It’s a frosty winter’s afternoon in Oslo, and I’m in the company of Øyvind Morken, searching for a quiet-ish spot to conduct our interview. I walk in the shadow of his tall lank figure, a plastic bag hanging by his side, the outline of a 12”sleeve visible through the white bag. I’ve been trying to interview Øyvind since the day we met, but the Jæger resident has always required some premise to talk about his production and dj work, and as of yet we’ve not found one. Øyvind is not one for crass media attention, but rather utilises his time more effectively in the studio and behind a set of decks, only ever indulging the media when he feels he has something important to say. He’s remarkably astute when it comes to music and although we’ve often talked casually on the subject, I’ve always wanted to get some of it down in writing, in an attempt to get to know the man behind the music further. An opportunity finally presents itself when Øyvind, on the cusp of his fifth release, Invisible Objects, agrees to an interview, but we’ve yet to find the perfect spot to conduct the perfect interview.
It’s a frigid -9 outside and the snow that fell the night before is glistening in the sun, crunching under our feet as we look for place that serves coffee. “I’m actually in the mood for a beer,” says Øyvind when the first coffee shop we enter is full, and we make our new destination Hell’s Kitchen, a lively bar just off Oslo’s Youngstorget. The news of David Bowie’s sudden and unforeseen passing is still rippling through the air and every shop or café we pass has the thin white duke’s records blasting out from marginally open portals across the city centre. “I like some of his music, but I’ve never really been a Bowie fan”, remarks Øyvind as he opens the door to the venue and Rebel Rebel pours out an obscene volume from the empty bar. It’s still early, and in Oslo, this kind of place is usually quiet before the acceptable evening hours of consuming alcohol. We take a seat and one of the unreserved tables, looking out from the window to the dense layer of snow outside. Øyvind says he doesn’t much care for the weather. I’m of a different opinion, but then again I guess this is still exotic to me. Øyvind gets his beer, while I settle into the vinyl seat with a coffee. I press record and we try to start from the beginning. “1979 and I popped out”, comes Øyvind’s grinning reply to that question.
Are we starting that far back?
Øyvind grew up in Hauketo, a small quaint suburb of Oslo that hugs the border of the county. He spent his youth amongst “loads of kids” and “people from different countries”. Although musically stagnant, with the town’s musical interest largely focussed on mainstream Hip-Hop at the time, Øyvind picked up a taste for music from a very early age. At the age of eight he remembers hearing Kraftwerk for the first time in a friend’s car and admiring a track called Walk the Dinosaur by Was not Was – a track he still plays today. “I loved that song. What I found out later is that Ken Collier was mixing these records and Ken Collier is a forgotten figure, but he was to Detroit, what Ron Hardy was to Chicago and Larry Levan to New York. It’s quite funny now that I was listening to this music when I was seven or eight” An interest in djing naturally followed and he played his first records at a local youth club, aged 11, when an older friend asked young Øyvind to stand in for him while he went behind the bridge to “smoke cigarettes and make out with his girlfriend”.
What were you playing back then?
“I remember playing Holiday Rap. (MC Miker G & DJ Sven). The B-side is a super cool proto house record, which I still play today. That was the first record I remember playing, but it was also early House, like Shep Pettibone’s mixes of Madonna. When I was 13 or 14, I was eventually allowed to dj the whole night for a couple of months until they threw me out for not playing what they wanted to hear. It was an old dj booth so you could lock the door and the people that worked there couldn’t get in. So I locked the door, and played hardcore Hip-Hop and early house music, and rave stuff, like prodigy – stuff I liked. I couldn’t mix back then, I would just play records. I also remember hearing M.A.R.S’ Pump up the Volume at a friend’s house on MTV and I was amazed how funky and cool it sounded with that bass-line. After a while I remember going in to a record shop in ’95, and they played Slam, Positive Education and I was just blown away, and bought it on CD. I was also into some cheesy House Music and some Trance.”
When did your career officially start as a dj?
