Tromsø, has been an unlikely breeding ground for musical talent, with repercussions rippling through Norway and the entire electronic music world stage since the early nineties. The small university- and fishing town up North, with endless dark days and an uncanny pool of talent, has cemented electronic music in the region, spreading it to the furthest reaches of an international scene, since first establishing its reign.
In Norway, Tromsø’s effect extends to Bergen and Oslo, with long tendrils of influence connecting generations of musicians, DJs and artists, who continue to embody the original and unwavering spirit of that original scene. Two significant figures to emerge from this region are Charlotte Bendiks and Olivia Rashidi, both from Tromsø and carrying on a legacy that has motivated the community and keeps encouraging new artists and DJs to come to the fore.
Olivia Rashidi met Charlotte Bendiks coming down a mountain in Tromsdalen, mainland Tromsø. “I was lost, and I met Olivia,” remembers Charlotte of the chance encounter with a chuckle. “My friends call me the de-tourist because I have the smallest hippocampus and I have a terrible sense of direction.” The pair struck up a friendship on the journey home, talking about music and DJing, a hobby and nascent career the younger Olivia had started exploring at that time.
The friendship blossomed into collaboration when Charlotte took on the mentorship role through the “Cloud Exit” talent programme associated with Tromsø’s Insomnia festival. Having established a career as a DJ and artist with ties to Cómeme, a residency at Jaeger and regular playing dates in places like Salon Zur Wilden Renate and ://aboutblank, Charlotte took on Olivia as a mentee, strengthening their friendship and a relationship that continues to bear fruit as Olivia’s own DJ career evolves and grows.
Olivia had just started receiving requests to play outside Norway, when the lockdown struck, while Charlotte’s own career continued to go from strength to strength alongside her younger apprentice. Today, they mark Tromsø’s latest musical exports, enjoying the ranks alongside the likes of Bjørn Torske and Rune Lindbæk, a feat even more impressive considering they are two of the few women coming from a historically male dominated culture.
Representing a blossoming career in Olivia Rashidi and a musical institution in Charlotte Bendiks, the pair constitute a bright and formidable future for club music in Norway, which looks to only consolidate around their individual works in the DJ booth.
It’s this kind of relationship and these artists, that Ola Smith-Simonsen is trying lift up through the Norske Byggeklosser event series, and it was ahead of their appearance this Saturday, in our sauna, that we took the opportunity to talk to both Charlotte and Olivia in an extensive and all-encompassing interview, covering everything from the gender to the lockdown…you know, Mental Overdrive’s new track…
Are you still maintaining the mentor and mentee relationship today?
Charlotte: To be honest that was just a formality. Olivia and I had found each other and we were exchanging ideas and music before that, which usually happens in small cities like this. That’s how I started making music as well; you meet someone that’s older and more experienced and they show you and share their ideas. That’s how the scene is built. We are maintaining a friendship and sharing our stories of life in general. It’s more of an exchange than a mentor and menteeship.
Olivia, Why did you feel that you had to go to an established DJ like Charlotte for this kind of relationship and not people within your own peer group?
Olivia: I don’t think it was that I couldn’t go to them. Charlotte is somebody that has always inspired me because she’s one of the few female artists from northern Norway. That’s why it was so easy to talk to her about it and in no way, are there people being exclusive.
Charlotte: We have similar tastes in music.
Olivia: I could relate to her in terms of music, but we also come from the same place and have the same kind of experiences.
Charlotte: I wish there were other females when I started, because the pressure that you get from some men is very unhealthy and can be damaging in many ways. To be relying on a female figure that’s older and has more experience in these matters is very important. I was very happy to provide that for Olivia.
I also took my mentorship into areas beyond music, talking about politics, about equality, and issues in the industry that’s very important to consider as an artist today. It’s important to address these issues, because as an artist today, if you’re not being political then what are you?
It seems that today an artist can’t separate their music from their politics, whether you want to or not. But one thing that you touched on there, is the female perspective. You described your relationship as symbiotic, and from my experiences with men in music, it tends to be very one-directional, with an older generation very much still dominating the conversation about music.
Charlotte: I’ve experienced that too. I thought this was very important as a mentor to say; “This is my advice to you from my perspective, but there are people that have a completely different set of experiences and skills, so I would advise you to shop around and make up your own mind on what fits with you and your output.” I wouldn’t say that it is exclusively a female approach, but I would say I’ve experienced it more with other women than men.
We’re underground artists working on the border of art and music, and there isn’t going to be some recipe for success. You should break the rules, you should be rebellious, you should question the structures or the methods of your forebears.
