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Gesamtkunstwerk – Sunkissed and Me

Back in two-thousand-and…oh…I-don’t-remember, I arrived in Gardemoen with a bag full of South Africa’s finest 20 kroner wines and a hunger for a new musical experience that I hoped the civilised western-world could depart on a bug-eyed savage like myself. I had been sampling the delicacies of a new European electronic sound at the time, one that had been in some part influenced by a new Scandinavian presence from the likes of Prins Thomas, Lindstrøm and the Knife, and could not wait to sink my teeth into the musical delights a new city and continent had to offer. Immediately Upon my arrival in the fjord I set about to find this “new-disco” sound. I turned over every rock, conquered every grassy knoll to stem this hunger for this new club-informed music, and while I found an abundance of a guitar-driven LCD sound, my thirst for the clubbing experience was left noticeably unquenched. I would stalk the back alleys of Skjokoladefabrikken; pounce on any bar with an echo of a sequenced synth; and haunt the more seedy locations for a mere hint of a measured kick. These activities, although they have their own intriguing back-stories, very rarely bared any fruit and my hunger went unsatisfied, except for one day of the month when a club night would sweep into town and offer that rare glimpse of what I was looking for. That night was Sunkissed and for one glorious Saturday in Oslo every month, my thirst would be quenched with G-Ha & Olanskii programming a night with the music and artists that spoke to my own musical weaknesses during an exciting time for music.

Oslo wasn’t to be my home for very long back then however and after a short residency I left the city in search of new experiences in, first London then Amsterdam, but eventually the hedonistic existence of a badly self-styled clubkid caught up with me and I longed for the distant echo from a Norwegian mountain range, and for the simpler things in life that nature, and more importantly, a decent salary could afford me. So I packed up the van, quite literally, and made my way back to the only city I thought could help me, but that simpler life was not to be, because what waited for me was something of a second breath for a matured clubbing enthusiast. The wealth of music and all the new venues that sprung up in my absence was refreshing, and the intimate clubbing experiences that the city had always offered became something truly unique from the 3000-odd capacity commercially focussed venues I’d gotten bored of in the big cities. What surprised me however was not that I had found this resurgence of electronic music in the city, because this was something of an international trend of late, but what I had found tucked away in the mitts of all this, an old friend. Sunkissed was still there, existing with the same determination, and the same appeal that introduced me to Oslo’s club-music scene all those years. It was always about how “a single-track mind can develop into a night where everybody dances” and “the force of the night dragging everybody along”, explains Ola “Olanskii” Smith-Simonsen about the fundamental idea behind Sunkissed that existed then and now. It’s some weird sense of fate that Ola is my boss today, the steady hand that controls the cogs of Jæger, but that he is, and although I’ve been dying to sit him down and talk about Sunkissed, work has always gotten in the way, that was until one particular day in February when the stars aligned and by some magical coincidence Ola actually had some time free and wanted to talk about the night that first brought us in direct orbit of each other. My mind struggles to paint the scene quite coherently, but I distinctly recall the dust… so much dust, coating my tongue with a muddy residue from the construction work in an office slightly overturned by what could only be described as a situation of controlled chaos. But Jæger was far from my mind that day and even though its own transformation is a story in itself, Sunkissed was the reason for my visit to Ola’s office that day and it, has remained the common denominator throughout Oslo’s fervent clubbing history, one I believe certainly played a bit part in the existence of a venue like Jæger.

Sunkissed’s origins are quite vague, but Ola distinctly remembers the event becoming quite significant when Geir “G-Ha” Holger joined what was to become the Oslo institution. “He doesn’t remember or put any significance to it, but for me it was a sign of what’s to come”, recalls Ola of a time Geir played at Sunkissed, before he would become an intrinsic part of it. “As he was leaving I told him; ‘you have to hear this song’ – it was the first Headman ten inch. In my head, there was something going on that sounded both old and fresh.” It was the sound of Electroclash, and it defined an era for music, one that brought me back from the brink of “trendy” guitar music while I was still in South Africa, and re-ignited an interest in electronic music that was first installed in me as teenager, staying up late, listening to broadcasts of Carl Cox on the radio while watching Chris Cunningham’s skewed visual interpretations of Aphex Twin’s weirdo music. Electroclash was the punk to electronic music’s conformity, a conformity that had seen the likes of Starsailor and Sonique rip the soul out of the music in favour of an accessible bland sound that could find its way on MTV’s bland programming schedule. “When we started House music broke its back for a while, certainly in this country” says Ola, but like me, it was this thing that we called Electroclash that piqued the people’s interest again. In no way, did Sunkissed set the president for this, even in Oslo, but G-ha & Olanskii certainly became the pulse of Electronic music in Oslo from this moment on and set about creating an open night where you could hear everything from Maurice Fulton to Alter Ego to LCD Soundsystem, all under the banner of a single night. It wasn’t about trend or genres or even a particular DJ back then, it was going to an event where you’d know the people behind the event had similar tastes, while at the same time introducing you to new music.

