A short historical overview
Throughout the early nineties, Norwegian electronic club music maintained a position as a genre for the few. The raves attracted a selected crowd, and the releases went out to a limited, but dedicated audience. However small, the scene was an active one with artists such as Mental Overdrive, Mind over Midi and Bleep releasing acclaimed 10” and 12” vinyl on respected international labels as Crammed Discs, R&S and Defected. The first years of the decade saw Biosphere emerge as what was to be one of Norway’s most respected electronic artists. His characteristic ambient soundscapes earned him an audience beyond the devoted Norwegian scene, and more than twelve years after his debut Biosphere still enjoys international acclaim.
Tromsø, a medium-sized city in the far north of Norway, was the focal point for electronic music in the late eighties/early nineties. One of the longest lasting acts to come out of this early phase was Bel Canto. This still active duo was one of the first to create a symbiosis of electronic and vocal elements, creating a distinct sound that still has its fans around the world.
The mid-nineties saw increased activity. Economic growth triggered a wave of clubs and new scenes – DJs and bands within the genre found new outlets for their creativity. As the decade went on, Oslo gained a status as the clubbing capitol of Scandinavia, with international DJ notabilities frequently visiting Norway. Clubs such as the now defunct Skansen and Jazid, along with still vibrant venue Blå were the staging ground for a growing DJ culture and increased public interest in electronic club music. Following clubbing’s growth, DJs were experiencing increased social status – it was now very cool to be a vinyl spinner.
Not only clubs benefited from the increased interest in urban sounds. A new generation of record labels emerged partly as a result of this development. Bergen’s Tellè Records, Tromsø’s Beatservice and Oslos’s dBut, Jazzland, Rune Grammofon and Smalltown Supersound labels have all contributed to the development of various electronic scenes.
The Röyksopp/Tellè story
It’s impossible to write a piece on Norwegian electronica without mentioning Röyksopp. For the international audience, this is the band most will associate with Norwegian club music. Their commercial success is unsurpassed in a Norwegian context: their Melody A.M. sold more than 70 000 copies in Norway. In the UK the album reached no. 9 on the album charts and has to date sold more than 100 000 units. World-wide, Melody A.M. is heading for sales of more than 200 000 making it one of the most commercially successful Norwegian releases ever. Although the record is released on a foreign label, UK’s Wall of Sound, it was Bergen’s Tellè Records that was the first to appreciate the infectious sounds of Röyksopp. The symbiosis of label and act helped each party to gain cult status in their Norway, a cult status that in the case of Röyksopp was soon followed by international commercial success.
Some might have speculated that Tellè would collapse given the absence of Röyksopp on their roster. Not so. Tellè has been vital in spearheading the international interest of another Bergen act; Ralph Myers and the Jack Herren Band. Originally conceived as a one-off outfit, this collective has proved to be a refreshing new element to the Norwegian club-scene. With infectious big beats and a unique and very vibrant live setting, the band was soon picked up by American label Emperor Norton. Ralph Myers have yet to release an album, but when they do it will be marketed world-wide.
Tellè is also home to a close-knit crew of other artists. Annie produces timeless pop endorsed by London DJs like Rob Da Bank, and has been featured in the Face magazine. The release of her long awaited album was tragically set back when her significant other and legendary DJ/producer Erot passed away in 2001. However, Annie is set to return – a new album is in the making.
Bjørn Torske’s is another strong musical personality whose twisted take on club-music has earned him a unique voice. His dirty and gritty but also charming and seductive house tracks have few parallels on the current club-scene. 1998’s Ferox-released Nedi Myra album has proved to be a true classic with it’s organic, human and pulsating grooves. 2001’s Trøbbel drew more on dirty electro-grooves and lo-fi inspiration – still it was warmly received by a faithful audience.
Kaptein Kaliber, Datarock, Rundfunk and Kahuun are a few of the many creative Bergen acts just waiting to make their mark on the scene. There’s more to come from the vibrant west-coast capital of Norway.
Being situated well north of the polar circle, Tromsø might seem like an unlikely town to foster a vital and active club-music label. However, Beatservice Records has throughout the last eight years been an important supplier of fresh talent to the Norwegian music scene. Names such as Xploding Plastix, Slowpho, Biosphere, Upper Rooms, Flunk, Kyd & Kango and Athome Project are all names that give positive reverberation. Focusing on organic house and what some refer to as glacial electronica, Beatservice has managed to spread its sounds around the world as distribution in Japan, USA and most of Europe is secured.
