Are Rebecca & Fiona Sweden’s Next Act to Pop?

This past weekend, Sweden’s musical elite gathered at a Coachella-esque music festival called Way Out West, which made a bit of noise internationally thanks to a clip of Kanye West hopping on stage during Prince’s set. But the act that made the most noise after the headliners packed up was Stockholm’s Rebecca & Fiona, who played a hotly-tipped 3am Gothenburg club gig associated with Way Out West. The line wrapped around the block.

Rebecca & Fiona are well-known in Sweden thanks to national exposure on TV via a docu-series on Sveriges Television, where fans got a behind-the-scene glimpse of their lives producing music and touring the country (the duo has opened for homegrown talents like Robyn). While some critics have dismissed them as dilettantes, others believe they just might usher in a new wave of young female DJs in a scene currently dominated by men.

The duo, who’ve been recording a dizzying amount of music lately, explained the method behind their madness. “Our winter starts in October and we don’t see the sun again until the spring,” says Fiona. In a few months, American fans will get a fresh dose of their sound thanks to a new single produced by Kaskade, which they recorded in California earlier this year. “We’re making a video in Sweden,” said Rebecca backstage at Way Out West, where the pair turned heads wherever they went–both are known as fashion trendsetters for young Swedish girls.

It’s too soon to tell if fans outside of Sweden will feel the same about Rebecca & Fiona’s brand of pop-tinged dance music as their fellow countrymen, but 2012 may well see them breaking the fortress that is the American market, and representing a very different dimension of underground Scandinavian dance music, one born in clubs and made by – perhaps made for – women. “We’re productive and motivated,” said Fiona. “People here [in Sweden] are obsessed with making it.”

New Vodka Brand One Roq Uses Patriotism as Marketing Angle

In the highly competitive international vodka market—it generated 4.8 billion in revenue last year alone—a new trend is emerging: make great American vodka, and brand it accordingly. Most vodkas aimed at American audiences (think Grey Goose and Belvedere) are actually distilled in Europe (France and Poland, respectively.) But enter One Roq, a new Vodka hoping to alter the mindset of domestic consumers.

“There’s been decades worth of conditioning via advertising to make Americans think that all vodka is supposed to come from Europe and Russia, when that’s just not true,” said One Roq CEO Garrett Green from his office in upstate New York. “I can’t walk into an American liquor store and identify a premium American vodka—that’s a head scratcher,” he added.

There are plenty of American vodkas (the most popular being San Francisco’s SKYY, another being Austin’s Tito’s handmade Vodka), but only a few have actively tried to position their domestic qualities as a marketing angle against “exotic” brands like Svedka, which flaunt their immigrant status as a selling point.

In recent years, several spirits entrepreneurs have had the same idea as Green. Names like Glacier vodka and Americana vodka have used patriotism as a selling point, but Green says no one has managed to catapult their tipple into what he calls the “elite high class American category.” Green is serious about spending what it takes to get a toehold in the marketplace next year, and is planning a television ad campaign to raise awareness of his brand, which sports a subtle red, white, and blue logo.

In the meantime, he held an unofficial debut of sorts over the weekend at Siren Studios’ rooftop in Los Angeles to raise money for CoachArt. One Roq was the vodka sponsor at the party, and several attendees remarked how it was the first time they’d seen the spirit (Green confirms the sponsorship marked a sort of unofficial debut and that more sponsored events are forthcoming in cities like New York, San Francisco, and Denver, near the vodka’s distillery).

Can One Roq—which boasts a tart raspberry flavor in addition to its standard and limited lines—make it in a highly competitive market, when giants like Grey Goose thrive under their “distilled and bottled in France” tagline? It’s too soon to tell, but Green seems determined to give it an epic, American try.

LA’s Avalon Comes to Singapore

One of Hollywood’s best-known nightclubs, Avalon, is going global. A Singapore edition of the club is set to open on September 16, proving that L.A. clubs still have cachet abroad, even if Las Vegas has eclipsed the city in terms of size and volume when it comes to nightclubs.

