It’s the mid 90s in Norway and up to this point, A-HA are about the biggest musical export to come out the country. Todd Terje and Lindstrøm are but a twinkle in a DJ’s eye and Röyksopp’s Melody AM is still a few years off . An oil boom in the 1980s led to a cultural and technological advancement in the bedrooms of young creatives, as the sounds and sights from distant club scenes filtered in through crackling radio signals and imported records and zines.
Out of the icy landscapes of the arctic circle came an esoteric house sound brimming with warmth and playfulness, led by acts like Biosphere and Mental Overdrive, then continued by Bjørn Torske, Erot, Annie and Strangefruit. As DIY labels took shape and the community of producers and DJs grew closer and more prolific, the period between 1997 and 1999 stands out as a golden era for Norwegian house; a period where dance floors and record shops across Europe started to take note of Norway, and a hugely influential time for a younger generation who would develop the famous space disco sound.
During this period, Sex Tags Mania co-founder DJ Fett Burger was a young teenager just discovering records, and this burst of creativity on home soil was a massive instigator on his subsequent career as a producer, DJ, label head and distributor. Here he looks back on three pivotal years -“a truly special time in Norwegian music history” – with some in-depth thoughts and five key tracks in its development.
Where does your love for Norwegian house stem from?
I was a teenager at the time, around 15 years. It was the time I discovered and got aware of house music and I realised that Norway had a strong scene. It was through two radio shows on NRK P3, the national radio channel, and it was the radio shows by DJ Strangefruit and DJ Abstract. They played a lot of Norwegian music and supported the scene and their friends! The scene was exciting at the time. A lot of the music was really good and a lot of talent was exposed at the time. Especially through the Tellé label from Bergen. It was a vibrant and creative scene, that gained international attention. Which was a really big thing back then! This scene had a strong connection to UK, with people like Idjut Boys and Paper Recordings to name a few. So it was amazing that something from Norway’s underground made it outside the little Norwegian scene!
With exceptional producers and people like Bjørn Torske, Erot, Torbjørn Brundtland, Annie and Mental Overdrive to name very few. With Bjørn and Erot, house music with strong disco influences made its mark, then Torbjørn and Svein as Røyksopp, and Annie crossing over to more mainstream pop later. Before Erot sadly passed away (and it all crossed over and the bubble burst) it was this amazing exciting energy, something big was in the making. The sound of disco was very present in the productions and 1997-1999 was the landmark years of this particular Norwegian house scene. These years have become very influential for future Norwegian producers and DJs. For me these are the most influential years!
It still has this unique mix of house, disco with a soulful touch, and a bit rough approach with a lot of percussions. Skranglehouse (rattle house) as it was called back then. My love for this stems from that time, the sound, the energy, the productions, the people and the amazing thing that Norway (especially Bergen and Oslo) made so much amazing great music. It was the right moment, the right people and I was in the right age to be influenced in this magical way. I will forever be thankful for those golden years and what these people did at that time. They still make my day every day because of the music they made and presented. This is one of the reasons why I make the records I do today and also why I wanted to be a DJ, so I could play amazing music like this!
What marks out a golden age Norwegian house record, compared to the rest of the genre?
The records and music from that period (not only the five records I’m mentioning here, but from that whole time in Norway from this scene) stand out because many of them have very organic sounding productions. Especially since 70s disco was such a big influence, and they where very soulful. The organic sounding percussion had a very strong presence. A bit messy, more like live. They often used heavy samples, usually disco, but differently from a lot of US stuff. Some of the tunes where also very catchy, like Erot’s ‘Song for Annie’, Annie and Erot’s ‘Greatest Hit” of course, Kahuun – ‘Batteri’ and Those Norwegians – ‘Dom B Sensi’. Some of the productions were more on the left field side but always with some organic twist and samples, but also sometimes with an introverted, mysterious atmosphere. The melodies and funk with a Norwegian touch somehow. It was different than the US or UK, it had its own Norwegian twist. I don’t really know how to explain. It just had a bit of a different sound, maybe a bit quirky. Disco and house through a Norwegian lens.
What golden age Norwegian house record has left the biggest impression on you as a DJ and producer?
It was not one record that made the biggest impression, there are many tunes and records from that time and all the ones I like have made a big impression. Not all of them are in this list, there are many more!
They all had qualities and soulfulness I don’t hear in much music made today, only with very few exceptions. The productions were fun, exciting and playful and it makes you wanna dance and get sucked into their atmosphere! Their atmosphere is a big thing. Music is not produced that way anymore and now producers emphasise different things. Back then they didn’t just make something that was made before. It was somehow something new. With the best music from that time you can (or I can at least) feel a strong creative energy coming from these records. Same as with other amazing records from important eras and scenes. That’s inspiring as a producer and DJ, because it takes you to the other place; that’s the place only good art and music can take you. It takes you to something bigger than yourself and your surroundings. That’s when magic happens. As a creative and free person it’s where you wanna be – it’s spiritual!
