An Everyman’s Music with Finnebassen

“Doesn’t Finn look a lot like Prins Thomas”, utters the voice of Petter Celius just below the din of the music next to me. I nod a smile in agreement. The resemblance is quite uncanny, especially since Finn has grown his hair out and his beard has filled out his rounder facial features. Bar the notable age difference, they do indeed look quite similar. Is this a new Oslo DJ trend I have not yet latched onto or is it because the tall, athletic, hairless frame of Øyvind Morken stands between them, a yardstick by which any shorter hairy figure would look quite similar. It’s quite a little setting we have here. Some of the world’s biggest DJs and electronic music stars are all here, all at arms length. Finnebassen, Prins Thomas, Øyvind Morken, Magnus International… is that the square handle bar moustache of Blackbelt Andersen I see there too? They are all here, looking on while Prins Thomas violently thrashes kick after kick through the forgiving rotary mixer, and I notice Finn with a severe focus drawn all over his face. Like an attentive pupil, he seems completely immersed in the action from the booth, absorbing every little nuance from Prins Thomas. There’s a humble humility to the DJ, one that doesn’t quite transpose all that noticeably when he’s playing to a packed house in Villa or Jæger, or playing to audiences measuring in their ten’s of thousands on the international festival circuit and the biggest European clubs. It’s quite often difficult to remember that he has an essential mix; various releases on labels like Get Physical and Noir; and tours that extend to South America under his belt when you meet him in this context, and that’s exactly how it is too when we sit down for a chat and a beer at Hell’s Kitchen earlier that week.

After a few weeks of to and fro emails with Finn, I get one that says: “I’m in town for two weeks now! If you still wanna sit down one day for a chat, now would be the perfect time!” It’s the window we’ve been waiting for. The jet-setting DJ has been hard to pin down for an interview, and I‘ve been trying since the start of the year, so I don’t balk at the opportunity and get straight on it, leaving a dusty trail behind me as I exit Jæger in a rush. When I get there, the Viking-like shadow of Gustav Viken is looming over Finn, no-doubt tempting his friend to join them for a sunny midday sojourn somewhere, but Finn, professional as ever, postpones the invitation till later that evening, appeasing Gustav with a knowing grin. This is just a little slice of Finn’s exotic and often weird lifestyle, which can go from a South American tour to a “birthday party in Ålesund” in the space of two weeks and I get the sense he would have it no other way.

He’s enjoying something of a holiday at the time of the interview, if you can really call it that with a fully booked DJ schedule for the two weeks he is in town. “If I have weekend off that’s my holiday.” Nonetheless when he’s back in the city that raised him, there’s a strong sense of being home and a comfortable calm prevails in Finn. “I get to say hi to Ola (Olanskii) and see Geir (G-Ha) play and it’s an important part for me, to see what’s going on in Oslo and for me to be part of it.” As a DJ that’s in demand the world over and could have made the more industry-convenient Berlin or London his home by now, Finn is cut from quite a different cloth and prefers to be grounded In Oslo and it’s very unique clubbing scene. “The term clubbing is defined differently wherever you go and Oslo has a very laid back attitude towards clubbing. How often do you see resident DJs dancing and actually taking in what’s going on in the city around them.” It’s clear that there is at least a deep-seated appreciation for the city’s intimate clubbing experiences. He not only speaks openly of his admiration for the Oslo clubbing scene, but also purveys it quite literally in his music with tracks called Blå, Villa and even Jæger. “The whole scene in Oslo is a big contributor to who I am as a DJ and as an artist and the DJs who most inspire me are from the city.”

But how does a kid raised by a rock and roll father who’s “always been playing in a band” (a band called Empty Souls who knock out Everly Brothers hits all dressed in black) and who learnt the guitar at the age of fourteen, end up being one of the biggest House DJs in the world? Quite simply: Sunkissed. “I went to Sunkissed for the first time when I was twenty.” Coming from the west side of Oslo, and with Solli plass the peer-favourite hangout, Finn eventually had it up to his “ears with blazers and everyone looking the same. There had to be more to this horrible culture” and that came to him when he first set foot in Sunkissed. “I came in and saw this one guy in a wife beater and one guy in basically the same thing I was wearing – nice shirt and a blazer – but they were all having their own fun. It was such an individual, yet collective experience.” Before then Finn had already dabbled at the decks, mostly at the back of the russebuss, but it was the Sunkissed experience and a fortunate meeting with Petter Celius, Frædag’s resident opening DJ and Finn’s long-time friend, that the DJ bug officially bit. A residency at Skaugum, playing soul and R&B for an older generation became the crucial starting point for both DJs. “It was a really good start for me, because I was playing to people like my father and I knew what kind of music he liked. It’s an important step as a DJ to learn that you there to play to other people.” Countless hours were spent on a bedroom floor consuming records and beers with Petter for their various residencies around town while on a poor student budget, all in the hope of sharing a little slice of this feeling with the people on the dance floor.