So if I could try and sum up your relationship, as mentor and mentee…
Charlotte: Good luck (laughs)
… It’s not like you are exactly taking Olivia under your wing, but more like you’re helping her in nurturing her own voice in music?
Charlotte: That’s my aim. There are practical things that you can do, and we’ve done workshops on that. The main thing about being a mentor is teaching people to trust themselves.
Olivia: I want to elaborate on that. After my first back to back with Charlotte, I had another gig the following Wednesday at Circa. I remember you (Charlotte) told me that the Wednesdays at Circa were loungy and it wasn’t a big rave atmosphere, and you challenged me to not mix half of my set. Up until that moment I had been teaching myself how to mix perfectly, because that’s what I thought you had to do. I started to think about how you put two tracks together without mixing it, which opened up the idea, that it’s not terrible, if you make a mistake or not mix a track into another. It allowed for more creativity and gave me more confidence as a DJ, I stopped taking myself too seriously and began loving those small human flaws you sometimes hear in a set. For me that means you’ve challenged yourself and had fun with it.
Charlotte: I’ve said that to a lot of fresh DJs. I would rather listen to a DJ who can’t mix and plays good music, than listen to a DJ that plays boring music and can mix.
You mentioned that you had similar tastes in music. Is there a point where your tastes diverged from each other?
Olivia: Not diverged. We’ve had similar tastes, but we won’t have identical sets.
Charlotte: I have the same with a friend of mine, Miruna Boruzescu (Borusiade). We talk a lot and we’re very in tune with ideas, life, friendship and music. Our DJ sets are quite different, and for our back to backs we try to find out where to meet somewhere in the middle.
Olivia: I also remember playing alone and I played a track that Charlotte has in one of her mixes, and like two people came up to me, and asked if this isn’t Charlotte’s track. It was Ana Helder, but they were convinced it belonged to Charlotte because she played it regularly. I noticed then that people will naturally compare me to her and I don’t find it insulting in any way, but I feel that’s like asking, ”can I not play anything Charlotte might play?”
Charlotte: That’s such a toxic idea and I’m so against that comparison. Just because we’re two women from Tromsø working in music in the last 40 years of Tromsø electronic music history, that we have to be compared, and Olivia can’t play a track that I had used in a mix?
Olivia: I just chose to own it in the end. I’m going to play it and I’m going to play it my way, and they just have to deal with that.
I’ve noticed, not only in Tromsø, but Norway, there always seems to be a healthy exchange, not only between generations, but different groups of people working in music. More here than anywhere else, it seems that the scene isn’t as focused on a youth culture as it is perhaps in bigger countries, but more around an established old guard.
Charlotte: What is the old guard, and what do you say about an upcommer of 42? What is experience and what do you do with it, and what is success and how do you measure success? All these questions are so open, that it doesn’t fit in the world of music and arts for me.
This idea of passing the torch doesn’t work for me. Yes, there is a nine years difference (in age) between me and Olivia and I’ve lived longer than her and I’ve had a longer career, but I don’t think there’s been a generational gap. (Tromsø) is such a small town, it’s just a scene with people, with various people with different sets of skills and experiences.
It’s my experience from places like London and Amsterdam that it’s a very competitive scene and what usually attracts people and especially the media to it, is youth and the fact that it’s something new. I’ve not experienced it in that same way here in Norway.
Charlotte: In Germany as well. You have this idea passed down through generations of how society, age and human life should be, but I think we should start realising, that that’s about to become outdated; these ideas of generations and age and experience.
Olivia: There’s also been this misconception that you have to try to make a living out of it, for it to be your true passion. I want to take my time and I still want to figure out what I want to do with my life and I don’t think that question will ever be answered. I love music and I love DJ-ing, but I also want to do it on my terms.
I remember you telling something similar the last time we interviewed you. You were talking about production, and how you’re refraining from till you could do it on your terms. Is there a pressure to produce too now?
Olivia: A lot of people have told me I have to start producing and I take that as a huge compliment, but I don’t want to produce something just for the sake of it. Someone else’s capacity will differ from mine, I have a lot of stuff going on and I will do things according to my own ability.
Me and Charlotte have had workshops and I am constantly recording interesting sounds and I write down ideas, but I’m also acknowledging that music production is a long process, I’m aware that I’ll have to go through some failed projects before something is ready to be released. And I’m patient!