“There was a six-year break before I bought my own turntables at twenty and then within a year I started playing clubs. I was listening to music the whole time in between and I wanted to dj during that time, but I didn’t have the money. I had my first residency in 2004, a Thursday night residency at Sikamikanico. “
Skipping ahead to the future and a residency at Jæger is the latest chapter in Øyvind’s career. He has an incredible knowledge of the music he plays, to a point where mixing the records together is almost irrelevant, even though he can apply it expertly to go from a Café Del Mar record to Nitzer Ebb, without missing a beat. He’s a purveyor of varied styles of music, with his diverse tastes remaining central to his sets, and without ignorance blinding his selections. On the table the bag of new records lie dormant while we talk. He opens the bag to pull out Echoes by Wally Badarou, the second copy he now owns, and it’s a rare first pressing. The sophomore album, by Island Records’ in-house keyboard expert, and unofficial Level 42 member, will be unfamiliar to most, but not Øyvind who knows more about this obscure figure from the eighties than even the wikipedia biographer could put together. He recites some facts about Badarou like a musical encyclopaedia, and suggests that “Echoes” is something of a balearic/cosmic/ambient classic. The record, released when Øyvind was only three years old, is a perfect example of Øyvind’s eclectic digging’ personality, which I learn is born out of necessity…
Where do your eclectic tastes comes from, having an open mind?
“It comes from starting to DJ in Oslo at a time when electronic music was not that popular. They were into Hip Hop. If you didn’t dj at specific events like Sunkissed or Monkey Business, you had to adapt. I was playing Basic Channel records next to disco records and funk and Hip-Hop. If you wanted to survive as a dj you had to do everything. I would always play music that I liked, but I found my taste is pretty broad, and if I wanted to, I could make stuff work. I could actually play Basic Channel at a night that I would also play some Q-tip, without it sounding forced. I also don’t like playing a Techno set for 5 hours. I don’t like playing banging music at the beginning. Like upstairs at Jæger, you have to go from being a bar to a club.”
You have to ease the audience into it, but what I also find in your sets thanks to your eclecticism, is that it will introduce me to music I wouldn’t necessarily enjoy, but works in the context of the other tracks.
“Yeah, if you listen to four Techno records before playing a great disco record that Disco record is gonna sound amazing, because you’ve just come out of this flat thing.”
How do you keep things interesting for yourself, especially with a weekly residency?
“Using my record collection. There are times when I don’t feel that inspired, but I’ve always wanted a residency. I think that’s the ultimate thing you can have as a dj – a weekly residency. You might travel the world, but for the music’s sake and your own development, I think a residency is the best way to learn.”
So you have to keep buying new music all the time.
What do you look for when you’re digging?
“It depends what I’m into that week. Like today, I found stuff in five minutes, and sometimes you can spend four hours. I buy records every week. During a recent two-and-a-half week vacation, I bought like 50 records. And I found like 100 new records on my Discogs list that I couldn’t afford buying just yet. I buy loads music, but I always buy things that I can play, but not because I need something to play tomorrow. I’m professional dj, it’s a job, so sometimes I’ll play on a rooftop in summer, and I will play for wealthy people in Oslo, so I won’t be playing house music. I’ll be playing soft-rock, boogie records and Jazz. I enjoy creating a vibe with that stuff as well.”
That’s one thing I’ve found people take for granted when they talk about djs in Oslo. Professional DJs need to be able to play an eclectic mix, because the city is small and there aren’t enough nightclubs, so you need to fill out your stamp card with every type of gig.
“Yeah. I think I’m lucky. I don’t get tired of it. One day I’m playing a club, the next I’m playing on a boat. I have a huge record collection and I love the music, and I get to play it all. It’s not an ego thing. I don’t need to play to a dance floor that claps when you’re done every time. I can also play to a bar where nobody even knows who I am. I’m just creating a vibe.”
At your level, do you ever learn something new when you dj?
“With these four years at Jæger, what I learnt was that only now, am I a good dj. I used to think I was a good, but I really wasn’t. You think you can read people, but it takes such a long time to master it. It’s easy to go bang and make the club go off, but to play those weird records, during peak – to go into something and not loose the dance floor – that takes so many years to develop those skills, and that comes from just doing it. You have to dj loads, to start understanding stuff, and that’s the way I like learning stuff. I go home sometimes and I realise; ‘wow, I managed to play this record at peak time.’”
It’s not just about mixing two records together flawlessly for you?
“No it’s about the program of the night. I mix, but what I think about is the selection – what and how I’m playing is much more important than the mixing. Mixing is just a tool to get from A to B. Sometimes you can play three records over each other and have fun with them, but it’s just tool.”
Speaking of playing three records at a time: You often play with Prins Thomas too at Jæger, probably the best DJ in the world at the moment – according to a lot of people. Do you ever pick anything up from him?