Playing for an audience has always been the decisive element to Finn’s musical personality and seeps in through every aspect of Finn’s creativity, including his productions. Finn’s ability to “play to other people” is something that you’ll invariably pick up in his music too and first came to everybody’s attention when he released “If you only knew” through Electronique Digital. It was an instant success for its accessible R&B vocal hook and slinky rubber bass lines running counterpoint to an infectious House percussion section. It bounds with melody and harmony, featuring a development in song structure not that dissimilar to chart music, while it’s form is clearly taken from the dance floor. It’s these fundamental elements that you still hear today in his latest offering, the Jarre-like synth- focussed “Rotundo”. That is a track replete with highly dramatised compositional traits similar to that of the French synth wizard, and although there’s very little of a stylistically to tie this to earlier tacks like “Touching Me” these Finnebassen tracks are an everyman’s music. For the dance music fan there’s the dance progression, complete with endless shifts in emotive dynamics, while for the trend-focussed pop fan, tracks like these feature the simplistic harmonic and melodic ingredients that are immediately tangible for the nonplussed music fan. There’s a little bit of everything for everybody, and even the most hardened underground music nerd would be hard-pressed in suggesting that this music is in anyway flawed.

I’m curious how Finn manages to find this balance in his music and when I approach this question during the interview he says with a wry laugh: “I have no idea how to answer this question and maybe that’s why I’m so successful. My first couple of tracks – I didn’t really think it would have any commercial appeal when I made these tracks. More often than not if it sounds good to my ears it sounds good to others.” In the past he has been driven by trends and preferred “not thinking about how this is going to be perceived in ten years” so that something like a trip to London can take his music from a 2011/12 “deep house thing” to a “Tech-house driven sound” ala Jamie Jones, all the while retaining Finn’s appreciation for the fundamental musical constituents. “The harmonies and melodies appealed to the person in me who liked older music.” R&B and vocals and bass-lines with more than just one note are fundamental to Finn’s tastes and his music. But, although trend-aware, Finn is definitely not trend-focussed. “You can like one trend but don’t let it define you. Trends, they come and go and you might like some of them. I won’t ever commit to any one trend and produce a track.” It’s something that just naturally occurs in Finn’s music and even DJ sets, where there never appears to be some agenda from the artist to ride a specific populist wave. ”It’s wrong to not play a track that you like based on the notion that it is part of a trend”, he cautions. “Stop over thinking it as a cred thing; it’s simple – pick out the records you like and play them.”

At the same time there’s also subconscious need in the artist to continuously be riding that wave of success it appears. “Suddenly you’re playing clubs and festivals all over the world, and you’re scared of losing it. In a genre that is evolving all the time I started thinking I have to come up with a new fresh thing.” Talking to Finn about his music is riddled with juxtaposition like this. There might be contradiction there but it’s wholly an honest contradiction highlighting the complexities of being a successful artist in this contemporary environment where electronic music, a style of music that is not only dictated by tastes but also technological advancements, or even regressions. You always have to stay on top of the new thing, while trying to stay to your own musical personality.

You can easily see it would open up a whirlpool of confusion and compromise in an artist and Finn is no different. It will however always come to a head and as an artist gets older when the true personality prevails and Finn, I believe has reached that stage today. He has grown incredibly tired of this trend-informed hype to maintain that level of success, and has recently adopted a more simplistic mantra; “fuck it, just do your own thing.” There’s ”more of an ambition to do timeless music” for Finnebassen today and you can year that sentiment creeping in on tracks like “Rotundo” and his recent remix for Gundelach’s “Spiders”. “Initially Kai wanted something clubby and I delivered a 95 BPM remix instead.” The reception of that remix was still phenomenal, premiering on ID magazine to hundred’s of thousands of listeners and yet Finn can in no way be compared to somebody like Kygo when it comes to home grown success. Finn still toes that invincible line between being essentially an underground artist with phenomenal commercial success, and Oslo, it seems has always been a bit slow to catch on, with many listeners not often seeing the bridge between all these artists as singular.

“It’s pretty intense sometimes because we don’t know what to do”, says Finn. “We have a very dedicated crowd to some extent, but this is not London or Berlin, and we can’t have all the chin-strokers show up all the time.” A place like Jæger that’s open 7 days a week, needs to be the “social democratic answer to the clubbing scene in Oslo” that it is and that often means the music and some of the people behind the music go unnoticed. Finn can go from playing Skaugum to an audience to a dedicated few to playing Villa – on the very same night sometimes – with a queue stretching the entire block. It’s incredibly erratic and there appears to be very little sense to it, but I feel that Finn prefers it this way. “For me coming to Jæger is not really like going clubbing; it’s more of a safe haven of sorts.” It all adds to the complexities of this artist, which are incredibly difficult to decipher and the most trying time I’ve ever had to put it into words. Interviewing an underground artist is simple: they have a very strong ideology that they strictly uphold to. The same goes for a pop star: They have an agenda to sell as many records as possible and conform to trends endlessly to achieve that. Finnebassen is in that no-mans land between those two worlds and it thrives on contradiction, contrasts and fluidity, making it incredibly difficult to summarise and categorise as a distinct anomaly. But then again you get to meet Finn and throws up a whole other stack of issues, where you find a pragmatic individual that just happens to make music.

A few days after the interview I see Finn at the bar in Jæger with no immediate people around him. He tells me he just had a disastrous situation with a laptop that killed a live set he had been preparing, and was consoling himself with a beer and some music, which at that time was selected by Noir – the man behind the label that has given him the platform to create endlessly. After something of a hiatus last year, which saw Finn taking some personal time, Finn is affirmatively back in that creative flow and “Rotundo” might be the first release since 2014’s Milestone EP, but it suggests more things are to come soon and it imparts a little of that timelessness Finn talked about earlier. I try to ask Finn about it, since the NM2 track was released in between conducting the interview and writing it. I learn from Petter that Finn is in town but he’s lying low at home, after a particularly heavy night at Skaugum – implied in Petter’s tone. I file the question to the back of my mind, until next time…