Xploding Plastix, whose trademark Amon Tobin-inspired cut-up breaks have gained them many fans around the globe, is a name well worth mentioning. Their 2001 album Amateur Girlfriends Go Proskirt Agents, was ecstatically received in Norway, and the band followed up on this with even more rave reviews and gigs in UK, Germany and USA. Watch out for the band’s alter ego Electones. This new outfit comprises the two knob-twisters from Xploding plus an additional female vocalist. The tempo is slower and the choruses are rich – in other words it’s pop, albeit with an electronic twist.
On the other end of the intensity scale we find Flunk. Their chilled-out and melodic electronica has ventured outside the nation’s borders, and USA in particular has been receptive to the blissful tunes. Their For Sleepyheads Only album has been licensed to Chicago’s Guidance Recordings, and world-wide release is planned.
Another Beatservice act that feature lush vocals and well-programmed beats is Slowpho. This duo has been successful nationally with their Hi-Fi Sounds For Young Norwegians, and has subsequently found a receptive Japanese market. Their album has sold well in the land of the rising sun, and a tour and new releases are on their way.
We have already mentioned the veteran; Biosphere. His birth name is Geir Jensen, and recently he returned to Tromsø label Beatservice. Biosphere has throughout his two-decade career gained a solid following, and his latest album Shenzhou solidified his status as a vital contributor to the Norwegian scene.
Other Beatservice acts worth checking out include Upper Rooms which displays a very unique take on Warp-inspired electronica. The now defunct Kyd & Kango duo has released a slew of 10” and 12”’s which have been playlisted by several international DJ celebrities. Athome Project is another fresh act with an upcoming album – modern, jazzy, polyrhythmic and sophisticated stuff à la Compost.
So far we’ve focused on Tromsø and Bergen – time to head over to the nation’s capital Oslo. Although much recent international attention has been focused on Bergen, Oslo has for years been the staging ground for a vibrant circuit of DJs, producers, bands, labels and clubs.
One of several labels to deserve recognition is Smalltown Supersound. Home to such artists as Martin Horntvedt, Kim Hiorthøy and Jaga Jazzist, one-man label Smalltown has been a staunch supplier of quality electronica. One could easily draw comparisons to other better known labels such as Warp, but this wouldn’t wouldn’t do justice to the active Oslo label, which sports a solid identity of its own.
Perhaps the best known collective on Smalltown Supersounds roster is twelve-piece outfit Jaga Jazzist. It’s difficult to pigeonhole this eclectic band as they skilfully navigate the borders between electronica, 21st century jazz and post rock. The line-up comprises horns, guitars, keys, various electronics, drums and bass. Their live reputation has risen to near legendary status – no doubt a contributing factor to Jaga’s album sales (latest album the Stix started at no. 3). Following a record deal with respected UK electronica-pioneer label Ninja Tune, Jaga is now set to gain new fans outside Norway.
Jaga Jazzist drummer Martin Horntvedt’s solo speciality is drill n’ bass antics à la Squarepusher. His musical devotion might be an extreme one, but still he has managed to acquire a following both at home and abroad. Horntvedt’s debut EP was well received nationally and abroad – his live shows equally appreciated.
Multi talented artist, designer and musician Kim Hiorthøy is another Smalltown artist specialising in leftfield electronics reminiscent of producers Aphex Twin and Autechre. Twisted audio clips and distorted digital blips are tied together with quirky grooves. Like many of his peers, Hiorthøy manages to add some humour and life to the tracks- solidifying the image of an organic and human label.
Racing Junior and Trust Me Records are two other active labels sporting rosters bubbling with creative energy. In addition to great reviews in Norway, Trust Me’s Safariari has been successful in Japan with his Cornelius-esque electronic pop. Racing Junior on the other hand has enjoyed success with unique electronica duo Tøyen who compose and perform their bhangra two-step tunes on a pair of Playstations. Salvatore is another Racing act, which through their work with Tortoise’s John McIntyre have managed to fuse elements of electronica with post-rock.
dBut Records is another label whose approach is more oriented towards pure and organic club-music. The main artists on their roster include veteran Sternklang, chill-out purveyors Perculator and newcomer Moon Orchestra. Hectic domestic touring coupled with gigs in Europe and Japan has given the dBut crew a loyal following. France has in particular proved receptive to the sounds of this label.