“Yeah, he uses a CD-players loop function really innovatively. I would play a record, and he would loop something over it, while mixing in another record, and then I would trigger another loop, and basically he would be playing two turntables and two cd players at the same time, for several minutes. I always tried to keep away from the cd players, but after seeing him use it like that, I was like; ‘shit I need to learn that’. To me Thomas is probably the best dj I’ve ever heard. He’s selection is amazing, and his mixing is awesome. He has this calm.”
That’s years of experience.
“Yes, and it’s also personality. We’re quite similar in personality in some ways, and especially when we dj, even though we sound pretty different. He’s a huge inspiration; he’s always been that, from when I was younger. He and Pål Strangefruit – Their way of djing influenced the development of my own style.”
Which is also about an eclectic nature. I imagine Thomas is quite open to various styles, and the disco label is often just overused to simplify the music for some?
“Yes, he’s like a librarian, with music. It’s just the British media that need to put things in categories to write about it. Trulz and Robin’s Froskelår, for instance is a Techno record that sounds like early Detroit stuff, but that’s been missed by every Techno DJ, because it was on Full Pupp, and they didn’t go check it out. When I dj, I don’t see genres. I’ll buy a trance record if its cool. I’ll find somewhere to play it. If you start doing that you’re going to get boring, when you limit yourself, because it might be a bit too cheesy or not underground enough. You know the people on the dance floor, they don’t judge you like that. It’s gonna be a couple of chin-strokers at the bar who are like bedroom djs that will say something like, ‘ah you shouldn’t have played that.’ You’re not playing to them, you are playing to the people on the dance floor. “
Influenced by the likes of Thomas and Strangefruit, Øyvind’s musical expression couldn’t be merely contained in a mixed set and the next natural progression would be for Øyvind to make the leap into production. Like every producer / dj this started with a computer and Øyvind trying his hand at software like Logic. A few failed attempts later, and Magnus International and André Bratten persuaded Øyvind to send his tracks to Prins Thomas, and it wasn’t long after that his debut EP, Kakemonstret hit the shelves through Full Pupp.
What were those first tracks like?
But Prins Thomas helped on the production side of things I believe?
“Thomas showed me how to EQ stuff and leave space for stuff. I basically learnt by sitting with him and doing it. It’s a nice way to learn. I gained some years just by working with him.”
For me, your productions have a very specific moroder-esque sequenced feel with elements of house and techno cropping up intermittently. How would you describe your music?
“The music I make comes out because of the way I listen to music and the way I dj. I don’t play one type of music. I’ll play a Jazz record in a Techno set if I think it can fit. Like this record. (Øyvind points to Herb Alpert’s Beyond lying in the pile of records he’d purchased earlier that day.) It’s like a Jazz record, but also a proto Techno record. I would listen to stuff like this and try to make something that sounds like it was 1981, like a Techno record that wasn’t supposed to be a Techno record – accidental dance music. I try and make that type of stuff, but because I’m not a super producer something else comes out of it. “
How has your music evolved since that first release, Kakemonstret?
“I think it’s evolved more on the technical side of things – knowing more about and learning more about things like gear, and incorporating it in my music. I recently bought some hardware. I know a lot of people think my music is all made with hardware, especially the first releases, but I was only using software then. I think it’s because I’ve listened to all this music for so long that even though I didn’t make music with hardware, it sounded like it, because that’s the stuff that influenced me. “
Hardware vs. Software – Does it make a difference these days do you think?
“What matters are the ideas you have; whether you have something original or not. I know people with hardcore studios, who’ve never released a record. Their basically just gear geeks.“
It’s like people that collect records and don’t play them.
“Yes, I have so many friends that don’t dj and have more records than me. I’m not a record collector. Yes, I buy a lot of records, but I dj and I like to play records.”
To me, Øyvind the dj and Øyvind the producer are two completely different things though. Your work in the studio feels a lot more focussed towards a particular sound, than your eclectic style behind the decks.
“Probably, it’s like two jobs. I don’t connect them. djing is my occupation. That’s what I’ve been doing for years, and making music is more like a hobby, but it’s something that probably benefits my dj career. That’s also the reason I wanted to release a record on my own. I wanted to have full control.”
