It’s “probably the most nervous” Jonas Fehrplay has been for a show in years. It’s his latest version of a live show called Oblique and besides San Francisco, who has only seen a trial version, Jaeger will be the first time he performs the show in its refined entirety. And more daunting than that, it will be on home turf, in Oslo.
While most musical artists break ground in their hometown in their formative years, Jonas’ ascent to success followed a much different path. It’s almost a decade after making his debut with a track that stormed the dance music charts and put the name Fehrplay amongst the highest tier in dance music. It’s hard to believe that besides a short DJ set at Findings 2015, this will be the first time the Norwegian artist and DJ will perform in Norway.
“It’s my hometown,” he says while taking a bite of a pastry in a French delicatessen in Majorstua. Friends and family, some of whom have never seen him play, will be there to witness the premiere of Oblique, and trepidation has taken root, but you wouldn’t be able to tell it, just by looking at him.
Jonas Fehrplay is amicable, taking an unlikely interest in the person that’s asking the questions as he is in answering them. He’s the consummate professional and although he’s answered these questions a million times in the past he carries no sign of fatigue or impatience in his physiognomy. He’s not the type of person we often get the chance to interview at Jaeger as an artist working in some of the upper echelons of the industry, where he reigns amongst the top-charting artists of our time, but his excitement for playing the basement is palpable.
Everything about Jonas Fehrplay belies his success however, and there’s something unassuming and down to earth about the artist that is probably ingrained in his Norwegian roots.
Growing up in Norway, Jonas learned to play the piano in his youth and it was Trance music that first caught the ear of the impressionable youth. From there a “love” for club music cemented an early curiosity and Jonas found himself “drawn” to it, besides having no strong cultural connection to anything like a scene.
Armed with the theoretical knowledge of the piano, he started making music on his computer as a precocious 12 year old. A computer and the amateur loop-based software called e-jay provided the arbitrary tools and he started making music in a collage-like form by “taking samples and putting them together.” While his friends were playing playstation, he “would be on a laptop making Trance or House or whatever,” burning his creation to CDs for the various house parties he would visit by night. “I always had two CDs when I went to parties,” he recalls through a slanted smirk “because someone would always break the first one.”
The case was a little different when he was hosting his own parties in his parents’ basement. Hooking up his piano to a pair of decks he would “play piano over the records” in what he remembers as “full-on basement parties,” but yet he lacked that connection to a community that could develop this curiosity into anything more. Friends didn’t really share his interest, and he was left largely to his own devices, before leaving for the UK to study abroad.
It was ultimately the experience of moving to Manchester at 18 that laid the foundation for a career in club music and paved the way for Fehrplay to exist. “Just being in Manchester changed my whole perspective on club music,” explains Jonas. “That’s where I kind of grew up.”
In Oslo, he never really found an outlet or a community for his creative pursuits and his musical tastes lay more at odds with the people around him. “It was more commercial,” he claims. An academic move to the north of England turned out just what Jonas needed to develop his music and turn it into a fully fledged career. In Manchester Jonas spent his days making music in an apartment he shared with people he still calls friends today, and his nights at places like the legendary Manchester club, Sankeys – just a few footsteps away from his front door. “As a young guy,” he says, “experiencing music like that is very important – Getting out of your bedroom and out of your city.“
It certainly had an advantageous effect on Jonas’ music, because while still only eighteen years old he signed a track to Ministry of Sound’s label and released “Meow” onto the world in 2010. It was picked up by BBC radio and Pete Tong and put the name Fehrplay on the lips of many influential tastemakers in the industry. “I think I listened to that clip of him introducing me a couple of hundred times,” remembers Jonas fondly.
Bubbling synth lines are punctuated by formidable bass stabs before building up to a transcendent crescendo culminating in an uplifting major chord progression. Jonas “perfected that record over the course of a year,” cementing not only a sound built on the influences of Trance in the era of progressive House, but it also encouraged the young producer to release more music.
“Between that and now,” he says trailing off into laughter “there’s been a lot of shit.“ It’s subjective, I’m sure, because there’s a level of success that isn’t simply stumbled upon and he certainly has cultivated a distinct sound. You can still hear that same foundation of “Meow” in one of Fehrplay’s latest “Kiki.” There’s a progression through melody and form, touching on the visceral, as it builds and breaks down. It spirits the listener away to ecstatic heights through a disembodied vocal and there’s a gratifying immediacy to his music that’s approachable.
