New Norwegian Music and Run DMC with Olle Abstract

In Joddski and Tommy Tee’s music video for “Æ E Old School” from 2016, Olle “ Abstract”  Løstegaard’s cameo doesn’t go unnoticed. Amongst peers like Strangefruit and Hele Fitta, the six-foot something Norwegian DJ is as much a physical presence as a symbolic one. One of the original protagonists in the story of electronic music in Norway, Olle Abstract’s 35-year career as a DJ and radio jock has left a lasting impression on electronic music in the region through a nationally syndicated radio show, countless events and more recently a podcast series. In the video for “Æ E Old School”, Olle appears wearing a leather adidas shell suit like the long, lost member of a RUN DMC cover band, mock-spinning some records alongside Tommy Tee. The garb, the scenario and the the context of the track speak a thousand words, which Olle puts into perspective when we sit down for a coffee at Jæger just before christmas.

Olle is relaxed and his cheeks glow a healthy hue of pink after his daily swimming session. Olle is a formidable presence in any room, both in stature and spirit and his voice easily matches the levels of Ivan Ave’s latest record playing over the mini Funktion One system in Jæger’s café. “Growing up in the eighties I was obviously a big fan of RUN DMC” he says in his burly baritone.

Olle’s start as a DJ is concurrent with the story of electronic music in Norway. Hip Hop and breakdancing laid the foundation to an interest in DJing that he could cultivate as a talent at his local youth club. Where Olle’s story diverges from the similar threads we’ve heard from countless Norwegian DJs is with the influence of “radio music from New York” from the likes of  “WBLS and Kiss FM” which would eventually lead a very young Olle on a path to broadcasting. When tapes from the radio stations in New York started infiltrating Europe in the eighties, Olle too would be on the receiving end. “Everyone wanted sound like WBLS”,  he remembers as he mimics the sound effects of eighties radio programming

Olle would get his first shot at radio when his neighbour offered him their vacant Jazz slot on local radio after the younger Olle sat in for a few sessions. Olle “ended up doing a youth hour on the Friday night instead of the jazz program” when he took the reins and enlisted the help of Tommy Tee as the local Hip Hop expert. They “played the whole spectrum” of early electronic music, a genre that was still in its infancy and still featured few releases. “Everything from Strictly Rhythm to Gabba” made it into their programming as they begged, stole and borrowed records in search of that “raw energy” they were hearing from New York. They modified turntables to play at twice the top speed so they “could play the dubs on Strictly Rhythm at 135BPM” and with the second summer of love knocking on their door, Olle and Tommy Tee were at the right age, at the right time in the eye of the storm of a electronic dance music coming into its own.

It was surely a time of unbridled youthful enthusiasm and the radio show harnessed all the energy and excitement of the time for the pleasure of a captive radio audience. The show came into its own during one of the most innovative times for electronic music and when it came to a point when it could no longer be merely sustained in the margins “NRK called and wanted the show for national radio”. In 1993 Olle took the show to the national broadcaster’s P3 station and between 1993 and 2009, the show featured the latest in electronic dance music to the airwaves. For a while it was the only show on radio that focussed on this type of music and when Olle would eventually leave P3 and NRK it undeniably left a hole in their programming which has never been filled with Olle declaring “there’s not much room for new underground dance music on national radio at the moment”.

“It’s just people and it’s just music and you just try to make them go together.”

 

It would be with that sentiment that he would lead into the next and latest phase of his broadcasting career with Lyd. Now, in its third year, the podcast series presents new Norwegian music to the world with an emphasis on electronic music and the dance floor, without feeling obligated to any one genre or stylistic trend. “It is important to get the few thousand that listen to my show to hear something different”, says Olle about the driving ideology behind Lyd. Between the submissions and his own diligent research which sees Olle often “just dive into the interwebs and just stay there for a few hours”, Lyd is the only podcast series strictly focussing on new Norwegian music today, without the lumbering persistence of the DJ’s ego in the foreground. Olle’s broadcasting experience really comes to the fore in Lyd as he adopts the role of facilitator and selector, yet all grounded in Olle’s experience as a DJ.

While Olle might be unilaterally known for his work in radio, it’s a career that runs perpendicular to his work as a touring and resident DJ. Between 1990 and 1993, while still working in youth radio and before working with P3 Olle came of age in a time of raves and the counterculture of dance music, playing a significant role in the presence of both in Norway. Favouring the more functional over the engaging, the “raves were about making people dance while radio was playing all the new music” he could possibly get his hands on. Through experience and a fair bit of talent he has developed an innate ability to read a floor and is able to adapt to any context from a large outdoor gathering for the clandestine Techno scene to playing Disco at a christmas party. He is one of the only DJs in my experience that is able to find that untenable middle ground on a Saturday night at Jæger – accommodating the unapologetic commercialism of Nightflight without getting down and dirty with the conformists. “You don’t have to drop a cheesy record to make people dance; it’s enough to drop a cheesy sample of a record” says Olle when I ask him about this unique ability. It doesn’t ever  feel like a compromise however for Olle and he is just as happy playing “Chaka Khan in the right setting, because that’s just good music” as he is digging past the trenches into House and Disco from the States.