“By 2005 things changed again”, says Ola. “This open night started to focus, which really took form when we did Magda and Richie Hawtin.” It’s around this point my timeline gets intertwined with Sunkissed, during a time when Techno appropriated the minimal prefix, and brought back a little of the experimental, futuristic attitude that had been lost somewhere in the late nineties. It was specifically Ola’s booking strategy that first drew me to the event as an ideological know-it-all with a taste for the obscure, but it soon turned out to be more than that too. It was a period that saw Sunkissed reside in Fabrikken temporarily, and in its cavernous spaces I found something more than just the music setting (or more like redefining) trends. “Maria Veie described it as a Gesamtkunstwerk, developing space rather than just a club sound. The DJs were important, the bookings were important, but the space itself was the final goal.” Sunkissed established itself as an all-encompassing experience very early on in me, with the venue, the lighting, even the decorations, coming together in a cohesive night, one that an international journalist would coin the Hacienda of Oslo. ”It’s not just about the music, it’s about what happens when you close your eyes and all these elements come together.” The bookings were an essential part of the appeal, and Ola’s ability to gather, not necessarily the most popular DJ’s, but certainly of the most significant DJ’s around stood out as a formidable presence in Oslo at the time and even the outside world took notice. “We’re not minding what’s the most popular thing. What we find as credible is what we listen to. I’m always trying to create something that I would like to go to myself. The choices become intuitive and the only unknown is the outcome; whether people respond to what you do.” People responded in a big way, and during my first era in Oslo, I don’t ever recall going to Sunkissed and not finding a queue or fully packed venue. People like myself enjoyed the rounded experience that it offered and that went from something as simple as the placement of the DJ booth to those imposing stars hanging from the ceiling. “Attention to detail, that is necessary to create the experience” and Ola remembers one example in particular. ”The significance of Ritchie and Magda was more than just about them playing and more than just about the sound, it was also the first gig we did where we had a light technician that intimately knew what was going on.” Ola places a lot of emphasis on the people behind Sunkissed, from the lighting guy to G-Ha, the social glue, which holds it all together. “Geir’s social network is intrinsically linked to Sunkissed.” Without it, Sunkissed would not be the social space it is today. “All these people at Sunkissed came along by acquaintance. The idea that you realise I need someone, wondering who the fuck should it be, and you turn around and he’s standing there.”

Sunkissed worked on various levels like these, but yet something still felt wrong back then, like we were all constantly swimming up a stream that was being constantly intensified by some outside force. Sunkissed felt like a lone stranger in a city trying to eradicate any semblance of a counter culture in favour of the comfortable, boring thing. “It was packed; the cue at 7:30 went from Blå all the way to Maridalsveien”, recalls Ola of specific Sunkissed live event when Paul Thomas from BBC Radio 1 spent an evening with them to record the event. “People spent two hours getting in. I remember calling P3, telling them we’ve got his guy from Radio 1, do you want to do some collaboration and they were like, no it’s so much money getting a truck down there. I mean a truck, who even talked about getting a truck.” It was this kind of attitude and this close-minded mentality that dominated the club and electronic music scene in Oslo that in large part influenced my exodus for the greener pastures of a more open-ended club experience…

O how things have turned around in the space of a few years. London is now struggling with its own eradication of clubbing culture and Amsterdam has entered something of an era favouring the more commercially accessible version of the music and gentrifying club culture in favour of commercial success. In Oslo however things seemed to have moved on and even though the powers that be are still trying to stem the tide of discontent some new palpable energy is invigorating the club music scene and I find myself most often spoilt for choice. Although some attitudes prevail – “the lack of pick-up on Finnebasen is a telling thing” – Oslo is in a much better place today than it was back in 2005/6 and for me Sunkissed has played an integral part in this, but Ola tends to disagree. “The fact that we are there is important to the scene but I think these clubs have paved their own way.“ Club culture might still be a minority in the city and excessively marginalised further by the authorities, but it’s not going away and I’m sure Sunkissed today will be yet another benchmark in the future ahead for the city and club-culture. A couple of extra faces have joined the Sunkissed line-up since my absence with Vinny Vilbass and Nico Coltsfoot expanding the social network and Sunkissed seems to just go from strength to strength. “It had a trajectory. Through baby steps it turned into what I wanted it to be a club with an international vibe. You can profound experience with just a few friends drinking in a bar or you can have a profound experience on a dance floor.” The focus is still there on creating the perfect night and I find Blå two completely different experiences before and after Sunkissed. Ola’s efforts are in getting “more and more PA on stage and getting more people dancing on stage” while the expanding social network with Geir as the glue, remains the thing that tethers it all together. Attending a Sunkissed event today is like attending a private party where Coltsfoot’s birthday is the cause for celebration and a DJ like Move D’s presence is just a welcomed bonus. It’s elements like these social engagements that make Sunkissed the familiar thing it is from my perspective.

What’s to come from Sunkissed is an unknown, except for what we know of the next event, but I have a suspicion that it will remain the constant denominator, it is for some time to come, even if it might not always be the most popular event, and in fact Ola would have it no other way. “I want a place where it will be fun rather than cool. Ideally Sunkissed’s place is not always running the a-list but somewhere where you can put the top names in. I think that one of the tricks for the longevity of Sunkissed is that it’s always taking breaks from itself… rather than being on it all the time.”