).   A range of technology based activities that made it more than a maze like journey through a dark basement.
An overtly pro-consumptionist piece of propaganda ?

As I get older, I like the finer things in life (wine that costs more than £7 a bottle) and no longer like to be herded with lots of other people through confined spaces.  The Saturday morning demographic saw me look quite young, and Fiona my twenty something colleague positively youth-like.  I guess the appeal of the museum experience is to those of a certain generation (& I would like to think I was at the back end of this) who listened to Abba whilst growing up.  I have to fess up (=confess in contemporary UK English) my first single was Abba Arrival and I've always loved Abba, even if I was only really getting into music at the end of their illustrious career. 
Having consumed various documentary shows about Abba over the years, I am not sure there was that much I learnt about the band after the museum experience. I most certainly wasn't dancing out.  But I loved the ideas of interactivity - and did the karaoke, skipped the green screen dancing and enjoyed the quiz.  In the round, I was delighted to have been (one of the first & certainly gloated about this visit) and don't doubt the wisdom of picking this as my first Stockholm museum visit - but I think I will make more of an effort to get to the Viking museum next year.  Skol !
Thanks to Fiona for organising the trip and letting me use her photos.