But like the Vegas megaclubs, Avalon Singapore will exist inside a hotel and casino, as part of the Marina Bay Sands resort. Designed by New York-based firm Roman and Williams, known for the interiors of the Royalton and the Ace Hotel, Avalon Singapore will boast inspired touches, like the three-dimensional diamond design exterior, seen above.

The 17,000 square-foot club will open a week before Grand Prix weekend, and the GO! Festival, a weekend of electronic music with headliners like the Chemical Brothers. Avalon Hollywood is known for its stellar sound system, and a press release announcing the new club says it has “seven variable trusses…the largest install of its kind worldwide.”

LA’s Unlikely New Drinking District: Fairfax Village

In Los Angeles, New York-style bar crawls tend to happen in neighborhoods with a high concentration of bars (obviously). Think the Sunset Strip, Silver Lake, or Santa Monica. Yet no less than five bars are now clustered together on Fairfax Avenue, between Beverly and Rosewood, turning the area anchored by Animal restaurant and Canter’s Deli into LA’s version of the Lower East Side.

The neighborhood isn’t totally foreign to night owls, however. Back in the Swingers days, Sean MacPherson and Jon Sidel opened Olive in the area, and the Kibitz room on Fairfax was popular with big name musicians, who used to drop by to play at the bar attached to Canter’s. But more recently, Fairfax has been popping with the addition of two new bars: Rosewood Tavern and Vodvil. Rosewood Tavern has emerged as a hit from the moment they opened in May, thanks to a low-key pub vibe in an exposed-brick environment (28 craft brews can’t hurt). The future is less certain for the just-opened Vodvil, which boasts a novel concept that may or may not endear itself to locals.

So what’s the deal with Vodvil? Well, the bar and restaurant encourages patrons to play games while they eat and drink. We’re talking word games, trivia, classic game show challenges and party games like charades and celebrity. Every night has a different theme. Hosts with microphones, who resemble stand-up comics, guide guests through the evening, which features trivia tied to what’s displayed on a large screen. Trivia in bars is nothing new, but this high-tech approach is winning over guests over, so far.

The problem with the lounge is a surreptitious $6 per person “entertainment” fee added to each person’s bill at the end of the evening. This fee is not really disclosed up front, leaving some to feel as if they’ve been had. The charge acts as a sort of de facto cover change, which is what the bar should do up front, so people know what they are in for. That said, the bar should be commended for pushing forward with a new concept. It gets loud inside, with multiple sound sources competing for your attention, but it can be a fun choice for first dates and office parties.

Next up for the neighborhood is a gastropub inside the former Largo space, which sources say is coming soon.

LAX-Adjacent Custom Hotel Gets Mod Makeover

Hotels near LA’s chaotic airport, LAX, aren’t exactly known for their design flourishes. Weary travelers who stay at nearby Westin or Sheraton hotels are forgiven if they’re not impressed with those chains’ knack for late-eighties motifs. But! The times, they are-a-changin,’ as one option near the airport, the Custom hotel, just got the makeover treatment, and the results are not too shabby at all. Come look!

The Custom, now managed and owned by San Francisco-based company Joie de Vivre, officially re-launches September 15th, and boasts “an aesthetic that pays homage to the mod ’60’s glamorous air travel,” says the press release. (Think Christina Ricci’s new show, Pan Am.) The hotel also has a newly renamed and redesigned bar and restaurant, called Deck 33, which opens on August 1st.

The Custom opened a few years ago, and has a rep with West L.A. and Santa Monica residents, who may have popped by for one of the summer pool parties the hotel is known for hosting. But the Custom now seems bent on attracting stylish business travelers, with some nice twists that include uniforms inspired by 60s airline staff, with the women in sleek blouses and pencil skirts, and the men in opened collar dress shirts with pinstriped details. While rooms at the Custom can be on the small side, the price is right and the vibe always friendly, along the lines of the Standard Hotel or similar. The hotel is offering an introductory rate starting at $129.

