Beyond the horizon with De Fantastiske To and Flash Atkins

De Fantastiske To’s Monokrom spills onto Jæger’s basement dance floor to the cheer of an enthusiastic audience. Ravi and Marius have saved the best of De Fantastiske To for last, revealing the title track of their forthcoming EP during a live show celebrating the release one Saturday in March. Ost’s instantly recognisable vocal cuts a clear path through the stripped back house production, emasculating the sticky forward bass-line and pounding minimalist percussion. Across the room, ready to cue a track in the booth, stands Flash Atkins (aka Ben Davis), and through the hazy darkness of the dance floor, I see a smile creep across the UK producer, label boss and DJ’s face. The vocal in the track certainly brings a heap load of charm to the functional dance track and I’m reminded of Ben’s words on Monokrom, from earlier that day when he, Ravi, Marius and I sat down on the swings in Jæger’s courtyard to talk about Paperecordings, Norwegian House music and De Fantastiske To: “It’s always good to hear vocals, and the production on Monokrom is a step on from everything else. It’s a slightly different sound. It’s stripped back more, and a little tougher, but the vocal softens things up a bit.” Ben signed the track to Paperecordings, like he did “Folk & Ferie” before it, not a surprise with Monokrom coming to life on the cutting room floor of that previous release. Ravi and Marius first enlisted the help of Ost for Folk & Ferie, but when they just couldn’t get his vocal to work around that track they sculpted a brand new track around the singer’s vocal track instead and Monokrom came to life. “We really wanted to work with Ost”, says Ravi while Marius nods his head quietly in agreement. “The vocals he had done for Folk & Ferie were sublime, so we really wanted to make something out of that. Monokrom was basically the end result of that process.“

After which, Ben donned his Flash Atkins suit and hit the studio with a transcendent remix of the track, focussing the direction of the track to a more percussive destination while upholding the stripped back functional appeal of the original. “I was just trying to lay down some parameters as in: not spending too much time on it, and simplifying things. I like that the synth is played in and not quantised. It’s kind of rough, but then I still get twitchy with the Latin section at the end. It’s always tempting to pile more stuff in, and I was consciously trying to pull things back on this.“ Flash Atkins certainly channelled his super-alter-ego powers into the right direction for this interpretation, and Marius and Ravi couldn’t have been happier about the end result with the latter exclaiming: “The percussion on that, God damn, it just blows me away!” And sandwiched between the original and the remix are two tracks that try to “convey some of that late summer vibe you get in Oslo” says Ravi with Marius adding: “We wanted to do something warm, deep and lush.” Litt Dristig and Sensommer continue on the path set by Monokrom, Ben’s words that the EP is a “step on from everything else”, still ringing true, but on this occasion leaving the big-room house sound behind for something cosier in the second room. Through deep pads and chords, they take the music under ground again, where things are subtler, but remain accessible. It’s what’s at the heart of the appeal of much of Norwegian Dance music, and although when you listen to De Fantastiske To “they are less distinctly Norwegian” than artists like Prins Thomas and Bjørn Torske in Ben’s opinion. There is something there that has been carried through to this next generation and like the generation before it, Paper have been there spreading the gospel of this music like it did back in the nineties when Those Norwegians got Ben and the Manchester-based label hooked on that Norwegian sound for the first time. “They sent us a demo during the early days of paper”, remembers Ben “which was great so we signed them, and from there, the relationship with Norwegian music, has grown.”