Strong contenders in the award for newcomers of the year 2002 are label Port Azur and act Ugress. With their first signing ever, fresh label Port Azur managed what few have done before them: their first album hitting no. 2 on the national sales charts. With a refreshing and unique take on the genre pundits call big-beat, Ugress has managed to create quite a stir.
Another label to experience success with their sole signing is Jazid Collective. Their main priority, Slow Supreme, is featured on nearly one hundred compilations world-wide. His 10” and 12”s have sold well across the world in addition to being playlisted by the who’s who of dance music; Kruder & Dorfmeister, Jazzanova and Masters at Work.
Although Jazzland’s artists are often labelled more jazz than electronica, it’s not fair to pigeonhole them as being just improvisational players. The samplers are given ample room in Bugge Wesseltoft, Eivind Aarset, Witbutee and Beady Belle’s sonic landscapes. Bugge is arguably one of the internationally best known Norwegian performers. His hectic touring has led to healthy sales of his releases and secured him a loyal following in France and Germany in particular. Wesseltoft is the founding father of successful Jazzland label, and has spent the last seven years promoting his unique take on club-jazz. Together with label mates Wibutee and Eivind Aarset, Bugge has managed to invent a sound that’s more often than not referred to as distinctly Norwegian.
The artists on Rune Grammofon’s roster are equally difficult to classify. Is it jazz, electronica or contemporary? Listening to such composers/performers as Maja Ratkje, Jazzkammer or Supersilent, one is baffled by the creative force on display. With little respect for genres, Rune Grammofon has managed to build a loyal international following. His releases are marketed world-wide by jazz giant ECM, and respected publication The Wire is one of his devotees.
So far we have focused much on the respective labels and their artist. Such an approach wouldn’t be fair to all those artists that are recognised by their work not their record company affiliation. Some Norwegian artists have also chosen to eschew signing to a Norwegian label, focusing directly on foreign record companies.
One of the best known in this respect is noted nu-jazz producer and DJ Espen Horne - perhaps better known under his Bobby Hughes alias. His first album Fusa Riot, released on UKs Ultimate Dilemma, sold tens of thousands copies and earned him a position as one of Scandinavia’s top club-jazz producers. His next album “Nhu Golden Era” is set for release on German label Stereo DeLuxe, and with a hectic tour schedule abroad Bobby Hughes is likely to maintain his position on the international scene.
Dub-electronica veterans Palace of Pleasure are also worth mentioning. Their ten-year long career spans five albums and countless gigs. Well established on the Norwegian scene with a loyal following, Palace of Pleasure have also began focussing on touring abroad. A new licensing deal with UK’s Sunday Best will enable them to reach out to a wider audience around the world. A successful European tour in spring 2002 gave them new fans- Switzerland in particular proved receptive to the collective’s unique charisma.
Within the field of drum n’ bass, Teebee is up there with the best of DJs and producers. Nominated and voted Drum n’ Bass producer of the year several times, Teebee has established himself as a notability on the international scene. Perhaps better known and recognised abroad, he has released a slew of albums, 10”s and twelves on such respected labels as Rugged Vinyl, Certificate 18 and R&S. His tunes are frequently being played by
dn’b super-DJs such as Roni Size, Grooverider, Fabio and Krust. A hectic touring schedule and a recent relocation to San Francisco contributes to his position as one of the most internationalised players of the scene.
House veterans Illumination received a boost to their career when they were featured on the hugely successful “Café del Mar” compilations. Their latest self-entitled album has been released throughout the world, paving the way for new releases. One half of Illumination, Per Martinsen is a true veteran of the Norwegian club scene, having been an active DJ and producer since the late eighties. Martinsen was responsible for some of the very first Norwegian electronical releases, and his present active status is a testament to the longevity of the scene.
We could continue for much longer than this, writing in-depth about the qualities of such artists as John Storm n’ Da Kid, Fenomenon or Butti 49. However, that’s beyond the scope of this article which is only intended as a taster for what’s out there on the Norwegian scenes and in the studios. There’s much more left to explore, and we aim at featuring the constant development on the scene on www.mic.no
Bjørn Torske, Artist, DJ