European Music Festival Trend Alert: Michelin Stared Chefs & Craft Cocktails

Early Monday morning, Belgium’s Tomorrowland festival drew to a dream-like close after attracting record crowds (the final numbers showed nearly 200,000 attended over three days this year). Sporadic rain didn’t deter Dutch, French, and Belgian fans of electronic music from flocking en masse to the event, which is quickly emerging as Europe’s answer to the Electric Daisy Carnival. 469 DJs played in total, with names such as David Guetta and Swedish House Mafia among the top draws. Tomorrowland, which began in 2005, is now firmly established as a global DJ circuit “must” for fans and industry members alike.

But the truth is, Tomorrowland is better than EDC for a number of reasons. The most surprising reason, however, might just be the level of culinary sophistication available at the otherwise muddy, gritty festival. Promoters of the event, Holland-based ID&T, offered up a tantalizing taste of a trend possibly heading America’s way at festivals such as Coachella in the years to come: Upscale food and cocktails to go with your gnarly outdoor festival experience.

Sure, you can get all kinds of veggie grub now at festivals such as EDC and Lollapalooza, but the genius minds behind Tomorrowland have found a way to take things to the next level. Guests not only could feast on hot dogs, pizza and typical festival fare, but oysters, lobster and Belgian frites were also on the menu. And for those who planned ahead, an honest-to-god full meal at a wonderfully set table could be had at an upmarket restaurant specially set up this year, inside the VIP area overlooking the main stage, featuring food from Michelin starred chef Wout Bru, of Belgium’s Maison Bru restaurant inside Chez Bru.

Cocktails were also on hand, designed by the men behind Antwerp-based SIPS bar (Manuel and Oliver Wouters). So does this portend a move towards offering more upscale fare for those willing to pay a little extra at music festivals such as Coachella and Lolla in 2012? It’s too soon to tell, but chances are America will see a similar move next year towards offering the wealthiest 5% of festivalgoers gourmet options beyond the typical fare.


Ivy Returns With a New Record

After tossing off so many near-perfect pop songs during the ‘90s (and a few last decade), Chelsea-based trio Ivy is finally back. Side projects have kept members Adam Schlesinger, Dominique Durand, and Andy Chase busy, but their album All Hours, set for a September release, represents the band’s first new material in five years. Said Durand earlier this month from Los Angeles, “We’ve all been very busy.”

Schlesinger is in Fountains of Wayne, while her husband, Chase, is co-owner of a busy Chelsea studio where acts like Depeche Mode recently recorded music. A few years ago, Ivy actually did record a full album, but the band decided to scrap it. “We decided to start all over again,” said Durand. “We were like, Fuck it, it’s not good enough for us.”

But last year, Ivy got serious about exploring an original sound and began the recording process all over again. “We started from scratch and got very inspired,” she said. “These new songs we are very excited about.” So what does the new Ivy sound like? A lot like old Ivy, but mostly without their trademark jangly guitars. “We wanted it to be a more upbeat and happier-sounding record,” Durand said. “There’s more energy and light to it. It’s more dance-y, for Ivy,” she said, before quickly adding that All Hours is “not a dance record.”

Songs like “Fascinated,” the new single set to drop next week, sparkle with a catchy confidence that’s filtered through an ‘80s pop prism, and seem to draw danceable inspiration from acts like Cut Copy or MGMT. But it’s lead single “Distant Lights” that sets the tone for the new record with repetitive, siren-like synths and pulsating drums, eventually giving way to sweet melodies. It’s a radical departure for the band, but a welcome one.

Ivy plays the Gramercy Theater September 24th, and additional tour dates are to be announced soon.

Hogging the Spotlight: The Cosmopolitan’s Summer Festival of Pork

No hotel in Las Vegas is bringing the proverbial heat quite like the Cosmopolitan this summer. Their club Marquee is luring the biggest names in dance music on a near-nightly basis, and they’ve even secured Adele to drop by next month for an intimate gig. But the hotel offers a lot more than pop icons and DJs. Later this month, the Cosmopolitan will host the rock stars of the food world at a new event, the inaugural All-Star Cochon.