Ben always get’s excited when a tape from a new Norwegian artist passes his way and when Marius delivered a tape to him after a chance meeting in Oslo, Ben “actually took the time to listen to it”, appreciates Marius. “When we had our first four tracks ready we were trying to get someone to listen to it and that’s not always easy”, but Ben not only listened to it, he signed them on and a new connection between Norway and Manchester was born with the De Fantastiske To leading the way for the next generation of artists, while carrying the tradition of Norwegian dance music inadvertently through to the present. Ben describes that tradition and the Norwegian sound as “grown up dance music” with “a lot of depth, a lot of soul” and something that’s always fitted neatly on the roster at Paper. It’s a sound and a scene the Mancunian producer / DJ turned filmmaker outlines in a forthcoming documentary Northern Disco Lights, which is “about how the dance scene started in Norway”, explains Ben. “In the far north of Tromsø, you had a bunch of kids, geographically isolated, making music that ultimately spread all over the world and changed the sound of Disco and House music.” The documentary traces a lineage from the origins of Norwegian Dance Music in Tromsø through artists like Bjørn Torske, Per Martinsen (Mental Overdrive) and Biosphere, which ultimately laid the foundation for the likes of Todd Terje, Prins Thomas and Lindstrøm today, and De Fantastiske To beyond them. “There is a lineage that you can follow all the way” believes Ben, with Ravi and Marius representing “the next generation” through the “doors (that) have been opened before them”. Northern Disco Lights essentially tells the story of how that “Norwegian Disco sound got distilled” and how it laid down the blueprint to music that has “an accessibility and a cheekiness” behind it. “There’s something strange and otherworldly, about Norwegian music”, says Ben. “There’s a broad range of influences. In Prins Thomas and Lindstrøm, I hear Dub, Krautrock, Disco and Techno which all goes into this big stirring pot. You’ve got these scenes started by a few individuals and they set the template, and that kind of explains the Norwegian scene to an extent.”

I wonder if De Fantastiske To follow this template or blueprint in their music and get the answer from Ravi. “I don’t think you can really escape that. I haven’t listened to what everybody’s been doing. For instance I got into Bjørn Torske pretty late, but he’s probably influenced a lot of things I was listening to.“ There’s always definitely been something accessible and cheeky to DFT, hiding behind the serious and professional execution of their music and looks to be subconsciously shaped by their environment and their tools. Part of the Norwegian sonic aesthetic I find in their music, is encouraged by their use of atmosphere in their productions. Its not quite spacey, yet there is a palpable sense of space in their music, where minimalist elements fill out the tracks with icy reverbs and glacial delays. Marius doesn’t “know if it’s intentional” but confirms they make “tracks with atmosphere” and Ravi suggests it comes from having “a lot of the same references when it comes to House music” when they work as a duo. Parallel to that is their love of the machines, which has also played a role in their development from 2014 and their first release Smile. With new equipment comes a new evolution for the duo, and both Marius and Ravi can agree the tactile experiences of their machines adds a new depth to the sound of De Fantastiske To today, encouraging me to echo the words of Ben once again, when he suggests that Monokrom is a step on for the duo. I learn from Ravi, that the rig they brought to Jæger that night is by all accounts the rig from the studio, and it’s in this live context that De Fantastiske To really shine, bridging the gap between them and their audience by trying to convey some of the fun they’re having in their creative process to their audience. “If the audience is having half as much fun as me, that’s still a success” to Ravi. Marius is a bit more tentative when it comes to performing live, with the experience an entirely new one from his sixteen years behind the decks. It’s a new challenge for Marius, and it puts the “studio in a nightclub setting” which means Marius and Ravi have to solely rely on their own music to get people to dance and can’t just switch out a record at the drop of a hat.

Standing on the sidelines watching the live show later that evening, I can confirm they’ve set out what they’ve intended and the people cheering along to Monokrom, I assume are in agreement. As if I needed further confirmation, I see Ben with that huge grin on his face, his years of experience picking up some of the best in underground Norwegian music once again hitting the ball out of the park with this latest release. Today, Paperecordings have hit a new stride in promoting Norwegian Dance Music abroad with releases scheduled for Diskobeistet, including a remix by Vinny Villbass and an album by Ravi’s Rave-Enka moniker. Paperecordings are also celebrating their 200th release too this year with a Flash Atkins / Crazy P 12”, keeping De Fatnastiske To in good company in Manchester while in Norway they’ve got releases scheduled on Beatservice’s Prima Norsk series, Bogota records and a new EP on ISM records out soon.

2016 marks an exciting time for Norwegian dance music and the Monokrom release party almost stands as a catalyst to it all, it seems. With Flash Atkins and Ben making the trip for this special event there certainly is some new palpable electricity in the air around club music in Norway. For the moment it’s not something as concentrated as the Tromsø scene in the nineties or Disco through Full Pupp, but there’s definitely something there and in De Fantastike To and Paperecordings we are clearly looking towards the future and beyond the horizon.