Get that funk out of the trunk: 20 years of Trunkfunk with DJ Nibc

This article was originally scheduled to appear in 2020, but due to the pandemic and closed borders we had the postpone NIBC’s visit and the related content. With an appearance scheduled for the 16th of May at Loving Tuesdays, it made sense to finally release the article. Although Trunkfunk is now almost 23 the questions remain relevant. 

Between the end of the nineties, and the first few years of our new millenium, when Y2K fears were quelled and Hip Hop’s success finally caught up to the hyperbole their lyrics conveyed, a small independent dance music label with big room aspirations was born in Gothenburg Sweden. 

Gestating within a healthy electronic club music community that went beyond Gothenborg and even Sweden, a label called Trunkfunk came to be as the brainchild of Fredrik Nyberg, better known as DJ Nibc. It was the product of the newfound enthusiasm for electronic music that came in the late nineties, and an environment conducive of experimentation across genres.

The label took shape around a group of live electronic artists spearheaded by Nyberg, and what was initially meant as an simple outlet for the music he and fellow producers were beginning to make, simply blasted out of the gate with a split release by two Swedish powerhouses in the House and Techno scene. Chuck Cogan and Gunnar Underground launched the label with a bang on the collaborative effort “Summer Breeze,” which moved in the same circles of Filter House trends established by the likes of Daft Punk and Armand van Helden at the same time.

It brought immediate attention to the label, and just like that the label went into hiatus…. Oddly it would take another five years for Trunkfunk to return, but as it did, the artists behind the label and specifically DJ Nibc, began to define the label’s sound as something that was built on the DIY foundations of House, Techno and Electro, with a focus on the funkier elements of those genres.

Since Trunkfunk started, a “feature of the label” has been its “three distinct phases” Nyberg tells me over a telephone call from Gothenburg. While Trunkfunk has gone from flirting with commercial success in Sweden to pulling the label and its sound closer to the underground in Berlin (where Nyberg lived for some time), there’s been succinct evolutions through the label’s history. It has, for the most part,  revolved around the artist, DJ, producer and club night promoter at the core of the label, DJ Nibc and as Trunkfunk moves into its 20th year, another new phase for the label is imminent again.  

With a 20th anniversary compilation primed, featuring the likes of Skatebård, Voiski, Art Alfie and many more for the end of 2020, and the Trunkfunk events  going forward after Nyberg has relocated to Gothenburg, the Trunkfunk name will continue to be a dominant presence. With a pre-emptive celebration looming at Jaeger this weekend for label affiliate Vinny Villbass’ Badabing, I phoned up Fredrik Nyberg for a quick trip down memory lane ahead of the event. 

20 years, that’s quite an accomplishment.

Yeah, it’s crazy how time flies, it doesn’t feel like twenty years. 

It feels like only yesterday when I heard your track “Without a Trace,” and that was on the 15 year compilation. 

It feels that between 15 years and now, it’s gone superfast. It feels like that when it started and between 5 and 10 years, that was way longer between those things happening. 

How has it been possible for you to run a label for that long?

I think the main motivation and passion has always been connected between running club nights, DJing and music. Music has been my main thing in life. Looking at the label side of things it’s a bit strange, because I’ve been doing so many different things. The label has been living its own life and it’s almost like a diary of different eras. It’s been a very organic way of running the label. 

So, are you celebrating twenty years of the club night too, or did the label come first and then the club night?

The label came first and ten years ago I started the club night. I had been doing club nights before then as well, but they weren’t called Trunkfunk. Instead of starting another concept I wanted to do everything under one name. So roughly, it’s been ten years for the parties, in Gothenburg and I’ve been doing trunkfunk parties in Berlin and Stökholm too. 

And the club night is an extension of the label, I assume.

Yes, exactly. It’s also been two different storylines. Not everything from the club night has been connected to the label or the other way around. They have lived parallel lives. 

It’s curious, because a couple of weeks after you’re celebrating twenty years, we’ve got Dial celebrating twenty years too and there are a few more labels that also sprang into existence at that time. Was there something conducive of that time that contributed to the insurgence of small independent labels at that time?

I think so. It was an interesting time between 1999 and 2000 when we started. We didn’t have a clue about what we were doing. It was me and two other guys doing live shows. We saved up from doing the live shows into the first record. Everything happened randomly. It was very much a process of learning by doing, and it took almost 5-6 years before we understood all the legal aspects of how everything worked. We were making music, performing and getting some gigs and a following, but we didn’t know anything about the music industry. 

Did the label start off as a vehicle for your own releases?

That was the original idea, but the very first release was from another Swedish artist. We didn’t feel our own tracks were strong enough. Our tracks were more like live performance tracks. That was (some of) the motivation for the label, but it was also about creating this kind of community. 

Was it Sweden or was it largely focussed on Gothenburg?

We were touring, Stockholm and Copenhagen, all around Sweden. About Twenty years ago there were some decent clubs in smaller cities in Sweden to play live.

Tell me about that first release for Gunnar Underground and Chuck Cogan, how did it arrive on the label?

They were two talented producers that had already released on some bigger labels in the UK. We just admired their music and they had so much talent we just wanted to put their music out first. We didn’t have any pr strategy, other than making it available to the world. It was a strange experience, but we were super excited by the release. 