On July 24, chefs such as Mark Ladner of Del Posto, Amelia Posada and Erika Nakamura of Lindy & Grundy, Michael Sullivan of Blackberry Farm, John Sundstrom of Lark, Andy Ricker of Pok Pok, Jeremy Fox and the 2010 “King of Porc” David Varley of Michael Mina, Alex Seidel of Fruition, and Stephanie Izard of The Girl & the Goat will descend upon the Strip’s hottest hotel to cook up all things pig.

As part of the three-year-old Cochon 555 competition, the chefs will dream up new ways to roast, chop, broil, and fry the swine in ways previously unknown to man. Not only will chefs fly in from all over the U.S., but the Cosmopolitan’s own dream team of pork participants will be in the mix as well. That means kitchen pros from restaurants such as Comme Ça, D.O.C.G, Estiatorio Milos, Holstein’s, Jaleo, STK, Scarpetta and more. While the series has toured before nationally, the July 24th event at the Cosmo is the first ever “all-star” event, with acclaimed butchers and 14 whole heritage hogs. Naturally, packages are available for those looking to pig out later this month, many of which also include special tastings of Domaine Serene reserve wines paired with Spanish pork variety Fermin Iberico de Bellota.

Watch a trailer for Cochon 555 to get a sense of why hogs have been all the rage recently.

Laguna Beach Goes L.A. with Katsuya & The Deck Openings

Summer is heating up around Los Angeles, just in time for peak beach season. The storied SoCal weather phenomenon known as “June Gloom” is gone and cloudy skies have given way to sunshine. Accordingly, Angelenos are heading south this month to Laguna Beach, especially in the wake of two notable openings in the surfing Mecca turned enclave of the super rich.

Friday evening, L.A.-based hospitality giant SBE’s Katsuya officially opened to the public after several soft-opening events, and the sushi chain, already a hit in L.A. (and soon to be a hit in Miami), is a lock to succeed in Laguna Beach. Just like the multiple L.A.-area Katsuya locations, the new Orange County outpost serves up Japanese cuisine with a decidedly decadent twist, as evidenced by the late night crowds that swarm the bar in Hollywood (Jay-Z is a fan and drops by the Vine Street location nearly every time he’s in SoCal).

The first Katsuya outside of L.A. sticks to the formula that has made the mini-chain successful: upscale Japanese fare with California kink (see their immensely popular crispy rice w/ spicy tuna) paired with elaborate cocktails to match (try the Burning Mandarin with Absolut Mandarin – hand-crushed Serrano chili, fresh lemon/orange juice, and a splash of cranberry served in a sugar rimmed glass), all offered up in a sleek Philippe Starck-designed interior. Over the weekend, Orange Country residents swooned over the Europe-meets-Asia design theme inside the new nightspot, which also contains a full robata bar, and didn’t seem to mind a little bit of Los Angeles glamour now firmly ensconced behind the “Orange Curtain.”

Just across the street and down two blocks from Katsuya, a slightly different yet no less notable destination officially opened July 1 inside the Joie De Vivre’s smart Pacific Edge hotel. The Deck sits at the rim of the Pacific, with stunning views of the beach. Guests are literally on the beach at the restaurant and bar, which might make it the best happy hour location in all of Orange County. Where else do you have the opportunity to see a dolphin casually peek its head above a crashing wave as you sip a guava mango margarita at an upmarket hotel restaurant bar? Chef Michael Ingrino created a menu meant for upscale, yet casual diners – think burgers and paella – and so far, the spot has been a hit with locals, who swarm The Deck to watch the sun set nightly.

But The Deck isn’t just crowded at night. Taking a page from popular Las Vegas hotels, Pacific Edge is now offering private cabanas that sit directly adjacent to the Deck, and are priced in the $450 to $800 neighborhood. To be sure, cabana culture is nothing new for L.A. or Las Vegas, but for the laid-back surfing culture of Laguna Beach, The Deck will likely provide a valuable “daylife” experience (sans the DJs), for moneyed locals who have cash to burn. The cabanas even come with a “Beach Sherpa” and “Cabana Girl” to assist customers with “everything from setting up your beach chairs and umbrellas, to ordering your food and beverages,” per their website.