I’ve had Øyvind’s Invisible Objects knocking around my music for the best part of a year, and am able to recall it whenever I hear Øyvind playing a track from the release in his sets at Jæger on a Wednesday night. It’s a functional dance release with Øyvind’s distinct character swelling through the three tracks. The delay with the release is essentially what held up this interview, and it’s one of the reasons Øyvind wanted to take full control of his music by starting his own label, Moonlighting. The first release on his newly established label arrived last year (a mere two months since it was conceived) in the form of a 7” with two tracks that featured Øyvind’s unmistakable slinky rubber bass-lines and sequential swinging lead hooks. Slightly down-tempo from his other releases, External Processing and Jungelerotikk also ventured more into the eclecticism he displays as a dj, leaning towards Balearic tendencies, especially in the case of Jungelerotikk.
What’s the idea behind your label, moonlighting.
“It’s a way to release my own stuff, when I want to and how I want to. “
It’s exclusively a vehicle for your releases?
“Yes, just me.”
Do you approach the music any differently?
“Yes, Jungerotikk was inspired by soundtrack music. Both sides, actually. I wanted to do it on 7” because they were short tracks, and I felt like that was a project for a 7”. I just finished another release for Moonlighting, which is deeper house. That record sounds like the Burrell brothers if they just got their heart broken by the same prostitute, and did loads of heroine in the studio while crying. That one will be more for clubs, for the early morning tripped out crowd. If it’s like 6 or 7 in the morning and you’ve been dancing all night long, you are much more open to other sounds.”
That’s something we don’t really get to experience in Oslo.
“Not much. It would take a long time to adapt the audience to that here. If you had a club that was open till eight, the club would be empty by 4.”
People would just be drunk, right?
“It would take years to develop, but it would be good, because maybe people would stop drinking so much and take it a little easy and just enjoy the music and enjoy each other. It could just be about people talking without constantly having to poor alcohol or drugs in their system. It’s like; ‘lets get drunk, it’s quarter to three, lets get laid’, you know the Norwegian mentality.”
Dance of the drunk, especially reminds me of Jæger at 3:30 on a Wednesday night and that “mentality” you talk of. Do you ever take something away from your DJ set and put into your music like that?
“Basically that track, yes. It’s about people stumbling around at 3AM. It’s a tribute to all the drunk people – the 2:45-I-need-to-get-laid people – this one’s for you!” (laughs)
That’s the last track on the next album, which will be released on Full-Pupp shortly, but it’s probably time we get to the end of this interview, and the reason Øyvind and I wanted to get together for a conversation in the first place. Invisible Objects sees Øyvind taking Full Pupp into the next fifty releases of the label’s existence and it’s immediately recognisable as Øyvind’s music. We order two beers to the table when the coffee I’ve been sipping on for the last hour still hasn’t quenched my thirst and head off into the last part of our interview.
What was the theme for this new record?”
“It’s quite depressing. I made it around the time my father died. The one track, ‘The new age of faith’ was just after the funeral. So I went home and made the record. It turned out to be a cover of LB Bad, a nu-groove artist from ’89. The record almost didn’t come out because of that. He’s known to be a bit harsh, and sue people, but I sent him an email and told him the story, and he liked the version. He was super nice and gave me his blessing.”
Would you say it is a very emotional record for you then?
“It’s dance music, and some of its happy, but yes it means a lot to me. I’m very proud of the record and I also think it’s a pretty good record. I made it almost two-and-a-half years ago and I’ve had the test pressing for ten months, but when I play it, I still love it. It stood the test of time.”
That record brings Øyvind’s musical profile up to date, but like his dj career, it’s a malleable biography that is constantly informed by Øyvind’s expanding musical tastes and knowledge. This knowledge I learn towards the end of our conversation, is from an informed mind too. When Øyvind is not playing the music he loves or creating new music, he’s learning more about the history of music through books like, “Last night a DJ saved my life”. His knowledge on music flows as effortlessly as the beers and I stop trying to keep up with noting down all the artists he’s mentioned – some very obscure artists – and just sink into the seat and try to absorb as much as possible. David Bowie is still playing over the sound system while we finish the last dregs of our beers as the sun sets over the horizon, the last rays of sunshine illuminating the city from where they are reflected in the snow. (I do like this weather) Our conversation winds down with MC Kaman and DJ Hooker joining us for some boisterous anecdotes about everyday subjects, like lost airline luggage and cars, and Øyvind reveals that he’s also a bit of car fanatic, having been a trained mechanic in his youth, like Detroit artist Omar S. This is not Detroit, it’s Oslo and Øyvind’s eclecticism; his way of making music; and his dj sets are all informed by it. It feels like we’ve covered anything about Øyvind Morken up to this point and take my leave before I ask one last thing…
Did I miss anything?