It’s the same with social media. When I made my Facebook page I was so stressed out, because I’m a private person and I don’t really do social media. I didn’t expect that cliché about social media being toxic would apply to my situation, but I got so anxiety ridden because I felt that I didn’t do enough whenever I saw someone else post something interesting, even though I got a lot of gigs and people were constantly inviting me to do stuff. I even started getting invited to Russia and Sweden, gaining ground internationally.
There’s been so much focus on posting on your progress, especially for a newcomer. I think it’s easy to become stressed out or insecure sometimes. I also have to keep reminding myself that my social media content is not a measurement of my success.
Charlotte: I also have something to add on this note; compulsive production is like smoking cigarettes in the sixties, addiction is sold as freedom. The more you produce, the more you release, I realise as a music lover, a DJ and music producer, that there is so much that each track loses value.
It feeds into this universal idea of producing content and in a way music has just become another form of content to feed the social media monster. Are you gonna be producing music for the sake of producing music so Spotify can make more money?
Charlotte: It doesn’t make sense.
Olivia: When I moved to Oslo, I didn’t have a job, so I was trying to make ends meet by just taking on a lot of gigs. There would be places where they would tell me what kind of music they wanted before I even got there, obviously not knowing my style at all. I felt that I needed to get myself out there and to feed my facebook and instagram feed, but really it didn’t make me more inspired and it didn’t make me feel more successful. It was tiring. When I got a job, I just had to listen to Enya for two weeks because I was so tired of electronic music.
Are these ideas and thoughts on your own career something you were considering before covid?
Olivia: Yes, because I put a lot of pressure on myself and a facebook notification would pop every day, telling me to “keep posting.” I felt that I was rushing something, and I wasn’t sure where I was rushing to.
Charlotte, have you had any similar experiences to Olivia’s?
Charlotte: It also comes from people that I work with, who are constantly telling me to post more and do more. I felt that pressure, and what I’ve landed on is; “ok I’ll put out some stuff so I can stay in people’s feeds,” but it’s also better to work with an organisation that has their own PR strategy. Like working with a label or a podcast.
Every time I feel this pressure though, I end up posting memes, because I can’t take this shit seriously. (laughs)
I want to ask about the lockdown…
Charlotte: You mean Mental overdrive’s new track.
That was a really surprising EP, but no, in terms of the pandemic; how has the situation affected you?
Olivia: It’s just been a natural hiatus. I’ve been trying to generally keep my sanity and stay busy and stay inspired. Just listening to sets and staying updated on new releases so when everything goes back to (a new) normal again, I wouldn’t be too big a step for me to get back into the mindset of wanting to play.
Charlotte, you were making a living from DJing and music at the point we reached full lockdown, and not anything in terms of high profile travelling DJ, but surely that has had a serious impact.
Charlotte: I lost everything. I’m supposed to be in Tokyo now. I have my calendar reminding me of all these bookings, which is sad. I’m struggling financially, but being an underground musician, I’m used to being broke… so I’m managing.
Both of you have played through during summer, but your experiences from the booth must have been quite different, since in Oslo, where Olivia’s stayed, there’s been almost no dancing, while in Tromsø, I believe the regulations weren’t as strict.
Olivia: In the beginning I thought it would be more of a lounge setting and then somebody would come up to me, saying we really just want to listen to really good club music. I’ve gotten used to it and it feels good to be able to play a high energy set and see people enjoying it, even though they can’t get crazy on the dance floor.
Charlotte: Music is such a physical experience.
You can’t replicate that on a set of headphones.
Olivia: Yes it’s something different, when you’re feeling the bass shaking you to your core. It’s not just about physically feeling the bassline, but also kind of how you move your body to the music.
Charlotte: What I’ve been doing is that I’ve started going to classes at the gym, where they do different muscle workouts to music and beats. To be in a room and listen to loud bass music and jump around and be sweaty around people is amazing, even though the taste of music at the gyms is not what I like to listen to.
Olivia: I also want to add that for a lot of people, just being part of a music scene is important. It’s about being social, and meeting new people that have the same interests as you.
Charlotte: It’s a shared experience.
Olivia: And that’s also why it’s so nice to see people together, because they need to socialise together.
For a lot of people growing up with this music, me included it’s deeply ingrained in our cultural fabric.
Olivia: I actually know someone, who was sitting in the front courtyard while I was playing at Jaeger, and around 12 O’clock he texted me on Instagram and he told me had moved here and discovered the scene in Oslo, just before the first lockdown. It was just so important for him to go out. He was telling me how important the scene was for him to find his own friends. It’s a great way of meeting new people, and for some it’s the only way.
I think that little story perfectly sums up what club culture and music is to us all. Let’s hope then it will survive the pandemic in whatever form it might take after.