In terms of the sound of the label, was that established with that first record, or did you only have a vague idea of what you wanted the label to sound like eventually?

This was around the trend of the late nineties and that big French, filter house sound. That was our take on that, but also some of it was Chicago influenced or like deep House. We had a lot of tracks, but the thing was after this first release, we didn’t have a plan for the next one, so it took some years before we released the second release on Trunkfunk. In some sense it started  again five years later with the second release. 

After this second release did the focus turn to your own releases?

Actually yes, but also the people I was working with at the beginning of Trunkfunk, they left. It was me and Carl Ryden (together as Tyken) that started again as the Trunkfunk brand and took my earlier ideas, and made new versions. Then it became an outlet for my own music. 

Did a sound start to coalesce more around the label as a result?

Yeah, we worked together closely for a couple of years. 

It seems that the funk aspect to the name plays a prominent role in the music, where what is largely House music, always has that element of funk to it. 

Definitely. I think the original name came from a nineties Hip Hop record, and before there was Trunkfunk records, there was Trunkfunk brothers. Which was me and two other guys, and we kept that kind of funk vibe, but took it into different territories. It’s always been a mixture of that vibe, throughout the journey, but there have been very different styles throughout the years. 

When you are looking for other artists to contribute to the label, what usually draws you to their music?

We try to reach anyone we can get in touch with. We are really open to hearing new and interesting stuff, and it can be anything, from Electro, to Techno to House. The main part of this journey so far is about being on the move to the next thing. We never really stuck with one style. Of course there is always this retro element from when we started in the nineties. 

You’ve been releasing music steadily since that second phase, but was there ever a time, when you were a little dismayed by the music out there?

There’ve been a lot of times when we were not that inspired about what was going on, where there wasn’t anything for us to contribute. Like the minimal tech sound happening about 12 years ago, when I moved to Berlin. We had to find our own place within that sound. 

There was also a period where we thought we’d put out one release a month to see what would happen. Then for me it became about keeping track of a lot of admin stuff, which killed the vibe. I could see the effect of the popularity of the label, so it had both good and bad qualities. 

Did you notice that between Sweden and Berlin, your perception of music changed, and that it might have affected your own music and the label? 

Definitely. When I was living in Sweden I was more influenced by commercial music. When we started in 1999, there were underground Swedish DJs releasing big commercial tracks. We were trying to do the same, and we had a lot of Trunkfunk releases that were being played on BBC1 and national radio. 

That was my purpose when I lived in Sweden, but when I moved to Berlin, and saw how big the underground culture was, and noticed how many places you could play in a more underground way, that affected my purpose with Trunkfunk. In the last 10-12 years it went a lot more underground in terms of sound. 

Do you think it is easier today, in a digital landscape where there is so much space for new music, than before when you had to put out a record to get it into a DJ’s hands?

Yes, in some ways it’s easier now, but in some ways it’s much harder, because you have social media and all these PR responsibilities that go with it and takes some time away from the studio. It’s so saturated today, that good music will get lost in a sea of loads of releases. 

Do you find some joy in doing the promo and PR?

I think I enjoy all the different aspects of music, including the label, Djing and making music. It changed for me around 2 or 3 years ago, when I started a secret new label and alias, because that gave me the freedom to not look back at Trunkfunk, and following the same line that I’ve been drawing in the sand. Then I got some new energy for it, like a blank slate, creating something from scratch and being anonymous about it. I wasn’t being judged from what I did in the past. 

Speaking about the label and the motivation on PR; it’s funny because you can be pretty artistic in new ways now that you couldn’t before. I like to use Varg as an example; he does a really cool social media thing, where he portrays himself like a Hip Hop artist. It reminds me of how Green Velvet was a “punk guy” and had his own take on being an artist and creating a persona. 

You’re still releasing music as NIBC on the label. How has it affected the change in your own music through the years?

At the time of the very first NIBC track (Deliverance), the time I spent working in the studio to finish one track would take about one year. Now I make a lot of music, and I make a lot of rough sketches, which I treat almost like remixes, and that’s the work process for me now, as opposed to when Trunkfunk started. It’s so much easier to work with stuff that you haven’t spent too much time on. 

Going forward with the label into the future, and into the present. What do you have planned for Trunkfunk and how do you see it evolving after this milestone?

It’s going into a different direction. I remember when we turned 10, we were still in that era of doing more commercial stuff. I had just moved to Berlin and it was hard for me to choose where we were going, and the stuff we had already released. The way I solved that situation back then was having a lot of remixes on the label. So I could have a banging Techno remix of a poppy track. That was the intersection of those two eras, while now for me, it’s moving back to where we started with twenty years of experience. With the parties, we’re going to be a bit more selective, because I moved back to Gothenburg and my focus here is not doing a club concept for another ten years, but keeping it rare and more special. 

And you’ll be doing another compilation for this anniversary. 

This anniversary there will be twenty tracks from twenty different artists. They all sound similar, whereas in the past there were a lot of different styles. This twentieth anniversary will have a more unison-sounding release. 

I imagine that your set at Jaeger will gravitate towards that sound. 

Yes, I will play a lot of the tracks from the compilation.