When I ask Olle about some of the thought processes that go into DJing, he proffers: “It’s just people and it’s just music and you just try to make them go together”. Experience also has its part to play in my opinion and Olle Abstract has that in droves and besides radio he’s left some lasting impressions in the benchmarks that make up Norway’s musical legacy.

In the late nineties and early 2000’s his largest contribution would come in the form of Skansen. Even an established figure like Olle is very much aware of significance of the period and place in Norway’s musical history. “Those years were really important” he concours. Skansen, an internet cafe turned club, owned by some “freaks and hippies”, could not be further from the imagination when you think back to one of the most significant eras of House music in Norway, but everybody from G-Ha to Bugge Wesseltoft passed through the doors and Olle had a large part to play in those bookings and the ones from further abroad. People like Luke Solomon and Idjut Boys were guests who later became “good friends” and helped shape the sound of Skansen that continues to live on in infamy. With financial aid from clothing cowboys Levis, Olle and Skansen could “have 80 people on the door, spend 12000 kr and still break even”. It meant they could be daring and everything from a Wesseltoft jam session to a Paper Recordings night could find its place in Skansen, laying a foundation for the future producers and DJs in Oslo, that Olle defines as “Skrangle” – sonically informed by Norwegian producers.

Olle suggests this is still informing the next generation of DJs and producers which is making a large contribution to the Lyd podcast. “There’s loads of producers between 19-28 making music with their take on House, which is deep, but more skrangle than it would be if it came for Germany or England for instance. So they’ve definitely been listening to Norwegian music.”

“It took me a while to get comfortable, and it’s not that important, because it’s just people having a good time or not.”

In its next phase of evolution this podcast will be coming to life on the stage with a new series of events at Jæger planned for 2018. Lyd at Jæger will “present, and give a platform to some new and some established acts”. Olle is specifically looking to “present new groovy music that fits in the club environment” for this event’s series with Rudolfs Kontainer and KSMISK billed on the first evening. Olle is very enthused by Rudolfs Kontainer, an Indie-House type of band” out of the “digital collective” Mars Melons. KSMISK will be presenting some new music from the next album on PLOINK, while Olle digs through his vast record collection, finding that bridge between new Norwegian music and the rest of the world. “There’s no problem playing a night of good Norwegian music”, he offers in repose, “but I’m not going to force myself to play just Norwegian music”.

Instead Olle looks to his extensive record collection sprawling from his home to a storage facility where some 25000 records live between a constant influx of new digital music. “I always spend fifteen hours a week looking for new music, this is my job”, but whereas in the past Olle would come home with about 100 records a month, he only buys “30-40 tracks a month” today. Some weeks he might not find any new music, and will go back to his storage unit to exchange one crate for another, because Olle feels; “it’s not like I need new music.” He is quite content playing some old favourites and mixing it in with the new, often overlooked records.

Doc L Junior and DJ Haus are current favourites for Olle Abstract and he specifically likes DJ Haus because “he’s fucking up the rules again”, something that is reminiscent of another Olle Abstract favourite, Basement Jaxx. “ I’m still into the Basement Jaxx. I played ‘rendez vu’ here (Jæger) the other day and people went mad, because nobody’s touching it at the moment.” There’s more of that non-conformist attitude in Olle Abstract as a DJ, which often makes what other DJs perceive as obvious or tawdry far less so than it needs to be. Again he mentions Basement Jaxx as an example and particularly their 888 project. They have an “amazing House-Trance track which nobody picked up on and it’s been my biggest track all year” he says and adds in a sidebar kind of contemplative way: “A lot of DJs play for other DJs, and it’s a good way to get a lot of respect from them… if that’s important.”

And does Olle think it’s important?

“It might be depending where you are in your career.”

Olle is far too experienced and as an established DJ across platforms, I sense that these trivialities don’t much concern him. It takes me back to something Olle mentioned earlier when we were talking about feeding off the crowd.

“It took me a while to get comfortable, and it’s not that important, because it’s just people having a good time or not. Worse case scenario, they leave. If they don’t leave you’ve done a good job, and if they applaud you, you know you’ve done a great job.”

At heart however Olle is still the 11-year old that got into electronic music where it’s always been about “the groove and the vibe” and very little else. Whether he’s donning the leather shell suit, reliving something of the youthful excitement when he first heard RUN DMC or looking for “new kicks” to incorporate in his Lyd podcast or event’s series, regardless of any which way you view it, Olle Abstract’s presence has made a formidable impression on music in Norway and it shows no signs of dissipating just yet.

 

Olle Abstract, KSMISK and Rudolfs Kontainer play te first LYD at Jæger on the 27th of January. 

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