There’s an element of uplifting mood underpinning music made strictly for dance floors, which has the ability to unite a crowd over the course of a theme while trying to retain that connection between the big room and the dark underground club that birthed this style of music.
“It’s always hard to describe your own music,” he considers when I put this to him. “I find myself somewhere in the middle, where my music is still accessible to a lot of people, but more of an underground thing.” He’s recently established Mood of Mind in that vein, a record label that has become something of an “extension” of the artist. Featuring artwork by his mother, it’s a very personal project where Jonas can put out music by other artists and the Fehrplay tracks that don’t necessarily fit the profile of another label.
It’s “great to put out your own music whenever you want to,” he says and pandering to label demands can be exhausting. Instead of making music for another label in their specific aesthetic, Jonas is freer today in making the music he wants without the added pressure of a demanding release schedule. He didn’t however simply arrive at this stage, and had cut his teeth in a trial by fire at Pryda and Friends.
After releasing his debut on Ministry of Sound, Jonas not only found the ear of Pete Tong, but also Eric Prydz, who quickly signed the young artist to his Pryda and Friends label. The label was a definite springboard for his career, and Jonas remembers the time at the label as “rewarding yet stressful.” He had sent in a demo and it was pure luck that somebody at the Prydz camp picked it up at all. It encouraged that drive to release music by giving Jonas a platform to release his tracks, but after 4 releases the relationship ended in what he describes as a “sad situation” when they completely erased Jonas’ music from their catalogue.
It’s a “long story” according to Jonas and one that he doesn’t really feel like reiterating here, but what came from the ashes was a new record label in the form of Mood of Mind and a new relationship with a much more open record label, Anjunabeats, as well as a move back to Norway in 2016.
Jonas and his wife had been living in New York since breaking through in Manchester, riding a wave of popularity, predicated by the rise of EDM in the states. As somebody working on the forefront of progressive House rather than EDM, “it was a nice outlet for people who didn’t want to see Tiesto,” he suggests of his success.
Jonas had a few “amazing shows” at the beginning of his sojourn in the USA and it “sparked a lot of conversation in the industry there,” as his star rose over the western front. A move to New York followed and while Jonas by his own account, “didn’t like what the scene was becoming, especially when America got on-board with it,” he wanted to offer something different. Moving forward, he would find a lot of success in the US with his music and his performances, but a different life called to him in 2016 when he made the move back to Norway.
He feels it “was kind of sad” when he had to leave New York for Norway, “because I was just getting into living in New York.” He reminisces fondly on driving over the Brooklyn bridge as the sun comes up over the horizon after late night studio sessions. “I was pinching myself; thinking is this real?” Alas a better job opportunity for his wife at home and a more structured family life for a newborn awaited them in Norway and the move back home was inevitable.
At times it can feel “like stepping backwards” believes Jonas who also thinks it might have ultimately affected his creativity. It’s “motivating to experience new things,” he explains and “moving back to a place I’ve experienced my whole life” might not be the best for an artistic disposition. The culture of a place like New York with its clubs and artists living in some bohemian enclave from the rest of the world, inspires on a daily basis. Then again priorities change and there’s also some positive elements to moving back home. In Norway for example “it’s more about having a good space to work in” today for Jonas. “Being able to build a studio and having my family close by” has motivated Jonas in other ways and in this dichotomy, Jonas has found a happy balance in his work life.
As the borders open up and the pandemic eases into submission, Jonas is already travelling again for shows and that experience he seeks will undeniably follow. Jonas ultimately considers the move back as a “good choice,” at least for the moment…
The pandemic and the home studio has given him time to perfect his live show, much like the way he perfected “Meow.” He talks at length about the technical aspects of making it work and making that intangible connection between the recorded tracks and their live versions. It’s a daunting prospect for anybody, a show of this magnitude, including the visual aspect, and it can’t be any easier, doing it in front of your home crowd. He’s eager to see the project come to life, but the nerves remain nevertheless, predicated by the idea of that debut performance in front of family and friends.
That validation of playing your first in front of your hometown, has always eluded Jonas. Usually you play the home gig before moving out beyond the borders, but for Jonas that never happened. He had established himself on the international stage and this next performance will essentially be his live debut in Norway. It’s Jonas’ homecoming, so to speak and it’s understandable why he should be nervous.