Diggin with Alexis La-Tan and Øyvind Morken

Alexis La-Tan and Øyvind Morken are listening to Peter Gordon’s “That Hat” when I finally get a chance to join them to talk about their latest record store finds.

Alexis: “That’s an amazing track with Arthur Russell on vocals.”
Øyvind: “You know strangefruit from Mongolian jetset? He’s like the godfather of the Norwegian scene; he’s been like a mentor to me. Strangefruit was asked by NRK to do an Arthur Russell mega-mix and he asked me to do it with him. It was really cool, because it was like 2000/2001 and I was into house and techno at the time. I thought disco was cheesy and then I discovered Arthur Russell, which completely changed my mind about the genre”.

Alexis arrived in Oslo with little more than a USB stick – he’s vinyl collection currently inaccessible from under the mountain of renovation work going on his house in Paris – and already he and Øyvind are finding common ground through the records they’ve picked earlier that day. Alexis hardly had a chance to unpack his overnight bag before the pair took off on their shared leisure vocation in the hope of finding a record they’ve been looking for, or just stumbling onto something unique. Alexis is in town for the Oslo world music festival and when I ask the DJ whether he’s come prepared to perform as such, he smiles and says, “I have enough music with me that could be considered World Music.” But if that fails… he pulls Ganghas Orchestra’s The Dream out of the bag of records he’d just bought and puts the needle on the record. Immediately a swarm of plucked strings rattle loose from the sitar and you’re carried away by syncopated beats from the tabla drums. It’s Disco as only it could be in India. Alexis bought the pressing for Øyvind as a gift and Øyvind is happy in finding a record he’d been in search of for a while. “Actually I think I might have this already,” he says as the first bars from a discernable modern kick joins in. Øyvind takes a sip of his beer in Jæger’s lounge while Alexis scans the back of a Rolf Trostel record. “This record is from Norway,” he comments as if the significance of that is something of a happy coincidence. I ask him his opinion on collectors who collect records for the purpose of having every pressing from different countries and he shrugs his shoulders alongside the reply: “I have nothing good to say about those guys.” For DJs like Alexis and Øyvind the record is still a form of entertainment and it’s function is to be enjoyed. They want to let the music free from its shiny plastic confines and their only propensity is to share it with others. Their inherent musical knowledge and desire to find new music all the time – even if it’s old – puts them in a significant category of DJ, the digging DJ. Here they walk amongst greats like Harvey and Andrew Weatherall, people who like to share their eclectic, yet esoteric taste with an audience in the dual purpose of entertaining and educating. Alexis puts on Hell by Thick Pigeon, a new wave track from the 80’s and the DIY artwork pops out me immediately. “They are a DIY band”, he quips.

Øyvind: That’s funny because I’ve seen this record in the store.
Alexis: you definitely know you’ve seen it when you’ve seen it.
Both: Laugh

Artwork has always been a crucial element to the vinyl format and large part of its appeal. The size of the disc and its sleeve creates a vast open space for artists to explore literal visual components to an abstract musical work. For Alexis, who also has a career in design, the appeal lies in the “overall feeling” of a cover. “It’s more what’s represented on the cover than actual design. You can always tell whether a record is special from the cover.“ Thick Pigeon screams at you through bright colours, while small collage-like images pull you further into the design, where specific unknown codes are waiting to be unlocked. It goes hand in hand with the music where the vocals are veiled behind crisp metallic synthesisers, drawing you in to their artificial aesthetics through a human feeling. It reminds me of an earlier record Alexis pulled from his bag. It shares some similarities with Drinking Electricity’s Superstition, an 80’s synth wave arrangement that suggests something of Alexis’ tastes, which he confirms when he says: “I’m mostly attracted to electronic stuff.” He has a particular fondness for New Wave because he’s “naturally attracted to the darker stuff” and likes acts like Thick Pigeon for their electronic sound that is steeped in the organic expressiveness of the human musicians playing their electronic instruments. It’s an era of electronic music that Øyvind too has started digging, but feels hesitant about playing for an audience. “People are too young to have a memory of that kind of sound.”

Alexis: Usually when I’m playing somewhere, unless it’s a venue like the Salon des amateurs in Düsseldorf, I don’t go for the complicated weirder stuff. I bring something different to the table, but I keep the right elements so people stay interested.
Øyvind: “You’re still a DJ and you can’t just disappear up your own asshole.”
A: “Well, you can if you want to clear the dance floor.”
O: “Which is OK at times. I think you should be able to clear the dance floor every now and then, because it’s a good thing, unless people go home. That’s a problem today: that if you play the wrong record loads of people just leave.”

It’s very rare for people to just leave during a Øyvind Morken set in my opinion. His style is eclectic enough to hold the attention of the most hardened heads, while his focus never drifts too far from the mood of the dance floor. “I don’t plan anything. I try to just feed off the energy,” he says and proclaims to be schizophrenic both in personality and Djing when it comes to putting a mix together. Here he and Alexis display a different approach, with Alexis preferring to set his mixes up with a common thread running through the music he prepares. He makes sure the tracks are “are all interchangeable” so he can flit between them effortlessly at the drop of a hat. “I like to mix and match and I never play a track for the beginning to the end.” Alexis favours playing short sections of tracks, to avoid “getting bored” and when he mixes in this cut paste kind of way, he likes to “to build things that have a similar vibe or energy”, the listener usually unaware of the French DJ’s transitions. “I tend to improvise most of the time, and it’s more to do with how you’re feeling the music and what you’re adding to it rather than knowing when it starts and when it stops, and when the break comes. You can see all that on the way the record is cut. That part is all visual and getting it right is all about intuition.“ It’s that intuitive drive that makes it a special occasion when Alexis records a mix and which inevitably catches the attention of other DJs like Øyvind. “I don’t often listen to mixes, but I really liked your ‘when sound becomes colour’ mix.”

A comfortable silence ensues while Øyvind puts on the next record. Jah Wobble’s Voodoo pours out from the speakers and the tropical rhythms infuse with synthesised punk in a way that reflects both DJs ability to tie diverse pieces of sound together in singular musical narratives. Voodoo is Alexis’ find and it also stands testament to that gratifying moment when you discover a “record completely by chance in a completely random place”. Voodoo is the reason people like Alexis and Øyvind do what they do, flicking through dusty shelves to find pieces of music they can eventually share with people like me and talk a little of the history of that music within their own biography. Alexis and Øyvind consider some of Jah Wobble’s other works like Snake Charmer, with Øyvind emphasising the “mix-mash vibes” to the music…

Alexis: The other classic is “How much are they” which was an amazing hit on the dance floor in the eighties.

They dispatch their second beers. A short silence is followed by the rhythmical click of the needle witting Jah Wobble’s central label.

Øyvind: Should we end it there?