Todd Terje, Lindstrøm and Prins Thomas might be the headline names that have helped make the world so well acquainted with Norwegian dance music, but how they – and their country – came to sit at the top table owes much to Bjørn Torske. An enigmatic figure who favours rumination over quick gains, his ability to challenge the conventions of club sounds inspires the progressively-minded as much as it intrigues. This summer he released his first solo album in seven years, coming off the back of a new, more concise approach, honed by his work with Prins Thomas. We talk about reference points and methods in its making, Erot’s legacy to Norway and the concept of underrated DJs, alongside a mix inspired by a long hot summer in Europe.
Hi Bjorn, how’s your 2018 been going so far?
It’s going well. Apart from getting my latest album out, I’ve been traveling around playing records in various places, like Slovenia, Spain, Netherlands and Sweden, among others. I also have a new remix coming out, as well as working on another one at the moment.
Congrats on your new album. As your first solo LP in seven years, did you feel you had a lot riding on it or were you excited to present a new and invigorated version of yourself?
Thanks! After my previous solo release, I was interested in keeping a focus on stand-alone tracks and single releases rather than making long players. Since I primarily work as a DJ, I feel very related to the twelve inch format. Albums rarely find their way into my record bag, and if they do, it is usually for the sake of a single track. Then I embarked on this collaboration with Prins Thomas, and it kind of got my thoughts back to the album format.
Byen feels more overarchingly aimed at the dance floor than most of your previous long-players. Was this a deliberate intention and, if so, what prompted that approach?
As mentioned above, after collaborating with Thomas, I got an inkling that it was perhaps time to make another album myself. This time I also had quite a clear vision of what I wanted it to sound like, so I was more able to visualize the result than has been the case with my previous albums.
Working with Thomas also taught me how to better cope with limited time. Previously I have been working on and off with my album projects, with the result that they have been several years in the making. This time I wanted to set aside a limited amount of time, and spend it solely for the production of Byen.
Were there any reference points that weighed heavily on Byen? Albums you were listening to at the time, enlightening conversations or even something completely unconnected that gave you a new perspective?
There are in fact several points of musical reference on the album, some rather obvious and other more hidden ones. They are not necessarily contemporary, but very much connected with the history and development of underground dance music as a whole, as well as my own musical history.
Challenging conventions of DJ-friendly music is one of your most defining features as a producer, but Byen feels you’ve kept that side at bay a bit. Matt Unicomb at RA speculate this might be you “mellow[ing] with age” but your recent sets at Kala that we witnessed suggest otherwise. Was there a reason for expressing a smoother sound in Byen and will be seeing more of the unpredictable Bjorn Torske in the future?
On Byen I was trying to challenge my own idea of production, by enforcing certain “conventions”, or restrictions, upon myself. Whereas previous albums have had me looking all over for ideas and sounds, trying to incorporate a plethora of impressions and ideas, this time I intended to narrow it a bit more down to the basics of electronic music. At least the basics as I understand them. Speaking about a smoother sound, I didn’t actually see it like that from the start, I had a set of pretty rough ideas and sketches. However they developed in that direction when I set my plans in motion. Other than that, I was always pretty mellow, I’m not sure it’s an age thing. But I’m probably better now to view things from an outside perspective, than when I was younger.
What track are you most pleased with on the album and why?
A boring answer is that I’m more or less equally pleased with the whole lot, in respect to each track’s purpose and “identity”. But the track I probably put most consideration into, and the one that was kind of the driving force for me to get the album ready, was the one titled ‘Chord Control’.
In a Facebook group were in, members recently got discussing their most underrated DJs and you seemed to unanimously top the poll. Who would be your most underrated DJs and why?
I’m not really sure how one classifies a DJ or performer as underrated. I mean it’s a subjective notion of course, and it all comes down to one’s personal taste in music. I guess that every artist with their own standing and following will be “rated” on behalf of their musical merit according to their audiences’ tastes and expectations. If by “underrated” you mean “more people should be listening to artist X or dj Y” I reckon it is like that with any artist with a loyal following. I mean if you take something like Naffi Sandwich, not many people are into them or probably aren’t even aware of them, but their few fans are very dedicated.
Northern Disco Lights was an amazing advert for Norwegian dance music. We heard you talk at the London premiere and one of our takeaways was the importance of Erot in the whole journey, despite remaining a largely unheralded figure outside Norway. To give the uninitiated a sense of his stature, what impact did he have on you and what value does he continue to hold for the Norwegian music community?
For me personally, Erot had an approach to music that was very much coloured by the limited amount of equipment he used. Also his persistency in trying to get where he wanted musically, was very inspiring for me. And not least the results he presented. He brought a new sound and a new approach to the Norwegian electronic music table. But he was indeed heralded outside Norway, if not by very many, then at least by several key figures on the scene, like Idjut Boys and the SVEK crew, to name a few. And his influence on the Norwegian scene of producers like Prins Thomas, Todd Terje and Lindstrøm is unquestionable. He definitely helped put Norway on the map.
Are there any young DJs and producers who you think are continuing this legacy in an exciting way?
Maybe not so very young anymore, but Sex Tags, Telephones, Velferd and Øyvind Morken, to name a few. And a lot of other up-and-coming people keeping the local scene alive.
Could you tell us about the mix you’ve made for us?
The mix was conceived and recorded at home, and was basically influenced by the hot summer we’ve had here, and outdoor parties like for instance Kala Festival. One stand out track is of course Erot’s remix of The Persuader, an all time classic but I realised I hadn’t played it out in ages. I’m also very fond of the Biba track, which was produced by Jean-Pierre Massiera, his productions are a big influence.