As for all these productions and great music made from this era (and also why I chose to do this article) I wanted to highlight a true special time in Norwegian music history. And also showcase a very particular and unique production style that many of these productions had. It was something unique to this scene but also with some similarities to some UK stuff, especially some Idjut Boys related productions. This was far away from what people like to think of as Nordic, with usually cold and more electronic sounds. This had a warmth to it. It was disco and soulful and it was a sound that totally stood out as something on its own from all the other Nordic countries. For some magical reason Norway was obsessed with disco, just as the US and UK. That was as surprising as it was a true blessing! This was also music from Norway that gained international attention. Almost nothing else except A-HA and Norwegian Black Metal was able to do it at the time. So it paved the way for future Norwegian producers just like myself, and that I can only be very thankful for!
DJ Fett Burger’s Brief History of the Norwegian House Golden Years (1997-1999)
Those Norwegians – Dom B Sensi [Paper Recordings, 1997]
A soulful house track from Those Norwegians from 1997, with their original line up of Torbjørn Brundtland, Ole Mjøs and Rune Lindbæk. A very catchy and light track with the perfect sample to give you the groove. And some added vocals with a Norwegian twist and some filters. And there you’ve got a massive cocktail party house track for the special nights! Also it’s one of those 90s Norway-UK connections with it being released on Paper Recordings, and used to be played be the likes of DJ Harvey back in the heydays! I personally like the catchy sample and it becomes a very present track with a strong vibe in DJ sets!
Torske / The Mundal Explosion – In Disco [Tellé, 1998]
The very first release on Tellé records! The very rare classic. Maybe the most difficult record to get from the Tellé catalogue. A split 7” with Erot’s ‘Song For Annie’ on the B side. Here Bjørn Torske together with Mundal (some obscure Bergen character) made this massive fun Bollywood sample house track. A real party starter. And this was made in a time where fun was on the agenda! Simple, musically, straight in your face and also with a fantastic bass groove! It used to be played a lot on the radio shows of DJ Abstract and DJ Strangefruit back in the days. That’s how I heard it. It’s one of those records I still don’t have. I think it is as great now as when I first heard it. It was one of those tracks that introduced me to the Norwegian house scene.
Bertine Zetlitz – Snow On A Hot Day (Tore Fra Singapore’s Lange Slange Mix) [Drum Island / Parlophone, 1997]
Erot’s fantastic 14 minutes version of the Norwegian pop artist Bertine Zetlitz. ‘Snow On A Hot Day’ was a pretty average Norwegian pop song with not very great vocals, but it was turned into an epic remix journey that only Erot could do. It’s the groove and how he uses melodies. It keeps a lot of the melody from the original song, but Erot twists and turns things. And with a very recognisable drum programming, pure sound of disco, the groove bass, and the dreamy emotional touch to it. You can hear that Erot had a touch for the more catchy stuff and at the same time his creative finesse touch as a producer. The break around 7 minutes still almost makes me cry every time I hear it. In my opinion a true masterpiece remix! This production has of course been a massive inspiration for me. Still love it as much as I did first time I heard it. Again Norwegian radio exposed this to me! The vinyl was released as a singled sided record. Only pressed in 250 copies on Rune Lindbæks Drum Island label. But it got released on CD on some major label. On youtube you’ll only hear half of the track, even more exciting!
Erot – Battlestar XB-7 (Universal Boogie edit by Bjørn Torske) [Svek, 1999]
This is it! Again Erot with his classic ‘Battlestar XB-7’, editted by Bjørn Torske. It was released on SVEK in 1999 as a split 10” with the Bjørn Torske’s – ‘Jeg Vil Være Søppelmann’ (WOW! Edit by Erot) on the B side. Maybe the most defining record from this whole era. Both of them are ultimate Norwegian house classics and epic productions! ‘Battlestar XB-7’ is a heavy percussive house track with an atmospheric intro and emotional melody. This is a burner on the dancefloor and a master craft creative production. All of Erot’s signatures are present: the disco percussions, the effects, the stylish details in production, the emotional melodies, and the surprising twists and turns, but never loosing groove or energy. It can’t to be done any better – this is as good as it can possibly be!
Only Erot and Bjørn could do it this way. That’s also why they stand out as the ultimate Norwegian masters in house music. Their influence and inspiration for future producers and generations, and being cornerstones in the Norwegian underground, is because of this. As no surprise this is the record that has been most influential and defining for me. I would go as far as saying both of these tracks on this record are some of the best music coming out of Norway regardless of any genre. A true masterpiece!
Mental Overdrive – Cheese Royale [Virgin, 1999]
Another big one! Here Mental Overdrive makes a fusion of disco house with some drum and bass. This was quite a bit different from a lot of his other productions but an amazing standout track. This was also a big hit in the Norwegian house scene. It has the drive and lightness of a groove dance floor house tune, but with some added drum and bass elements. This gives the production a surprising turn and also a bit more heaviness to it. With the vocoder voice it adds some 70s P funk vibe with of course a quirky Norwegian twist. Another master tune from a producer that can push things really far in the right zone! Big inspiration and an original production! Also worth noticing, the remix on the B- side from Dr. Sennep & The Hot Dogs. A Bjørn Torske with friends remix. It is another epic piece of music. Both of these tracks on the record also makes this 12” some of the best coming out of Norway from that era!